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Title: On the Massacre at Dartmoor Prison, Senior Speech of William B. Shepard, September 16, 1816; The Carolina Federal Republican, October 19, 1816, 2: Electronic Edition.
Author: Shepard, William Biddle, 1799-1852
Editor: Erika Lindemann
Funding from the State Library of North Carolina supported the electronic publication of this title.
Text transcribed by Erika Lindemann
Images scanned by Mara E. Dabrishus
Text encoded by Sarah Ficke
First Edition, 2005
Size of electronic edition: ca. 30K
Publisher: The University Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Chapel Hill, North Carolina

No Copyright in US

The electronic edition is a part of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill digital library, Documenting the American South.
Languages used in the text: English
Revision history:
2005-03-15, Sarah Ficke finished TEI/XML encoding.
Part of a series:
This transcribed document is part of a digital collection, titled True and Candid Compositions: The Lives and Writings of Antebellum Students in North Carolina
written by Lindemann, Erika
Title of article: On the Massacre at Dartmoor Prison, Senior Speech of William B. Shepard, September 16, 1816
Title of serial: The Carolina Federal Republican, October 19, 1816: 2
Author: William Biddle Shepard
Description: 1 page, 0 page images
Note: Call number Microfilm C071 C29f (North Carolina Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill)
Topics covered:
Education/UNC Administration
Education/UNC Student Life
Politics and Government/Political Issues
Examples of Student Writing/Senior Speeches
War/Other Wars
Editorial practices
The text has been encoded using the recommendations for Level 5 of the TEI in Libraries Guidelines.
Original is available in the North Carolina Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Original grammar, punctuation, and spelling have been preserved.
DocSouth staff created a 600 dpi uncompressed TIFF file for each image. The TIFF images were then saved as JPEG images at 100 dpi for web access.
Any hyphens occurring in line breaks have been removed, and the trailing part of a word has been joined to the preceding line.
Letters, words and passages marked as deleted or added in originals have been encoded accordingly.
All quotation marks, em dashes and ampersand have been transcribed as entity references.
All double right and left quotation marks are encoded as ".
All single right and left quotation marks are encoded as '.
All em dashes are encoded as —.
Indentation in lines has not been preserved.

For more information about transcription and other editorial decisions, see Dr. Erika Lindemann's explanation under the section Editorial Practices.

Document Summary

Shepard's senior speech condemns the conduct of the British in the War of 1812, especially in sacking Hampton, VA, and its treatment of prisoners at Dartmoor in Devonshire, England.
On the Massacre at Dartmoor Prison, Senior Speech of William B. Shepardlink opens in a new window , September 16, 1816; The Carolina Federal Republican, October 19, 1816, 21
Shepard, William Biddle, 1799-1852

Page 2



In order to satisfy the enquiries which have been repeatedly made as to the cause of the suspension for six months of twenty-six Students at our University, I send you for publication a copy of the Speech delivered by Mr. WM. SHEPARDlink opens in a new window , which produced this breach, with the offensive parts printed in Italic, and the suggested alterations by the Presidentlink opens in a new window immediately following them in parenthesises.
It appears that the piece was submitted to the inspection of the Presidentlink opens in a new window , as is usual, and that he erased the passages printed in Italic. The offence consisted in afterwards delivering the Address as originally written, and in not desisting when called upon to do so. The charge against the other twenty-five Youths was for applauding the Speech thus delivered, and for having met next morning to consider upon the course which it would be proper for them to take, finding they had offended the Faculty by applauding the Speech.
These are the facts as they have come to my knowledge. If erroneous, they will no doubt be corrected.



Disagreeable as may be the task to probe a wound not yet completely cicatrized (healed)* and awaken sympathies over which the curtain of forgetfulness may perhaps have been before this lowered, yet to cherish the remembrance of those who have driven the Hyena from our domicile (habitation) is but a niggard tribute—in comparison with their merit. To you who labor so assiduously for the promotion of happiness, and so zealously proclaim the equality of freemen, there are no sounds so cheering as the strains of gratitude. It is not the summer passion of prosperity, nor an evanescent feeling, that while clouds of war are thickening over our heads & invasion threatens her gorgon front upon our frontier, sacrifices all at the shrine of friendship, but blows off with the coming storm; it is an unalterable, deep-rooted sense of obligation to those who have bled out their lives in a stream of misery for the salvation of their country. The conduct of the British in the last war is so perfectly understood, even by those whose minds have skimmed the surface (received a small degree of) of information, that to give you a regular detail, is supposing you have been deaf to the cries of innocence and have slept amidst the desolation of our cities and the prostitution of virtue (ravages of vice.) But, if the Syren songs of flatterers have lulled you to repose; if your hearts are still animated by the enthusiasm of Freemen and are responsive to the tones of woe, the mention of the scenes of HAMPTON,2 where the veil was torn from the shrine of purity—and the vestal garb was wantonly debased by the lust of man, must curdle the blood of generous ardor in your hearts, and expel the flimsy delusion.
Without retailing scenes which would cause the most abandoned proselyte of infamy "to blush himself into virtue,"† I will tell that, which though it does not so much affect the ear of modesty, calls as loudly for execration. Proud and haughty England, possessing all the frail morality of ancient Carthage, seeing with envy a Republic arising that would shake Tyranny to its centre, and unfurl the banners of Liberty amidst her more than Eastern corruption, pushed to their extremity all the vile arts of malignant policy and diplomatic collusion. If, my audience, this duplicity had alone been confined to the politicians rule, or been wailed within the pales of policy, we might have considered it as a species of modern warfare; but, when to this is added the baseness of unexampled cruel[t]y, the olive of forgetfulness that was offered for acceptance is thrown into the fire that lights the soldier to the field; no longer can we open our arms to receive into our bosoms so ungrateful a foe—the sacred name of friendship cannot be prostituted by an union so repugnant to feelings of honor, so discordant with sentiments of humanity.– The soul, recoiling from the grasp of this minotaur still reeking with the blood of virgins and clotted with the gore of youth, no longer startles at destruction. Decked with the jewels of virtue, sitting upon the throne of justice, she looks misery in the face, like "patience upon a monument smiling at grief."3 The massacre of DARTMOOR 4 is one of the vilest deeds of violated faith recorded in history. The Persians have been condemned for sacrificing their prisoners; the Grecians have been censured for the butchery of their supplicants and even Rome in the brightest era of her glory had the odious stigma of inhumanity fixed upon her, but they were Pagans,—their minds were not irradiated by the Sun of Righteousness,—they knew not that charity and mercy were the steps to heaven. But England has shown us a Christian people born at the foot of the altar, consecrated to the God of mercy—whose first draught was from the chalice of the Church—whose first sound breath was a petition to a Saviour, (professedly and pretend[ed]ly with superior advantages, has shewn us people) despising the laws of nations[,] breaking the golden chain of justice, and building the throne of tyranny with the bones of massacred prisoners.– If reflections like these cannot rouse our indignation; if imagination cannot supply the want of feeling, whence shall we procure a drug that will stir the latent power of affection? Have Americans sunk into that torpidity congenial to slaves? Or had ingratitude barred the door to their hearts? Can we call to mind the tragical scenes of that more than horrid night; can we picture to ourselves the maimed and butchered soldier, thrown in to a cell unfit for the dog of an enemy, bereft of every consolation that amidst the agony of his wounds might soothe him to repose, and while rent with innumerable tortures breathing out with his last sigh a prayer for his country? Can we, I say, as brothers, as countrymen, or as men, read the tale of such complicated misery, without permitting the gush of feeling to wash clean the blackened page? No! it is impossible. The throb of generous sympathy now trembles in your breast, and the tear of pity glistens in your eye. See the dying Soldier gasping in the last agony of death, lifting the supplicating eye to heaven as if to implore a benediction upon those that would give him drink; but alas! his cup is of vinegar, and his relief the ball that sends him to his God. Roll back memory the briny surge of recollection, its taste is the bitterest gall, it thrills a horror through my soul, and makes me tremble in every nerve! Wrap it in the mantle of night, and if the eye of scrutiny will penetrate the mist, call up fable to your aid, enroll it amidst legendary lore, that even credulity may doubt. O, tell not to posterity, that a civilized people landed upon our shore, ravaged our country, and lighting the torch of war at the shrine of God , (wickedness) consumed the temple of chastity in a more than Ephesian conflagration. Tell it not, that England, the mistress of the world, the stay of righteousness, the staff of religion; whose vessels teem with missionary philanthropists, that make the savage dens of Hindostan reverberate the anthems of God, erected a trophy of her glory upon the plains bleached with the bones of women and children! Beauty, at whose feet the Saracaen bowed and the Mahometan worships in blind adoration; whose looks when graced with sorrow, are sufficient to rob the arrow of its barb and the ball of its power; but, when tuned in supplication, like the irresistable strains of Orpheus, draw brutality along a captive in her train; even the signet of respect placed upon you by the Divinity, could not defend you from his more than seven times Saracaen brutality! And not satisfied with standing in the threshold and beguiling the unwary those unfortunate Patriots that fell into their hands, as if more criminal for fighting for their country, were plunged into the horror of captivity.– Who is there that does not catch with rapture the least glimmering of relief through the crevices of misfortune? (adversity). Who is there that holds life with such stoical indifference that he would not hazard all for its preservation? How, then, can we blame those unfortunate prisoners, robbed of light and air, doomed to hold converse dungeon damps, and tell unto the stones their misfortunes, administered unto by men who live like mushrooms but from corruption, for catching at the brittle reed to save them from destruction? If we do, we know not the sufferings of our captive brethren.– Consider that the idea of wife, of children, and of home, was smothered beneath the chains and manacles of captivity; that hope, arrayed in all its visionary colors, as it rises to give a glimpse of future bliss, is quenched in a moment; that they were thrown into a gloomy, disconsolate cell, where no sound drew them from the misery of thought, but the groans of affliction and the passing watchman's cry of "all is well." But there is a prophetic thought within that intimates his approaching fate, & tells him.
"That wife, nor children, more shall he behold,
"Nor friends, nor sacred home."5
Too well he sees the sword of cruel revenge hung o'er his head, and expectation stands in horro[r] awaiting the approach of the executioner.
In this scene of inward death, despair, the herald of destruction, summoned them to exertion,—that disregard of life, when robbed of liberty so congenial to an American, excites them to resist an enemy whom neither principles of honor could reform, or the appeals of humanity soften. Who would not have thought, that in such a cause, such arms must sure prevail; but, unfortunately for humanity and the name of England, the hour of her victory was the grave of her glory. They are dragged into a dungeon, to receive no anodyne but contempt, no sympathy but reproach. No friendly hand pours into his wound a balsam for its pain, or in the accents of sympathy drops in the milk of kindness, more sweet than Hybla's honey. And, even here, while groaning under multiplied grievances, the recollection that he died in the struggle of freedom, warms his fond heart and beats in every pore. A ray of joy animates his countenance at death, arrayed like the ministering angels of mercy, appears to lead him to the confines of bliss, with no alloy to the heavenly flame, than that he had but one life to lose for his country.6 Such are the effects of our admirable Government, that the prisoner, when racked with Carthagenian torture, like another Reguluslink opens in a new window , spurns life when earned by ignomy.– Who then, shall say, that the slave chained to the oar of his lord, can oppose the free-born sons of America? No vassal, driven to the field by the scourge of tyranny, or impelled by the hope of lucre, shall ever prevail over the soldier who fights for his country and liberty! The (Christian) American, (in the cause of justice) when he rushes into the battle, as animated by the spirit of WASHINGTON, which descending from heaven, covers him with the light of glory; exhort him to victory; for God is his leader!
Have I mentioned the name of WASHINGTON, and shall I not give it the tribute of a grateful heart? Have I touched the heavenly theme that rivets the attention of the untutered soul and kindles a sacred flame in the breast of man, that raises him to something more than mortal?– Magnanimous Warrior! ascending the American Pisgah, you saw your country a land of promise to the world; but, not like Moses expiring at the view, you came and freed us from an enemy worse than a pestilence, and more to be feared than the fiery serpents. Did I possess the divine strains of Melpomene, the earth would be too narrow for the theatre of your praise; and the arch of heaven too low to re-echo your glory! I would tell unto the astonished world, that this Phoenix of greatness expired not like conquerors surrounded with the incense of flattery, but be bewailed by the tears of affection, which spake their gratitude more exquisitely than words,
"For a man that was in war the mountain storm,
"In peace the gale of spring."7

* The words in parenthesises were proposed by President Chapmanlink opens in a new window instead of those immediately preceding them in Italic.
† These words were erased by the Presidentlink opens in a new window .


1. According to faculty minutes, William Biddle Shepardlink opens in a new window delivered his speech on the mistreatment of American prisoners during the War of 1812 on Tuesday evening, September 17, 1816, "in the public hall" (Person Hall) (2:58, UA). Evidently a senior speech required of every graduate, it was first published in the Raleigh Register on October 11, 1816, p. 4. On October 19, 1816, a New Bern, NC, newspaper The Carolina Federal Republican reprinted on page two the speech appearing in the Register. Because the microfilm of the speech in the Register is of poor quality, I have chosen as copy-text the version appearing in a microfilm of The Carolina Federal Republican, emending it with readings from the Register.
Accounts differ on how many of the University's ninety-two students were suspended for supporting Shepardlink opens in a new window . However, faculty minutes from September 19, 1816, through September 24, 1816, record the names of twenty-six students who were suspended, twenty-five (including Shepardlink opens in a new window ) for six months and one student, Shepard'slink opens in a new window prompter, for four months. An additional twenty-six students were acquitted by promising to "submit ourselves to the laws of the university and deport ourselves as orderly members of society" (2:58, UA). Subsequently, on December 17, 1816, the board of trustees expelled Shepardlink opens in a new window and George Drumgold (Trustees Minutes, Vol. 4, UA). The faculty at this time included Professors Robert Chapmanlink opens in a new window and Joseph Caldwelllink opens in a new window and Tutors William Hooperlink opens in a new window , James Morrison, and John Patterson.

2. Hampton, VA, was sacked by the British in 1813, during the War of 1812.

3. William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night, II.iv.

4. Many American prisoners during the War of 1812 were confined in Dartmoor Prison at Princetown, Devonshire, in England. Between 1812 and 1816 about 1,500 American and French prisoners died at Dartmoor. After the war, their brutal mistreatment was investigated by an Anglo-American commission that awarded compensation to the families of those who died there. A first-person account of life in the prison is Charles Andrews, The Prisoners' Memoirs; or, Dartmoor Prison (Early American Imprints, 2nd series; Worcester, MA: American Antiquarian Society, 1975).

5. James Thomson, "Winter" (1726).

6. An allusion to the last words of Nathan Hale before being hanged by the British as a spy on September 22, 1776: "I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country."

7. James Macpherson, "Fingal: An Ancient Epic Poem," The Poems of Ossian, Vol. 1, Book VI (1762).