Late in 1814, chilled by raw Atlantic westerlies blowing across the
desolate Devonshire moor, nearly one thousand African American
seamen and five thousand white shipmates slung their hammocks in
the British Admiralty’s Dartmoor Prison. As prisoners of war, they
craved peace and liberty.
Racial dynamics worked differently among seamen in Dartmoor
Prison than at sea. If the forecastle of deep-water ships was sometimes
a shared middle ground where emphasis on role and opposition to
authority mitigated racial distinctions, the climate at Dartmoor encouraged blackness and whiteness to flourish.
Head and shoulders above the other prisoners, even without his
bearskin grenadier’s cap, towered a “stout black” privateersman named Richard Crafus—known in Dartmoor as King Dick. In a world where most sailors were under 5'9 (and the average height was 5'6), Richard Crafus stood an imposing 6'3, with “a frame well proportioned” and “strength far greater than both height and proportions together.”
Invincible as Stagolee and imperious as Haiti’s Emperor Henri Christophe, King Dick was the best-known man in the prison, where he played to white sailors’ stereotypes for his own purposes. Crafus, who also called himself Richard Seaver, quickly dominated the blacks’ barracks after arriving in October 1814. Under his rule, African Americans organized, disciplined, and entertained themselves, but did nothing to discourage white inmates from visiting the black enclave as customers.
“In No 4 the Black’s Prison,” wrote a white sailor, “I have spent
considerable of my time, for in the 3rd story or Cock loft they have
reading whiting Fenceing, Boxing Danceing & many other schoolswhich is very diverting to a young Person, indeed their is more
amusement in this Prisson than in all the rest of them.”
Despite extensive interracial interactions and a prison-camp moment
as pregnant with possibilities as it was burdened with despair,
black and white sailors at Dartmoor organized themselves almost
reflexively by race. Separation of the black men in their own yard and
barracks nurtured distinctly black styles, though racial boundaries did
not conform exactly to boundaries of stone and mortar. Men often
passed freely from one yard to another. Yet most whites did not
gravitate to black “amusement” or recognize black accomplishments
without considerable denigration. Confronted by a vibrant black culture that contradicted what they had been taught about racial inferiority, most white sailors denied blacks’ distinctive accomplishments. Blacks, meanwhile, capitalized on white sailors’ uneasy fear of black political organization and their ambivalent attraction to black music, evangelism, and pugilistic skill. They collectively leveraged prison Number Four to prominence.
Hey Taylor! It’s Sarah. This photo is from 2006, when I was 17 and in my final year of high school. I was stressed about going to university the next year and was really into emo music. Dashboard Confessional, Something Corporate - you name it - but lyrics were always the most important thing to me. That’s how I found you, after reading some of the lyrics to Tim McGraw. I was instantly hooked as soon as I listened to the song, and bought your album as soon as it came out. It quickly replaced a lot of the other music that I was listening to at the time. I was so impressed that someone who was my age could be so talented. Little did I know that over the next 11 years you would lead me all over North America to see you in concert, that you would become the most played artist in my music collection, and that I would become an evangelical Swiftie, sharing your music with everyone who would listen. What a ride it’s been! I’m so thankful that your music has become the soundtrack of my life.
I met David Bowie when I was twenty-two, and like a baby goose imprinting on some fantastical winged creature, I took him as the model of what I ought to grow up to be. He is my ideal adult human artist.
He wore beautiful cologne. He read all world literature. He took time for everyone in the room. He remembered people’s names. He wore a plain T-shirt to a nice dinner . He sought out new music and evangelized when he liked something.
Arcade Fire played two songs with him for TV — his song “Five Years” and our song “Wake Up.” Earlier on the show, he sang “Life on Mars,” wearing a wrist bandage and a fake black eye. I saw him build a character and modulate that character with his voice and with small movements. I saw the distance between the artist off stage and on, and that the distance was an artistic creation, too — something to be played with.
I hear him playing with that distance on Blackstar, and it’s stunning and my God it’s heartbreaking. I wanted to see the next twenty years of David Bowie making art