Date of Award


Document Type

Campus Access Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

Julie P. Winch

Second Advisor

Jonathan M. Chu

Third Advisor

Conevery Bolton Valencius


Narratives of sailors held in captivity during the antebellum era helped define American identity. Sailors held in bondage by Barbary corsairs during the Barbary Wars of 1801 - 1805 and those imprisoned in Britain's notorious Dartmoor prison during the War of 1812, wrote descriptive and illuminating narratives of their experiences as slaves and prisoners of war, respectively. While Native American captivity narratives were already an established literary genre during the era of this study, sailor captivity narratives were beginning to appear regularly in newspapers and journals throughout the United States. What makes this new realm to the literary culture of antebellum America so interesting and important for further study, is the manner in which the narratives presented in this thesis helped many Americans garner a better idea of who they were as individuals and as a nation.

There are two themes analyzed in this study as it pertains to sailor literature during the antebellum era. American "Tars", or sailors, captured by Barbary corsairs endured months, and in some cases, years of servitude to their captors. The narratives that have survived from this conflict feature American authors condemning the evil practice of human enslavement. These narratives resonated with many Americans who were questioning their own country's practice of slavery and in some cases enticed people to act against its practice in America. Narratives from American sailors imprisoned in Dartmoor Prison during the War of 1812 reveal the author's love for America and steadfast belief in its principles. Many American readers of the Dartmoor narratives gained a clearer idea of what it meant to be an American. Both conflicts produced popular and engaging narratives that affected the way many Americans viewed themselves as individuals and collectively as a nation during the antebellum era.


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