Manuscripts Division
William L. Clements Library
University of Michigan

Finding aid for
Thomas Thorbury, War of 1812 Poetry Collection, ca. 1815

David P. Harris Collection

Finding aid created by
Shannon Wait, June 2010

Summary Information
Title: Thomas Thorbury, War of 1812 Poetry collection
Creator: Thorbury, Thomas, b. ca. 1780
Inclusive dates: ca. 1815
Extent: 1 volume
The Thomas Thorbury War of 1812 poetry consists of three fragmentary poems written postwar by an American soldier and prisoner at Melville Prison.
Language: The material is in English
Repository: William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan
909 S. University Ave.
The University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1190
Phone: 734-764-2347
Web Site:

Access and Use
Acquisition Information:

Donated, 2007. M-4625.2.

Access Restrictions:

The collection is open for research.


Copyright status is unknown

Processing Information:

Cataloging funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and the "We the People" project.

Alternate Format:

Transcriptions are included with the volume.

Preferred Citation:

Thomas Thorbury, War of 1812 Poetry Collection, David P. Harris Collection, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan


Thomas Thorbury (alternately recorded as "Thornburg" and "Thornbury") was born around 1780 in Pennsylvania. He served in the War of 1812, and was captured with approximately 340 other American soldiers at Fort Niagara on December 19, 1813. After being held briefly in Montreal and Quebec, Thorbury was transported to Melville Prison, near Halifax, Nova Scotia, on October 27, 1814. He was discharged on April 8, 1815, about seven weeks after the ratification of the Treaty of Ghent. Sometime after this, he wrote several poems concerning his thoughts on politics and his experiences as a prisoner at Halifax.

Collection Scope and Content Note

The collection consists of a single volume, which contains three fragmentary poems. The first poem (pp. 2-25), which is untitled, consists of 582 lines of rhyming couplets. Seven of its lines are unreadable due to paper degradation. In an extended satire of the conflict between the United States and Great Britain in the War of 1812, the poet described the savage feud between two farmers, Jack and Sam, indentified as the narrator's uncles. The conflict arose over the use of roads, bridges, and waterways, for which Jack charged tolls. Goaded by his wife, Sam hesitantly entered into battle with Jack, and defeated him on land and water, but only after both men suffered from wounds and exhaustion. They reached an agreement allowing Sam's sons to go unmolested to market, but how long the peace would last "no tongue can tell."

The second poem (pp. 26-43) is also untitled, and concerns a group of Americans taken prisoner on the shores of Ontario and held in Melville Prison. In the poem, Thorbury described their capture, the taking of their clothing, and the recording of their names and ranks by a British agent. He also recounted their separation into groups: "The Boatswain next in messes places/ Each one according to their faces./ The whites are separate from the blacks,/ And yanky Tars from monsier Jacks." The poem also gives descriptions of prison food, sleeping conditions, and fights among the prisoners. It ends with the declaration of peace and the return of 300 captives to the United States.

The final poem (pp. 43-44), entitled "Tom and Joe [a] Dialogue," is a small fragment, with only four legible lines, describing an autumn walk to meet a friend.

Also included with the volume are transcriptions of each poem and notes made in 2006 by the donor, David P. Harris, who provided annotations, background information, and a well-researched collection description.

Subject Terms

    • Halifax (N.S.)
    • Prisoners of war as artists.
    • United States--History--War of 1812--Prisoners and prisons.
    • War--Poetry.
    Contents List
    Container / Location Title
    Volume   1  
    Thomas Thorbury, War of 1812 Poetry collection,  ca. 1815 [series]
    Additional Descriptive Data
    Related Materials

    The Clements Library's War of 1812 collection contains material on prisoners of war.


    The Clements Library holds several books concerning prisoners of war in the War of 1812:

    Barclay, Thomas. Cartel for the Exchange of Prisoners of War, Between Great Britain, And the United States of America: The Provisional Agreement for the Exchange of Naval Prisoners of War, Made And Concluded At Halifax, In the Province of Nova Scotia, On the 28th Day of November, 1812 ... John Mason, Esq. Commissary General for Prisoners for the United States, Having Been Duly Authorized to Meet Thomas Barclay, Esq. His Britannic Majesty's Agent for Prisoners of War ... n.p., 1813.

    Waterhouse, Benjamin. A Journal of a Young Man of Massachusetts: Late a Surgeon On Board an American Privateer, Who Was Captured At Sea by the British, In May, Eighteen Hundred And Thirteen, And Was Confined First, At Melville Island, Halifax, Then At Chatham, In England, And Last, At Dartmoor Prison. Boston: Printed by Rowe & Hooper, 78 State-Street, 1816.