Navy ships. Through the fifty-five years remaining in Nolan’s life, he is moved through a succession of twenty-one U.S. naval ships that serve as his floating prisons. Whenever he is aboard a homeward-bound vessel that nears any American coast, he is transferred to an outward-bound vessel. Eventually, he spends time on half of the U.S. Navy’s finest ships, including the Nautilus, the Intrepid, the Warren, the George Washington, and the Levant, on which he dies.
While the United States is fighting Great Britain during the War of 1812, Nolan gets caught up in a sea battle aboard the unnamed American ship of the line on which he is a prisoner. When a gun officer is killed, Nolan takes charge of the gun and directs a successful action that earns the captain’s praise.
USS Levant. U.S. naval vessel that is Nolan’s last home. Aboard this ship, he converts his stateroom into a shrine celebrating the United States. Framing a portrait of George Washington is the current flag of the United States. It has thirty-four stars, fourteen of which represent new states about whose names he is unclear. He paints a picture of a proud eagle, with bolts of lightning in its beak and wings overshadowing the talons of one foot grasping the entire globe. At the foot of his bed is a map of the United States, beautifully drawn from memory. On it are letters indicating Indian, Mississippi, and Louisiana Territories and a patch showing Texas extending west to the undefined Pacific coast.
As Nolan lies dying in 1863, an officer visits him and updates the map by penciling in Texas, California, and Oregon. Also present in Nolan’s stateroom are his notebooks and scrapbooks, some with his own drawings, evidence of his reading about historical events and aspects of science, in censored books and newspapers. These touching accoutrements convert Nolan’s final cell into a kind of living history museum and its captive’s mini-autobiography.