James Madison Papers

Order of Virginia Council of State Placing Henry Hamilton and Others in Irons, 16 June 1779

Order of Virginia Council of State Placing
Henry Hamilton and Others in Irons

Broadside (NA: PCC, No. 71, I, 245). “Williamsburg: Printed by John Dixon and Thomas Nicolson” at foot of text. Inclosed in Governor Jefferson’s letter of 19 June 1779 to John Jay, in which he declared, “I thought it my duty to lay it before Congress as early as possible, with the reasons supporting it; nothing doubting but it will meet with their approbation; it’s justice seems to have been confirmed by the general sense of the people here” (Boyd, Papers of Jefferson description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson (16 vols. to date; Princeton, N.J., 1950——). description ends , III, 4–5).

In Council, June 16, 1779.

The Board proceeded to the consideration of the letters of Colonel Clarke,1 and other papers relating to Henry Hamilton, Esq; who has acted some years past as Lieutenant Governour of the settlement at and about Detroit, and commandant of the British garrison there, under Sir Guy Carleton as Governour in Chief; Philip Dejean, Justice of the Peace for Detroit,2 and William Lamothe, Captain of volunteers,3 prisoners of war, taken in the county of Illinois.

They find that Governour Hamilton has executed the task of inciting the Indians to perpetrate their accustomed cruelties on the citizens of these states, without distinction of age, sex, or condition, with an eagerness and activity which evince that the general nature of his charge harmonized with his particular disposition; they should have been satisfied from the other testimony adduced that these enormities were committed by savages acting under his commission, but the number of proclamations which, at different times were left in houses, the inhabitants of which were killed or carried away by the Indians, one of which proclamations,4 under the hand and seal of Governour Hamilton, is in possession of the Board, puts this fact beyond doubt. At the time of his captivity it appears, that he had sent considerable detachments of Indians against the frontier settlements of the5 states, and had actually appointed a great council of Indians to meet him at the mouth of the Tanissee,6 to concert the operations of this present campaign. They find that his treatment of our citizens and soldiers, captivated and carried within the limits of his command, has been cruel and inhumane;7 that in the case of John Dodge, a citizen of these states, which has been particularly stated to this Board,8 he loaded him with irons, threw him into a dungeon, without bedding, without straw, without fire, in the dead of winter and severe climate of Detroit; that in that state he harrassed and wasted him, with incessant expectations of death; that when the rigours of his situation had brought him so low that death seemed likely to withdraw him from their power, he was taken out and attended to till somewhat mended, and then again, before he had recovered abilities to walk, was returned to his dungeon, in which a hole was cut seven inches square only, for the admission of air, and the same load of irons again put on him; that appearing again to be in imminent danger of being lost to them, he was a second time taken from his dungeon, in which he had lain from January to June, with the intermission before-mentioned of a few weeks only; that Governour Hamilton gave standing rewards for scalps, but offered none for prisoners, which induced the Indians, after making their captives carry their baggage into the neighbourhood of the fort, there to put them to death, and carry in their scalps to the Governour, who welcomed their return and successes by a discharge of cannon; that when a prisoner brought alive, and destined to death by the Indians, the fire already kindled, and himself bound to the stake, was dexterously withdrawn and secreted from them by the humanity of a fellow prisoner; a large reward was offered for the discovery of the victim, which having tempted a servant to betray his concealment, the present prisoner Dejean being sent with a party of soldiers, surrounded the house, took and threw into jail the unhappy victim, and his deliverer, where the former soon expired under the perpetual assurances of Dejean, that he was to be again restored into the hands of the savages, and the latter when enlarged was bitterly and illiberally reprimanded and threatened by Governour Hamilton.

It appears to them that the prisoner Dejean, was on all occasions the willing and cordial instrument of Governour Hamilton, acting both as judge and keeper of the jail, and instigating and urging him by malicious insinuations and untruths, to increase rather than relax his severities, heightening the cruelty of his orders by the manner of executing them; offering at one time a reward to one prisoner to be the hangman of another, threatening his life on refusal, and taking from his prisoners the little property their opportunities enabled them to acquire.

It appears that the prisoner Lamothe, was a Captain of the volunteer scalping parties of Indians and whites, wh[o] went out, from time to time, under general orders, to spare neither men, women, nor children.

From this detail of circumstances which arose in a few cases only, coming accidentally to the knowledge of the Board, they think themselves authorized to presume by fair deduction what would be the horrid history of the sufferings of the many who have expired under their miseries (which therefore will remain for ever untold) or who have9 escaped from them, are yet too remote and too much dispersed to bring together their well grounded accusations against these prisoners.

They have seen that the conduct of the British officers, civil and military, has in its general tenor, through the whole course of this war, been savage and unprecedented among civilized nations; that our officers and soldiers taken by them have been loaded with irons, consigned to loathsome and crouded jails, dungeons, and prison ships; supplied often with no food, generally with too little for the sustenance of nature, and that little sometimes unsound and unwholesome, whereby so many of them have perished that captivity and miserable death have with them been almost synonimous; that they have been transported beyond seas where their fate is out of the reach of our enquiry, have been compelled to take arms against their country, and by a new refinement in cruelty to become the murtherers of their own brethren.

Their prisoners with us have, on the other hand, been treated with moderation and humanity; they have been fed on all occasions with wholesome and plentiful food, lodged comfortably, suffered to go at large within extensive tracts of country, treated with liberal hospital[ity], permitted to live in the families of our citizens, to labour for themsel[ves], to acquire and to enjoy property, and finally to participate of the principal benefits of society while privileged from all its burthens.

Reviewing this contrast which cannot be denied by our enemies themselves in a single point, which has now been kept up during four years of unremitted war, a term long enough to produce well founded despair that our moderation may ever lead them into the practice of humanity, called on by that justice which we owe to those who are fighting the battles of their country, to deal out at length miseries to their enemies, measure for measure, and to distress the feelings of mankind by exhibiting to them spectacles of severe retaliation, where we had long and vainly endeavoured to introduce an emulation in kindness; happily possessed by the fortune of war of some of those very individuals, who having distinguished themselves personally in this line of cruel conduct, are fit subjects to begin on with the work of retaliation, this Board has resolved to advise the Governour that the said Henry Hamilton, Philip Dejean, and William Lamothe, prisoners of war, be put into irons, confined in the dungeon of the publick jail, debarred the use of pen, ink, and paper, and excluded all converse except with their keeper.10 And the Governour orders accordingly.

(A Copy)


Archibald Blair, C. C.11

1This refers particularly to George Rogers Clark’s letter of 29 April 1779 to Patrick Henry (Boyd, Papers of Jefferson description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson (16 vols. to date; Princeton, N.J., 1950——). description ends , II, 256–60), in which he told of the capture of Henry Hamilton. An extract from the letter was sent to Congress (NA: PCC, No. 71, I, 251–53). The “other papers” probably included a statement from John Dodge (below, n. 8).

2Sir Guy Carleton (1724–1808), later Baron Dorchester, was governor of Quebec, 1767–1778, 1786–1796. Philip Dejean, described by Clark as “Grand Judge of Detroit,” had been justice of the peace at Detroit at least since 1777. He was paroled in October 1779, and in April 1780 he returned to Vincennes (James Alton James, ed., George Rogers Clark Papers, pp. 145, 203; Clarence W. Alvord, ed., Kaskaskia Records, pp. 16, 168–69).

3Guillaume La Mothe (d. 1799) had been a trader at Detroit since 1767. Early in the Revolution he became a captain of militia there. He was at Vincennes with Hamilton when the town was captured. He was paroled in October 1779 and exchanged in 1781 (ibid., p. 104 n.).

4“An Address to the inhabitants of Illinois, by Henry Hamilton, Lieutenant Governour of Detroit and its dependencies, &c., &c., found among Mr. Hamilton’s papers” (printed in Virginia Gazette [Williamsburg, Dixon and Hunter], 26 June 1779). It relates Hamilton’s plan “to expel the rebels” with many Indian raids. See also John D. Barnhart, ed., Henry Hamilton and George Rogers Clark in the American Revolution (Crawfordsville, Ind., 1951).

5Corrected in an unknown hand to “these.”

6The Tennessee River.

7Corrected in an unknown hand to “inhuman.”

8John Dodge was a trader from Connecticut who was imprisoned by the British at the outbreak of the Revolutionary War because of his obvious sympathies for the Americans. After being held at Detroit, he was taken to Quebec, whence he escaped in 1779. In Virginia he won the friendship of Governor Jefferson and was appointed the state’s Indian agent for the county of Illinois, serving until he was removed in 1781 (Clarence Walworth Alvord, ed., Cahokia Records, 1778–1790, p. xcv n.). The accusations which Dodge made to the Virginia Council of State were probably similar to the fanciful and lurid charges in his pamphlet, Treatment of John Dodge, by the English at Detroit: Written by Himself (Philadelphia, 1779). His attitude toward the British prisoners is shown by this comment in a letter of 13 July 1779: “I am going to Williamsburg in a few days to prosecute Hamilton and that Rascal Dejean Lamotte, likewise Hominay Hay. They will all be hanged without redemption, and the Lord have mercy on their Souls” (Clarence W. Alvord, ed., Kaskaskia Records, pp. 104–5). During Dodge’s brief service as Indian agent many accusations of malfeasance were made against him (ibid., passim). “Hominay” Hay was probably Major Jehu Hay, who was captured with Hamilton at Vincennes. After Hay was paroled by Virginia in 1781, he became the British lieutenant governor of Detroit (ibid., 105 n.).

9Changed in an unknown hand to “having.”

10On 29 September, after receiving General Washington’s admonition of 6 August that “Mr. Hamilton could not according to the usage of War after his Capitulation, even in the manner it was made, be subjected to any uncommon severity,” the Council of State ordered the three prisoners released from their irons and close confinement. At first Washington had approved the treatment of Hamilton, but this suggestion came after “more mature consideration” (Boyd, Papers of Jefferson description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson (16 vols. to date; Princeton, N.J., 1950——). description ends , III, 30, 61, 94–95, 97). In Hamilton’s report of his captivity he tells that he was “honored” with the largest fetters, “which weighed eighteen pounds eight ounces” (James A. James, ed., George Rogers Clark Papers, p. 197).

11Archibald Blair (1753–1824) was clerk of the Council of State throughout the Revolutionary War.

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