James Madison Papers

To James Madison from James Taylor, 7 July 1812

From James Taylor

Detroit July 7th. 1812


I have the honor to inform you that we reachd this place on the 6th. inst in good Spirits & health generally.

We have been so unfortunate as to have all our public stores taken by the British with I think four officers & Twenty three non commissioned officers & Privates and a great lot of our private baggage. The Genl. was so desirous that we should arrive at this place that he did not consider the risque that we run & directed that every thing that could be dispensed with should be sent on by water From the rapids to this place.1 For my own part I was a little unwell & as it was necessary that some should accompany the baggage I had thought I would go on my self & make some arrangements for the reception of the public stores, but after the army had marched from the foot of the Rapids it occurred to me I ought not to hurt my self that way, and followed on the army sending one of my agents Wm. K. Beall2 who is now a Prisoner. I had thought that I had Kept all my public papers but found by a letter from Mr Beall that one bundle of them had been by accidently put into the Private Trunk of Majr Taylor Berry one of my asst. Qr. Masters or agents. The Genl is in the same fix with the rest of us as to his baggage, our Troops are anxious to take possession of Malden, but the Genl does not think it proper to suffer it.3 It appears to be the opinion from the best data that, we can take the place with the greatest ease & with but little loss, but they have at least one hundred Men occupied strengthening the works & we fear it may Cost us a number of lives if it is put off any length of time.

The great difficulty is they are istablishing a battery at sandwich opposite to Detroit and they will be able to batter the Town down. They have commenced the attack upon us by taking our property and it appears a contradiction that there should be war & we not suffered to go over & retaliate on them but I am one of those who confide in the wisdom & virtue of our goverment, but it really appears to me that if the true situation was Known we should not be restrained.

Colo Lewis Cass went over yesterday with a flag to see how our sick men were provided for & make some arrangments as to the Captives &c. Thro him I have been able to procure my vouchers, for which I think my self very fortunate, and as to my baggage and stores they are welcome to them but I think we will have these back with interest. Indeed I think it a fortunate Circumstance for the Govt. that we have met with the loss for I do assure you it has created such an antipathy that I think it is well be [sic] worth more to us than five times the value of the property taken, but it will really put us to a great loss for all the Hospital Medical & Qr. Master stores & stationary are taken and I fear they cannot be replaced at this place.

You must pardon this scrawl as it is written in a Tent without chair or table & raining. With great respect I have the honor to be sir Your obed servt.

James Taylor


1On 18 June 1812 Eustis ordered Hull to march his men to Detroit. Before word of the declaration of war had reached him, Hull elected to send the officers’ private baggage and some public stores, along with a group of civilians and sick soldiers, up the Detroit River by boat in an effort to expedite the journey. The British, already fully aware of their enemy status, seized the vessel on 3 July (Eustis to Hull, 18 June 1812 [DNA: RG 107, LSMA]; Hull to Eustis, 3 and 10 July 1812 [DNA: RG 107, LRRS, H-295:6 and H-298:6]; William Piatt to Eustis and enclosure, 17 July 1812 [DNA: RG 107, LRRS, P-224:6]).

2William Kennedy Beall of Kentucky had been with Hull’s army since the spring of 1812. When captured while accompanying baggage up the Detroit River, he was serving as Taylor’s assistant quartermaster general. Beall had received an ensign’s commission on 6 July, delivered to him by Lewis Cass, who visited the prisoners of war to transmit their pay and to carry back such items from the officers’ baggage as the British would allow. On 11 Mar. 1813 Beall advanced to second lieutenant of the First Artillery, and on 23 Oct. 1813 he received a first lieutenant’s commission (“Journal of William K. Beall, July–August, 1812,” American Historical Review, 17 [1912]: 783–808; Heitman, Historical Register description begins Francis B. Heitman, Historical Register and Dictionary of the United States Army, from Its Organization, September 29, 1789, to March 2, 1903 (2 vols.; Washington, 1903). description ends , 1:203).

3On 24 June 1812 Eustis wrote to Hull: “Should the force under your Command be equal to the enterprize, consistent with the safety of your own posts, you will take possession of [Fort] Malden.… It is also proper to inform you that an adequate force cannot soon be relied on for the Reduction of the Enemies posts below you.” Under the impression that he was not to receive reinforcements and should proceed with caution, Hull resisted his officers’ demands to attack the fort and instead took up a position opposite to Detroit, spending weeks training his troops and preparing artillery (Eustis to Hull, 24 June 1812 [DNA: RG 107, LSMA]; Hull to Eustis, 14, 19, 22, and 29 July 1812 [DNA: RG 107, LRRS, H-331:6, H-332:6, H-333:6, and H-337:6]).

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