James Madison Papers

To James Madison from William Jones, 17 August 1813

From William Jones

Navy Department Augt. 17. 1813


I herewith transmit the proceedings of a Court Martial held at Point Petre 19th July for the trial of Lieutenant Alexander Sevier Commanding a detachment of Marines serving with the Army of the UStates in that quarter—which resulted in a sentence of dismission from the service of the U States.1

I have reason to believe that an impartial enquiry into the general character and conduct of Lieut Sevier and of the detachment under his command would demonstrate the sentence to be extremely severe. He is young and ardent, and under a sense of injury and persecution of himself and detachment from Captain Mathias he has no doubt committed acts of indiscretion which he alledges were the effect of the brutal conduct of Capt Mathias towards the Marines in beating them with a bludgeon himself while confined in irons by his order, for which outrage a Court of enquiry was had, which would have resulted in a court Martial but for the want of Officers to constitute a court, as alledged by Lieut Sevier. Colonel Wharton and the officers of the Marine Corps speak of Sevier as young man of strict honor of the most intrepid spirit and an excellent officer.

He is a youth of property and respectable connexions in his native State of Tennassee. Genl. Sevier of Congress is his uncle.

His detachment has distinguished itself on that station by the loss of its former Commander Captn. Williams in a gallant action and I believe by its general good conduct.2 It has sustained many privations & hardships from and auxilliary Character.

My impressions are Sir that you do an act of justice by reversing the Sentence, and if on this occasion I shall have anticipated your decision be pleased to return the proceedings in order that I may dispatch Lieutenant Sevier to Charleston to bring on his detachment which is detained at that place for want of an Officer.

The accompanying letters were intended for gentlemen who are absent from this City.3 Mr Sevier says he was led into the error of enlisting the man by mistaking the General order of which a memorandum is enclosed.4 I am very respectfuly your Obdt Servt

W Jones

RC (DNA: RG 59, ML); letterbook copy (DNA: RG 45, LSP). For surviving enclosures, see nn. 1 and 3.

1The enclosed transcript of Sevier’s court-martial (37 pp.; DNA: RG 125, Records of General Courts-Martial and Courts of Inquiry, vol. 4) revealed that he had been charged with “conduct unbecoming an Officer & a Gentleman” and disobedience of orders as a result of his actions in disputes with Capt. Abraham Massias. In accusing Massias of mistreating the Marines under his command, Sevier allegedly slandered the captain and used “provoking & disrespectfull” language to him in the presence of other soldiers. Furthermore, Sevier enlisted into his own company a private, Nathaniel Doors, who had nearly two months left to serve under Massias. Sevier’s action allegedly violated a general order of 7 June 1813 specifying when and by whom soldiers could be reenlisted. In his defense, Sevier argued that his comments to Massias had not been made in front of other soldiers, that all his statements about Massias were true, and that in enlisting Doors he had acted on an incorrect interpretation of the general order but was motivated by the good of the service. He was nevertheless found guilty on both charges.

At the foot of the transcript, JM wrote and signed the following statement: “I remit the foregoing sentence & restore Lieutenant Alexander Sevier to his rank.”

2Marine Capt. John Williams (ca. 1765–1812), a Virginian, served briefly as military commandant of Fernandina on Amelia Island after its capture by East Florida “Patriots” and the U.S. Navy in March 1812. He and his company then joined the U.S. forces blockading St. Augustine and, while convoying supply wagons on 11 Sept. 1812, were ambushed by a party of Seminoles and free-black East Florida militia. Despite being hit by eight musket balls, Williams continued to command, and his force held off the attackers with the loss of the wagons, one man killed, and seven others wounded. He died of his wounds on 29 Sept. (Cusick, The Other War of 1812, 120–25, 173, 232–35; PJM-PS description begins Robert A. Rutland et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison: Presidential Series (6 vols. to date; Charlottesville, Va., 1984–). description ends , 4:295–96 n. 3).

3Jones probably referred to letters from Thomas Pinckney to John Armstrong, 29 July 1813, and from Francis K. Huger, adjutant general of the Sixth Military District, to Inspector General Abimael Y. Nicoll, 29 July 1813 (1 p.), which accompanied the transcript of Sevier’s court-martial. Pinckney wrote that he had confirmed Sevier’s sentence “but suspended the execution” because Sevier and his detachment of marines had been ordered out of Pinckney’s district, and Pinckney did not want to thwart “the intentions of Government respecting him.” Sevier had “permission to proceed direct to Washington where he will receive the determination of the President on his Case.” Huger transmitted the proceedings of the court-martial and an extract from the Sixth Military District general orders noting Pinckney’s confirmation and suspension of the sentence.

4Enclosure not found.

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