James Madison Papers

To James Madison from Henry A. S. Dearborn, 13 September 1813

From Henry A. S. Dearborn

Custom House Boston Sepr. 13. 1813.

Highly respected Sir,

Mr. Cutts a fiew days since informed me that some meddling person had written you, giveing a statement to the injury of me relative to a clerk in the Custom House.1 When I was honored with the appointment of Collector I found the emoluments of the office would not permit me to pay a Deputy and therefore have not appointed any yet & shall not until a change of times makeing an increase of business, shall make it proper. Last January the business of the office was so small, that I dismissed three clerks and reduced the pay of those left one third. Mr. Rowson having been appointed a clerk by Genl. Lincoln & from having been nearly fifteen years in the office, better acquainted with the details than any other, was continued by my father & has been retained by me, having unifo[r]mly conducted with attention, fidelity & propriety. On no occasion have I had any cause of complaint against him. He has been in the United States twenty years—was a merchant in England, but being unfortunate in business was compelled to go on the stage with his wife, for a living & came to this country, when he soon left that ocupation, as his wife opened a female Academy, which she has Kept ever since with the highest reputation of any in New England,2 and he was taken into the store of Fredk. Guear3 who was then one of the greatest merchants in Massachusetts & having signed bonds for him was on the Bankruptcy of Guear, thrown into prison & there remained until discharged by the Secretary of the Treasury.

Genl. Lincoln from the fair character he had ever maint[ain]ed and Knowing him well on account of his situation as Clerk to Mr. Guear & that of his highly respected wife, took him into the Custom House.

Since I have known him, he has always exhibited a respect & attatchment for the U.S. & when speaking of the government of Great Britain, it has been in the strongest terms of disapprobation for the character, conduct and measures of its rulers, particular[l]y towards this country.

When I was bound in duty, attatchment & gratitude to viset the best of fathers, who was extreemly ill at Fort George, I from absolute necessity gave Mr. Rowson power to act until my return only, and he has conducted to the satisfaction of myself & the people who had business at the office.

No one has any controul over the affairs of the office, who can draw a check, or negociate any business in relation to the duties of Collector, but myself & never has, except in the special instance alluded to.

As to the expressions in relation to the British Fleet these were the circumstances.

Being at a neighbors house, they were expressing their disgust at the conduct of Genl. Armstrong towards my father, a fiew days after the news reached town that he had been removed from his command. That letters had been published in the National Intelegencer, from persons in Camp, by genl. A. to the injury of my father & that he was thus endavoring to depreciate the services he had performed &c &c4—they were depricateing such conduct toward an officer who was faithfully serveing his country & Mr. Rowson having ever felt & expressed a high respect & gratitude towards my father, he felt indignant at the course which Genl. A. had persewed to blast the reputation of a soldier, and in the warmth of declamation & glow of feeling, he said he hoped if the British Squadron did go up to Washington, Armstrong would be blown up. This is all his offence—he said nothing about you or Congress; it was the expression of an individual, who, not from attatchment to Great Britain or enmity to the U.S. or the Government, but from a warm respect to my father & disgust at the man who he conceived had grossly injured him.

You I have no doubt will excuse this freedom, for I do not like to be under imputations which may lesson me in your good esteem. I am conscious of having faithfully done my duty & trust you would not think less well of a man who from the best motives has not persicuted an individual who for nearly 20 years has adopted this country as his own & for no other cause than his having been born in England. I know evry one has enemies and friends who act like enemies. I feel under infinite obligations to you for the delicate & friendly mode in which you made me acquainted with the purport of the letter you received & feel confident from my Knowlledge of your magnanimity & just feelings on all occasions, that this statement will not lesson me in your estimation.

Such is my esteem & gratitude that I shall at all times be proud to so conduct as will meet your approbation. I am young & my wife & children owe their support to your bounty, which will ever be remembered by us all. I pray that no designing man may induce you to imbibe unfavorable impressions, for I have made it a point to act with firmness, justice & independence in the discharge of my duty & through life felt and cherished those principles of patriotism & attatchment to the republican institutions of my country, which the examples and precepts of a kind father has so strongly implanted in my mind, that nothing but death can extinguish.

With the most earnest wishes for the speedy & perfect recovery of your health I have the honor to be Sir, with the greatest respect Your gratefull & obt. Servt.

H.A.S. Dearborn


2Susanna Haswell Rowson (1762–1824) was the author of an early American bestseller, the novel Charlotte: A Tale of Truth (also published as Charlotte Temple). Born in England, she spent much of her youth in Massachusetts, where her father, Lt. William Haswell of the Royal Navy, was stationed. Although he had property and numerous friends in Massachusetts, Haswell was a Loyalist, and during the Revolution he and his family were taken prisoner and relocated twice (the second time through the agency of Benjamin Lincoln) before being exchanged and returning to England in 1778. In London, Susanna Haswell began to publish novels, poems, and plays, including Charlotte: A Tale of Truth. In 1786 she married William Rowson (ca. 1766–1843), a hardware merchant, musician, and actor, with whom she began a career on the stage. Recruited by Thomas Wignell to perform at his New Theater in Philadelphia, the couple sailed for the United States in 1793. The first American edition of Charlotte: A Tale of Truth was published in Philadelphia in 1794, and Susanna built a reputation there as a professional actress and playwright; William, however, was demoted to prompter and eventually dismissed from that position as well. In 1796 the Rowsons moved to the Federal Street Theater in Boston, but it went bankrupt within a year, and Susanna Rowson opened her Young Ladies’ Academy on Federal Street in November 1797. Her authorship of patriotic songs and poems and the moral themes of her novels no doubt contributed to her success through the years in recruiting the daughters of prominent Massachusetts families as her students, despite rumors that her husband drank excessively and did unsatisfactory work at the collector’s office, where he was employed by 1802. She directed the school while writing and publishing additional novels, poems, and textbooks, until her health deteriorated in 1822. William Rowson held his clerkship until her death (Patricia L. Parker, Susanna Rowson [Boston, 1986], vii, xi–xii, 1–23, 128 n. 40).

3Dearborn referred to Frederick W. Geyer, who in 1798 had a mercantile establishment at 15 Foster’s Wharf, Boston (The Boston Directory, Containing the Names of the Inhabitants … [Boston, 1798; Evans description begins Charles Evans, ed., American Bibliography … from … 1639 … to … 1820 (12 vols.; Chicago, 1903–34). description ends 35005], 52–53).

4Several letters published in the Daily National Intelligencer in the summer of 1813 contained insinuations that Maj. Gen. Henry Dearborn was incompetent to command the Northern Army. On 17 June, the paper published an extract of a private letter to John Armstrong, written from Fort George and dated 8 June, reporting that after routing the British in the Battle of Stoney Creek, U.S. forces, “according to our northern tactics,” had “disdained to press a beaten enemy.” The writer presumably alluded to Dearborn’s refusal to allow pursuit of retreating British troops after the recent capture of Fort George (Quimby, The U.S. Army in the War of 1812, 1:231–33, 244–47). A 14 June letter to Armstrong from Maj. Gen. Morgan Lewis, published on 24 June, stated that due to illness, Dearborn had “resigned his command, not only of the Niagara army but of the District,” that he might never again be “fit for service,” and that “the least agitation of mind” caused him to relapse. Finally, on 8 July there appeared in the Intelligencer an “Extract from a letter received at Washington,” written from Fort George on 28 June, blaming the U.S. loss in the Battle of the Beechwoods (Beaver Dams) on the decision by upper command to attack the British with an inadequate force. The writer concluded: “I languish for the sight of a man who, understanding his business, will do justice to the army and the country. Under such a man there is both honor and reknown—under any other, confusion, disaster and disgrace.” In a separate notice on the same page the paper announced “that Maj. General Dearborn is about to withdraw from Fort George to Albany, probably until his health shall be re-established, there to await further orders.”

Index Entries