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Henry Dearborn’s Report on the War Department, [12 May 1801]

Henry Dearborn’s Report on
the War Department

[12 May 1801]

1. Fortifications.

The Works at Newport Rhode Island have been suspended.

The proposed Plan for a Fortification on Castle Island in the Harbor of Boston has been submitted to the opinions of Major Generals Heath, Lincoln, Brooks and Hull, who having visited the Island, and conversed with Mr. Foncin, the Engineer, unanimously approve of it, and have adopted a favorable opinion of the talents of the Engineer. Progress in these works according to this Plan, now in the War Office will of course immediately be directed to be made. Large proportions of the Garrisons of Marblehead, Salem and Portland have been ordered to Castle Island to assist in the Works.

Measures have been taken to ascertain the state of the Works at Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Col. Nicholas Gilman has been requested to make report thereon which it is expected will soon be received.

2. Public Buildings.

The only ones of importance are those at Philadelphia—(Plan whereof is in the War Office.) The East, North and West sides of the great square are completed—the South is a few feet above ground, and, if completed will compose a sufficiently large place of deposit for Military and Naval Stores; great quantities of materials for its completion are on hand. The Magazine, Officer’s house Stable, and Wharf are finished—the frames for the Cannon-bed are ordered to be laid.

3. Military Stores.

Great progress is making in removing many Articles of Ordnance, Clothing, Quarter Master’s and other Stores, from dispersed situations to places of more security and general deposit.

On Mr. Dupont’s offer, the Purveyor has been authorized & directed to negociate the sale of many unsuitable and perishing Articles.

The Stores at Philadelphia are removing rapidly to the new Buildings on the Banks of the Schuylkill. The houses that were rented to contain them are given up as fast as they can be vacated.

Agreeably to the latest Returns, the following is nearly the quantity of the Stores now on hand, viz:

262 Pieces of Brass Ordnance.
852 ditto of Iron ditto.
75000 Stands of small Arms
216. Tons of Gun Powder
678 Tons of Lead
838 Tons of Salt Petre
116 Tons of Brimstone.

Certain Buildings with Six Acres of Ground opposite Mud Island are offered for sale by the State of Pennsylvania. The Fort having no landing place it may be thought advisable to purchase this Property, if it can be obtained at a reasonable rate. The Purveyor of Public Supplies and the Superintendant of Military Stores have been requested to view the Premises and report their opinion as to the propriety of the Scite for a landing place from the Fort and of the price demanded. The Buildings are stated to be extensive and to admit of being made suitable for the reception of the Arms, Stores and Apparel of Ships that may be laid up at a very small expence. The price demanded is Five thousand Dollars.

4. The Quarter Master’s Department.

Arrangements have been made in this Department, and such alterations as œconomy required and the good of the Service justified

Vessels on the Lakes.

Certain large Vessels employed on Lake Erie1 having been found very expensive without adequate utility have been directed to be disposed of.

5. Manufacture of Cannon.

The Secretary has notified those Contractors who have suffered the time limitted by Contract for furnishing the number required, to expire, that no more Guns will be received under expired Contracts.

Public Armories.

Some delay has been experienced at the Public Armory at Springfield from a fire which destroyed the finishing Shop: other Buildings have been erected and the business is again in its usual train; about one hundred and forty Workmen are employed at that place.

The Armory at Harper’s Ferry is progressing as usual—about Forty Workmen are employed at this post.

6. Indian Affairs.

The orders for the Indian Annuities have not been, but will very soon be issued.

A number of Articles amounting to nearly Nine thousand Dollars have been directed to be purchased to be distributed in Presents to the Indians by the Commissioners who are to hold Treaties with them.

The Agent of the War Department in Tennessee, and the Agent for the Cherokee Nation have been notified that it is in contemplation to place the duties now performed by them in the hands of one Man; and ordered to repair to the Seat of Government to settle their Accounts by the first day of June at furthest.

Some Peltries in Store at Philadelphia as remittances from the Factories have been ordered to be sold at Public Sale; they have heretofore been sold at Private Sale: but many reasons justifying the trial of a different mode, and the quantity now on hand not being very large, it is to be attempted.

7. The state of the Army, its present force and distribution and its proposed distribution are to be seen by documents from the Commanding General and Inspector; and which are agreeable to the latest Returns.

The Two Troops of Cavalry have been dismounted, and are ordered on duty in Tennessee. The Troops now in Tennessee have been ordered to the Cantonment near the mouth of the Ohio.

A supply of Clothing for the Army for one Year has been ordered.

8. General Wilkinson has been ordered to Niagara for purposes relative to the Fortifications on the Streight and the making a Road on the United States’ side across the Portage.

In all cases where labour has been found requisite on Public Works, which could be performed by the Military, they have been ordered to do it, and allowed a Gill of Spirits and ten Cents extra each for every day they may be actually employed.

It is in contemplation to establish a Military School at West Point in the State of New York. Some measures have been taken for the engagement of qualified Teachers. The Inspectors of Artillery and Fortifications are to make this Post their permanent Station.

Proposals to contract for the supply of Rations to the Troops have been invited by public Advertisement.

A valuable Atlas in two large Volumes compiled by direction of2 Mr. King, Minister at the Court of Great Britain, has been obtained from Mr. Mc:Henry.

9. Military Bounty Lands.

The issues of Patents on Warrants granted for Services performed by the Virginia line on Continental Establishment during the Revolutionary War, and which were suspended by the loss of the Papers and Records in November last, have been recommenced, the necessary Documents have been renewed.

Progress is making in the renewal of the Documents for issues of Warrants for Continental Military Bounty Lands.

Vacancies in the Military Establishment of the United States, according to the War Office Register, May 1. 1801.

Cavalry 1 Second Lieutenantcy
1st: Regt: of Artillerists & Engrs: 2 Lieutenancies
2nd: do. do. do. 1 Lieutenancy
1st: do. Infantry 2 Second Lieutenancies
3rd: do. do. 1 ditto.
4th: do. do. 3 ditto.

MS (DLC: TJ Papers, 112:19283–4); undated; in a clerk’s hand, with alterations by Dearborn (see notes 1 and 2 below); endorsed by TJ: “War office. statemt. recd. May 12. 1801.”

Fortifications: on 18 Mch. 1801, Dearborn ordered the suspension of work on harbor defenses at Newport, Rhode Island, and requested information about the progress of the activity there. On the 26th he asked William Heath, Benjamin Lincoln, John Brooks, and William Hull to evaluate the plan for improvement of the defenses at Boston. “Very considerable sums of money” had been spent on fortifications, Dearborn noted, and the forts were often “injudiciously constructed and unnecessarily extensive, as well on the score of utility as of economy.” Citing a lack of information in the War Department files because of the November 1800 fire, Dearborn asked Nicholas Gilman to examine the fort at the entrance to the harbor of Portsmouth, New Hampshire (Dearborn to Heath and others, 26 Mch., to Gilman, 22 Apr. 1801, DNA: RG 107, MLS; Dearborn to A. L. Tousard and to Peter A. Dransey, 18 Mch. 1801, DNA: RG 107, LSMA; Heath to Dearborn, 13 Apr., Heath and others to Dearborn, 21 Apr., Gilman to Dearborn, 16 May 1801, in DNA: RG 107, RLRMS; Vol. 32:435–6n).

Sometimes called the “Laboratory,” the group of public buildings under construction next to the Schuylkill River near Philadelphia was a depot for military equipment and supplies. When completed, it had as its central feature an open square flanked by four brick warehouses, each three stories high. The project had no specific statutory authorization or appropriation, and the funds for the construction had been drawn from appropriations for the army’s quartermaster department. Soon after taking office as secretary of war, Dearborn suspended expenditures on the facility while he collected information from William Irvine, the new superintendent of military stores, and others about the progress of the work. The quartermaster general calculated that $128,500 had been spent on the project—or closer to $150,000 if obligations yet to be paid were included in the total. Dearborn took steps to put the site to use, moving public stores there from other locations in the Philadelphia area. In the spring of 1802, a House of Representatives committee investigating expenditures of public funds described the facility, still unfinished at that time, as “a pile of buildings.” The warehouses came to be known as the Schuylkill Arsenal (Dearborn to Tousard, 18 Mch. 1801, DNA: RG 107, LSMA; James Miller to secretary of war, 28 Jan. 1801, Tousard to Dearborn, 19, 22 Mch., Irvine to Dearborn, 10, 20 Apr., 2, 7, 12, 29, 30 May, 3 June, John Wilkins, Jr., to Dearborn, 20 May 1801, DNA: RG 107, RLRMS; ASP description begins American State Papers: Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States, Washington, D.C., 1832–61, 38 vols. description ends , Finance, 1:753; J. Thomas Scharf and Thompson Westcott, History of Philadelphia: 1609–1884, 3 vols. [Philadelphia, 1884], 2:1014–15).

Mr. Dupont’s Offer: Pierre Samuel Du Pont de Nemours had proposed to buy surplus military clothing; see TJ’s letter to him of 20 Mch. 1801. Du Pont initially hoped to use bills of credit drawn on Amsterdam to make the purchase. After some negotiation, the purveyor of public supplies, Israel Whelen, reported that Du Pont declined to buy any surplus items (Whelen to Dearborn, 18 May, 18 July, Daniel Ludlow to Dearborn, 28 May, 12 June 1801, DNA: RG 107, RLRMS; Dearborn to Ludlow, 22 May, 4 June 1801, DNA: RG 107, MLS).

Fort Mifflin was on Mud Island in the Delaware River below Philadelphia. Irvine had informed Dearborn in April of the availability of the property on the river’s bank, and Irvine and Whelen then collected additional information (Irvine to Dearborn, 20 Apr., Irvine and Whelen to Dearborn, 30 Apr., 12 May 1801, DNA: RG 107, RLRMS; John L. Cotter, Daniel G. Roberts, and Michael Parrington, The Buried Past: An Archaeological History of Philadelphia [Philadelphia, 1992], 252–8; Vol. 26:508–9; Francis Mentges to TJ, 4 Mch. 1801).

Quarter master’s department: during the spring and summer of 1801, the quartermaster general, John Wilkins, Jr., drew up returns of all his department’s stores at army posts and reported to Dearborn about expenditures. They also closed the quartermaster’s agency at Philadelphia as the stores were consolidated at the warehouses on the Schuylkill (Wilkins to Dearborn, 8 Apr., 2 May, 4 June, 3 July, 7, 28 Aug., DNA: RG 107, RLRMS).

On Dearborn’s instructions, Wilkins undertook to sell two of the army’s vessels on the Great Lakes, a brig called the Adams and a sloop named Detroit (Wilkins to Dearborn, 29 May, 19 June, 7 Sep., Wilkinson to Dearborn, 2 May 1801, same).

In April, Dearborn sent notices to three manufacturers of cannon to stop work under their contracts, which had expired on 1 May 1800 (Dearborn to Russell and Sylvanus Hopkins, to Lane & Salter, and to Samuel Hughes, 18 Apr. 1801, DNA: RG 107, MLS).

Public armories: a fire in January 1801 destroyed two of the shops at the Springfield, Massachusetts, armory, along with some tools, supplies, and finished guns. The armory at Harpers Ferry, Virginia, was not yet manufacturing guns on a large scale. In 1801 its workers spent most of their time repairing older firearms (James Biser Whisker, The United States Armory at Springfield, 1795–1865 [Lewiston, N.Y., 1997], 24; Merritt Roe Smith, Harpers Ferry Armory and the New Technology: The Challenge of Change [Ithaca, N.Y., 1977], 52–3).

Whelen was responsible for collecting the goods that were to be paid as annuities to Indian tribes and given as presents in upcoming negotiations (Whelen to Dearborn, 20, 30 Apr., 14 May, 6 June 1801, DNA: RG 107, RLRMS).

Dearborn wrote on 24 Mch. to David Henley, the agent of the war department for Tennessee, and to Thomas Lewis, the agent for the cherokee nation. That same day, Dearborn offered the combined position to Return Jonathan Meigs, who, following his service during the Revolutionary War, had been involved in land development in Ohio and held judicial and legislative positions there. The secretary received Meigs’s acceptance from Marietta on 15 May, and immediately made the appointment (Dearborn to Henley, Lewis, and Meigs, 24 Mch. 1801, DNA: RG 75, LSIA; Meigs to Dearborn, 26 Apr., DNA: RG 107, RLRMS; Dearborn to Meigs, 15 May, DNA: RG 75, LSIA; ANB description begins John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes, eds., American National Biography, New York and Oxford, 1999, 24 vols. description ends ).

The U.S. government operated two trading houses, called factories, where merchandise was exchanged for pelts—one at Tellico to serve the Cherokees’ territory and another on the Georgia frontier (ASP description begins American State Papers: Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States, Washington, D.C., 1832–61, 38 vols. description ends , Indian Affairs, 1:653–4).

Two tabular reports on the state of the army, both dated 30 Mch. 1801, are in TJ’s papers. One table, “A Return of the Army of the United States shewing the strength of each Regiment and Corps, and including a number of Recruits at the several Rendezvous not yet assigned to Regiments,” gave the number of officers and men of each rank who were in the army’s two units of cavalry, two regiments of artillerists and engineers, and four regiments of infantry, and enumerated recruits who were still attached to seven “Rendezvous” sites (MS in DLC; in a clerk’s hand; endorsed by the clerk: “Force of the Military Establishment, U.S.”). The other table, “A Return to shew the Numbers and Grades necessary to complete the Military Establishment of the United States,” indicated the number of people of each rank or position who were needed for the general staff, the “Civil Staff,” and each of the army’s regiments or troops (MS in same; in the same clerk’s hand; dated at Washington; at foot of text: “Note. From this deficiency we may deduct about 280 Recruits which have not joined”; endorsed by the clerk: “Wanting to complete Military Establishment”). James Wilkinson was the commanding General. The Inspector, who oversaw matters pertaining to enlistment and personnel, was Major Thomas H. Cushing in Washington (Dearborn to William Piatt, 21 Mch., to Wilkinson, 26 May, and to Cushing, 26 May 1801, enclosing rules on promotions, DNA: RG 107, LSMA).

According to the 30 Mch. “Return of the Army of the United States” referred to above, the two troops of dragoons were the only cavalry units in the army at the time. One troop had been stationed in Georgia, the other in Tennessee, and, on 20 Mch., Dearborn gave instructions for the sale of both troops’ horses. He also ordered the transfer of infantry soldiers from Tennessee to cantonment Wilkinsonville, an army post established earlier in the year on the Illinois side of the lower Ohio River (Dearborn to dragoon officers, and to Wilkinson, 20 Mch. 1801, DNA: RG 107, LSMA; Norman W. Caldwell, “Cantonment Wilkinsonville,” Mid-America: An Historical Review, 31 [1949], 3–4, 13).

Dearborn had ordered Wilkinson to determine if the fortress at Niagara was in the wrong location and too large for the number of men to be posted there, and to consider whether a smaller fort built “chiefly of Timber and earth” by the garrison’s soldiers would be feasible. After investigation later in the year, Wilkinson suggested using a “Castle” that the French had built in 1757. Dearborn also asked the general to have soldiers cut a wagon road across the portage between Lake Erie and Lake Ontario and to repair an existing road between French Creek in Pennsylvania and Presque Isle on Lake Erie (Dearborn to Wilkinson, 1 Apr. 1801, DNA: RG 107, LSMA; Wilkinson to Dearborn, 19, 20 June, DNA: RG 107, RLRMS).

One gill of spirits and ten cents a day was the army’s standard additional allowance for extra services. Dearborn intended to send a “clear and unequivocal” message to post commanders, expecting them to rely on their garrisons’ soldiers, rather than hired civilian workers, as laborers in the construction or repair of fortifications (Dearborn to John Rivardi, 21 Apr., 1 May, to Daniel Jackson, 22 Apr. 1801, DNA: RG 107, LSMA).

Military school: during John Adams’s presidency, Congress declined to approve the creation of a military academy, but did authorize the teaching of cadets in the artillery and engineering corps. Samuel Dexter, as secretary of war, took advantage of that legislation to begin a search for instructors in 1800. James Wilkinson supported the plan—he was “rejoiced” by TJ’s decision to continue it—and according to the 30 Mch. return of personnel “necessary to complete the Military Establishment,” the army’s “Civil Staff” was to include four teachers. In April 1801, Dearborn asked George Baron, an Englishman living in the United States, to be the mathematics instructor, a key position. Dearborn also offered the superintendency of the school to Jonathan Williams, who had translated into English some European treatises on artillery and fortification. Williams had been Dexter’s and Adams’s choice for superintendent of the training school, and with that purpose in mind Adams had given him a commission in the Corps of Artillerists and Engineers. TJ was well acquainted with Williams, who was Benjamin Franklin’s grandnephew, was active in the American Philosophical Society, and shared the new president’s interest in technology and science. Since there was no appropriation to build a military academy, Dearborn, in April, informed the commandant at West Point that the school for cadets would be located there (Wilkinson to Dearborn, 5 June 1801, DNA: RG 107, RLRMS; Theodore J. Crackel, West Point: A Bicentennial History [Lawrence, Kans., 2002], 41–5; Vol. 28:594–9; Vol. 29:130–1, 139–41, 301n; Vol. 31:308; Williams to TJ, 7 Mch. 1801).

Atlas: Dearborn tried to rebuild the War Department’s library of books and maps, which had been destroyed by the November 1800 fire. James McHenry offered “a very valuable Collection of Maps” for the department’s use (McHenry to Dearborn, 5 Mch. 1801, DNA: RG 107, RLRMS; Dearborn to McHenry, 1, 18 Apr., to Robert R. Livingston, 5 June, to Rufus King, 6 June 1801, DNA: RG 107, MLS).

1Word interlined by Dearborn in place of “Superior.”

2Preceding two words interlined by Dearborn.

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