James Madison Papers

To James Madison from James Dill, 27 April 1812 (Abstract)

§ From James Dill1

27 April 1812, Lawrenceburg, Dearborn County. Encloses a handbill received “yesterday” by express from Vincennes.2 Points out that the handbill instructs colonels commanding regiments to “adopt such remedies as the Laws authorize to make up any deficiencies which may exist amongst the Militia relative to arms and accoutrements.” The laws authorize fines of up to $1.50 per delinquency for noncommissioned officers and privates who attend muster without proper equipment. Such measures can have no benefit “in a country situated as ours is,” because it is impossible for every man in the community able and willing to furnish himself with arms to do so. “There are no manufactories of arms nearer us than Harpers Ferry in Virginia. Nor is there any place nearer this than Philadelphia where a supply of ammunition could possibly be procured. How then in cases of danger are we to be supplied; in no possible way can that be done but through the immediate interference of the congress of the United States or the executive Government.”

“As the danger is pressing and … as there are a vast number of arms now deposited in the arsenal at New port Kentucky, (a distance of only twenty five miles from here),” he requests that orders be given “as will enable the people in this quarter to obtain a supply in case of invasion or danger of Invasion.”3 There are more than five hundred effective militia in his regiment but “not one sixth of them armed so as to be able to resist any enemy whatever.” Is confident that if the people were armed, they would be “both able and willing to protect themselves against any combination of Indians which could possibly be brought to act in our quarter.” “This Town; (Lawrenceburgh, Dearborn County I. T.) is not more than five miles from the frontier, the Delaware Towns are not distant more than 40 miles—indeed the whole county (as are also the two counties North of us) is a frontier—the Situation of all three of those counties in case of attack will be truely deplorable, detached as we are from our Seat of Government—the Indian tribes between us and that, not one Sixth of the people so armed as to make any resistence the greater part of the people poor with Large families—renders it certain that an attack from the Indians must be i⟨m⟩me⟨nsely⟩ destructive.” Promises to provide any required security for the return of the arms if they are sent. Believes “that 300 stand of arms would be Sufficient for each of those three counties Dearborn, Franklin & Wayne, as the presumption is there would be no necessity for calling out more than one half of the Militia at any one time—and one thousand men well armed and conducted would be able to do much.” Understands that this request should have been made through Governor Harrison but explains: “by the time it could reach you by a route so circuitous, great mischief may be done.” Harrison “has done all in his power to organize and render the Militia serviceable, but he cannot perform impossibilities and without arms all his exertions are futile.”

RC and enclosure (DNA: RG 107, LRRS, D-67:6). RC 3 pp.; signed by Dill as colonel commandant of the Third Indiana Regiment. Docketed as received in the War Department on 13 May. For enclosure (also printed in Esarey, Messages and Letters of William Henry Harrison, Indiana Historical Collections, 2:35–37), see n. 2.

1James Dill had served in the U.S. Army as second lieutenant in the Third Infantry, 1799–1800. He was also the son-in-law of Arthur St. Clair and held the office of recorder of Dearborn County (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 , 1:373; Esarey, Messages and Letters of William Henry Harrison, Indiana Historical Collections, 1:503 n. 5).

2Dill enclosed a one-page set of general orders issued by William Henry Harrison in Vincennes on 16 Apr. 1812. The orders declared that “the late murders” on the frontiers made a war with the Indians all but inevitable and instructed colonels and other militia commanders to prepare their troops for active service. Harrison called for prompt attention to duty and suggested that officers who had accepted appointments to gratify their vanity “should now retire & not stand in the way of those who are more able or more willing to encounter the fatigues and dangers incident to actual service in an Indian war.” “When mischief is done by the Indians … they must be pursued, and the officer nearest to the spot … is to commence it as soon as he can collect his men. If his force should be too small he is to send for aid to the next officer to him, and in the meantime take a position capable of being defended.” “The pursuit must be conducted with vigor” and accounts of the proceedings transmitted to the commander in chief and the colonel of the regiment. Harrison also called on the citizens in several communities to erect “Blockhouses or picketted forts,” adding that it would depend on the conduct of the Delawares whether similar measures would be necessary elsewhere. “Indians who profess to be friendly have been warned to keep clear of the settlements,” Harrison reported, and he cautioned citizens against “admitting any Indians to come amongst them, whose designs are in the least equivocal.” He recommended, however, that those settlements frequented by the Delawares exercise “as much forbearance as possible towards that tribe, because they have ever performed with punctuality and good faith their engagements with the United States, and as yet there is not the least reason to doubt their fidelity.” “It is also certain that if they should be forced to join the other tribes in war, from their intimate knowledge of the settlements upon the frontiers, they would be enabled to do more mischief than any other tribe.”

3In acknowledging receipt of Dill’s letter, the secretary of war informed him that instructions had been sent to the military storekeeper at Newport, Kentucky, to supply arms and ammunition at the request of the governors of the neighboring territories (Eustis to Dill, 13 May 1812 [DNA: RG 107, LSMA]).

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