James Madison Papers

To James Madison from John Kilbourn, 24 August 1812

From John Kilbourn

Worthington, Ohio, 24th Aug. 1812.

May it please yours [sic] Excellency; Sir,

I take the liberty, although, personally, a total stranger, of writing this communication. Dr. E. Tiffin,1 esqr. can inform you more particularly of me.

The western mail has this moment arrived, and brought the following letter without name. The following is a literal copy from the original now before me.

“August 16th 1812.

Fort Detroit Surrendered2 to Major Genl. Brock3 Commanding his Brittanic Majesty’s forces in Upper Canada. Gen. Hull the American commandant marched out at 12 o clock with his army unarmed, prisoners of war and in tears at the perfidy of their Genl. The 4th. Article of the capitulation is, (viz) By Genl. Hulls desire a Detachment of the Ohio Troops now under march are considered Prisoners of War.4 He has politely agreed that those who are at home are at liberty to avail themselves of freedom if they cannot find a leader better disposed to sell them cheaper than he is.

Urbanna August 22nd. m. the express arrived yesterday morning—Capt. Brush5 this morning & most of his company.”

I do not write this letter because I suppose that the substance of the intelligence would not be transmitted previous to the arrival of this; but to give some more particular information of the sentiments of the people generally, which you might not so fully be informed of by the superior commanding officers. The militia in all the interior and western parts of Ohio are risen en masse, to march to the north and west. I shall march in 30 minute with the usual habilliments of a privat soldier, but am somewhat fearful, not of the enemy, but that my corporeal abilities will not enable me long to endure the necessary fatigue of a camp, on account of my having been, for a few years, disused to manual labor. But I shall march and assist in my country’s defence, so long as my physical powers will permit: until an army of 10 or 12 thousand men can be formed in our rear. Such an army, we country politicians deem necessary.

Col. Cass, now a prisoner, I think would be as popular a commander in chief as we could have, of the new army: if popular opinion was to be observed.

Private letters from the 1st. army, soon after their arrival in Canaday, hinted at what is now talked of openly, and said that “all was not going right.”

My haste must be my apology, for the careless manner in which this letter is written; and in the mean time, attribute sir, my presumption in thu⟨s⟩ abruptly addressing you to no improper motive.

There are a number of other particulars, which might be mentioned; but I presume that these now communicated will not be unacceptably received. With great esteem for your character and political sentiments, on many accounts, I am sir your most obedient humble servant

John Kilbourn6

RC (DNA: RG 107, LRRS, K-47:6). Docketed as received in the War Department on 14 Sept. 1812.

1Edward Tiffin (1761–1829), a physician and Methodist minister in Chillicothe, Ohio, was the first governor of the state of Ohio before his election as a U.S. senator in 1806. Tiffin resigned from the Senate in 1808 and was elected to the Ohio House of Representatives the following year, serving as Speaker. JM appointed him commissioner of the General Land Office in 1812, and he became surveyor general of the Northwest Territory in 1814 (Sobel and Raimo, Biographical Directory of the Governors, 3:1191).

2On 8 Aug. 1812 Hull reported to Eustis that he had elected not to attack Fort Malden for the moment because he believed he could not ensure the safety of U.S. posts. He observed that since the fall of Michilimackinac, “the Indian force has been fast increasing in this part of the Country,” British troops were advancing on his position from the Niagara peninsula, and communication with his supply network in Ohio had been cut off. Hull moved his troops back to Detroit that same day, leaving 300 men in Upper Canada as a symbol of his intent to return and resume the offensive. A company of Ohio volunteers was bringing supplies for Hull’s army but had not moved beyond the river Raisin, and Hull’s repeated attempts to send troops to escort them to Detroit did not succeed.

Hull now believed that he was pinned down in Detroit and completely cut off from supplies of equipment and men as the number of British troops and hostile Indians multiplied around him. Preparing for the worst, Hull recalled the troops he had left in Upper Canada on 11 Aug. and sent out a third escort party of 400 men under the command of Cols. Duncan McArthur and Lewis Cass. The detachment departed just as Maj. Gen. Isaac Brock arrived at Fort Malden. On 15 Aug., Brock requested that Hull surrender to avoid an “effusion of blood.” Hull’s first instinct was to refuse, but after pondering the problem overnight, while British batteries bombarded Detroit, he reconsidered. The next morning Hull received word that British troops were moving by both river and land into position for an attack, and he concluded that it had become “necessary, either to fight the enemy in the field; collect the whole force in the Fort; or propose terms of Capitulation.” Weighing his options, Hull chose to surrender on 16 Aug. (Hull to Eustis, 8 Aug. and 26 Aug. 1812, and Brock to Hull, 15 Aug. 1812, Michigan Historical Collections 40 [1929]: 437–38, 451, 460–69).

The articles of capitulation, composed that same day and forwarded to Eustis in Hull’s 26 Aug. dispatch, stipulated that all troops at Fort Detroit were to be surrendered to the British as prisoners of war, except for Michigan militia that had not yet arrived. All public stores, arms, and documents were to be given up, while private persons and property were to be “respected” (ibid., 40:469–70).

3Isaac Brock (1769–1812) was born in Guernsey and entered the British army as an ensign in 1785. He had served in the West Indies, the Channel Islands, the Netherlands, and Denmark before being ordered to Canada in 1802. Brock was promoted to major general in June 1811, when he also became president and administrator of the government of Upper Canada during the absence of the lieutenant governor, Francis Gore.

In 1806 Brock had given orders that the marine department on the lakes and rivers of Canada should be placed under the superintendence of the deputy quartermaster general. This action, in large part, made possible his efforts for the defense of Upper Canada in 1812. Brock also advocated a bold policy of limited local offensives and realized the importance of Indian cooperation, developing a working relationship with the Shawnee chief Tecumseh. After Hull’s surrender on 16 Aug. 1812 and the capture of Detroit, for which Brock was appointed an extra knight of the Order of the Bath, he returned to the Niagara peninsula, where he was killed in action at Queenston on 13 Oct. 1812 (Halpenny, Dictionary of Canadian Biography, 5:109–14, 191, 748).

4The fourth article of capitulation stipulated that both a detachment from Ohio en route to join the Northwest Army and McArthur’s troops that had been sent out from Fort Detroit were included in the surrender, even though they had not been present at the capitulation. The remaining parts of the Ohio militia “as have not joined the Army” were permitted to return to their homes “on condition that they will not serve during the War” (Michigan Historical Collections 40 [1929]: 469–70).

5Capt. Henry Brush, a Chillicothe attorney, was in command of Ohio volunteers en route to Detroit in August 1812 (Alec R. Gilpin, The War of 1812 in the Old Northwest [East Lansing, Mich., 1958], 95, 110, 111).

6John Kilbourn (1787–1833) was the publisher of the short-lived Columbus Columbian Gazette in 1815 and the author of the Ohio Gazetteer, first published in 1816 (Brigham, History of American Newspapers, 2:797; The Ohio Gazetteer; or Topographical Dictionary [Columbus, Ohio, 1816; Shaw and Shoemaker description begins R. R. Shaw and R. H. Shoemaker, comps., American Bibliography: A Preliminary Checklist for 1801–1819 (22 vols.; New York, 1958–66). description ends 38003]).

Index Entries