James Madison Papers

To James Madison from Robert Fairchild, 3 January 1814

From Robert Fairchild

Marshal’s Office, Stratford, Connect.
January 3d. 1814.


Being at New London a few days since, I learned that enquiries had there been made, by a gentleman employed for the purpose by the government, concerning my treatment of James Stewart, a British subject, and that Col: Hawkins, the gentleman alluded to, having ascertained, from my Deputy & other persons, such facts as lay within their knowledge, remarked that my proceedings appeared to him perfectly correct, except that he thought I had misjudged in not confining Stewart on his return to N. London in Septemr last.1 Had he known all the facts, I cannot believe he would have made that exception. My object in writing this letter is to set that part of the transaction in a fair point of view.

Stewart was arrested & sent to prison in Tolland on the 1st. day of July last—on the 2d. he was let out by the Sheriff. On the 3d. I wrote to the Commissary General of Prisoners, a statement of the facts in detail, so far as I had then heard—and on the 6th. of the same month I forwarded to the Secretary of State, a more concise account of the affair & informed him that I had just learnt that Stewart had been let out of prison. On the 5th. of Augt. I wrote again to the Commissary General of Prs. on the same subject.2 In these letters, I asked for instructions, what further measures I should take with regard to Stewart, desiring to know how to proceed in case he should return to N. London, as he had declared he would—and in my letter of the 3d. of July, I requested the Commissary Genl. of Prs. to inform me whether my proceedings, as then stated to him, were approved by the Executive. To these letters, I received no answer till October following. It is as remote from my intention, as from my ideas of decorum to question the motives for this silence—they were doubtless sufficient & were in part explained to me by the Commissy. Genl. in his letter of the 1st. of October. But being left in a state of suspense, I was apprehensive that the measures I had taken agt. Stewart were not approved at Washington, that it was there supposed that he had been treated with too much severity—for I knew perfectly well that his friends in New London had remonstrated to their friends in Congress on the subject, & that they exerted themselves to make a strong impression in his favor.3 Under these circumstances, I concluded, that if he should return, the most prudent course would be to inform the Commissary Genl. of Prs. of the fact & wait for his instructions. This I did, with a fixed determination to fulfil the intention of the Government, as soon as it should be made known to me. In the meantime thinking it possible that Commodore Decatur might intend to depart speedily with his squadron, I instructed my Deputy to apply to him & state that if he was of opinion that the public interest required the immediate confinement of Stewart, to put him under guard at a proper distance from N. London & give me notice of it forthwith. Application was made accordingly & I was informed by my Deputy that the Commodore declined accepting my offer. There are two men in N. London who are secret friends of Stewart & unfriendly to the government, who by great art & excessive attentions, have deceived the Commodore into a belief that they are real patriots. These men in fact supply the navy. One of them is unfortunately the Surveyor of the port, whom I know to be unfaithful in, & unworthy of his office, & shall soon forward to the government conclusive proof of this charge.4 By these persons my conduct has doubtless been misrepresented to the Commodore, & he made to belief that which is false.

I forbear to enter into further particulars, not knowing whether any part of my conduct is thought to require explanation, but beg leave to refer to my correspondence with the Secretary of State & Commissary Genl. of Prs. from June to Oct. taken in connection. I have entertained some doubts of the propriety of addressing you on the subject of this letter, but have ventured to do it under the expectation that you will appreciate my motives as they deserve, by ascribing them to their true cause, a laudable anxiety to vindicate myself and to retain a place in your good opinion. I have the honor to be with the highest respect Sir, your obedt. Servt.

Robert Fairchild

RC (NN).

1Stewart, a merchant, agent for British prisoners, and former British consul at New London, had reported himself to Fairchild as an alien enemy on 8 Aug. 1812. He was then forty-six years old, married with six children, had lived in the United States for thirty-five years but had never applied for U.S. citizenship, had “been many years agent for supplying British W. India Islands,” and was “active, enterprizing, of extensive connections” (DNA: RG 59, War of 1812 Papers, U.S. Marshals’ Returns of Enemy Aliens and Prisoners of War, Part II). He had also issued numerous licenses for U.S. ships carrying supplies to the British West Indies (W. Freeman Galpin, “The American Grain Trade to the Spanish Peninsula, 1810–1814,” American Historical Review 28 [1922]: 30–33). On 1 June 1813 Fairchild wrote to James Monroe, reporting his suspicion that Stewart was in contact with the British navy, and Monroe subsequently ordered that Stewart be removed forty miles from the coast (DNA: RG 94, War of 1812, Records Relating to Prisoners, entry 127-A, box 5; Monroe to John Mason, 24 June 1813, DNA: RG 59, War of 1812 Papers, Letters Received regarding Enemy Aliens). By 20 Sept. 1813 Stewart had returned to New London, later explaining that he had done so because his wife was “confined in child-bed.” He agreed to go to Stafford, Connecticut, but “would not accept a passport & parole.” From there he eventually traveled to Stonington, where by 1 Nov. 1813 he had boarded the British ship Valiant, reportedly “with a view … to go to Halifax” (Fairchild to John Mason, 20 Sept., 8 Oct., and 1 Nov. 1813, DNA: RG 94, War of 1812, Records Relating to Prisoners, entry 127-A, box 5). On 25 Nov. 1813 Monroe wrote to Maj. Gen. Henry Dearborn, commander at New York, stating that Stewart had “forfeited his claim to confidence, by granting licenses for a trade with the enemy, and other improper conduct,” and that Fairchild may have “connived at, if he has not sanctioned” Stewart’s refusal to remain confined. Monroe requested, “by order of the president,” that Dearborn “send a judicious and discreet officer to New London” to obtain information on Stewart’s conduct and on Fairchild’s handling of his case (DLC: Monroe Papers, series 4).

2Fairchild’s 3 July 1813 letter to commissary general of prisoners John Mason reported that when he had ordered Stewart to Tolland, Connecticut, in accord with Monroe’s instructions of 23 June, Stewart declared that he had “taken advice” and would not go unless forced, would not accept parole, and would not stay in Tolland unless imprisoned. When arrested, he pled for time to settle his financial affairs, stated that his wife was soon to give birth, and accused Fairchild of “unprecedented rigour, in removing him so suddenly.” Fairchild suspected that Stewart planned to sue him for false imprisonment, and in explaining why he had not made the arrest until 1 July, observed that it was “important … to proceed with the utmost caution to escape the snares contrived to entrap me.” On 5 Aug., Fairchild informed Mason that when arrested, Stewart had been offered a passport to go to Stafford, which he had refused, but upon his release from prison in Tolland had proceeded there, where he remained (DNA: RG 94, War of 1812, Records Relating to Prisoners, entry 127-A, box 5). Mason evidently forwarded this letter to Monroe, whose head clerk, John Graham, replied on 9 Aug. 1813: “The Secretary of State is of opinion that Mr Fairchild whose Letter I now return, should be immediately directed to take Stewart into Custody and if necessary put him in confinement” (DNA: RG 59, War of 1812 Papers, Letters Received regarding Enemy Aliens). Fairchild’s 6 July 1813 letter to Monroe has not been found, but his 1 July 1813 letter to the secretary of state, reporting that Stewart had been taken to Tolland after refusing to accept a passport and parole, survives (DNA: RG 59, ML).

3Thirty residents of New London signed a 29 June 1813 petition to Monroe stating their opinion that Stewart had always “behaved with prudence discretion and propriety,” and asking that he either be allowed to remain in New London or at least “be indulged with a few days, to arrange his affairs” rather than being forced to depart immediately (DNA: RG 59, War of 1812 Papers, Letters Received regarding Enemy Aliens).

4Nathaniel Richards, surveyor of the port of New London, was removed early in 1814 and replaced by Oliver Champlain (Senate Exec. Proceedings, description begins Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate of the United States of America (3 vols.; Washington, 1828). description ends 1:10, 2:514–15).

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