James Madison Papers

To James Madison from British Prisoners of War, ca. 25 May 1814

From British Prisoners of War

[ca. 25 May 1814]

Pleas for to Tak Into Considaration theas few Lines that we have Now Wrote. Sirs our destresses is So Great that we are obliged for to Send this for to See our Selvs writed.

Sirs on th 7th. of feby 1814 we was Captured In the Marchant Brig Rambler from Cape fransway Down To Saint thomas By the united States Brig Ratle Snak Capt Creighton our Vessel was Burnt and the prisseners Taken out. On the 22d feby Took one English privetear & one Marchant Vessel1 whare that we are Now mixed all To Geathe & put Into a Crimanel Gool Missery on the 28th. of Apl thare was 9 More Broot Into this place whoom ware Brout Into this place.2 Them Last Nam[ed] that was put Into this dolful place has Sarved the united States for Better then Six months & Now thay have Taken those men with the Rest of us & Cared us a bout 30 miles from wilmington down the River & Landed us upon an Island Whare that thay Say thay will Cautlash Every man & more then that tham 91 white men that was Taken In the Same Vessels that thay have let those men have the parole about the Town & we poore Coulerd men are kept on this dissalote Island for to Bee Treated all the Same as the worst of Brutes.

Most honarable gentleman of the house of Congrass pleas for to Consider this and Wheather that your honnars think this to Coraspond acording To the Laws of Nations pleas for to Concidder Gentleman that thare Is Now Thousands of Amaracans Both of Black & white whitch Is Now In the British dominions and prisseners of war. Gentlemen when the head Marsel was hear at Cou[r]t thay used us with the Greatest Siveility & this was ondley whilst that the marshal was hear But as Soon as he was gon Thay Bagan for to alter thare Cours of yousedg to us & Sent us Down to this Island whare that they have Even for bid a Letter for To pass from us for fear that we Shall Blow Them In thare Rhogaray.

Sirs your honnars gentleman Theas people all thay Think & Say that we are Now In North Carolina & that thay have Nouthing To do with the pressadent Nor that Thay No Nouthing about the Laws of the united States Nor Do they Care & & &.

Sirs We Are your Most obeadeants prisseners of War Now on an Island a Bout 20 or 30 miles Below Wilmington North Carolina This Deberty Marsel By what we Can find out he Is Bribed for to do this By the Inhabatants of the place.

Sirs this Vessel that those men have Sarved In Is the Gun Boat No. 147 Cap Evens Comadore Gultare.3

RC (DNA: RG 45, Subject File RX, box 614, Correspondence Relating to Subsistence, Clothing, and Care of Prisoners of War, American and British). Addressed “to James Maderson the presadant of the united States And the Sinet house of Representatives at washington Federal City.” Postmarked 25 May at Wilmington, North Carolina; docketed in an unidentified hand: “Petition to Congress from several British Prisoners—1814.” Undated; conjectural date assigned on the basis of the postmark and docket. William Jones wrote in pencil at the bottom of the first page: “Presumed to be Evans’s 9 black Prisoners in no carolina.”

1In a 9 Mar. 1814 report of his recent cruise sent to Jones from Wilmington, North Carolina, Master Commandant John Orde Creighton of the Rattlesnake noted his 7 Feb. capture and destruction of the Rambler, and his 23 Feb. capture of the British privateer Mars and schooner Eliza. On 14 Mar. 1814 Creighton informed Jones that the majority of the prisoners taken from the Mars were “black Men,” and requested instructions as to what to do with them, explaining that he was unsure “whether they ought to be libel’d, or considered Prisoners of War.” There was “only a deputy Marshall” in Wilmington, he wrote, and no other person from whom he could take advice (DNA: RG 45, Letters from Commanders). Jones replied on 1 Apr. that Creighton should “deliver the Blacks, as well as all other Prisoners captured by you, into the hands of the Deputy Marshal, who has instructions from the Commissary General of Prisoners, on that subject” (DNA: RG 45, Letters to Officers). In the meantime, Creighton reported on 28 Mar. that he had “not yet been able to turn the white prisoners over to the Deputy Marshall” because that official, whom Creighton considered “unfit for the office,” had repeatedly created “obstacles” to such a transfer. Creighton surmised that the deputy was reluctant to incur unreimbursed expenses for the prisoners’ board, and added that affairs in Wilmington were very “strangely conducted” (DNA: RG 45, Letters from Commanders).

2Creighton informed Jones on 26 Apr. 1814 of his recent discovery that “a number of Black men taken … on board an English privateer” had “been regularly rated, and mustered as part of the crew of Gun boat 147,” then at Wilmington. Certain that “such extraordinary conduc⟨t⟩” would not meet Jones’s approval, Creighton wrote that he would “order them to one of the Brigs,” pending receipt of instructions from Jones (DNA: RG 45, Letters from Commanders).

3The petitioners evidently referred to U.S. sailing masters George Evans and Thomas N. Gautier. In June 1813 Jones had placed Gautier in command of a separate naval station at Wilmington, and ordered him to oversee the return to service of six gunboats (Dudley, Naval War of 1812, 2:67 n. 1, 151, 152–53). In an 11 Dec. 1813 letter to Jones, Gautier reported that Evans would command gunboat no. 147 (DNA: RG 45, Letters from Commissioned Officers below the Rank of Commander).

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