James Madison Papers

To James Madison from Henry Dearborn, 6 September 1814

From Henry Dearborn

Military District No. 1
Head Qrs. Boston Septr. 6. 1814


I have the honour of inclosing the orders of Govr. Strong,1 which are as I understand to be considered as a substitute for a compliance with my request for turning out a body of Militia as stated in my Letter of the 5th Inst. to the Department of War,2 by the inclosed orders no provision is made for the defence of any part of the District of Maine where the Enemy are now in considerable force.3 The Governor will probably propose to you the acceptance of the troops he has ordered out, altho it is evident they are not to be placed under my command,4 there remains no alternative but to rest intirely on the Governor for defence or to call on perticular Officers of the Militia for such force as may be deemed necessary, and from the present state of the public mind in this quarter it becomes a very delicate question whither I shall have recourse to last alternative or not. It is thought by Genl. Varnum and some other respectable characters that sought to have more explicit orders from you before I call on any of the Officers of the Militia, there now appears a pretty general disposition to defend our shores and Towns, but how far the arrangements of the Governor are to be relied on, time must shew, for alth[o]ugh he complied readily with my request, within less than two months past for turning out 1200 Men, it is now considered as unconstitutional to com[p]ly with my last request.5 Govr. Gilman has promptly agreed to turn out the men for the defence of Portsmouth. It will be highly gratifying to me to receive perticular directions on the dilicate subject I have stated. With due respect I am Sir your most Obt. & Humble Servant

H. Dearborn

RC (DLC). In a clerk’s hand, signed by Dearborn. Docketed by JM. Enclosure not found, but see n. 1.

1Massachusetts governor Caleb Strong’s general orders of 6 Sept. 1814, issued by Adj. Gen. John Brooks, called the entire militia force of the state “to hold themselves in readiness to march at a moment’s warning” and to ensure that they were well armed and equipped. Boston was to be defended by numerous specified companies ordered to proceed there as soon as possible, and by the local militia, which was to be drilled in preparation for service (Boston Gazette, 8 Sept. 1814).

2On 5 Sept. 1814 Dearborn reported to James Monroe that in light of the British capture of Castine, District of Maine, he had called on Strong and New Hampshire governor John Taylor Gilman for militia totaling 5,200 infantry and 550 artillery, to defend Boston, Portsmouth, Portland, and the adjacent portion of the Maine coast (DNA: RG 107, LRRS, D-40:8).

3On 11 July 1814 the British had captured Eastport, District of Maine, on Moose Island in Passamaquoddy Bay. With the arrival of reinforcements from Europe in August, Lt. Gen. Sir John Sherbrooke, governor of Nova Scotia, launched an expedition to occupy the settled portions of Maine east of the Penobscot River, with the goal of permanently gaining that territory by peace treaty in order to facilitate communication between the Maritime provinces and Quebec. The British took Castine on 1 Sept. 1814. They proceeded up the river to Hampden, where on 3 Sept. the American militia gave way without a fight, forcing Capt. Charles Morris to burn the frigate Adams and retreat. After occupying Bangor, their final destination on the Penobscot, the British army returned to Castine. Machias, the only remaining U.S. post east of the Penobscot, fell shortly thereafter (Quimby, U.S. Army in the War of 1812, 2:593–98).

4In his 7 Sept. 1814 letter to James Monroe, Strong enclosed a copy of his 6 Sept. 1814 general orders, noting that this and previous calls on the Massachusetts militia had been made necessary by the transfer of U.S. regular troops from the state to the “western frontiers.” He promised that similar orders would be issued without delay for the District of Maine. The troops now called to Boston would be commanded by a major general of militia, Strong wrote, because “such objections and inconveniences” had resulted when a recent militia detachment was placed under Dearborn’s command that it could not be done again. In conclusion, he asked whether the expenses incurred would be reimbursed by the U.S. government (DNA: RG 107, LRRS, S-107:8).

5Dearborn informed John Armstrong on 14 July 1814 that he had requested the detachment from Strong, enclosing copies of his 8 July letter to Strong enumerating the troops to be provided and Strong’s 12 July reply promising cooperation (ibid., D-19:8). The governor issued general orders complying with the requisition on 21 July 1814. Newspapers subsequently published some discussion of the constitutionality of Strong’s action, but in September one writer opined that Dearborn’s incompetence, not legal concerns, was the reason he would not be given command of the troops most recently raised (Massachusetts Dedham Gazette, 22 July and 5 Aug. 1814; Boston Daily Advertiser, 25 July 1814; Boston Weekly Messenger, 19 Aug. 1814; Salem Gazette, 26 July and 20 Sept. 1814).

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