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1776 Dodge

John Dodge NarrativeJohn Dodge (1751 - ca 1800) was an Indian trader from Ohio at the time of his arrest. His account of the treatment he received at the hands of the British commander at Detroit, Henry Hamilton, was published and went through several editions. When Hamilton was captured and made a prisoner of war in 1779 during the Revolutionary War, his known cruel treatment of prisoners, including Dodge, led to his being put in irons while in prison. Dodge became an Indian Agent at Kalkaskia, Illinois.

The Commissioners thinking it proper, sent the Continental belt and talk by some of the Chiefs to the Savages who resided about the lakes. These Chiefs being obliged to pass Sandusky, in their tour, Mr. John Gibson, Agent for Indian affairs requested me to accompany them, and furnish them with what they stood in need of; on which I took them home.

On my arrival at the village I found the Savages in confusion, and preparing for war, on which I called a Council and rehearsed the Continental talk, which with a present of goods to the amount of twenty five pounds, quieted them. This I informed Congress of, agreeable to their request, by express, and that the Governor of Detroit was still urging the Indians to war. Soon after this, a party of Savages from the neighborhood of the lakes, came to my house on their way to the frontier to strike a blow: I asked them the reason they took up the hatchet: They replied, that the Governor of Detroit had told them, that the Americans were going to murder them and take their lands but if they would join him, they would be able to drive them off, and that he would give them twenty dollars a scalp. On this I rehearsed the Continental talk, and making them a small present they returned home, believing as I had told them, that the Governor was a liar and meant to deceive them.

On this I thought proper to write the Governor of Detroit, what he was to expect should he continue to persuade the Indians to take up the Hatchet. He was so enraged at the receipt of this letter, that he offered one hundred pounds for my scalp or body. He sent out several parties to take me without effect, until having spread an evil report of me among the Indians, on the fifteenth day of January, 1776, my house was surrounded by about twenty soldiers and savages, who broke into the house, made me a prisoner, and then marched me for Detroit.

It was about the dusk of the evening, when, after a fatiguing march, I arrived at Detroit, and was carried before Henry Hamilton, late a Captain in the fifteenth regiment, but now Governor and Commandant of Detroit; he ordered me to close confinement, telling me to spend that night in making my peace with God, as it was the last night I should live; I was then hurried to a loathsome dungeon, ironed and thrown in with three criminals, being allowed neither bedding, straw or fire, although it was in the depth of winter, and so exceeding cold, that my toes were froze before morning.

About ten o'clock the next morning, I was taken out and carried before the Governor, who produced a number of letters with my name signed to them, and asked me if they were my hand writing? To which I replied they were not. He then said, it was a matter of indifference to him whether I owned it or not, as he understood that I had been carrying on a correspondence with Congress, taking the Savages to their treaties, and preventing their taking up the hatchet in favor of his Majesty, to defend his crown and dignity, that I was a rebel and traitor, and he would hang me. I asked him whether he intended to try me by the civil or military law, or give me any trial at all? To which he replied, that he was not obliged to give any damn'd rebel a trial unless he thought proper, and that he would hang every one he caught, and that he would begin with me first. I told him if he took my life, to beware of the consequence, as he might depend on it that it would be looked into. What, says he, do you threaten me you damn'd rebel? I will soon alter your tone; here take the damn'd rebel to the dungeon again, and let him pray to God to have mercy on his soul, for I will soon fix his body between heaven and earth and every scoundrel like him.

I was then redelivered to the hands of Philip De Jeane, who acted in the capacity of judge, sheriff and jailor, and carried me back to my dungeon, where I was soon waited on by the Missionary to read prayers with me; but it was so extremely cold, he could not stand it but a few minutes at a time. In conversation with him, I told him I thought it was very hard to lose my life without a trial, and as I was innocent of the charge alledged against me. He said it was very true, but that the Governor had charged him not to give me the least hopes of life, as he would absolutely hang me.

I remained in this dismal situation three days, when De Jeane came and took out one of the criminals who was in the dungeon with me, and held a short conference with him, then came and told me, the Governor had sent him to tell me to prepare for another world, as I had not long to live, and then withdrew. I enquired of the criminal, who was a Frenchman, what De Jeane wanted with him? But he would not tell me.

The evening following he told his brother in distress, that De Jeane had offered him twenty pounds to hang Mr. Dodge (meaning me) but that he had refused unless he had his liberty; De Jeane then said, that we should both be shot under the gallows.

Being at last drove almost to despair, I told De Jeane to inform the Governor I was readier to die at that time than I should ever be, and that I would much rather undergo his sentence, than to be tortured in the dreadful manner I then was. He returned an answer, that I need not hurry them, but prepare myself, as I should not know my time until half an hour before I was turned off.

Thus did I languish on in my dungeon, without a friend being allowed to visit me, denied the necessaries of life, and must have perished with the cold it being in the depth of winter, had not my fellow-prisoners spared me a blanket from their scanty stock. Thus denied the least comfort in life together with the unjust and savage threatening I received every day, brought me so very low, that my inability to answer De Jeane's unreasonable questions, with which he daily tormented me respecting innocent men, obliged him to notice my situation, and no doubt thinking I should die in their hands, they thought it proper to remove me to the barracks, and ordered a Doctor to attend me. The weather had been so extreme cold, and my legs had been bolted in such a manner, that they were so benumbed, and the sinews contracted, that I had not the least use of them; and the severity of my usage had brought on a fever, which had nigh saved them any further trouble.

After I had lain some time ill, and my recovery was despaired of, De Jeane called and told me that the Governor had altered his mind with respect to executing me, and bid me be of good cheer, as he believed the Governor would give me my liberty when I got better; I replied it was a matter of indifference to me whether he gave me my liberty or not, as I had much rather die than remain at their mercy: On which he said, "You may die and be damn'd," and bounced out of the room.

When I had so far recovered as to be able to set up in my bed, my nurse being afraid I should inform her husband of her tricks in his absence, told the Governor that I was a going to make my escape with a party of soldiers, that I was well and could walk as well as she could, though at the time my legs were still so cramped and benumbed with the irons and cold, that had kingdoms been at stake I could not walk.

On this information, De Jeane came and told me to get up and walk to the dungeon from whence I came. I told him I was unable: "Crawl then you damn'd rebel, or I will make you." I told him he might do as he pleased, but I could not stand, much more walk: On this he called a party of soldiers, who tossed me into a cart and carried me to the dungeon: Here, by the persuasion of the Doctor, who was very kind and attentive, I was allowed a bed and not ironed. By his care and the weather growing milder, I got rid of my fever and began to walk about my dungeon, which was only eight feet square; but even this was a pleasure too great for me to enjoy long, for in a few days I was put into irons. The weather now growing warm and the place offensive, from the filth of the poor fellows I had left there, and who were afterwards executed, I relapsed. By persuasion of the Doctor who told them unless I had air I should die, a hole about seven inches square was cut to let in some air.

I remained ill until June, although the Doctor had done all that lay in his power; he then let the Governor know, that is was impossible for me to recover unless I was removed from the dungeon, on which he sent De Jeane to inform me, if I would give security for my good behavior, that he would let me out of prison. Being by my usage and fever, reduced to a state of despondence, I told him that it was a matter of indifference what he did with me, and that his absence was better than his company: He then published it abroad, and several Gentlemen voluntarily entered into two thousand pounds security for me, and I once more was allowed to breath the fresh air, after six months confinement in a loathsome dungeon, except eight or nine weeks that I lay sick at the barracks.

On my going abroad, I learned that all the property I left in the woods, to the amount of fifteen or sixteen hundred pounds, was taken in the King's name and divided among the Indians. As I had but little to attend to but the recovery of my health, I mended apace. As soon as I could walk abroad, Governor Hamilton sent for me and said, he was sorry for my misfortunes, and hoped I would think as little as possible of them; that I was in a low state, he thought I had best not think of business, or think of what I had left, as he would lend me a hand to recover my losses. This smooth discourse gave me but little satisfaction for the ill usage I had received at his hands; however, I was determined to rest as easy as I could, until I had an opportunity of obtaining redress.

As soon as I found myself so far recovered as to be able to do business, which was in September, I applied to the Governor to go down the country, but he put me off with fine words, a permission to do business there, and a promise of his assistance. I now settled my accounts with the persons with whom I was connected in trade, and found myself seven hundred pounds in debt. My credit being pretty good, I set up a retail store, and as many of the inhabitants pitied my case, they all seeming willing to spend their money with me. My being master of the different Indian languages about Detroit, was also of service to me, so that in a short time I paid off my debts, and began to add to my stock. . . .

From: NARRATIVE OF MR. JOHN DODGE DURING HIS CAPTIVITY AT DETROIT. With an Introductory Note by Clarence Monroe Burton. Cedar Rapids, IA: Torch Press, 1903: 33-41.

See Also:

Burton Clarence M. Introductory Note to Fascimile Edition noted above: 5-23.