1776 Hamilton


Henry Hamilton [ca 1734-1796] was appointed as the first civilian Governor of Detroit in 1775. In 1779 he as captured and taken to Virginia as a prisoner of war. He was treated harshly there. "The explanation for the Americans' treatment of Hamilton lies in their fear of Indian attacks on their western settlements and the conviction that he typified a brutal and relentless British policy in using Indians; the 'hair-buyer general,' Clark dubbed him." (DCB 4:322)

My Lord, Tho sensible that a multiplicity of affairs must engage your Lordship's attention at present, and that the importance of them ought perhaps to deter me from trespassing on your time, yet my Duty informs me, that I should not lose an opportunity of laying before your Lordship the state of this Post and Settlement. . . . . I immediately on my arrival here (which was on the 9th of November last) directed the putting in repair of His Majesty's Vessels lying here. As soon as the severity of the Season would permit, they were ordered to their Stations, being fitted for the purposes of transporting Stores and Provisions, and also for defence. As soon as the Frost would allow, the Repairs of the Fort were undertaken, which went on slowly, as the Garrison consisted only of two companies of the King's (or 8th Regiment) Had the Country people been employed as Laborers, they must have had provision from the King's stores, and the communication from Montreal being cut off by the Rebels, it could not be spared. The Savages who resorted hither in great numbers in the Spring, consumed a large quantity, and the Militia employed to reinforce the crews of the Vessels, encreased the consumption. At this present time there are not two barrels of Pork in the King's Stores, but one of the Vessels loaded with Provisions, is in the River of Detroit, and is expected to arrive to-morrow.

On the 29th of July I signed a contract for supplying the Garrison with fresh Provision, and the same day a Vessel arrived from the Post of Michillimakinac, with the news of the Rebels being driven out of Canada.

The Fort is in a tolerable state of defence at present, against Savages, or an Enemy unprovided with Cannon. A Stockade of 1200 Paces in extent, fortified with 11 Block houses and Batteries, would require for its defence a larger garrison than two Companies, but as there is at present a Ditch with fraising nearly compleated on two sides of the citadel, some men could be spared to the weaker parts. The Stockades which are of cedar 15 feet high, are mostly new, and the artificers among the Soldiery and Inhabitants are employed in the construction of new Block houses and Batteries. The old were nigh rotten. The Virginians have been tampering with the Savages, and have threatened frequently to attack the place, but hitherto have not been able to succeed with the former, or undertake the latter.

As I have been very closely attached to the Fort since my arrival, and my time been much employed in attention to the Savages, it would be improper for me to attempt giving your Lordship any but a general idea of the state of the settlement. I hope to be able when the present troubles subside, to make such enquiries, and gain such Information as not to be entirely at a loss, should your Lordship honor me with your commands, I shall yet be apprehensive of failing in my desire to convey information to your Lordship, and tho' on the spot, shall be happy to have objects of enquiry pointed out to me.

The Industry and enterprising Spirit of the traders at the Post, so far outgo the Canadians, that I am persuaded the latter will in a very few years be dependants on or brought out of their possessions by the former - The navigating the Lakes in large Vessels, is entirely in the hands of the new Settlers, the new Settlers manage their Farms to the best advantage - The Canadians are mostly so illeterate that few can read, and very few can sign their own names. 'till the surrender of the country to the English the breeding of sheep was not known here and horned cattle were very rare, at present I am told there are about 2000 sheep and 3000 head of black cattle in the Settlement.

The backwardness in the improvement of farming has probably been owing to the easy and lazy method of procuring bare necessaries in this Settlement - Wood was at hand, the Inhabitants therefore neglected to raise stone and burn lime which is to be had at their doors - The straight (which at the Town of Detroit is 1000 yards over) is so plentifully stocked with variety of fine fish that a few hours amusement may furnish several families, yet not one French family has got a seine - Hunting and fowling afford food to numbers who are nearly as lazy as the Savages, who are rarely prompted to the chace till hunger pinches them. The soil is so good that great crops are raised by careless & very ignorant farmers, Wheat, Indian Corn, Barley, Oats, Pease, Buck Wheat yield a great increase - Yet there is no such thing as yet, as a piece of land laid down for Meadow, and the last Winter, indeed a remarkable severe one from this country to the Illinois several of the Cattle perished for want of Fodder - There are very extensive Prairies in the Settlement, but so many natural advantages have hitherto appeared rather to encourage sloth than excite Industry - The great advantage to be drawn from the management of bees, has never induced any to try them here, tho there are wild bees in great numbers, and the woods are full of blossoming shrubs, wild flowers and aromatic herbs - As to the Climate, tis by far the most agreable I have ever known.

The heat of Summer tho great, does not overpower, and is not attended with either the ruinous gusts of wind experienced to the Southward, or the unwholesome vapours complained of usually by those who live near Great Waters. The Lakes are as free from stagnation as the sea, and this vast straight, has a swift current yet knows scarce any difference as to the fullness of its Bed in Summer and Winter - The Inhabitants may thank the bounty full hand of Providence, for Melons, Peaches, Plumbs, Pears, Apples Mulberries and Grapes, besides several sorts of smaller fruits - several of these grow wild in the woods, those which have got a place in gardens are after being stuck in the ground committed to the care of the climate and soil, so are perpetually degenerating - Hemp and Hops seem natives of almost all America, they might be greatly improved here - There are Salt Springs at a little distance from this place, but I have not yet had time to visit them -

The number of Settlers whites, is about 1500. They build on the borders of the Straight, and occupy about 13 miles in length on the North, and 8 on the South side - the houses are all of Log or frame Work, shingled, the most have their orchard adjoining, the appearance of the Settlement is very smiling. On Holy days one would be tempted to think the Inhabitants were fond of cleanlyness, for they in general dress beyond their means, almost every one has a calash for summer and a cariole for winter. They use Oxen and Horses indifferently for the Plough. As to the Indian trade, all who chuse to engage in it may, without limitation; but here I must entreat your Lordship to excuse me if I should be guilty of great errors in my account, for at the time General Carleton thought proper to send me up, the Rebels had entered Canada, and I crossed the Island of Montreal in a Canadian dress, and got the forth day in a wooden Canoe to Oswegatchy, unprovided with (I may say) every thing. I was exceeding struck by the unmoved temper and Firmness of the General. Tho' deserted by the most ungrateful race under the sun, tho' a General without Troops, and at the Eve of quitting Montreal to give entrance to lawless Rebels, his mind appeared unshaken, and he gave me his last orders for the Posts with apparent unconcern, tho' most undoubtedly he was wrung to the soul. Tho' I had frequently seen in him instances of uncommon Fortitude, yet nothing of so trying and discouraging a nature had perhaps put his Resolution to tryal before, and I believe all who know him rejoyce sincerely to see him rise superior to so complicated distress. Your Lordship will I hope pardon my digression. Regulations for the trade with the Indians are either not generally known, or not duly enforced, for Example, great abuses subsist in the Weights and Measures used by the traders, and for want of an office to stamp the Silver works which make a considerable article in the trade with the Savages, they get their trinketts so debased with copper, as to lay open a large field for complaint.

The number of traders not being limited, allows of many engaging in it, who have no principle of Honesty, and who impose on these poor people in a thousand ways to the detriment of honester and to the disgrace of the name of trader among the Savages, which usually means with them an artfull cheat, the distrust and disgust conceived for these traders occasions many disputes which frequently end in murder. This trade being lucrative engages several who have little or no capital of their own to procure credit, sometimes to a considerable amount, their ignorance dishonesty (or both) occasion frequent failures, the adventurers then decamp to some other post, where they recommence the same traffic, improving in art and villany, and finally become desperate in their circumstances, and dangerous from their connexions and interest with the Savages.

Silver badges given at a proper office to Engages of good character only might correct many abuses - as it is, they are the most worthless vagabonds imaginable, who are fugitives (in general) from lower Canada, or the Colonies, who fly from their Debtors, or the Law, and being proficients in all sorts of vice and debauchery, corrupt the morals of the Savage, a far more estimable member of Society, and communicate to the wretches, disorders they might have continued untainted by, were it not for the intercourse with these Engages - having contracted new debts, they fly to the more remote Posts, where they recommence the same Trade - [During the time of writing this far. I have at intervals been obliged to break off to meet the Savages who began a council upon some Belts sent to the Shawanese by the Virginians, The first of September makes the fourth day they have sat, and the conclusion of their deliberation is that the Virginians have imposed on them by stating the cause of the dispute falsely, that they have misrepresented they own ability to cope with the Mother Country, that they are not really well disposed to the Savages, their actions contradicting their professions - having sounded the Chiefs, and found them disposed as I would have, I tore the Messages, letters and speeches of the Virginians, and cut their Belts in presence of two hundred Indians, deputies from, the Ottawas, Chippawas, Wyandotts, Shawanese, Senecas, Delawares, Cherakees, and Pouteowattamis - Hitherto I have restrained them from acting, not having an opportunity of receiving orders from His Excellency General Carleton, but a letter from him dated 19th July 1776, informs me that he had sent back some Ottawas, who had offered their Services desiring them to hold themselves in readyness next Spring to cooperate with His Majesty's Forces. In consequence of this; I have told the Savages assembled at the Council, to content themselves, with watchfully observing the Enemy's motions, that if the Virginians attacked them, I should give notice to the whole confederacy, and that an attack on one nation should infallibly be followed by the united force of them all to repel or as they they term it strike the Virginians - They all appear perfectly satisfied, but I am not to rely on their assurances, for as soon as the Council breaks up, I expect to hear of several small parties falling on the scattered settlers on the Ohio, and Rivers which fall into it - a deplorable sort of war, but which the arrogance, disloyalty, and imprudence of the Virginians has justly drawn upon them] . . .

Henry Hamilton

P.S. on the other side.

My Lord, [Since I began this letter His Majesty's Schooner Gage is arrived with Provisions for the Post of Michillimackinac, and some for this place, but as I have already sent to the Ouabash for Cattle, and have contracted at this place for fresh Beef for the Garrison till New Year's Day, I trust there will be no danger of scarcity -

[An Englishman, a Delaware Chief, called Captain White Eyes, and with them on Moutons educated at Williamsburg, but a savage, had the insolence to bring a letter, a string, and a Belt, from the Agent for the Virginian Congress, soliciting the Confederacy of Western Indians to go to a Council at Pittsburgh. I tore their letters, and cut their Belt in presence of all the Indians and sent them off, telling them their coming in Quality of Messengers protected them, but that they must leave the settlement without delay. They had a Pennsylvania Gazette of the 25th of July containing a declaration of Colonies, by which they entirely throw off all Dependence on the Mother Country.

The Council is finished with the Indians at this place this Evening, they are all well pleased, and in two days some Chiefs and Warriors from the Ottawas, Chippewas, Wyandotts, and Pouteowattamies, are to embark on board the Gage, to join the six Nations at Niagara, under the orders of Lieutenant Col Caldwell, and I am persuaded will act as he would have them - their inclination is for War, but I hope the colonists will open their eyes, before the clouds burst, that hang heavy over their heads - Moutons could not avoid being in company with the other people I mentioned - he has brought me a great Belt of friendship, addressed to his Majesty by the Delaware Nation. I send it to Genl. Carleton]

Detroit - from August 29th to Sept 2nd 1776

Henry Hamilton

From: LIEUT. GOV. HAMILTON TO THE EARL OF DARTMOUTH. Michigan Pioneer and Historical Collections 10 (1888): 264-270.

See Also:

Dictionary of Canadian Biography 4: 321-325.

Sheehan, Bernard W. "The Famous Hair Buyer General": Henry Hamilton, George Rogers Clark, and the American Indian. Indiana Magazine of History 1983: 79 (1): 1-28.

Stevens, Paul. "Placing Proper Persons at Their Head": Henry Hamilton and the Establishment of the British Revoluntary-era Indian Department at Detroit, 1777. Old Northwest 1986 12 (3): 279-317.

Walsh, Martin W. The Native American Sketches of Henry Hamilton. Michigan History Magazine 1997 81 (3): 20-27.