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Mr. Jefferson was the second republican Governour of Virginia, he having been chosen to succeed the celebrated Patrick Henry, whose term of service had expired. The time of his accession was one at which its duties were no less trying than arduous and difficult; it was at that period of the war when the British government, exasperated by the long protraction of hostilities, and goaded by their continual defeats, increased the usual horrours of warfare, by the persecution of the wretched prisoners who fell into their hands. The Governour of Virginia, among others, promptly expressed his determination to adopt, as the only resource against a system of warfare so barbarous and unheard of a retaliation on the British prisoners in his power.
Among the persons most conspicuous in these infamous transactions, was Henry Hamilton, Esq. who acted as Lieutenant Governour of the settlement at and about Detroit, and commandant of the British garrison there, under Sir Guy Carleton as Governour in chief. He had not only induced and instigated the Indians to their butcheries on the frontiers, but had treated all prisoners in his power with unprecedented severity. This gentleman, on the fifth of December, 1778, had possessed himself of post St. Vincenne, with the intention of attacking Kaskaskia in Illinois, and which there was no doubt of his carrying. There he expected to be joined by two hundred Indians from Michilimackinack, and five hundred Cherokees, Chickasaws, and other nations. With this body he was to penetrate up the Ohio to Fort Pitt, sweeping Kentucky on his way, having light brass cannon for
the purpose, and expecting to be joined on the march by numerous bodies of Indians. With this force, he made no doubt that he could force all West Augusta.
“Colonel Clarke, a brave and able officer of Virginia, was then in Kaskaskia with a small body of men, and made every preparation for resisting the expected attack. However, there was no hope of his holding out, and his destruction seemed inevitable. In the gloom of this despair, a Spanish merchant, who had been at St. Vincenne, arrived, and gave the following intelligence: That Mr. Hamilton had weakened himself by sending his Indians against the frontiers, and to block up the Ohio; that he had not more than eighty men in garrison, three pieces of cannon, and some swivels mounted; and that he intended to attack Kaskaskia as soon as the winter opened, and made no doubt of clearing the western waters by the fall. On this information, Colonel Clarke, with a promptitude that did him honour, and which his situation and circumstances justified, resolved upon becoming the assailant, and to attack him before he could collect his Indians again. The resolution was as desperate as his situation, but there was no other probability of securing the country. He accordingly despatched a small galley which he had fitted up, mounting two four-pounders and four swivels, with a company of men and necessary stores on board, with orders to force her way, if possible, and station herself a few miles below the enemy, suf. fering nothing to pass her, and wait for further orders. In the mean time, he himself marched across the country with one hundred and thirty men, being all he could raise, and leaving Kaskaskia garrisoned by the militia. He marched on the 7th of February, and was sixteen days on the route; while the inclemency of the season, high waters, &c. seemed to threaten the loss of the expedition. When within three leagues of the enemy, in a direct line, it took then five days to cross the drowned lands of the Wabash river, having to wade often upwards of two leagues to their breast in water. Had not the weather been warm, they must have perished. But on the evening of the 23d, they got on dry land, in sight of the enemy; and at seven o'clock made an attack, as totally unforeseen by them as it must have been unexpected. The town immediately surrendered with joy, and assisted in the siege. There was a continual fire on both sides for eighteen hours. The moon setting about one o'clock, the Colonel had an entrenchment thrown up within rifle shot of their strongest battery, and poured such incessant showers of well-directed balls into their ports, that they silenced two pieces of cannon in fifteen minutes, without getting a man hurt. “Governour Hamilton and Colonel Clarke had, on the following day, several conferences, but did not agree until the evening, when the former agreed to surrender the garrison (seventy-nine in number) prisoners of war, with considerable stores. Clarke had only one man wounded, “for,” says the Colonel with no little naivette, “not being able to lose many, I made them secure themselves well.” “On the reception of these prisoners, the Governour of Virginia in Council determined, that Hamilton and two of his coadjutors should be ironed and confined in the dungeon of the publick jail, as, in some measure, a - o
retaliation for the treatment American prisoners had received and were daily receiving at the hands of the enemy. An enumeration of the offences of this Hamilton, as exhibited by the Council, will give some faint idea of the manner in which the war was then carried on, and will be an ample justification of Mr. Jefferson for the apparent harshness of his proceedings.
“In Council, June 18th, 1779.
“The board proceeded to the consideration of the letters of Colonel Clarke, and other papers relating to Henry Hamilton, Esq. who has acted for some years past as Lieutenant Governour of the settlement at and about Detroit, and commandant of the British garrison there, under Sir Guy Carleton as Governour in chief; Philip Dejean, justice of the peace for Detroit, and William Lamothe, captain of volunteers, prisoners of war, taken in the county of Illinois. “They find that Governour Hamilton has executed the task of inciting the Indians to perpetrate their accustomed cruelties on the citizens of the United States, without distinction of age, sex, or condition, with an eagerness and avidity which evince, that the general nature of his charge harmonized with his particular disposition. They should have been satisfied, from the other testimony adduced, that these enormities were committed by savages acting under his commission; but the number of proclamations which, at different times, were left in houses, the inhabitants of which were killed or carried away by the Indians, one of which proclamations is in possession of the board, un10*
der the hand and seal of Governour Hamilton, puts this fact beyond a doubt. At the time of his captivity, it appears, he had sent considerable bodies of Indians against the frontier settlements of these states, and had actually appointed a great council of Indians, to meet him at Tennessee, to concert the operations of this present campaign. They find that his treatment of our citizens and soldiers, taken and carried within the limits of his command, has been cruel and inhuman; that in the case of John Dodge, a citizen of these states, which has been particularly stated to this board, he loaded him with irons, threw him into a dungeon, without bedding, without straw, without fire, in the dead of winter, and severe climate of Detroit; that in that state, he wasted him with incessant expectations of death; that when the rigours of his situation had brought him so low that death seemed likely to withdraw him from their power, he was taken out and somewhat attended to, until a little mended, and before he had recovered ability to walk, was again returned to his dungeon, in which a hole was cut seven inches square only for the admission of air, and the same load of irons again put on him; that appearing, a second time, in imminent danger of being lost to them, he was again taken from his dungeon, in which he had lain from January till June, with the intermission of a few weeks only, before mentioned. That Govermour Hamilton gave standing rewards for scalps, but offered none for prisoners, which induced the Indians, after making their captives carry their baggage into the neighbourhood of the fort, there to put them to death, and carry in their scalps to the Governour, who welcomed their