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January 3, 2013

Imprisonment of seamen

Cooperstown Crier

---- — From the Otsego Herald

for Saturday, Jan. 2, 2013

Compiled, with comments



NOTE: The Otsego Herald for January 2, 1813 is missing from the file, so I am copying at length from the Newport (Rhode Island) Mercury of the same date:

Imprisonment of seamen

The President of the United States communicated by message the following Report of the Secretary of State:


“THE Secretary of State, to whom was referred the Resolution of the House of Representatives of the 9th inst. [December] requesting information touching the conduct of British officers towards persons taken in American armed ships, has the honor to lay before the President the accompanying papers marked A.B.C. from which it appears, that certain persons, some of whom are said to be native, and others naturalized citizens of the U. States being part of the crews of the U. States’ armed vessels the “Nautilus” and the “Wasp,” and the private armed vessel the “Sarah-Ann,” have been seized and under the pretext of their being British subjects, by the British officers, for the avowed purpose as is understood, of having them brought to trial of their lives, and that others being part of the crew of the Nautilus, have been taken into the British service….

“JAMES MONROE, Dept. of State, Dec. 19, 1812.”


Sir John Borlase Warren to Mr. Monroe.

“HALIFAX, Sept. 30, 1812

“SIR – Having received information that a most unauthorized act has been committed by Commodore Rodgers, in forcibly seizing twelve British seamen, prisoners of war, late belonging to the Guerriere, and taking them out of the English Cartel brig Endeavour, on her passage down the harbour of Boston, after they had been regularly embarked on board of her for an exchange, agreeably to the arrangements settled between the two countries, and that the said British seamen, so seized, are now detained on board the U. States frigate President as hostages – I feel myself called upon to request, sir, your most serious attention to a measure so fraught with mischief and inconvenience, destructive of the good faith of a flag of truce, and the sacred protection of a cartel.

“I should be extremely sorry that the imprudent act of an officer should involve consequences so particularly severe as the present instance must naturally produce, if repeated – and although it is very much my wish, during the continuance of the differences existing between the two nations, to adopt every measure that might render the effect of war less rigorous, yet, in another point of view, the conviction of the duty I owe my country would, in the event of such grievances as I have already stated being continued, not admit of any hesitation in retaliatory decisions – but as I am strongly persuaded of the high liberality of your sentiments, and that the act complained of has originated entirely with the officer who committed it, and that it will be as censurable in your consideration as it deserves, I rely upon your taking such steps as will prevent a recurrence of conduct so extremely reprehensible in every shape.

“I have the honor to be, with the highest consideration, Sir, your most obedient, and most humble servant. (signed) 

JOHN BORLASE WARREN, Admiral of the Blue, and Commander in Chief, &c.”


Mr. Monroe to Sir John Borlase Warren. 

“SIR – I have had the honor to receive your letter of the 30th Sept. complaining that Commodore Rodgers, commanding a squadron of the U. States navy at the port of Boston, had taken 12 British seamen, lately belonging to his Britannic Majesty’s ship the Guerriere, from a Cartel in the harbor of Boston, and that he detained them on board the President, a frigate of the U. States, as hostages.

“I am instructed to inform you, that enquiries shall be made into the circumstances attending, and the causes which produced the act, of which you complain – and that such measures will be taken, on a knowledge of them, as may comport with the rights of both nations, and may be proper in the case to which they relate.

“I beg you, Sir, to be assured, that it is the sincere desire of the President to see and promote, as far as depends on the United States, that the War which exists between our countries, be conducted with the utmost regard to humanity.

“I have the honor, &c., (Signed) JAMES MONROE


“Washington City, Dec. 17, 1812.

“The Hon. Paul Hamilton, Sec’ry of the Navy

“SIR – I have the honor to annex a list of 12 of the crew of the late U. States sloop of War Wasp, detained by Capt. John Berresford, of the British ship Poictiers under the pretence of their being British subjects.

“I have the honor to be, respectfully, Sir, your obedient servant



Extract of a letter from Major-General Pinckney to the Secretary of War.

“Head-Quarters, Charleston, 4th November 1812.

“Information having been on oath, to Lieut. Grandison, who at present commands in the Naval District here, that six American seamen who had been taken prisoner on one of our privateers, had been sent to Jamaica, to be tried as British subjects for Treason; he called upon the Marshal, to retake double that number of British seamen as hostages – The Marshal, in consequence of instruction from the department of state, asked my advice on the subject and I have given my opinion that they ought to be detained until the pleasure of the President be known….”

COMMENT: This marked an important turning point in the War of 1812. Instead of the mutual release of prisoners of war, this and similar incidents led to their being confined until the end of the war, often under very poor circumstances. A “Cartel” was a ship used for such prisoner exchanges, and hence was not subject to capture by the enemy.