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April 11, 2013

River Raisin Massacre

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Cooperstown Crier

---- — From the Otsego Herald

for Saturday, April 10, 1813

Compiled, with comments

by HUGH C. MacDOUGALL

The Murder of the Wounded

Those whose feelings have been harrowed by the narration of the murder of the wounded, by the allied forces the day after the defeat of gen. [James] Winchester at Frenchtown, will duly esteem the callous wretch (calling himself an American, and, perhaps, unfortunately, born in the United States) that could insert such an article as the annexed, in his paper.

But it is more to be lamented that a deep and desperate foreign influence countenances the miserable creature in his assassin jest.

We shall not (says the intelligent editor of the Weekly Register) give to the infamous being the pleasure to know that his name will be as celebrated as his cold blooded zeal in behalf of the allies [the British and Indians]: but we insert the paragraph to show the lengths to which a British influence proceeds, descending even to a hoggish insensibility at a deed, that faithful history shall record to the indelible disgrace of the British name.

“We would advise the recruiting officers of government to enlist FAT MEN for the western market, that the Indians may not BUTCHER LEAN UNPROFITABLE STOCK.” – From the National Intelligencer.

COMMENT: This item was originally printed in Niles Weekly Register for March 20, 1813, p. 54. At the Battle of Frenchtown (on the River Raisin south of Detroit), on Jan. 22, 1813, the incompetent American General James Winchester (1752-1826) had been ignominiously defeated by the perhaps equally incompetent British Colonel (and later General) Henry Proctor (1763-1822).

Winchester’s American force, largely composed of Kentucky militia, suffered 300 casualties and 600 prisoners. Proctor returned to British-occupied Detroit, leaving behind 68 prisoners too badly injured to march, under the care of a handful of British Canadian militia headed by the American-born Capt. William Elliott. But despite Elliott’s protests, on the following morning (to quote an official American Army document of the time): “The savages were permitted to commit every depredation upon our wounded which they pleased. An indiscriminate slaughter took place, of all who were unable to walk, many were tomahawked, and many were burned alive in the houses.

This became known as the River Raisin Massacre, and served as a major part of subsequent American anti-British and anti-Indian war propaganda. I have not found the source of the quotation – presumably from a “British influenced” Federalist publication.

Peace Feelers

From Norfolk – [British] Admiral [Sir John Borlase] Warren [1753-1822] arrived at Hampton Roads on Monday last, and on Wednesday he sent in a flag of truce to [American Brigadier] Gen. [Nathaniel Greene] Taylor [1771-1816], with dispatches supposed relating to the armistice between the U. States and Great-Britain, which was proposed to Admiral [Sir George] Cockburn [1772-1853] by the Russian Secretary of Legation. M. Swertchkoff had left Norfolk on his way to Baltimore; & meeting the flag from Admiral Warren, changed his route and proceeded down the Bay for the purpose of revisiting the squadron. -- Statesman

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Albany, April 6.1813 .... It is now distinctly understood that the Russian mediation has been promptly accepted by our government; and that no armistice will take place till the disposition of the British government is distinctly ascertained.

COMMENT: In February 1813, President Madison accepted a Russian offer to mediate the War of 1812, and named a three-man peace commission to go to St. Petersburg for the purpose. But the British refused, and the Russian proposal died when Britain and the United States began direct peace talks early in 1814.

Admiral Cockburn would, in 1814, lead the British offensive on the Chesapeake that ended in the British capture of Washington, and the burning of its public buildings, followed by his unsuccessful attack on Baltimore that led to the writing of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

British Threat to Lewistown

“Head-Quarters, Lewiston [Lewes, Delaware], March 23, 1813.

“Sir—As the governor of the state of Delaware, and commander of its military force, I ... [acknowledge] the receipt of your letter of [March 16 ] ....

“The respect which generous and magnanimous nations even when they are enemies, take pride in cherishing towards each other, enjoins it upon me, as a duty I owe to the state over which I have the honor ... to preside. to the government of which this state is a member, and to the civilized world, to [ask whether] you continue resolved to attempt the destruction of this town? ...

“If that demand is still insisted upon, I have only to observe to you, that a compliance would be an immediate violation of the laws of my country, and an eternal stigma on the nation of which I am a citizen. A compliance, therefore, cannot be acceded to ... JOSEPH HASLET [1769-1833], Gov. of the state of Delaware.”

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“His B. M. Ship Poictiers, in the mouth of Del. March 23,1813.

“Sir—In reply to your letter received this day ... the demand I have made upon Lewiston is ... neither ungenerous, nor wanting in that magnanimity which one nation ought to observe to another with which it is at war. It is in my power to destroy your town, and the request I have made upon it, as the price of its security, is neither distressing nor unusual. I must, therefore, persist; and whatever sufferings may fall upon the inhabitants of Lewiston, must be attributed to yourselves .... J.P. BERESFORD Commodore....”

COMMENT: The British ships then bombarded Lewiston, but mostly missed, and damage was slight and casualties were few. Sir John Poo Beresford [1766-1844], commander of the Poictiers, captured the U.S. Sloop-of-war Wasp in 1814, became a Baronet in 1814, and was a Member of Parliament from 1809 to 1812 and 1823 to1835.