Thursday, April 24, 2014

Kidnapping a Baby, Detroit 1814


Fort Detroit, aka Fort Shelby, in the War of 1812 period.

In the winter of 1813-14 the situation in the West had largely stabilized for the Americans, with Ohio, the Indiana and Michigan Territories secured from the direct threat of British action and a wide swath of the Upper Canada border under American occupation. Forts St. Joseph and Mackinac remained in British hands, and the Western Indians remained a threat, provided the British could find a way of moving arms and trade goods to the far northwest. While ice covered the Great Lakes, though, everyone was preoccupied with feeding their troops. At Detroit, American discipline broke down as senior officers like Major General Harrison and Brig. Generals Duncan McArthur and Lewis Cass were ordered east for different purposes. Harrison returned to the Northwest but established his HQ at Cincinnati, while McArthur and Cass were embroiled for the time being as key witnesses in the treason trial of William Hull. Brig. General Benjamin Howard was ordered to Detroit from St. Louis, but the orders were cancelled before he made the move. Instead, Lt. Col. Anthony Butler of the 28th US Infantry was left in charge of the Detroit frontier. 

Diary entries and letters, as well as general orders make clear that discipline was a big problem for those troops left at Detroit. Many of them were short term enlistees from the 12-months regular regiments.



Detroit 5th Feb 1814
Dear Sir
[A paragraph regarding collecting on promissory notes from William Whistler and William Sutenfield…]
I have no news to give you only a detachment of United States Dragoons have this moment returned from the river Thames off a scouting party and have brought in eight prisoners among which is the celebrated Francis Baby supposed to be a spy from all information. I make no doubt but we shall be attacked in the course of eight or ten days. Should the effort be made by one thousand British troops I make no doubt but we should fall again into the hands of the enemy. There appears to be no energy used at this post by our officers.
Nothing going on here swearing oaths and drinking. I am Respectfully Sir your obeid. Servant,
Benj. Chittenden
[Addressed to Mr. James Williamson, Newport, Kentucky]

Colonel Francis (or rather, Francois) Baby was a leading figure on the British-Canadian side of the northwestern fur trade, and an officer in the Upper Canada militia.  He was demobilized after the British retreated from his home at Sandwich (Windsor, Ontario), but in 1814 was kidnapped from his home in the incident mentioned above. I have read sources which state that he was taken to Cincinnati, Ohio, the headquarters for the US 8th Military District at the time, but given freedom of the town as a gentleman prisoner. There was some worry apparently that he would be tried as a traitor for being borne in Detroit and therefore a native-born American citizen, but eventually he was released and lived until 1852. He sought damages of 2,450 pounds from the US government for property damage caused by William Hull's army in 1812, but without result (Congress wasn't paying off Americans for war damage and expenses, let alone an enemy combatant!).