War of 1812: The Surrender of Fort Detroit

October 26, 2018 | lfeesey

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The United States congress declared war on Great Britain on June 18, 1812. Britain had drawn the ire of the Americans by blockading their trade with France, stirring up uprisings from Indigenous populations and impressing (press ganging) US sailors born in Britain into the British navy. 

Thomas Jefferson said at the time: "The acquisition of Canada this year, as far as the neighborhood of Quebec, will be a mere matter of marching," giving the military "an experience for the attack of the next year and the final expulsion of England from the American continent." Britain was busy fighting France in a decade long war, therefore few troops were available to guard Upper and Lower Canada. 

In July 1812, American General William Hull and 2500 troops crossed the Detroit River into Canada near Sandwich. While the Americans awaited supplies, the British took Fort Mackinac near Sault Sainte Marie. Hearing this news, the Americans retreated back across the river into US territory. Anticipating that Fort Dearborn would be next, General Hull sent word to Captain Nathan Heald to evacuate the fort. Captain Heald made a pact with the British-aligned Pottawatomi tribe to turn over the fort to them, but the Americans violated the agreement by destroying the fort's supplies. Consequently, the Pottawatomi attacked the retreating Americans killing 52 and taking 42 prisoner.

Tecumseh 1808

General Isaac Brock with 100 British regulars, 300 militiamen and 150 Shawnee led by Tecumseh amassed outside Fort Detroit. Together, they managed to make the Americans believe that they were overwhelmingly outnumbered. General Hull surrendered the fort without a shot being fired. Tecumseh earned great prestige among the other Indigenous peoples in the area. They came together under his leadership to fight against the Americans. 

For the surrender of Forts Dearborn and Detroit, General Hull was court-martialed for cowardice and neglect of duty. He was sentenced to be shot, but in recognition of his service during the Revolutionary War, President James Madison commuted Hull's sentence to dismissal from the US army. 



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