William Hull (June 24, 1753 – November 29, 1825) was an
American soldier and politician. He fought in the
American Revolution, was
Governor of Michigan Territory,
and was a general in the War of 1812,
for which he is best remembered for surrendering Fort Detroit to the British.
Early life and Revolutionary War
born in Derby,
Connecticut and graduated from Yale in 1772,
studied law in Litchfield, Connecticut and passed the bar in 1775.
At the outbreak of fighting in the American Revolution
, Hull joined a local
militia and was quickly promoted to captain, then to major, and to
lieutenant colonel. He was in the battles of White Plains, Trenton, Princeton, Stillwater, Saratoga, Fort
Stanwix, Monmouth, and
recognized by George Washington
and the Continental Congress
for his service.
Hull was a friend of Nathan Hale
tried to dissuade Hale from the dangerous spy mission that would
cost him his life. Hull was largely responsible for publicizing
Hale's famous last words, "I only regret that I have but one life
to lose for my country." After the American Revolution, he moved to
his wife's family estate in Newton, Massachusetts and served as a judge and state senator in Massachusetts.
Michigan Territory and War of 1812
On March 22
President Thomas Jefferson
appointed him Governor
of the recently-created Michigan
as well as its Indian
. As almost all of the territory except for two
enclaves around Detroit and Fort Michilimackinac were in the hands of the Indians, Hull undertook
the goal of gradually purchasing more Indian land for occupation by
American settlers. He negotiated the Treaty of Detroit with the Ottawa, Chippewa, Wyandot and
Potawatomi nations, which ceded most of
present-day Southeast Michigan to
the United States.
These efforts to expand American
settlement began to generate opposition, particularly from the
and his brother Tenskwatawa
, the Shawnee Prophet, who preached
resistance to the American lifestyle and to further land
February 1812, it was becoming clear that war with Great Britain was imminent, and the British were attempting to
recruit the Native American tribes in Canada, Michigan, and
elsewhere as their allies against the Americans.
was in Washington, Secretary of War William Eustis informed him that President Madison wished to appoint him a
Brigadier General in command of
the new Army of
Hull, then nearly 60 years old, expressed
his disinterest in a new military commission, and a Colonel
Kingsbury was selected to lead the force instead. Kingsbury fell
ill before taking command, and the offer was repeated to Hull, who
this time accepted. His orders were to go to Ohio, whose
governor had been charged by Madison with raising a 1,200-man
militia that would be augmented by the 4th Infantry Regiment
Indiana, to form the core of the army.
From there he
was to march the army to Detroit, where he was to also continue
serving as Territorial Governor.
March to Detroit
arrived in Cincinnati on May 10, 1812, and on May 25 took command
of the militia at Dayton.
militia comprised three regiments, who elected as their commanding
Colonels Duncan McArthur
, Lewis Cass
, and James
. They marched to Staunton and then to Urbana, where they
were joined by the 300-man 4th Infantry Regiment.
The men of
the militia were ill-equipped and lacked military discipline, and
Hull relied on the infantry regiment to quell several instances of
insubordination on the remainder of the march. By the end of June,
the army had reached the rapids of the Maumee River,
where Hull committed the first of the errors that would later
reflect poorly on him.
The declaration of war on Great Britain was signed on June 18
, and that same day
Secretary Eustis sent two letters to General Hull. One of them,
sent by special messenger, had arrived on June
but did not contain any mention of the declaration of war.
The second one, announcing the declaration of war, was sent via the
postal service, and did not arrive until July
. As a result, Hull was still unaware that war had broken out
when he reached the rapids of the Maumee, and as the army was now
on a navigable waterway, he sent the schooner Cuyahoga
ahead of the army to Detroit with a number of invalids,
supplies, and official documents. Unfortunately for Hull, the British
commander at Fort
Amherstburg had received the declaration of war two days
earlier, and captured the ship as it sailed past, along with all of
the papers and plans for an attack on Fort
Invasion of Canada
Hull was, at least in part, the victim of poor preparation for war
by the U.S. government and miscommunication. While governor,
Hull's repeated requests to build a naval fleet on Lake Erie to properly defend Detroit, Fort
Dearborn were ignored
by the commander of the northeast, General Henry Dearborn.
Hull began an invasion
of Canada on July 12
. However, he quickly withdrew to the American side
of the river after hearing the news of the capture of Fort Mackinac
by the British. He also faced unfriendly Native American
threatened to attack from the other direction.
Surrender of Detroit
Facing what he believed to be superior forces thanks to his enemy's
cunning stratagems such as instructing the Native American warriors
to make as much noise as possible around the fort, Hull surrendered
to Sir Isaac Brock
. Accounts of the incident varied
widely. A subordinate, Colonel Lewis Cass
placed all blame for the surrender on Hull and subsequently
succeeded Hull as Territorial Governor. Hull was court-martialed,
and at a trial presided over by General Henry Dearborn
, with evidence against him
given by Robert Lucas
subordinate and the future governor of Ohio and territorial
governor of Iowa. Hull was sentenced to be shot, though upon
recommendation of mercy by the court, Hull received a reprieve from
President James Madison
lived the remainder of his life in Newton, Massachusetts and wrote two books attempting to clear his name
(Detroit: Defence of Brig.
Gen. Wm. Hull in 1814 and Memoirs
of the Campaign of the Northwestern Army of the United States: A.D.
1812 in 1824). Some later historians have agreed that Hull was
unfairly made a scapegoat for the embarrassing loss. The
publication of his Memoirs
in 1824 changed public opinion
somewhat in his favor, and he was honored with a dinner in Boston
on May 30
Hull and declared, "We both have suffered contumely and reproach;
but our characters are vindicated; let us forgive our enemies and
die in Christian love and peace with all mankind." Hull died at
home in Newton several months later, on November 29
He was also uncle to Isaac Hull
adopted Isaac after his father (William's brother Joseph) died
while Isaac was young.
- (digital version contains both this document and Hull's
Memoirs; the report of the trial begins at
- (digital version contains both this document and Forbes'
Report of the trial)