Nathaniel G. S. Hart

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Nathaniel Gray Smith Hart
also Nathaniel G. S. Hart[1]
Born circa 1784[2]
Hagerstown, Maryland
Died January 23, 1813(1813-01-23) (aged 29)
Buried at

Detroit, Michigan (originally)

Re-interred at State Cemetery/Frankfort Cemetery in Frankfort, Kentucky in 1834[2][3][4]
Allegiance United States
Years of service War of 1812, 1812–1813
Rank Captain
Unit Lexington Light Infantry
Commands held

Lexington Light Infantry

Deputy Inspector for Left Wing of Northwestern Army
Battles/wars Battle of Frenchtown, Battle of River Raisin
Relations Lucretia Hart Clay, Henry Clay

Nathaniel Gray Smith Hart (c. 1784 – January 23, 1813), often Nathaniel G. S. Hart, was a well-connected Lexington, Kentucky lawyer and businessman, who served with the state's volunteer militia during the War of 1812. As Captain of the Lexington Light Infantry from Kentucky, Hart was killed with many of his men in the River Raisin Massacre of January 23, 1813, after being taken prisoner the day before following the Battle of Frenchtown in Michigan Territory. (Some 397 Americans were killed in battle, 547 were taken prisoner, and an estimated 30-100 American prisoners were killed by Native Americans the next day.)

Members of the Kentucky militia came from the elite of Lexington and of the state, the men's deaths in battle and in the subsequent massacre captured state and national attention. The phrase "Remember the Raisin!" became an American call to arms for the duration of the War.

Personal life[edit]

Nathaniel Hart was one of seven children,[5] the second son of Colonel Thomas Hart, a veteran of the Revolutionary War, and his wife Susanna (Gray) Hart.[6] Originally from North Carolina, the family had moved to Hagerstown, Maryland, where Nathaniel was born. In 1794 they settled in Lexington, Kentucky as part of the postwar migration west. His father was a highly successful businessman, achieving wealth. Hart's four sisters married men who achieved some renown: Ann married the future US Senator James Brown (who subsequently served as Minister to France); Eliza married the surgeon Dr. Richard Pindell (a member of the Society of the Cincinnati);[7] Susanna married the lawyer Samuel Price, and Lucretia married Henry Clay, future US Senator and Secretary of State.[1][8]

Hart attended Princeton College, where his classmates included William Elliott from western Ontario. Eliott's father was a Loyalist who had resettled in Canada after the Revolutionary War.[9] The two young men were close enough that Elliot stayed with Hart's parents for a time to recover from a serious illness.[3]

After Hart's return to Lexington, he read the law under Henry Clay, passed the bar, and set up a law practice in the city.[10] Like his father, he became a successful businessman,[3] a ropewalk (hemp rope factory) in the city being among his ventures. Hemp was a commodity crop of central Kentucky.[1] In April 1809, Hart married Anna Edward Gist,[2] the stepdaughter of General Charles Scott, governor of Kentucky, and daughter of Judith Cary Gist Scott and her late husband General Nathaniel Gist.[11] Hart and Anna had two sons, Thomas Hart Jr. and Henry Clay Hart.[1][3][6]


On January 7, 1812, Hart duelled with Samuel E. Watson at a location on the Indiana side of the Ohio River, near where Silver Creek emptied into the river. This was the site where Henry Clay had duelled with fellow state legislator Humphrey Marshall in 1809.[12][13][14]

Military service and death[edit]

At the start of the War of 1812, Hart was commissioned as Captain of the Lexington Light Infantry Company (aka "The Silk Stocking Boys"),[6][15] a volunteer unit of the Fayette County, Kentucky militia.[1] He later served as either a Deputy Inspector[2] or as Inspector General of William Henry Harrison's Army of the Northwest[16][Note 1]

Hart's command was attached to the Fifth Regiment of the Kentucky Volunteer Militia and left for the Northwest in August 1812,[17] where it became part of Army of the Northwest under General James Winchester. In January 1813, a detachment was sent to the defense of Frenchtown, Michigan Territory as part of an effort to retake Detroit from the British. Frenchtown residents had sent word to the Americans asking for relief from an occupying force of the British and their Native American allies.[18]

Lewis' River Raisin crossing – First Battle

During the First Battle of Frenchtown on January 18, 1813, the American forces under Lt. Colonel William Lewis were successful in forcing the retreat of the small British force stationed there. The British commander of the Fort Malden garrison in Amherstburg, Colonel Henry Procter,[19] made plans to take back Frenchtown and he ordered troops to the area.[20]

On the morning of January 22, 1813, Procter's forces, including hundreds of Native American warriors, attacked the American troops and overwhelmed the right flank of regulars under Winchester, forcing him and much of the general staff to surrender. The Kentucky militia under the command of Major George Madison on the left flank fought on and thought the flag of truce presented by the enemy was a British flag of surrender.[21]

During this second Battle of Frenchtown, 397 Americans were killed,[citation needed] the highest number of fatalities of any battle during the war. Hart was wounded and was among the 547 survivors[citation needed] who surrendered to Procter upon orders of Winchester.[3][22] Not many more than 30 Kentucky troops escaped death or capture.[23]

William Elliott, Hart's former Princeton classmate who had become a Captain in the British Army, promised the wounded man safe passage to Fort Malden,[Note 2] but did not carry out his pledge.[22] Eliot borrowed a horse, bridle and saddle from Major Benjamin Franklin Graves, an American officer, promising to send help to the American wounded, but none arrived.[24] Acting American captain William Caldwell wrote the next month that he heard Elliott tell General Winchester and Major Madison that "the Indians were very excellent surgeons (and ought to kill all the officers and men)."[25][26] In one official letter, the eye-witness says that Elliott's broken promise included an offer to take Hart in Elliott's "own sleigh to Malden that evening" and that Hart could stay at Elliott's home for his recovery.[27]

Unable to march with the able-bodied prisoners who were being directed to Fort Malden, Hart paid a friendly Indian to take him to the fort. Along the way they encountered other Native Americans, who shot and scalped Hart.[3][28][29] Hart and an estimated 30-100 unarmed prisoners were killed by Native Americans on January 23, the day after the battle, in what became known as the River Raisin Massacre.[Note 3][1] [3][30][31]

The high fatalities of the Americans in the Battle of Frenchtown and the subsequent Massacre of prisoners became fuel for pro-war political factions known as War Hawks, and for anti-British sentiment of the era.[32] The phrase "Remember the Raisin!" entered the lexicon of the day as a flashpoint for popular sentiment, becoming a battle cry for American troops, especially the ones on the western frontier.[33] The fact that many of the murdered men were well-known and well-connected members of Kentucky's elite increased the public outcry. Among the dead was Colonel John Allen, Henry Clay's law-partner and co-counsel in Aaron Burr's conspiracy trial at Frankfort.[34][35] Hart's death is remembered in modern times as "The Murder of Captain Hart."[36] Major Benjamin Franklin Graves of Lexington was another officer apparently killed while a prisoner of the Powatatomi, who were overseeing him and others marching to Detroit. Anyone who could not keep up was killed.

Aftermath of Hart's death and memorials[edit]

Names of some of the American officers who died at the Raisin Massacre or afterward, listed on one panel of the Kentucky War Memorial in Frankfort Cemetery in Frankfort, Kentucky

Owing to their high casualties and status as prisoners, surviving Americans were not able to properly bury their fallen comrades.[37] The remains of the American dead at this site were not interred until months later.[38] In 1818, the remains were transferred from Monroe, Michigan to Detroit.[4] Isaac Baker, an American ensign who survived the Massacre and served as an official US Agent for the prisoners, stated in a report to General Winchester that:

The dead of our army are still denied the rites of sepulture. ... I was told the hogs were eating them. A gentleman told me he had seen them running about with skulls, arms, legs and other parts of the human system in their mouths. The French people on the Raisin buried Captains Hart, Woolfolk, and some others, but it was more than their lives were worth to have been caught paying this last customed tribute to mortality."[39]

In 1834, the box containing the commingled American remains (including tomahawked skulls), were moved from their former Detroit resting-place and re-interred in Detroit's City Cemetery.[4] These remains are asserted to have received final burial in the State Cemetery of Frankfort, Kentucky.[2][3] As late as 1849, a mass grave from the battle was excavated during road construction in Monroe, which developed in the area of the battlefield. Some writers state that those skeletons, along with the City Cemetery remains, were returned to Kentucky for final and proper burial that year.[40][Note 4] A 2004 archeological investigation at the State Monument found no evidence of remains from men of the River Raisin events.[41]

Matthew Harris Jouett, a man who painted noted portraits of Thomas Jefferson, George Rogers Clark and Lafayette, was one of the Kentucky volunteers and among the survivors of the River Raisin Massacre. The company payroll of $6000 disappeared during the slaughter. Jouett restored the missing funds to the militia, based on his earnings as a painter. He also painted portraits of his fellow soldiers from memory, including Hart and Colonel Allen.[42]

Legacy and honors[edit]

  • In 1819, the state of Kentucky named its 61st county as Hart County in Nathaniel Hart's honor.[43][44]
  • Hart was listed among officers on the Kentucky War Memorial in Frankfort Cemetery in the capital of Frankfort.
  • In 1904 residents of Monroe, Michigan, which includes much of the area of the battlefield, erected a monument to the Kentuckians who died defending their settlement during the various River Raisin engagements.[45] Some unidentified victims were buried here.[46]
  • In 2009, the River Raisin National Battlefield Park was established, the only such park to commemorate the War of 1812, and one of four battlefield parks in the nation. It had earlier been recognized as a state historic site and was previously listed on the National Register of Historic Places.


Although some sources list Hart's name as "Nathaniel G. T. Hart," this is incorrect according to Kleber and to the Heidlers' Encyclopedia.[2][3] Hart is referred to in court documents dating from before his death as "Nathaniel G. S. Hart."[47]

The misnomer apparently dates to a mistake in Historical Sketches of Kentucky, either the Richard Collins edition (published in 1874)[2] or the original edition (published in 1848 by Lewis Collins).[48]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Henry Clay (The papers of Henry Clay, Volume 1, Page 19) refers to Hart's rank as "Inspector General of the N.W.[Northwestern] Army."
  2. ^ According to Pierre Berton's War of 1812 (Page 406), Elliott's mother was Shawnee and he was raised among Native Americans.
  3. ^ : Elliott reportedly said, "He tried to explain that it is impossible to restrain the Indians and (...) that they are simply seeking revenge for their own losses." (of Tippecanoe and Mississinewa).
  4. ^ According to Clift's Remember the Raisin! (Page xii), "Kentucky historians have written that these dead now rest in the state lots at Frankfort Cemetery. ... In the light of present day research, little has been found to substantiate these statements."


  1. ^ a b c d e f Clift, G. Glenn (2009) [1961]. Remember the Raisin! Kentucky and Kentuckians in the battles and massacre at Frenchtown, Michigan Territory, in the War of 1812. Clearfield. pp. 149–150. ISBN 978-0-8063-4520-8. Retrieved October 15, 2011. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Kleber, John E. (1992). "Hart, Nathaniel Gray Smith". The Kentucky encyclopedia. University Press of Kentucky. pp. 415–416. ISBN 978-0-8131-1772-0. Retrieved October 15, 2011. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i Heidler, David Stephen; Jeanne T. Heidler (2004). Encyclopedia of the War of 1812. Naval Institute Press. pp. 232–233. Retrieved October 22, 2011. 
  4. ^ a b c Farmer, Silas (1890). History of Detroit and Wayne County and early Michigan. S. Farmer & Co. for Muncell & Vo., New York. p. 280. Retrieved October 25, 2011. 
  5. ^ Remini, Robert Vincent (1993). Henry Clay: Statesman for the Union. W. W. Norton & Company. p. 29. 
  6. ^ a b c Smith, Zechariah Frederick; Mary Katherine (Rogers) Clay, Mary Rogers Clay (1899). The Clay Family. J. P. Morton and company (Filson Club Publications, Number 14). p. 232. Retrieved November 1, 2011.  Cite uses deprecated parameter |coauthors= (help)
  7. ^ "A Militant Surgeon of the Revolution:Some Letters of Richard Pindell, M.D.". Maryland Historical Magazine. 17-18: 309. 1922. Retrieved January 26, 2015. 
  8. ^ Connelley, William Elsey; Ellis Merton Coulter (1922). History of Kentucky, Volume 3. The American Historical Society. p. 5. Retrieved November 1, 2011. 
  9. ^ Pierre Berton's War of 1812, p. 406
  10. ^ Clift, Page 149
  11. ^ Register of Kentucky State Historical Society, Volume 16. Kentucky Historical Society. 1918. p. 59. Retrieved October 22, 2011. 
  12. ^ "The Duels at Silver Creek (Historical Series of New Albany)" (PDF). Historical Series of New Albany (Volume III, No. 8). New Albany Floyd County Public Library (originally broadcast on Radio Station WLRP/WOW/WHEL). Retrieved April 4, 2015. 
  13. ^ Samuel Scott (New Albany Rotary Club) (c. 1950s). "New Albany Suburb Famous Field of Honor in Early Days" (PDF). New Albany Floyd County Public Library. Retrieved April 4, 2015. 
  14. ^ James F. Hopkins, ed. (1959). The Papers of Henry Clay, Volume 1 (1797–1814). University Press of Kentucky. p. 613. 
  15. ^ Ranck, Page 156
  16. ^ Register of the Kentucky State Historical Society, Volume 11(Issue 31). 1912–1913. p. 19. 
  17. ^ Ranck, Page 157
  18. ^ "The History" (PDF). River Raisin Battlefield. City of Monroe, Michigan. Retrieved October 25, 2011. 
  19. ^ Ramage, James (2011). Kentucky Rising: Democracy, Slavery, and Culture from the Early Republic to the Civil War. University Press of Kentucky. p. 105. Retrieved November 2, 2011. 
  20. ^ Ridler, Jason. "Henry Procter (Proctor)". The Canadian Encyclopedia. Historica Foundation. Retrieved January 27, 2015. 
  21. ^ Coles, Henry L. (1966). The War of 1812. University of Chicago Press. p. 116. Retrieved November 2, 2011. 
  22. ^ a b Ranck, George Washington (1872). History of Lexington, Kentucky. R. Clarke. p. 256. Retrieved October 25, 2011. 
  23. ^ "River Raisin National Battlefield Park - Monroe, Michigan". National Park Service. Retrieved January 27, 2015. 
  24. ^ Ranck, p. 255
  25. ^ Caldwell, William (January 2003). "War of 1812 – Caldwell letter (February 20, 1813)" (pdf). Jessamine Historical Quarterly. Jessamine County Historical & Geneaological Society. p. 6. Retrieved October 25, 2011. 
  26. ^ American State Papers: Documents, Legislative and Executive of the Congress of the United States (Part 5, Volume 1). Gales and Seaton (US. Congress). 1832. p. 375. Retrieved October 26, 2011. 
  27. ^ Brannan, John (1823). Official Letters of the Military and Naval Officers of the United States, during the War with Great Britain in the years 1812, 13, 14, & 15s. Way & Gideon. pp. 135–136. Retrieved November 8, 2011. 
  28. ^ Heidler, David Stephen; Jeanne T. Heidler (2010). Henry Clay: The Essential American. Random House Digital. p. 104. Retrieved October 25, 2011. 
  29. ^ Lossing, Page 359
  30. ^ Cook, Michael L. & Bettie Cummings (1985). Fayette County, Kentucky Records, Vol. I (Hart vs. Benton Lawsuit August 22, 1812). Evansville, IN: Cook Publications. pp. 185–189. Retrieved October 15, 2011. 
  31. ^ "The Battles of the River Raisin". City of Monroe, Michigan. Retrieved October 25, 2011. 
  32. ^ Clift, p. 87-88.
  33. ^ Michigan Historical Commission, Michigan State Historical Society, Michigan Pioneer and Historical Society (1892). Michigan Historical Collections, Volume 7. State of Michigan (Michigan Historical Commission). p. 222. Retrieved October 26, 2011. 
  34. ^ Kleber, Page 15
  35. ^ Elizabeth Shelby Kinkead (1896). A history of Kentucky. American book company. p. 111. Retrieved October 25, 2011. 
  36. ^ "Murder of Captain Hart". Retrieved October 15, 2011. 
  37. ^ American State Papers, page 369 (Alexis Labadie)
  38. ^ Scroggins, William G. Leaves of a Stunted Shrub, Volume One. p. 41. Retrieved October 25, 2011. 
  39. ^ American State Papers, page 370 (Isaac Baker)
  40. ^ Niles, William Ogden, ed. (1849). "Kentucky's Gallant Dead". Niles' National Register 74: 235. 
  41. ^ Stottman, M. Jay; David Pollack; Peter E. Killoran; Sarah E. Miller; Phillip B. Mink; Christina A. Pappas; Eric Schlarb; Lori Stahlgren (August 2005). "Archaeological Investigation of the State Monument – Frankfort, Kentucky" (PDF). Kentucky Archaeological Survey. Retrieved October 25, 2011. 
  42. ^ Pennington, Estill Curtis; Ellen G. Miles (2010). Lessons in Likeness: Portrait Painters in Kentucky and the Ohio River Valley, 1802–1920. University Press of Kentucky. p. 172. Retrieved October 26, 2011. 
  43. ^ "Hart County Chamber of Commerce". Retrieved October 22, 2011. 
  44. ^ "Kentucky Counties Named in Honor of Military Personnel". Kentucky: National Guard History eMuseum. Commonwealth of Kentucky. Retrieved October 25, 2011. 
  45. ^ Ohio history, Volume 15. Ohio Historical Society. 1906. pp. 141–153. 
  46. ^ "The Battle of River Raisin". Friends of the River Raisin Battlefield (RiverRaisinBattlefield.Org). Retrieved October 25, 2011. 
  47. ^ Cook, p. 185
  48. ^ Collins, Lewis (1848). Historical sketches of Kentucky. Collins of Maysville, Kentucky & James of Cincinnati. p. 345. Retrieved October 22, 2011. 

External links[edit]