William Hull

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William Hull
William Hull.jpg
William Hull circa 1800
1st Governor of Michigan Territory
In office
March 22, 1805 – October 29, 1813
Appointed byThomas Jefferson
Succeeded byLewis Cass
Personal details
Born(1753-06-24)June 24, 1753
Derby, Connecticut Colony, British America
DiedNovember 29, 1825(1825-11-29) (aged 72)
Newton, Massachusetts
Military service
AllegianceUnited States of America
Battles/warsAmerican Revolutionary War

War of 1812

William Hull (June 24, 1753 – November 29, 1825) was an American soldier and politician. He fought in the American Revolutionary War and was appointed as Governor of Michigan Territory (1805–13), gaining large land cessions from several American Indian tribes under the Treaty of Detroit (1807). He is most widely remembered, however, as the general in the War of 1812 who surrendered Fort Detroit to the British on August 16, 1812 following the Siege of Detroit. After the battle, he was court-martialed, convicted, and sentenced to death, but he received a pardon from President James Madison and his reputation somewhat recovered.

Early life and education[edit]

Hull was born in Derby, Connecticut on June 24, 1753. He graduated from Yale University in 1772, studied law in Litchfield, Connecticut, and joined the bar in 1775.[citation needed]


Revolutionary War[edit]

At the outbreak of fighting in the American Revolutionary War (1775-1783), Hull joined a local militia and was quickly promoted to captain, then through the ranks to lieutenant colonel in the Continental Army. He fought in the battles of White Plains, Trenton, Princeton, Stillwater, Saratoga, Fort Stanwix, Monmouth, and Stony Point.[1] He was recognized by commanding General George Washington and the Second Continental Congress for his service.

Hull was a friend of Nathan Hale and tried to dissuade him from the dangerous spy mission that ultimately cost him his life. Hull was largely responsible for publicizing the last words attributed to Hale, "I only regret that I have but one life to give for my country."[2][3] After the war, he moved to his wife's family estate in Newton, Massachusetts and served as a judge and state senator. He was elected captain of the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company of Massachusetts in 1789.[4]

Michigan Territory and War of 1812[edit]

On March 22, 1805, President Thomas Jefferson appointed Hull as Governor of the recently created Michigan Territory and as its Indian Agent. All of the territory was in the hands of the Indians except for two enclaves around Detroit and Fort Mackinac, so Hull worked to gradually purchase Indian land for occupation by American settlers. He negotiated the Treaty of Detroit in 1807 with the Ottawa, Chippewa, Wyandot, and Potawatomi tribes, which ceded most of Southeast Michigan and northwestern Ohio to the United States, to the mouth of the Maumee River where Toledo developed.[5] These efforts to expand American settlement began to generate opposition, particularly from Shawnee leaders Tecumseh and his brother Tenskwatawa, who urged resistance to American culture and to further land cessions.[6]

By February 1812, Congress was making plans for war with Great Britain, including an invasion of Canada, while the British were busy recruiting Indian tribes in the Michigan and Canada area.[7] Hull was in Washington, D.C. when Secretary of War William Eustis informed him that President James Madison wished to appoint him a Brigadier General in command of the new Army of the Northwest. Hull was nearly 60 years old and had little interest in a new military commission, so Colonel Kingsbury was selected to lead the force instead. Kingsbury fell ill before taking command, however, and the offer was repeated to Hull, who 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 from Vincennes, Indiana to form the core of the army. From there, he was to march the army to Detroit where he was also to continue managing as Territorial Governor.[8]

Hull in a portrait by Rembrandt Peale

March to Detroit[edit]

Hull arrived in Cincinnati on May 10, 1812 and took command of the militia at Dayton on May 25. The militia comprised three regiments who elected Duncan McArthur, Lewis Cass, and James Findlay as their commanding Colonels. They marched to Staunton and then to Urbana, Ohio where they were joined by the 300-man 4th Infantry Regiment. The men of the militia were ill-equipped and little trained, averse to strong military discipline. 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 he committed the first of the errors that reflected poorly on him later.[9]

America declared war on Britain on June 18, 1812, and that same day Secretary Eustis sent two letters to General Hull. He sent one of them by special messenger which arrived on June 24—but it did not mention the declaration of war. The second one did announce the declaration of war, but Eustis sent it via the postal service and it did not arrive until July 2.[10] As a result, Hull was still unaware that his army was at war when he reached the rapids of the Maumee. Taking advantage of the waterway, he sent the schooner Cuyahoga Packet ahead of the army to Detroit with a number of invalids, supplies, and official documents; but the British commander at Fort Amherstburg had received the declaration of war two days earlier, and he captured the ship as it sailed past. Thus, he gained all of Hull's military papers and plans for an attack on Fort Amherstburg.[11]

Invasion of Canada[edit]

Hull was partly the victim of his government's poor preparation for war and poor communication. He had repeatedly urged his superiors while he was governor to build a naval fleet on Lake Erie in order to defend Detroit, Fort Mackinac, and Fort Dearborn, but his requests were ignored by General Henry Dearborn, the commander of the northeast. Hull began an invasion of Canada on 12 July 1812; however, he quickly withdrew to the American side of the river after hearing the news of the British capture of Fort Mackinac. He also faced unfriendly Indian forces which threatened to attack from the other direction.

Surrender of Detroit[edit]

Hull surrendered Fort Detroit to General Isaac Brock on August 16, 1812 because Brock had tricked him into thinking that he was vastly outnumbered by his British foes. Accounts varied widely, however. Colonel Lewis Cass placed all blame on Hull and subsequently succeeded him as Territorial Governor.

Hull was court martialed at a trial presided over by General Henry Dearborn, with future President Martin Van Buren as the special judge advocate in charge of the prosecution.[12] Evidence against him was given by Robert Lucas, a subordinate and the future governor of Ohio and territorial governor of Iowa. Hull was convicted of cowardice and neglect of duty[13] and was sentenced to be shot. However, President James Madison commuted the sentence to merely dismiss him from the Army in recognition of his heroic service during the Revolutionary War.

Later life and death[edit]

Hull lived the remainder of his life in Newton, Massachusetts with his wife Sarah Fuller. He wrote 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, published in 1824 and both attempting to clear his name. Some later historians have agreed that he was unfairly made a scapegoat for the embarrassing loss of Detroit. 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, 1825.[14] That June, the Marquis de Lafayette visited him 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."[15] Hull died at home in Newton several months later, on November 29, 1825.

His son Abraham was an Army captain during the War of 1812 and died at the Battle of Lundy's Lane at age 27. His remains were buried in the Drummond Hill Cemetery in Niagara Falls, Ontario, the only American officer to be buried there. Hull was also uncle to Isaac Hull, son of his brother Joseph. Joseph died while Isaac was young, so Hull adopted the boy. Isaac commanded the USS Constitution during the War of 1812.


  1. ^ Wilson & Fiske 1898, pp. 308
  2. ^ Ortner 2001
  3. ^ Seymour 2006, pp. 307
  4. ^ Whitman 1842, pp. 349
  5. ^ "Treaty Between the Ottawa, Chippewa, Wyandot, and Potawatomi Indians". World Digital Library. 1807-11-17. Retrieved 2013-08-03.
  6. ^ Campbell & Clarke 1848, pp. 305–324
  7. ^ Hull, William 1824, pg 15
  8. ^ Campbell & Clarke 1848, pp. 325–326
  9. ^ Campbell & Clarke 1848, pp. 329–334
  10. ^ Campbell & Clarke 1848, pp. 332–334
  11. ^ Garcia 1999
  12. ^ Hannings 2012, pp. 327
  13. ^ http://www.history.com/news/how-u-s-forces-failed-to-conquer-canada-200-years-ago
  14. ^ Colonial Society of Massachusetts 1907, p. 366
  15. ^ Colonial Society of Massachusetts 1907, p. 369


Further reading[edit]

Political offices
New title
Office created
Territorial Governor of Michigan
March 22, 1805–October 29, 1813
Succeeded by
Lewis Cass
Military offices
New title
Army formed
Commander of the Army of the Northwest
May 1812–August 1812
Succeeded by
James Winchester