William Hull was born in Massachusetts in 1753. Before the War of 1812 he made a reputation through his exploits during the Revolutionary War. During the war he rose to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel and was then appointed Governor of the Michigan Territory by President Thomas Jefferson in 1805.
As Governor, Hull’s main objectives were to expand the Michigan Territory by securing land concessions from the First Nations. As a result of his actions, he angered many of the First Nations within the region which contributed many of those First Nations to join the First Nations Confederacy under Tecumseh.
By February 1812, the United States were making plans in Congress for war with Great Britain, which would include an invasion of Canada. At first Hull declined the appointing of himself as Brigadier General in charge of all the forces of the Northwest, however after the second choice, Colonel Kingsbury, fell ill he accepted it.
His first orders were to go to Ohio to raise an army, as Ohio’s governor had been commanded with raising a militia that would form the core of this force. After this had been done, he was told to march the army to Detroit where he would continue to serve as the Governor of the Territory.
The United States declared war on Great Britain June 18th, 1812. That same day General Hull received two letters informing of this, however, they were not received until July 2nd. This led to the schooner Cuyahuga’s capture, as it was poorly protected and the commander at Fort Amherstburg had already heard of the declaration.
Hull decided to invade Canada on July 12th, 1812. On Canadian soil, Hull issued a proclamation.
“INHABITANTS OF CANADA! After thirty years of Peace and prosperity, the united States have been driven to Arms. The injuries and aggressions, the insults and indignities of Great Britain have once more left them no alternative but manly resistance or unconditional submission. The army under my Command has invaded your Country and the standard of the United States waves on the territory of Canada. To the peaceful, unoffending inhabitant, It brings neither danger nor difficulty. I come to find enemies not to make them, I come to protect you not to injure you.
Separated by an immense ocean and an extensive Wilderness from Great Britain you have no participation in her counsels no interest in her conduct. You have felt her Tyranny, you have seen her injustice, but I do not ask you to avenge the one or redress the other. The United States are sufficiently powerful to afford you every security consistent with their rights and your expectations. I tender you the invaluable blessings of Civil, Political, and Religious Liberty, and their necessary result, individual and general, prosperity: That liberty which gave decision to our counsels and energy to our conduct in our struggle for INDEPENDENCE and which conducted us safely and triumphantly thro’ the stormy period of the Revolution…
In the name of my Country and by the authority of my Government I promise protection to your persons, property and rights Remain at your homes, Pursue your peaceful and customary avocations. Raise not your hands against your brethern, many of your fathers fought for the freedom and Independence we now enjoy Being children therefore of the same family with us, and heirs to the same Heritage, the arrival of an army of Friends must be hailed by you with a cordial welcome, You will be emancipated from Tyranny and oppression and restored to the dignified status of freemen…If contrary to your own interest and the just expectation of my country, you should take part in the approaching contest, you will be considered and treated as enemies and the horrors, and calamities of War will stalk before you.
If the barbarous and Savage policy of great Britain be pursued, and the savages are let loose to murder our Citizens and butcher our women and children, this war, will be a war of extermination.
The first stroke with the Tomahawk the first attempt with the Scalping Knife will be the signal for one indiscriminate scene of desolation, No white man found fighting by the Side of an Indian will be taken prisoner Instant destruction will be his Lot…..
I doubt not your courage and firmness; I will not doubt your attachment to Liberty. If you tender your services voluntarily they will be accepted readily.
The United States offers you Peace, Liberty and Security your choice lies between these and War, Slavery, and destruction, Choose then, but choose wisely; and may he who knows the justice of our cause, and who holds in his hand the fate of Nations, guide you to a result the most compatible, with your rights and interests, your peace and prosperity.”
The proclamation helped stiffen resistance to the American attacks. Hull’s army was too weak in artillery therefore in Sandwich, Ontario, Hull waited for reinforcements so he could properly siege Fort Amherstburg. Meanwhile, he learned that Fort Michilimackinac had fallen to the British and that British Major General Isaac Brock was marching to Amherstburg. Hull’s supply lines were also being ambushed by the First Nations, led by Tecumseh. He therefore drew back his forces to Fort Detroit.
On August 16th, 1812, while William Hull was within Fort Detroit, British Major General Brock marched and began preparations to besiege Detroit. Hull was a victim of Brock’s deceptions as Brock’s cunning stratagems had made it seem that Hull was outnumbered and that his First Nation allies could not be controlled. Rather than going into battle, Hull surrendered Fort Detroit to Brock, who was actually outnumbered, along with two thousand soldiers and near thirty pieces of artillery.
As a result of his actions, Brigadier General Hull faced a court martial board during the winter of 1814-1815. Hull was charged with cowardice, neglect of duty, and treason. The board exonerated him on the charge of treason. He was sentenced to death but recommended that President Madison grant him clemency due to his accomplishments during the Revolutionary War and due to his age. President Madison did so, and Hull was granted clemency. He was dismissed from the army and retired to Massachusetts where he died in 1825.