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William Hull

HULL, William, soldier, born in Derby, Connecticut, 24 June, 1753; died in Newton, Massachusetts, 29 November, 1825. His ancestor, Richard Hull, supposed to be a brother of John Hull, of Boston, the mint master, was made a freeman of Massachusetts in 1634, and removed to New Haven, Connecticut, in 1639. William was the fifth in descent from Richard. He was the fourth son of Joseph, a farmer, was graduated at Yale, studied law at Litchfield, and was admitted to the bar in 1775. When the news of the battle of Lexington reached Derby, a company of soldiers was raised in that town. William Hull was chosen captain, and joined the army of Washington at Cambridge with his company, which became part of Colonel Webb's Connecticut regiment. After the battle of Trenton, Washington promoted him to be major in the 8th Massachusetts regiment. He was lieutenant-colonel in 1779, then inspector of the army under Baron Steuben, and commanded the escort of Washington when he bade farewell to the army. He was in the battles of White Plains, Trenton, Princeton, Stillwater, Saratoga, Fort Stanwix, Monmouth, and Stony Point, and commanded the expedition against Morrisania, for which he received the thanks of Washington and of congress. He led a column at the capture of Stony Point. Washington, in his letter to General Heath ("Massachusetts Historical Society Collections," 5th series, vol iv.), says:" Major Hull was appointed by me, at the intercession of several officers in the Massachusetts state line. He is an officer of great merit, and whose services have been honorable to himself and profitable to his country. He might have been arranged in the Connecticut line, but many of the Massachusetts officers discovered great uneasiness at the idea of his being taken from them, and he himself generously refused the offer. I mention this as a trait of his character." Colonel Hull's services throughout the war received the approbation of his superior officers. He married the daughter of Abraham Fuller, a distinguished patriot, who lived on the ancestral farm in Newton, which is now the residence of Governor William Claflin. On this farm General Hull spent the last years of his life. He was major-general of the 3d division of Massachusetts militia, and a state senator. He was ap pointed by President Jefferson governor of Michigan territory in 1805, and held that office till 1812, when he was appointed to the command of the northwestern army. He at first refused the commission, and Colonel Kingsbury was appointed in his place, but, as that officer fell sick, Hull at last consented to take the command. War with England seemed imminent, but had not been declared, and the troops were ordered to Detroit to defend the territory, which otherwise, in case of war, would be laid waste by the Indians. While governor of Michigan, General Hull had repeatedly urged upon the government the importance of building a fleet on Lake Erie as the only means of maintaining Detroit, which was 300 miles from any magazines of provisions, munitions of war, or re-enforcements. General Hull had represented to the government that in time of war with Great Britain an army count not be maintained at Detroit without a naval force sufficient to keep up communication by the lake, and that, otherwise, not only Detroit but Mackinaw and Fort Dearborn must fall into the hands of the enemy. He also advised the government that there must be a powerful army at Niagara to co-operate with any forces that should invade Canada from Detroit. These communications were made both before and after he took command of the troops. The only access to Detroit was by small sloops on Lake Erie. General Hull was ordered to march his troops from Urbanna, Ohio, through the wilderness, and in doing this the soldiers were obliged to open a military road, building bridges and causeways for 200 miles. He found his army of 1,500 men destitute of arms, clothing, powder, and blankets, and was obliged to provide them with these necessaries on his own responsibility. Everything had been mismanaged at Washington, and the country was plunged into war without adequate preparation. No fleet had been built on Lake Erie, and even the notice of the declaration of war, instead of being sent by a special messenger to General Hull, was committed to the post office, and was not received by him until several days after the British at Malden had heard of it by a despatch from Washington. and had in consequence captured a vessel in which Hull sent his stores to Detroit. General Dearborn, who was to have invaded Canada from Niagara, instead of doing this, made an armistice with the British commander, in which General Hull was not included, and was thus exposed to attack by all the British troops in Canada. This event took place, and General Brock, having command of the lake, went to Detroit with all the troops he could collect. Meantime General Hull's position had become very precarious. As he had predicted, Mackinaw and Fort Dearborn had both fallen, and the Indians of the northwest were concentrating in the wilderness in the rear of Detroit. Communications by the road he had opened had been cut off by the Indians, and two expeditions sent by General Hull to reopen them had failed. Food and ammunition were nearly gone, the army was cut off from its base, and Detroit fell as a matter of course. General Harrison, when he heard of the fall of Mackinaw, regarded it as the forerunner of the capture of Fort Dearborn and Detroit. On 10 August he wrote to the secretary of war: "I greatly fear that the capture of Mackinaw will give such eclat to the British and Indians that the northern tribes will bear down in swarms on Detroit, oblige General Hull to act on the defence, and meet and perhaps overpower the convoys and re-enforcements which may be sent to him." That General Hull was right in saying that whoever commanded Lake Erie could hold Detroit was proved by the fact that General Harrison, though within 100 miles of Detroit, was unable to advance for a year. Perry's victory gave the command of Lake Erie to the Americans, and Detroit dropped at once into our hands. General Hull was surrounded, the woods behind him were full of Indians, and before him was the English army, backed up by the resources of Canada West, which contained ample re-enforcements of troops and supplies. But a victim was necessary to appease the disappointed hopes of the nation, taught to believe that Canada was to fall an easy prey. The anger of the people must be diverted from the government, which had gone into the war without preparation. At this juncture the man that was needed appeared in the person of Colonel Lewis Cass. In a letter written 10 September, 1812. he threw all the blame upon his general, saying that, "if Malden had been immediately attacked, it would have fallen an easy victory." But Colonel Cass, in a council of war, had voted against such an attack, in company with a majority of the officers. He also said in this letter that there was no difficulty in procuring provisions for the army. But a month before, and four days before the surrender, he wrote to the governor of Ohio that the communication must be kept open, and that supplies must come from that state. And on 3 August he wrote that "both men and provisions are wanted for the very existence of the troops." The letter of Cass above referred to made a scape-goat of General Hull, and was published all over the Union, and Colonel Cass was immediately promoted to brigadier-general in the army of the United States, and was also appointed governor of Michigan. General Hull was tried by a court-martial, the president of which was General Dearborn, who, instead of co-operating with Hull in the invasion of Canada, had signed the armistice that allowed the British troops to be sent against Detroit. General Hull was found guilty of cowardice, sentenced to be shot, and told to go home to Newton and wait for the execution of the sentence, which, of course was never executed. Public opinion has long since reversed this sentence, and the best historians disapprove of it. The latest of these, Benson J. Lossing, calls the trial disgraceful, and its sentence unjust, and says the court was evidently constituted in order to offer Hull as a sacrifice to save the government from disgrace and contempt. General Hull passed his last days at Newton, Massachusetts, on his wife's farm. Notwithstanding the undeserved odium that had fallen on him, he was cheerful and contented, satisfied that sooner or later his countrymen would see the truth and do him justice.--His nephew, Isaac, eldest son of Joseph Hull, born in Derby, Connecticut, 9 March, 1773; died in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 13 February, 1843. Isaac's father having died, he was adopted by his uncle, General Hull, who wished to educate him with a view to his entering Yale college, where he himself was graduated in 1772, but the boy's unconquerable passion for the sea made him an unwilling as well as an unsuccessful student. Following the bent of his genius, at fourteen he chose the sea for his field of action, beginning, in accordance with the custom of that time, as a cabin-boy on a merchant ship belonging to one of his uncle's acquaintances. The vessel was afterward wrecked and the captain was saved by the young sailor of sixteen. Before he was twenty-one years of age he was commander of a ship that sailed to the West Indies. He was in this position at the first establishment of the American navy, and so great was the reputation which he had already acquired as a skilful seaman, that he entered the service as 4th lieutenant, his commission being dated 9 March, 1798, his twenty-fifth birthday. Hull saw his first service under Commander Samuel Nicholson in the "Constitution." Two years later, while still on board the "Constitution," then the flag-ship of Commander Silas Talbot, the latter accepted a challenge from the captain of an English frigate to engage in a day's trial of speed. Hull, already advanced to the grade of 1st lieutenant, sailed "Old Ironsides," and the admirable manner in which he did it was long a subject of eulogy. All hands were kept on deck during the entire day, and just as the sun disappeared the "Constitution" fired her evening gun, the signal that the sailing match was ended. In the race the English frigate was beaten several miles, and her boastful captain lost his cask of wine. The manner in which "Old Ironsides" was handled was entirely due to Hull, whose skill in sailing a ship under canvas was ever remarkable. In this particular he was perhaps the most efficient officer of the American navy. Farragut said to the writer- "Isaac Hull was as able a seaman as ever sailed a ship. During the same cruise, Hull manned from the crew of the "Constitution" a small vessel called the "Sally" ran into Port Plate, Hayti, at noonday, boarded and captured a French letter of marque known as the "Sandwich," while the marines landed and spiked the guns of the battery before the commanding officer could prepare for defence. Taken altogether, it was one of the best-executed enterprises of its character in our naval annals. On 18 May, 1804, Lieutenant Hull was promoted to the rank of master commanding, and assigned to the brig "Argus," which vessel participated in several actions at Tripoli and elsewhere in the war against the Barbary states, the American squadron being commanded by Commander Edward Preble. Two years later Hull was made a full captain, and before hostilities began between the United States and England he was in command of the "Constitution," in which he was ordered to Europe to convey Joel Barlow, the newly appointed minister, to France, and to carry specie for the payment of the interest on the debt due to Holland. Having despatched his business with that government, Hull proceeded to Portsmouth, where he remained several days that he might communicate with the American charge d'affaires, then accredited to the court of St. James. There having been some difficulty while in port about deserters, and two English ships having anchored alongside, the "Constitution" changed her position for another, to which she was followed by one of the frigates. Captain Hull, not intending to be caught unprepared like Commander Barron, in the "Chesapeake," ordered the ship cleared for action. The lanterns were lighted fore and aft, and the men went to quarters by beat of drum. Cooper remarks: "It is not easy to portray the enthusiasm that existed in this noble ship, every officer and man on board believing that the affair of the 'Chesapeake' was to be repeated so far, at least, as the assault was concerned. The manner in which the crew took hold of the gun tackles has been described as if they were about to jerk the guns through the ship's sides. An officer who was passing through the batteries observed to the men that if there was occasion to fight, it would be in their quarrel, and that he expected good service from them. 'Let the quarter-deck look out for the colors,' was the answer, 'and we will look out for the guns.' In short, it was not possible for a ship's company to be in better humor to defend the honor of the flag when the drum beat the retreat and the boatswain piped the people to the capstan-bars." The day succeeding the night on which the ship sailed for France, several men-of-war were seen in chase. The " Constitution" out-sailed all the frigates save one. After leading her a long distance ahead of the others, Captain Hull hove to, beat to quarters, and waited to learn the Englishman's business, remarking to a lieutenant: "If that fellow wants to fight, we won't disappoint him." The frigate came close to the "Constitution," but no hostilities were offered, and the American ship proceeded on her way to Cherbourg Five days after tardy justice was rendered to American honor by the return of two seamen taken by the "Leopard" from the unfortunate frigate "Chesapeake" in 1807, war with Great Britain was declared. At the beginning of hostilities we had, in addition to seven frigates, only fifteen sloops-of-war and smaller vessels lying in the naval dock-yards, with which to cope with England's 1,060 sail, 800 of which were in commission. Against such overwhelming odds did the conflict begin that, but for the spirited protest of Bainbridge and Stewart, the administration would have kept our ships in port to prevent their capture. On her return from Europe, the "Constitution" went into the Chesapeake, was cleaned and newly coppered, and, shipping a new crew, proceeded to sea under orders to join the squadron of Commander Rodgers at New York. "You are not," continued his order, "voluntarily to encounter a force superior to your own." It seems incredible that an American secretary of the navy could issue such cowardly instructions, but the original is in the writer's possession. On 19 July, when five days out and under easy canvas, Hull came in sight of four sail, and soon after a fifth, which proved to be an English fleet under Commander Broke, cruising off Sandy Hook. The enemy immediately gave chase, and, the sea being smooth, with light and baffling winds, and being on soundings, Captain Hull resorted to the novel expedient of kedging by means of umbrellas, long cables, and the use of boats. For a time this marvellous movement of the American frigate through the water was undiscovered by the English, who were not slow to imitate the expedient. At every "cat's paw" the "Constitution" struggled for the weather gage, in order to keep her pursuers astern and to the leeward. Sails were wet down fore and aft, braces kept in hand to whip up the boats without delay, some of the water pumped out to lighten her, and, in short, everything that the ablest seamanship could devise was done to save the frigate. For three days and three nights the chase was continued, the crew of the "Constitution" exhibiting extraordinary endurance and spirit, until finally a heavy squall came up, and, as it approached our ship, her sails were clewed up and clewed down almost instantaneously, and when the weight of the wind was received she sheeted home, set all sail, and was flying before the breeze. Within half an hour of the time when the English were lost to sight the "Constitution" was in chase of a vessel, which, however, proved to be an American. The English themselves expressed admiration for the manner in which Hull escaped from their squadron. The praises bestowed for saving his ship induced him, soon after his arrival in Boston, to publish a modest and magnanimous card in which he gave a large portion of the credit to the officers and crew. His letter to Paul Hamilton, secretary of the navy, was especially generous in its expressions Daily expecting orders from Washington, which never came, and impatient to measure strength with the enemy, Hull decided to go on a frigate-hunting cruise. It is now known that he was to have been superseded by Bainbridge, who ranked him, and that his instructions closed with these words, "Remain in Boston until further orders." Fortunately this letter was not received until Hull returned from his successful cruise. The "Constitution" put to sea, 2 August, and had she been captured, her commander would possibly have been shot for sailing without orders. After cruising to the north and east for a fortnight without making any important capture, the "Constitution" came in sight of a strange sail on Wednesday afternoon, 19 August, and immediately gave chase. Before five o'clock the stranger was known to be an English frigate, and Hull, with colors flying, his ship cleared for action, and his crew at the guns, all double shotted, bore down on the enemy with the determination of making the affair short, sharp, and decisive. He fired but three bow guns in approaching, while the enemy kept up a steady discharge of broadsides. It was now six o'clock, the ships were within a few hundred yards of each other, several of the "Constitution's" crew had been killed or wounded, and all on board were so impatient to open fire that only their perfect discipline could restrain them. Lieutenant Morris three times asked permission to open on the enemy, but each time was answered, "Not yet, sir." At length the order was given, and, when within less than fifty yards of the "Guerriere," the "Constitution" fired her first broadside, following in quick succession with others equally well directed and destructive to the enemy, whose mizzen-mast soon fell over the starboard quarter. In thirty minutes after the " Constitution" fired her first broadside the Englishman's foreand main-mast went by the board, and the flag that had been flying on the stump of the mizzen-mast soon after came down. The prize proved to be the very ship that Hull was looking for, whose commander had three days previously made the following entry on the register of an American vessel bound for New York: "Commander Dacres, commander of his Britannic majesty's frigate 'Guerriere,' of forty-four guns, presents his compliments to Commander Rodgers, of the frigate 'President,' and will be happy to meet him, or any other frigate of equal force to the 'President,' off Sandy Hook for the purpose of having a few minutes' tete-a-tete." The American ship, which was so slightly injured on her hull that she then won the designation of "Old Ironsides," lost seven killed and seven wounded, while the enemy had seventy-nine killed and wounded, and the "Guerriere" was so badly injured that she was burned. As the "Constitutmn" was burdened with prisoners, it was deemed necessary to return to port. On her arrival in Boston the ship and all on board were welcomed with the wildest enthusiasm, and the whole country was electrified by the intelligence that an English frigate had been destroyed by an American. A grand banquet was given in Faneuil hall to Hull and his officers; many of the state legislatures voted him a sword, and the freedora of several cities was presented each in a gold box. New York ordered a full-length portrait by Jarvis, the best American artist at that time, Stuart only excepted, who painted during the following year the picture from which our portrait of the naval hero is copied. Congress gave Hull a gold medal, an illustration of which appears on page 310, and voted the sum of $50,000 to be distributed as prize-money among the officers and crew of the "Constitution." Captain Hull, having within a single month performed two gallant exploits, gave up the command of the "Constitution" with a magnanimous feeling that was highly creditable to him. There were, unfortunately, fewer frigates than captains in our navy, and he wished to give other commanders an equal chance to win renown. Hull faithfully served his country, as captain and commodore, afloat and ashore, thirty-seven years. He was for a long period a member of the naval board, was at the head of the Boston and Washington navy yards, and commanded squadrons in the Pacific and Mediterranean. His last sea service was in the ship-of-the-line " Ohio" during the years 1839, 1840, and 1841. Soon after his return from the command of the European squadron the commodore purchased a commodious residence on Spruce street, Philadelphia. There he collected all his scattered household articles and trophies, there he hospitably entertained old friends and new, and there he terminated his honorable career. his last words being, "I strike my flag." His remains rest in Laurel Hill cemetery, Philadelphia, under a beautiful altar tomb of Italian marble, a copy of one he had seen in Rome, chastely ornamented and surmounted by an American eagle in the attitude of defending the National flag. The inscription reads: "In affectionate devotion to the private virtues of Isaac Hull, his widow has erected this monument." A movement is on foot to erect a statue of Commander Hull in the city of Boston, and the writer of this article has now (1887) in preparation a memoir of the naval hero and a history of the United States frigate "Constitution."--Isaac's nephew, Joseph Bartine, naval officer, born in Westchester, New York, 26 April, 1802. He was appointed midshipman from Connecticut in 1813, lieutenant in 1835, commander in 1841, captain in 1855, commodore in 1862. and on 16 July of that year was retired. He commanded the sloop "Warren" in the Pacific squadron in 1843-'7, cut out the Mexican gun-brig "Malekadhel" off Mazatlan, and was in command of the northern district of California for a short time previous to the close of the Mexican war. In 1856-'9 he commanded the frigate "St. Lawrence," of the Brazil squadron, Paraguay expedition, and from May till September, 1861, the "Savannah," of the coast blockade. From 1862 till 1864 he superintended the building of gun boats at St. Louis, commanded at the Philadelphia navy yard in 1866, was president of the examining board at Philadelphia in 1867, and lighthouse-inspector for the 1st district, with headquarters at Portland, Maine, in 1869. His present residence (1887) is Philadelphia.

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