Beall, William K

William Kennedy Beall, plantation owner and officer (d 1815). William Beall and his family lived in an extensive estate called Beallmont on the Ohio River, just north of Newport, Kentucky. Beall is best remembered for his capture and the diary of his internment at Fort Amerstburg during the War of 1812.

In the spring of 1812, Beall joined the army of General William Hull, veteran of the American Revolution, in which he served as assistant quartermaster general to friend and neighbor General James Taylor and held the rank of general.

In the summer, as General Hull’s Army of the North West cut and hacked their way through the hard forest of Michigan, Beall managed to avoid the harsh march and took the schooner Cuyahoga Packet up the Detroit River to rendezvous with Hull at Fort Detroit. Packed on board were musical instruments, ill soldiers unable to make the rough land journey, and heavy supplies for the army. But the most precious cargo in Beall’s possession were Hull’s personal items, including his journal, letters, and top secret correspondences with the US Secretary of War William Eustis, all brought by Hull’s son, Abraham. On 2 July 1812, as yet untold that the US had in fact declared war, the Cuyahoga Packet and its captain, Luthur Chapin, casually sailed past the British fort of Amherstburg as if it were any other day on the Great Lakes.

Not so in Canada. The ship’s American flag caught the eye of Lieutenant Frederic Rolette, a French Canadian officer of the Provincial Marine, who quickly organized a boarding party of 6 men, grabbed a longboat, and set sail to intercept the supply vessel. Captain Chapin, not seeing much amiss with their friendly neighbours heading toward them, was unprepared for the pulling of muskets and bayonets that followed. Chapin looked to Beall for decisive action but a whiff of musket fire ended any discussion of a bloody encounter. There were 30 Americans on board, five times that of the boarding party, but most were ill and their arms stowed. Beall demanded to know on what authority they were being boarded. Rolette informed him of the declaration of war and that the US had already taken two British vessels. Then, he locked up the Americans and set sail for British waters.

Adding insult to injury, Rolette found the musical instruments stowed on board and, as the captured vessel sailed to Amherstburg, he forced the Americans to play “God Save the King” as they approached their home as prisoners of war.

Worse for the Americans, General Hull’s personal papers and correspondence were found and analyzed, revealing the strength and weaknesses of Hull’s forces, their formation, their state of morale, their logistical trials, and, most critical, Hull’s rabid fear of the skill and savagery of First Nations warriors like Tecumseh. This treasure trove of military intelligence was transmitted to Major General Isaac Brock, who turned the raw data into an ingenious battle plan for attacking Fort Detroit.

As a means to kill the boredom of captivity, void of any reading material, Beall wrote a memoir of his capture. It presented his own critique of General Hull, especially regarding his reluctance to attack the British at Amherstburg, which Beall knew from the inside was poorly defended should an attack be strongly pressed. The memoir also provided glimpses of key figures on both sides, including Tecumseh, who, according to Beall, had a “noble set of features and an admirable eye,” and was surrounded by six chiefs who never walked before him. However, Beall shared Hull’s view of the First Nations as savages who could never be trusted and should only be feared. Beall’s diary also recounted a tale of two other officers who claimed Hull’s personal papers included a declaration of war given to him by the Secretary of War. This issue was brought before Hull during his 1814 court martial and was dismissed as untrue, though it did not prevent Hull from being charged.

Author: Jason Ridler

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