Encyclopedia Of Detroit

Hull, William

William Hull was an American politician and military commander who is best remembered for the surrender of Detroit during the War of 1812.

William Hull was born in Derby, Connecticut in 1753.  Hull was educated at Yale, where he successfully completed his studies in 1772. Following his time at Yale, Hull spent a year studying religion in accordance with his parents’ expectations. During this time Hull decided to abandon theology and enroll in law school in Litchfield, Connecticut. Hull was admitted to the bar in 1775; however, his legal career was interrupted when the American War for Independence began.

Hull joined the local militia shortly after the war began. He demonstrated competency as a soldier and quickly began moving through ranks, eventually becoming a colonel. Hull earned a reputation as a skilled soldier whose military record included the Battles of Ticonderoga, Saratoga, Trenton, Princeton, and the Siege of Boston.

Following the American Revolution, Hull returned to his law practice. During this time, he lived with his family in Newton, Massachusetts. It was at this point that Hull was able to enter life as a politician, serving as a judge and eventually as a Massachusetts State Senator. As a military veteran and public official in Massachusetts, Hull was an integral part of the militia that ended Shays Rebellion in January of 1787. Following his service in Massachusetts, Hull was appointed as a commissioner to Upper Canada and given the responsibility of negotiating with the British government in an effort to create a treaty with the Indians of the Great Lakes region.

In March of 1805, Hull was commissioned as the First Governor of the Michigan Territory and Indian Agent by President Thomas Jefferson. As Indian Agent, Hull served as the intermediary between the Native American tribes in the Michigan Territory and the United States government.

Upon the outbreak of the War of 1812, Hull was offered the position of Brigadier General in the regular army, which after much hesitation, he accepted. Hull commanded a force of approximately 2,500 men. The Secretary of War sent orders that he was to invade Canada and lay siege to Fort Malden, but Hull’s inability to capture the fort and the uncertainty of his supply lines led him to withdraw back to Detroit.

On August 13, 1812, British forces, under the command of Isaac Brock, sent a letter to William Hull demanding the surrender of Detroit. Hull refused to surrender, at which time Brock began a bombardment of the fort and city. The British forces, and a group of supporting Native Americans under the leadership of Tecumseh, deceived Hull. They led him to believe that he faced a superior military force.  Fearing a severed resupply line and a brutal attack, Hull surrendered Detroit. Hull’s capitulation was unsettling to many of his troops. One of his most severe critics was a subordinate, Colonel Lewis Cass, who became Hull’s replacement as Territorial Governor.

William Hull was eventually court-martialed for his actions during the Siege of Detroit. Hull was sentenced to be shot for cowardice and neglect of duty, but his sentence was commuted by President James Madison based on Hull’s Revolutionary War record. Following his dishonorable discharge from the U.S. army, Hull returned to Newton, Massachusetts where he died in 1825.  Subsequent assessments of the war and Hull’s role in it have been more balanced, showing Hull to be a victim of the War Department’s mismanagement and a scapegoat for others’ mistakes.

Written by Ryan DiBrano



Letter from General William Hull, 1812 - 1929.035.010h

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