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Insanity Defense at Fort Constitution 1814


Brewster’s Ramble #114

Here’s something you didn’t know. Among the earliest cases of a successful insanity plea occurred after an incident at Fort Constitution in New Castle, NH in 1814. Our deceased reporter Charles Brewster covers the story. 


Court Martial for Friendly Fire

ABOUT Charles Brewster 

Editors Note: C.W. Brewster was a Portsmouth columnist in the mid-1800's. This article includes his opinions and may not reflect current research or current values.   -- JDR

The Court Martial at Fort Constitution in 1814 --The Providential Witness

ALTHOUGH now beyond our present city line, Newcastle was once a part of Portsmouth; and the fortification on that island being for the defence of Portsmouth harbor, still attaches it to us. Several references have been made to the fortification in previous Rambles -- showing that at the old Fort William and Mary , since called Constitution, was the first scene of seizure of British property by the patriots at the commencement of the Revolution, -- a circumstance which should give it a place in history scarcely less prominent than Lexington or Bunker Hill. Our present object is to record an event which took place in the Fort nearly half a century ago, which did not appear in the papers of the day, nor has it since until now been published.

brewsterslogo.jpgIn the spring of 1814, when our country was at war with England, the 40th regiment of U. S. Infantry was designated as rendezvoused at Boston, but its companies were rarely if ever collected there together, being raised principally for the defence of the eastern seaboard. Col. Joseph Lovering, jr. of Boston, had command of it, and Perley Putnam, of Salem, was Major. In this regiment, one company of a hundred men from Newport, R. I., commanded by Capt. Bailey of Mass., of which a son of Capt. Bailey was Ensign, was detached and ordered to garrison a fort at Wiscasset. Their most direct course from Boston was through Portsmouth. Soldiers then had none of the present advantages of railroad conveyance, and the marching of a company then meant that they went on foot. The marching through country roads was done "at ease," but the soldiers were held in such positions that when they approached any town or village, they could readily he brought into regular sections at a tap of the drum or word of command. It was in this way that Capt. Bailey's company was marching when it approached Greenland parade Soon after the word was given to form rank and shoulder arms, Ensign Bailey touched with his sword the gun of a soldier to remind him that he should change its position to shoulder arms, at the same time giving the order.

Capt. Bailey, hearing the order, stepped to the flank to ascertain whether there was any trouble, when instantly a bullet from a gun just grazed his side. It appears that the soldier, instead of shouldering his gun, had dropped it into a horizontal position on his left arm, and pulled the trigger. It was supposed the shot was intended for the Ensign, but the lives of the Captain and many others were equally endangered. The soldier was immediately arrested, put under guard, and brought with the company to Portsmouth. Fort Constitution being the nearest garrison, he was sent there to await the charges to be made out against him. Capt. Bailey and his company passed over Portsmouth ferry and proceeded into Maine. In a few days the specifications were made, containing the names of the four witnesses to the act. There was, however too much of other service required for officers to admit of a court martial being held for several months, and the prisoner in the mean time was kept securely at the fort.

CONTINUE Ramble #114

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