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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

It was on a pleasant day in that summer that Col. Walbach, who, it will be recollected, for a long time had command of the garrison, was walking with a gentleman around the fort, that they came to a room in the arsenal in which a squad of soldiers were busily engaged in making musket cartridges, in great demand at that time. As they passed along, Col. W., in a private way, directed his guest's attention to one of the workmen, who seemed to be very active and deeply interested in his work. After they had passed out of the arsenal and were proceeding outside the fort, said Col. W. "did you notice that man who was making cartridges twice as fast as any other? O, I pity him, for that man, well as he appears, is soon to be shot! Nothing can save him, poor fellow! He it was who a few months since came near shooting two officers in the Newport company. I cannot think that he intended murder or mutiny with which he stands charged,--but if such doings are overlooked, what officer is safe? It is a pity, but poor Haven's fate is sealed.


In the fall of 1814, a general court martial was held at Fort Constitution for the trial of several cases which had accumulated within course of the season. Major Crooker, of the 9th regiment, was President, and Lieut. Belfour, of the Artillery, was Judge Advocate. Capt. Bailey had been notified of the time of the trial, and was directed to send the four witnesses mentioned in the specifications accompanying his charge against the soldier.

When the witnesses arrived, it was noticed that there were five soldiers instead of four -- but when the witnesses were summoned before the court only the four appeared. They testified all alike, that they were near Haven and saw him discharge his gun when it was laying on his arm. The prisoner was allowed to interrogate the witnesses: his only question, which was asked to each of them in turn, was, "Did you see Ensign Bailey strike me before I fired?" They all replied, No.

Just in this stage of the proceedings the clock struck three. In those days, and we know not but at the present time, no proceedings in a court martial can be held after that hour and so the court adjourned without coming to the fatal verdict which, had half an hour's more time been allowed, would doubtless have been arrived at.

On this court martial was the late Hon. Daniel P. Drown, of this city, then a Lieutenant in the army. When the court came together the next morning, the case of Haven came up as it was left, with every prospect that the fate anticipated by Col. Walbach would rest upon him. At this stage, Lieut. Drown stated that it appeared that five soldiers had been sent here from Wiscasset, instead of the four detailed as witnesses. He made inquiry of the President why the fifth man had been sent. Maj. Crooker could see no reason for making an inquiry on this subject, as the specifications, which were their only guide, made no mention of any one beyond the four witnesses. At length, however, it was decided that the fifth soldier should be brought before the court.

After the preliminary questions as to what regiment and company he belonged to, when he enlisted into Capt. Bailey's company, &c., had been satisfactorily answered, he was asked -- Were you in the company when this act of mutiny on the part of Haven took place? I was. Was you near him when he fired? I was. Your name is not on the detail of witnesses, how came you to be sent here on this trial? I don't know. All I know of the matter is, that when the corporal who had charge of the witnesses had just left the fort at Wiscasset, he was ordered to halt, and I was sent for by Capt. Bailey to come into his quarters. He asked me if I knew Haven. I told him I did -- had worked with him at the shoe business at Dartmouth, Mass. Capt. Bailey said no more, but ordered me to be supplied with rations, and march with the squad to Fort Constitution. Did you expect that you were coming here as a witness? I had no instructions, and do not know for what purpose I was ordered here.

It now appearing to the court that this man might have been sent to give what information he might possess of the prisoner, he was at once sworn. The witness was then directed to state what he knew of the prisoner.

He had worked a year or so with Haven. Had found him a man singular in his habits, -- sometimes a very talkative, and then a very silent man. He was an excellent workman, and careful in fulfilling his obligations; was a kind-hearted man, and beloved by all his fellow workmen. The shoe-shop in which they worked was on the side of the road opposite a stone wall. At one time, when in a desponding state of mind, he suddenly laid down his work on his seat, ran across the road with great rapidity, and dropping his head as he approached the wall, he ran against it with his full force. It was thought he had killed himself. He scarred his head very badly. The court on examination of the prisoner's head found the deep scars.

After answering a few more questions, the witness was dismissed, and the examination closed. It should be here stated that the prisoner had said to the court that he had no hostile feelings against Lieut. Bailey. He had no doubt of the truth of the statement of the witnesses that he discharged the gun, although of the act he had no recollection.

The Judge-Advocate summed up the evidence which went to sustain the charge of mutiny. The question was put by the President to each member of the court, Is the prisoner guilty of the crime with which he is charged? Lieut. Drown, being the youngest in commission, was first called upon. He replied, No. The other eleven replied, No. And the President was well satisfied that the verdict was just.

It was found that, suffering as he was under partial insanity, he was not a safe man for the army, and the court recommended that he be honorably discharged from the public service.

No one rejoiced more than Capt. Bailey, at the happy result of sending a witness not in the specification. And frequently our venerable friend Drown (who was the summer guest of Col. Walbach above referred to) congratulated himself with the thought, that if while in the army he never killed a man, he was by his position instrumental in saving one innocent man from being shot.

Text scanned courtesy of The Brewster Family Network
Copy of Rambles courtesy Peter E. Randall
History Hypertext project by
This digital transcript  © 1999 


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