A Letter From a 41st Officer on Prisoner Retaliation

This letter is offered with the kind permission of Gunston Hall in Mason Neck, Virginia. Gunston Hall was the home of George Mason, author of the Virginia Declaration of Rights. John Mason, son of George Mason, served as Commissioner General of Prisoners for the United States government during the War of 1812. In John Mason’s personal papers is a copy of a letter from Lieutenant Benjamin Geale of the 41st Regiment. Geale was captured at the Battle of the Thames (also known as the Battle of Moraviantown) on 5th November, 1813.

He was held in captivity at Frankfort, Kentucky. The Officers of the 41st Regiment being held in captivity found themselves victims of a series of retaliations involving Prisoners of War between England and the United States.

Geale writes to his brother in Ireland describing the circumstances along with his fears and concerns.

Geale was ultimately released from captivity in the fall of 1814. He died in 1821 at only 30 years of age as a consequence of his war experiences (wounds suffered and lingering after effects of illnesses suffered while in captivity)

Copy of a letter from a British Officer to his Brother in England around Retaliation

To: Piers Geale, Glother Street, Dublin, Ireland

Frankfort, State of Kentucky, Dec. 10 1813

My Dear Piers

It’s from within the walls of a prison your unfortunate Brother addresses you. Retaliation for American Officers confined in Canada by order of the Prince Regent has compelled the American Government to adopt the same measure, the cause of our confinement is in consequence of 23 British Subjects that were taken in arms against us at the battle of Queens town and were sent to England to stand their trial, the American Government then put in close confinement 23 of our Soldiers to answer with their lives, for the Safety of those men who were sent to England. An order has recently arrived to Gov. Gen. Prevost to put in close arrest 23 American officers and non commissioned officers to answer in the above manner for the 23 British soldiers closely confined by the Americans. This is the system of the day and innocent will suffer for the guilty – this perhaps is the last letter you will ever receive from me; if the men in England are executed my days will shortly after conclude – to you then my Dear Brother do I confide the care of my dear wife and child, a copy of my will shall be sent to you and I am well aware that you will continue the same fatherly affectionate care to your beloved and precious charge that you have ever evinced towards me, and may the God shower heavy vengeance on those that are the cause of this calamity which threatens us with the most degrading and untimely death. What a war this is likely to be, the recital of which will disgrace the pages of History – However thank God I die with honor to myself and Country – My Colonel and 17 more of my Brother Officers will end their days on the scaffold with me and the business will end with the execution of every officer and man that is in the possession of the two contending powers at present and all then that fall into their hands for the future. I am sorry now that I escaped the honorable death of a soldier to meet that of a criminal. As all my letters are read, I must omit many circumstances that I could wish to recite and that throughout God of Heaven may ever protect both your family and my beloved wife and lovely infant shall be the expiring prayer of your affectionate and truly unfortunate Brother.

B. Geale

Lieutenant, 1st Battalion, 41st Regiment