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Feb. 23, 1751 - Jun. 6, 1829
Dictionary of American Biography
Edited by Allen Johnson & Dumas Malone, Vol. V, Page 174-176
Charles Scribner's Sons, New York, 1930.
DEARBORN, HENRY (Feb. 23, 1751-June 6, 1829), soldier, secretary of war, and congressman from Massachusetts, was born at Hampton, N. H., the son of Simon Dearborn and his wife Sarah Marston. He was descended from Godfrey Dearborn, a native of Exeter, England, who in 1639 came to America, settling first at Exeter, N. H., and subsequently at Hampton, with which place four successive generations of his descendants were connected. Henry attended the local district school and studied medicine under Dr. Hall Jackson of Portsmouth. In 1772 he began practise as a physician at Nottingham Square, N. H. As trouble with England approached, young Dearborn undertook the organization of a militia company and was elected captain. Upon receiving the news of the fighting at Lexington and Concord, he led his sixty men with celerity to Cambridge. His company was incorporated in the regiment of Col. John Stark and took part in the battle of Bunker Hill, June 17, 1775. In September 1775 Dearborn volunteered for service in Benedict Arnold's expedition to Quebec. In that trying and hazardous march through the Maine woods, in which he commanded one of the companies of musketmen, he kept a journal which is an important source of information for the campaign. On the latter part of the march he became seriously ill and had to be left behind in a cottage on the Chaudiere River, but rejoined the army in time to take part in the assault on Quebec by the combined forces of Arnold and Gen. Richard Montgomery, Dec. 31, 1775. In the battle, in which Montgomery was killed and Arnold seriously wounded, Dearborn was taken prisoner and confined for a time at Quebec. In May 1776, he was released on parole, but was not exchanged until March 1777. He was then (Mar. 19) appointed major of the 3rd New Hampshire Regiment, commanded by Col. Alexander Scammell. In September 1777 he was transferred to the 1st New Hampshire Regiment, Col. Joseph Cilley. He took part in the campaign against Burgoyne, being in the
fighting at Ticonderoga and Freeman's Farm. He passed the winter of 1777—78 at Valley Forge, and at the battle of Monmouth in the following June the conduct of his regiment won commendation from Gen. Washington. In the summer of 1779 his regiment formed a part of Gen. John Sullivan's army in the campaign from the Wyoming Valley against the Six Nations, which laid waste the Genesee Valley and the region of the Finger Lakes in central New York. He later joined Washington's staff and served at the siege of Yorktown. In June 1783 he received his discharge from the army and settled in Kennebec County, Me., then a district of Massachusetts. He became a brigadier-general and later a major-general of militia, and in 1790 was appointed United States marshal for the District of Maine. He represented this district of Massachusetts as a Republican in the Third and Fourth Congresses (1793-97) but was not prominent there. When Jefferson became president, Dearborn was appointed secretary of war, and in this position he served through Jefferson's eight years of office. As secretary of war he helped form the plan for the removal of the Indians beyond the Mississippi (Annual Report of the American Historical Association
, 1906, I, 253—54). In March 1809 he resigned his position in the cabinet and became collector for the port of Boston. In January 1812, President Madison made him the senior major-general in the United States army and placed him in command of what was expected to be the most important theatre of war -- the northeast sector from the Niagara River to the New England coast. Dearborn, like William Hull [q.v.
], had exhibited excellent military qualities as a young officer in the Revolution, but, as with Hull, those qualities appeared to have evaporated with age and long disuse. Dearborn prepared a plan of campaign which called for simultaneous attacks upon the British at Montreal, Kingston, Niagara, and Detroit, but showed neither energy nor
speed in preparing for its execution. After establishing headquarters at Albany he went to Boston to superintend recruiting and coast-defense. His stay here was prolonged for weeks beyond the declaration of war, with the result that no preparations were made for attacking the British at any point east of Detroit. Consequently, Gen. Brock was enabled to throw his whole force against Hull at Detroit and compel his surrender. The year ended with another American defeat at Queenston on the Niagara River and a futile march to the Canadian border and back again by the troops at Plattsburgh under Dearborn's direct command. The campaign of the following spring (1813) gave further proof of Dearborn's incompetence. John Armstrong [q.v.
], now secretary of war, gave orders for an attack on Kingston at the eastern end of Lake Ontario. Dearborn, greatly overestimating the British strength at Kingston, secured Armstrong's consent for an attack upon the western end instead. He captured York (Toronto), Apr. 27, 1813, but with heavy losses and no corresponding advantage. He also took Fort George at the mouth of Niagara River (May 27), but the British army escaped and inflicted severe defeats upon two detachments sent in pursuit. Dearborn was taken ill, and the active command devolved upon Gen. Morgan Lewis. Meanwhile Sackett's Harbor, the American base at the east end of the lake, had been left exposed to the British fleet and army at Kingston, which in a surprise attack, May 28, barely failed in their effort to capture it, and retired only after inflicting considerable damage. The entire campaign had been so seriously mismanaged that the demand for Dearborn's removal was imperative. A letter from Armstrong, July 6, 1813, relieved him of command on the frontier. Dearborn's request for a court of inquiry went unheeded, but he was given command of New York City and was later appointed president of the court martial which tried and condemned Gen. Hull -- a most improper
appointment, since Dearborn's negligence had contributed to bring about Hull's defeat. Dearborn was honorably discharged from the army on June 15, 1815. Madison had nominated him in March for secretary of war, but the nomination called forth such strong remonstrance that Madison withdrew it. The Senate had meanwhile rejected his name, but consented to erase the record from its journal. In 1822 Monroe sent him as minister to Portugal, a post which he held two years. He returned at his own request and retired to Roxbury, Mass. Dearborn was thrice married: to Mary Bartlett in 1771; to Dorcas (Osgood) Marble in 1780; and to Sarah Bowdoin, widow of James Bowdoin, in 1813. Henry Alexander Scammell Dearborn [q.v.
] was his son by his second wife.
[Dearborn's "Journal while on Arnold's Expedition to Quebec" mentioned above, journals which he kept at various times from July 1776 to March 1783, are published in Proc. Mass. Hist. Soc., ser. 2, vol. III (1886—87). Another portion of his journals is included in Jours. of the Military Expedition of Maj-Gen. John Sullivan against the Six Nations of Indians in 1779 (1887), ed. by Frederick Cook, pp. 62—80. For other accounts of the march to Quebec consult Justin H. Smith, Arnold's March from Cambridge to Quebec (1903) and The Struggle for the Fourteenth Colony (2 vols., 1907). Of Dearborn's performances in the War of 1812 the best account is in Henry Adams, Hist. of the U. S.. vols. VI and VII (1890—91). Dearborn's side of the case was presented by his son, Gen. H. A. S. Dearborn, in Defence of Gen. Henry Dearborn against the Attack of Gen. William Hull (1824). See also Jos. Dow, "The Dearborns of Hampton, N. H.," in The Hist. of Hampton, N. H. (1893).]
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