TO THE PUBLIC
City of Washington, 30th Aug 1814
Hearing of several misrepresentations, I think it my duty to state to you in as concise a manner as the various circumstances will permit, my conduct in the late transactions in this City.
After securing all the public papers committed to my care, and sending them to a place of perfect safety, (leaving my own property unattended to) I proceeded on the 23rd inst. to the neighborhood of the army, and afterwards accompanied the hon. the Secretary of State, Colonel Monroe, with some other gentlemen in reconnoitering the country, whence we only returned at 12 o'clock at night. The next day I removed with my family in the retreating army from the City and beheld with deep regret, that night, the tremendous conflagrations of our public buildings, &c. Hearing next morning, while at breakfast in Georgetown, that the British were preparing to burn the War Office and the public building containing the models of the arts, I was desirous not only of saving an instrument that had cost me great labor, but of preserving if possible the building and all the models -- I therefore left my breakfast and hastened forward, determining to request the first known democrat I should meet to accompany me, lest the malevolent should insinuate that I had in any manner held an improper communication with the invaders of the country -- I met with Charles Carroll, Esq, one of the most respectable gentlemen in the District. I begged him to accompany me for the reasons given; he very politely attended me. We arrived at the very moment when the English Col. Jones and his men were proceeding to burn the War Office; Mr. Carroll had already accompanied the Mayor of Georgetown in a peace deputation and was therefore known to some of the officers; he informed Col. Jones that I had waited on him to request permission to take out of the Patent Office a musical instrument; the Colonel immediately replied, that as it was not their intention to destroy any private property, I was perfectly at liberty to take it. After the War Office was burnt, I entreated Mr. Carroll to accompany me to the Patent Office, but he proceeded only to my own house and told me he must return. He did so; and I went to the residence of the Mayor to ask him to accompany me to the building, he was out of town; I next called on Mr. Nicholson, my model maker and messenger, and desired him to attend me, he did, and the British soldiers were then marching in two columns to burn the building. When we arrived there we found the Revd Mr. Browne, Mr. Lyon and Mr. Hatfield near the Patent Office. Major Waters, who was then on guard and waiting the command of Colonel Jones, informed me that the private property might be taken out, I told him that there was nothing but private property of any consequence, and that any public property to which he objected might be burnt in the street, provided the building might be preserved, which contained hundreds of models of the arts, and that it would be impossible to remove them, and to burn what would be useful to all mankind, would be as barbarous as formerly to burn the Alexandrian Library, for which the Turks have been ever since condemned by all enlightened nations. The Major desired me to go again with him to Col. Jones, who was attending some of his men engaged in destroying Mr. Gales's types and printing apparatus. I went to the Avenue and was kindly received by the Colonel; they took their men away and promised to spare the building. I then returned satisfied without seeing any other British officer, and went out of the district with my family. On Friday (26th) I returned to the city lest any inferior officer, not knowing of this promise, should set fire to the building; but I found the British were gone, except a few sick and wounded men and their attendants. Finding the Mayor not yet in the city, I, as the only Justice of the Peace, appointed a guard at the President's House and Offices, another at the Capitol to prevent plunderers who were carrying off articles to the amount of thousands of dollars. * [*fn: Returning since to the City, I found the guards were not continued.] When at the Capitol, I was informed that a dreadful scene of plunder was exhibited at the Navy Yard I went and ordered the gates to be shut, and stopped every plunderer. While placing a guard there, Commodore Tingey arrived. I delivered every thing up to him; and in returning was told the English sick and wounded were in want, and had no provision. I visited them, and was informed by Sergeant Sinclair of the British 21st regt. who had the command of these men, that Dr James Ewell had in the most humane manner attended them as a physician, and, as far as he could, he had supplied them with necessaries. Major L'Enfant, with great humanity, besides being useful in some precautionary measures, desired I would have carts sent in for some of our wounded men on the commons. I understood he had engaged one, and I desired he would send as many as he thought necessary, for which I would be answerable. I have heard since they had been removed. I then waited on Dr. James Ewell, to thank him in the name of the city for his goodness towards the distressed, who, being in our power, and especially in misery, were no longer enemies. He told me there was no provision for them of any kind. I appointed a Commissary, and ordered every thing that the Doctor thought requisite, for which I would be responsible. The Sergeant requested my protection for all his men. I told him they would be protected; and as I had seen several stragglers, and as our people would patrole the streets in squads of six at least in every ward, and might meet with some of them, it would be well to send a man with each of our patroles as a guard to challenge them, and thereby prevent our people from firing on them; and if any should be found, to take them to the Sergeant, who would put them under guard for further orders. He promised to obey every order. I gave orders and he fulfilled them. Some stragglers, I understand, were taken up, and perfect order kept throughout the city.
After I had made all the arrangements, the Mayor arrived. I informed him of all I had done, and stated, that I then delivered over to him all the authority I had from the duty of office assumed. He, I believe, and my fellow-citizens, approved of my conduct. I returned late to my family in the country.
In the morning we returned to town, and heard the British ships attacking Fort Warburton. On the 28th, I learnt that the people, being afraid of the landing of the British seamen, who they thought were immediately bound for the city, I had desired the Mayor to wait on the President, and request permission to send a deputation -- not to enter into a capitulation of any kind, but to represent to the commander of the British squadron, that it was understood when their army destroyed the public buildings and property no other would be molested, and to request therefore they would not permit their sailors to land; but learning at the same time that the President had refused to hear of a deputation, and understanding that the people on all sides deprecated a mere shew of resistance; for it was supposed our men had not generally returned, and that the few who had returned were all dispersed, I rode immediately to the President, who was attended by the Secretary of State and the Attorney General. I represented the general feelings of the people on the above supposition, but was answered that it would be dishonorable to send any deputation, and that we would defend the city to the very last; that our men had returned, and we should have sufficient force if called together, and I was desired to aid in rousing them to arms. I obeyed the call -- returned, rode in all directions, and called to arms. I sent for the troops from Bladensburg, and urged them from various places. I went to the different quarters, and gave, as far as I could, every assistance in my power to fulfil the wishes of the government.