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About Capt. Nathaniel Gray Smith Hart
Nathaniel Gray Smith Hart (c. 1784 – January 23, 1813), often Nathaniel G. S. Hart was a prominent well-connected Kentucky lawyer who, as Captain of the Lexington Light Infantry during the War of 1812, died along with most of his men in the River Raisin Massacre. The phrase "Remember the Raisin!" became an American call to arms for the duration of the War.
Hart was one of seven children, the second son of Colonel Thomas Hart, a veteran of the Revolutionary War, and his wife Susanna Gray Hart. The family was originally from North Carolina, moved to Hagerstown, Maryland, and then settled in Lexington, Kentucky, in 1794. His four sisters married men of some renown – Ann married US Senator James Brown of Louisiana, Eliza married the surgeon Dr. Richard Pindell, Susanna married the lawyer Samuel Price and Lucretia married Henry Clay.
Hart studied law with Clay and had a law practice. He also was a successful businessman, a ropewalk (hemp rope factory) in Lexington being among his ventures. In April 1809, he married Anna Edward Gist, the stepdaughter of General Charles Scott, governor of Kentucky, and daughter of Judith Cary Gist Scott, widow of General Nathaniel Gist. Hart and Anna had two sons, Thomas Hart Jr. and Henry Clay Hart. On January 7, 1812, Hart duelled with Samuel E. Watson at Shirt Tail Bend, a location on the Indiana side of the Ohio River at Silver Creek, the same place that Clay had duelled with Humphrey Marshall in 1809.
Military service and death
At the start of the War of 1812, Hart was Captain of the Lexington Light Infantry Company (aka "The Silk Stocking Boys"), a volunteer unit of the Fayette County, Kentucky militia. He later served as either a Deputy Inspector or Inspector General of William Henry Harrison's Army of the Northwest.
Hart's command was attached to the Fifth Regiment of the Kentucky Volunteer Militia and left for the Northwest in August 1812, where it became part of Army of the Northwest under General James Winchester. In January 1813, a detachment was sent to the defense of Frenchtown, Michigan. Its residents had sent word to the Americans asking for relief from an occupying force of the British and their Native American allies.
The American forces under Lt. Colonel William Lewis were initially successful in forcing the retreat of the small British force stationed there during the First Battle of Frenchtown on January 18, 1813. The British commander of the Fort Malden garrison, Colonel Henry Procter, made plans to take back the area. On the morning of January 22, 1813, Procter's forces attacked the American troops and overwhelmed the right flank of regulars under Winchester, forcing him and much of the general staff to surrender. The Kentucky militia under the command of Major George Madison on the left flank fought on and thought the flag of truce presented by the enemy was actually a British flag of surrender.
During this second Battle of Frenchtown, Hart was wounded and was among the survivors who surrendered to Procter upon orders of Winchester. He was promised safe-passage by Captain William Elliott, a Loyalist British officer who had spent a great length of time in the Lexington home of Hart's father recovering from a severe illness, but this pledge was abandoned during the aftermath of the battle. Elliott borrowed a horse, bridle and saddle from the American officer Major Benjamin Franklin Graves and promised to send help that never came. Elliott is said to have remarked before he departed that "the Indians were very excellent surgeons (and ought to kill all the officers and men)." In one official letter, the eye-witness says that Elliott's broken-promise included taking Hart in Elliott's "own sleigh to Malden that evening" and Hart could remain there in Elliott's home for his recovery. Unable to march with the able-bodied prisoners, Hart paid a friendly Indian to take him to safety on horseback but was instead shot and then scalped. The killing of Hart along with the deaths of the other unarmed wounded prisoners became known as the River Raisin Massacre.
The gruesome deaths of Hart and of his fellow soldiers during the Battle of Frenchtown and the subsequent Massacre became fuel for the War-Hawk political factions, for the pro-war and anti-British sentiment of the era. The phrase "Remember the Raisin!" entered the lexicon of the day as a flashpoint for popular sentiment, becoming a battle cry for American troops, especially the ones on the Western frontier. That many of the murdered men were well-known and well-connected members of Kentucky's elite increased the public-outcry. Among the dead was Colonel John Allen, Henry Clay's law-partner and co-counsel in Aaron Burr's conspiracy trial at Frankfort. Hart's death is even remembered in modern times as "The Murder of Captain Hart."
Aftermath of Hart's death and memorials
Owing to the wholesale nature of the slaughter, the Americans who did survive at the time were not able to give the bodies of their fallen comrades a proper burial as they were either prisoners or escapees; the bones were not interred until months later. In 1818, the remains were transferred from Monroe, Michigan to Detroit. Isaac Baker, an American ensign who survived the Massacre, stated in a report to Judge Woodward in Detroit that:
The dead of our army are still denied the rites of sepulture. ... I was told the hogs were eating them. A gentleman told me he had seen them running about with skulls, arms, legs and other parts of the human system in their mouths. The French people on the Raisin buried Captains Hart, Woolfolk, and some others, but it was more than their lives were worth to have been caught paying this last customed tribute to mortality."
In 1834, the box containing the comingled mass remains (including the universally tomahawked skulls), were moved from their former Detroit resting-place and re-interred in Detroit's City Cemetery. These remains are asserted to have received final burial in the State Cemetery of Frankfort, Kentucky. As late as 1849, a mass grave was excavated during road construction in Monroe. Some writers state that those skeletons, along with the City Cemetery remains, were then returned to Kentucky for final and proper burial that year. but other experts' investigations have placed doubt upon these various accounts.
Matthew Harris Jouett, a man who painted famous portraits of Thomas Jefferson, George Rogers Clark and Lafayette, was one of the Kentucky volunteers and among the survivors of the River Raisin Massacre. The company payroll of $6000 disappeared during the slaughter and Jouett took it upon himself to restore the missing funds, using his skill as a painter to do so. He also painted portraits of his fellow soldiers, including Hart and Colonel Allen, from memory.
The state of Kentucky named its 61st county Hart County, Kentucky in Nathaniel Hart's honor in 1819. In 1904 residents of Monroe, Michigan, erected a monument to the Kentuckians who died defending their settlement during the various River Raisin engagement, the area being where some unidentified victims were buried.
Although some sources list Hart's name as "Nathaniel G. T. Hart," this is incorrect according to Kleber and to the Heidlers Encyclopedia. Hart is also referred to in court documents dating from before his death as "Nathaniel G. S. Hart."
The misnomer apparently dates to a mistake in Historical Sketches of Kentucky, either the Richard Collins edition (published in 1874) or the original edition (published in 1848 by Lewis Collins).