Hamilton, Henry

views updated

Hamilton, Henry

HAMILTON, HENRY. (1734?–1796). (The "Hair Buyer"), British officer. Born in Dublin, perhaps in 1734, Henry Hamilton served under Jeffery Amherst at Louisburg, under James Wolfe at Quebec, in the West Indies as a lieutenant colonel, and was lieutenant governor of Canada and commandant at Detroit from 1775 to 1779. With only a few regulars of the Eighth Regiment under his command, Hamilton exploited Indian hostility toward the encroaching American settlers, cultivating notorious followers such as Simon Girty, Matthew Elliott, and Alexander McKee. Under Hamilton, Detroit became Britain's headquarters and supply base for the Old Northwest. In June 1777 Hamilton received instructions from George Sackville Germain (through Governor Guy Carleton) to send Indian raiders under white leaders to attack frontier settlements. Although an attack was made on Wheeling on 1 September 1777, General John Burgoyne's offensive drew off most of his Indian warriors. Hamilton was not able to organize these forays until early 1778, when Daniel Boone was a prize catch. General George Rogers Clark's western operations then disrupted Hamilton's plans, and after leading a remarkable march to retake Vincennes, Hamilton was captured 25 February 1779, when Clark surprised him by an even more audacious move. After being kept under close guard for several months in Williamsburg, Virginia, he was subsequently paroled and sent to New York in 1781.

Hamilton received his nickname of "Hair Buyer" because of his supposed practice of paying Indians for the scalps of whites. There is little valid evidence to support these rumors, which Hamilton always denied. After the war Hamilton served as lieutenant governor of Quebec, from 1782 to 1785, and as governor of Bermuda from 1785 to 1794. He became governor of Dominica in 1794, and held that post until his death in 1796.

SEE ALSO Burgoyne's Offensive; Girty, Simon; Western Operations.


Barnhart, John D. Henry Hamilton and George Rogers Clark in the American Revolution: With the Unpublished Journal of Lieutenant Governor Henry Hamilton. Crawfordsville, Ind.: R. E. Banta, 1951.

Sheehan, Bernard W. "The Famous Hair Buyer General: Henry Hamilton, George Rogers Clark, and the American Indian." Indiana Magazine of History, 79 (1983): 1-28.

                            revised by Michael Bellesiles

About this article

Hamilton, Henry

Updated About encyclopedia.com content Print Article