The “British Aliens” in America During the War of 1812

While writing “Captain Stanwick’s Bride,” I spent a great deal of time researching personal papers, diaries, journals, and the like of people who lived during this second war between American and Great Britain. Many “Americans,” at the time, still claimed British citizenship, and, therefore, they were looked upon as the “enemy.” The year 2022 will be the 210th anniversary of that war.

One of the names which kept coming up during my research was that of Peter Curtenius. I mention Mr. Curtenius briefly in my tale, for during the War of 1812, he was the U.S. Marshal for the District of New York. He had been appointed to his position by Thomas Jefferson in 1806.

Much of Curtenis’s tenure involved overseeing British citizens living in New York. Curtenis left behind numerous letters between him and James Monroe, then with the Department of State. Monroe’s responses provided specific instructions on what Curtenis was to do about “British aliens.”

For example, in one of Peter Curtenius’s letters from Monroe, the future President of the United States, tells Curtenius to secure the nine British officers living in New York City, at the time, and see they were removed. “You are requested to order the officers to retire forthwith into the country, to such place, not less than forty miles distant from the city, as General Armstrong may designate. Should they refuse or decline to obey this order, you will take them into custody as prisoners of war. To the conduct of all other alien enemies, it is expected that you will pay a very strict attention.”

The idea of being an “alien” in the United States plays throughout much of my novel, for not only is Captain Myles Stanwick a recently “retired” British Army officer when he races across several states to reach Miss Beatrice Spurlock before the British launch an all-out attack against the Americans at Fort McHenry, near Baltimore, but the loyalty of Beatrice herself, who is a Powhatan Indian princess, and her father, a Scottish-born surgeon, who settled in America to be near the woman he loves, is also in question. Spurlock has been ordered to leave his thriving practice in Richmond, Virginia, and serve the American Army during the war. Like the British citizens under Curtenius’s care, the Spurlocks have few rights, no matter how long they have proved to be productive citizens of the United States. They are not even “naturalized” and are, therefore the enemy.

What did this “very strict attention” entail? As marshals, Curtenius and his successor, John Smith, were to keep record of the whereabouts of some 1500 British citizens living in New York, most of which lived in New York City itself. As long as the person had not applied for naturalization (no matter how many years they had been in the United States), they were required to report to the marshal.

“One British resident, a 58-year-old man who was a weaver by trade, had lived in the United States for 35 years when he reported to Curtenius in September 1812. These registers, located in the Peter Curtenius Papers and the New-York Historical Society’s other War of 1812 manuscript collections, are rich in sociological information, as they list the names of the British ‘aliens,’ their age, occupation, place of residence, length of time in the United States, their family/marital status, and whether they had applied for naturalization.”

Sources:

Aliens in America

The British View of the War of 1812

The Nation Braces for War

Two Wars for Independence

Captain Stanwick’s Bride: Tragic Characters in Classic Lit Series Novel

“Happiness consists more in conveniences of pleasure that occur everyday than in great pieces of good fortune that happen but seldom.” – Benjamin Franklin

Captain Whittaker Stanwick has a successful military career and a respectable home farm in Lancashire. What he does not have in his life is felicity. Therefore, when the opportunity arrives, following his wife’s death, Stanwick sets out to know a bit of happiness, at last—finally to claim a woman who stirs his soul. Yet, he foolishly commits himself to one woman only weeks before he has found a woman, though shunned by her people and his, who touches his heart. Will he deny the strictures placed upon him by society in order learn the secret of happiness is freedom: Freedom to love and freedom to know courage?

Loosely based on Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s “The Courtship of Miles Standish” and set against the final battles of the War of 1812, this tale shows the length a man will go to in order to claim a remarkable woman as his.

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About reginajeffers

Regina Jeffers is the award-winning author of Austenesque, Regency and historical romantic suspense.
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