Alcoholism, Fort Detroit & the Michigan Territory

Alcoholism has always been a scourge in Detroit. One of the earliest articles we had found in a Detroit newspaper was in the Detroit Free Press on August 19, 1853.

In court

It tells the tale of a 105 year old man being arrested for public drunkenness by the Sheriff of Wayne County. In the story it goes on to tell how the man had fought in the war of 1812 as well as the Revolutionary War, specifically the Battle of Lexington.


McDonnell, James

Aug 19, 1853

“A REVOLUTIONARY SOLDIER IN JAIL. —JAMES MCDONNELL, aged 105 years, was committed to the Wayne County Jail on Tuesday Evening. Charged with vagrancy and drunkenness. He was found lying in the street after 9 o’clock at night. Mr. A. S. JOHNSON, the Jailor, has furnished us with MCDONNELL’S history, as given him by that individual himself. He was born in Glasgow, Scotland, in 1748, and came to this country, at the age of 19 years, as a soldier in the British army. He continued in that service until after the commencement of the Revolution, and was at the battle of Lexington, at which time he held the post of Sergeant, and fought against the Colonists, though not, he says, with a very good will. Soon after that battle, he went over to the cause of liberty, as he called it, taking with him a large number of his British comrades. He remained in the American army until the close of the war, during which he was in sixteen battles, -was honorably discharged, and settled soon after, in Richmond, Virginia, where he has resided ever since, with the exception of the three years of the war of 1812, during which he acted as a volunteer in the American army. He was at the battle of Bridgewater, under Gen. SCOTT where he was severely wounded; and returned home to Richmond as soon as his wounds would permit him to do so.

Mr. JOHNSON says he has complete confidence in the old man’s statements, on account of the minuteness with which he gives the details. Notwithstanding his great age he is as straight as a candle, and as nimble as a boy, and goes through with the infantry drill and broadsword exercise in a masterly manner He is quite the curiosity.”

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