James McPherson’s decision to join The Indian Department while a prisoner at Fort Detroit could have made him a traitor to America, but served the Country well in the end.
The British were aware that men with Native American connections were invaluable in maintaining positive relationships with the various Indian Tribes. “The Indian Department” was created by the British with the main responsibility of maintaining those good relationships. Two men in particular were hired to head up the Indian Department, both who were denounced as traitors to the Colonists. Matthew Elliott, a slave trader, and Alexander McKee, a Merchant, fled to Fort Detroit after they were found guilty of subversive activity against the interests of the Americans.
As the head of the Indian Department, Elliott and McKee were constantly looking for white men with the understanding of Native languages. They also were looking for men who were familiar with local customs. Such people would be “skilled practitioners of forest diplomacy.
When the captured Sergeant James McPherson arrived at Fort Detroit, Elliott was informed of McPherson’s skill of speaking the native dialects as well as his ability to create friendships with his captors. Elliott was eager to have such an addition to The Indian Department at Fort Detroit and approached McPherson with an offer to work for him. Given the choices that faced McPherson, a common prisoner or a prisoner with important duties, the choice was likely an easy one to make.
There is no evidence that James McPherson was ever reprimanded or accused of misconduct due to his service to the Indian Department with detained by the British. He was granted a pension for military service from serving in the American Revolution. This would seem to offer proof that there was no wrong doing concerning McPherson’s actions during his captivity. The experience and the relationships he created while at Fort Detroit would later benefit the United States when James McPherson would become a liaison between the new Country and the Native Americans.