In the continental Army during the American Revolution, soldiers traditionally wore their hair braided in the back and secured by a ribbon, but in 1801 General James Wilkinson issued an order requiring all soldiers to cut their ponytail.

However, as is well known, Colonel Thomas Butler refused to cut his ponytail.

After reading several sources on the Internet I cannot understand whether Colonel Thomas Butler was or was not prosecuted/arrested.

Wikipedia talk of "attempting to prosecute" and says that "Colonel Butler died before the trials closed," as if he was not actually prosecuted, whereas Stephen McDonald and William Salomone, reporting a piece that I didn't find elsewhere on the Internet, say that he was arrested.

Wilkinson was an avid supporter of the military's short hair codes. So much so that Wilkinson was attempting to prosecute Colonel Thomas Butler, a veteran of both the Revolution and the Indian wars, for keeping his long hair. Colonel Butler died before the trials closed. He never did cut his long, braided queue prior to his death. [Wikipedia]

It was in the early years of your country. It was common for both soldiers and officers to wear long hair. They tied the hair back in a ponytail. In 1803 a Tennessee commander ordered all his officers to cut off their ponytails. Colonel Thomas Butler refused. He was a career officer with a distinguished record dating back to the Revolution. Butler was not about to cut his hair so easily. He was arrested and charged with insubordination. Friends of Butler rallied to his defense. Those friends included Andrew Jackson. They petitioned even President Jefferson to intervene on Butler's behalf. The President would not do so. On July 10, 1805, Butler was found guilty of mutinous conduct. He was sentenced to a year's suspension without pay. [The Writer's Response by Stephen McDonald and William Salomone, page 272]

Therefore, my questions are:

  • Was Colonel Thomas Butler actually arrested?

  • What role, and with what effects, did the President Jefferson play?

  • Did Colonel Thomas Butler go to his grave with his ponytail?

  • "On July 10, 1805, Butler was found guilty of mutinous conduct." yes, he was prosecuted; he was found guilty.
    – MCW
    Aug 8, 2013 at 18:08

1 Answer 1


I'm not sure why you're asking the question; the quotation you provide establishes that he was arrested and prosecuted - ""On July 10, 1805, Butler was found guilty of mutinous conduct." (Quote from your citation of The Writer's Response). "Found guilty" means that he was prosecuted.

More information on the trial can be found at The United States Army Versus Long Hair: the Trails of Colonel Thomas Butler, 1801-1805, which includes the following

Butler's trial took place in Frederick, Maryland, from November 21 to December 6, 1803. As counsel, the colonel employed John Hanson Thomas, a Maryland Federalist who was well connected politically and socially.21 In his defense Butler argued that hair length was a personal matter not subject to military regulation and that his delay in taking charge at Fort Adams had been unavoidable. 22 His defense won the sympathy of his fellow officers, for, while they found him guilty of disobeying the hair order, they acquitted him of the other charge.

Having been convicted of the offense, he was obliged to cut his hair; he failed to do so and was arrested again in 1804, and charged with a more serious offense. He was tried again, and convicted of disobedience of orders and mutinous conduct. Wilkinson was still not satisfied with the penalty and urged the administration to dismiss Butler from service; before the verdict was confirmed, Butler had died of yellow fever.

. . . there is little doubt that Butler went to his maker with his cherished queue intact.

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