James Wilkinson

American soldier and statesman (1757–1825)

James Wilkinson (March 24, 1757 – December 28, 1825) was an American soldier, politician, and double agent who was connected with several scandals and controversies.[1]

James Wilkinson
6th and 9th Senior Officer of the United States Army
In office
June 15, 1800 – January 27, 1812
PresidentJohn Adams
Thomas Jefferson
James Madison
Preceded byAlexander Hamilton
Succeeded byHenry Dearborn
In office
December 15, 1796 – July 13, 1798
PresidentGeorge Washington
John Adams
Preceded byAnthony Wayne
Succeeded byGeorge Washington
1st Governor of Louisiana Territory
In office
PresidentThomas Jefferson
Preceded byWilliam Henry Harrison (as Governor of the District of Louisiana)
Succeeded byMeriwether Lewis
United States Envoy to Mexico
In office
PresidentJames Madison
James Monroe
John Quincy Adams
Preceded byJohn H. Robinson
Succeeded byJoel Roberts Poinsett
Personal details
BornMarch 24, 1757 (1757-03-24)
Charles County, Province of Maryland
DiedDecember 28, 1825 (1825-12-29) (aged 68)
Mexico City, Mexican Republic
Resting placeIglesia de San Miguel Arcangel, Mexico City, Mexico
Political partyDemocratic-Republican[2]
Ann Biddle Wilkinson
(m. 1778; died 1807)

Celestine Laveau Trudeau (m. 1810)
Military service
Allegiance United States of America
Spain Spain
Branch/serviceContinental Army
United States Army
Battles/warsAmerican Revolutionary War
War of 1812

He served in the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War, but he was forced twice to quit. He was twice the Senior Officer of the U.S. Army, selected to be the first Governor of the Louisiana Territory in 1805,[3] and commanded two unsuccessful campaigns in the St. Lawrence River theater during the War of 1812. He died while posted as a peacekeeper in Mexico City.

In 1854, following long archival research in the Spanish archives in Madrid, Louisiana historian Charles Gayarré exposed Wilkinson as having been a highly paid spy in the service of the Spanish Empire.[4] In the years since Gayarré's research became public, Wilkinson has been terribly strongly criticized by American historians and politicians. According to President Theodore Roosevelt, "In all our history, there is no more despicable character."[5] However, he has been defended, especially in breaking up the Burr conspiracy.[6]

Early life change

James Wilkinson was born on March 24, 1757, the son of Joseph Wilkinson and Alethea (Heighe) Wilkinson. Wilkinson's birthplace was about three miles (5 km) northeast of Benedict, Charles County, Maryland, on a farm south of Hunting Creek in Calvert County.[7][8]

Wilkinson's grandfather had been good enough rich to buy a large property known as Stoakley Manor in Calvert County.[1] Even though James Wilkinson's family lived on a smaller estate than those of Maryland's elite, they still saw themselves as members of the higher social class.[1] According to historian Andro Linklater, Wilkinson grew up with the idea that "the image of respectability excused the reality of betrayal".[9] His father received Stoakley Manor but by then the family was in debt.[1] Joseph Wilkinson died in 1763, and in 1764 Stoakley Manor was broken up and sold.[1] Wilkinson's older brother Joseph received what was left of the manor property after his father died.[1] As the second son, James Wilkinson received no land.[1]

Wilkinson's father had left him with the last words of "My son, if you ever put up with an insult, I will disinherit you."[9] Biographer Andro Linklater argued that this upbringing led to Wilkinson's aggressive reaction toward perceived insults.[1] Wilkinson's early education by a private teacher was given money by his mother-based grandmother.[1] His study of medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, also was given money by his grandmother, was interrupted by the American Revolutionary War.[10]

Marriages change

Wilkinson married Ann Biddle (1742–1807) of the well-known Biddle family of Philadelphia[11] on November 12, 1778, in Philadelphia.[11] She was a first cousin of Charles Biddle, an business partner of Aaron Burr,[12] and Wilkinson's marriage to the energetic Biddle helped his career as a politician and general.[12][13] She died on February 23, 1807.[14][15]

The couple had four sons: John (1780–1796), James Biddle (c. 1783–1813),[16] Joseph Biddle (1789–1865), and Walter (born 1791). James and Walter both served as Captains in the US Army.[17]: 34  [18]

On March 5, 1810, Wilkinson married Celestine Laveau Trudeau, widow of Thomas Urquhart and daughter of Charles Laveau Trudeau.[19] They were the parents of twin girls Marie Isabel and Elizabeth Stephanie.[20] Celestine's father, known in Louisiana as Don Carlos Trudeau, had served in the Spanish government of New Orleans.[21] When the United States gained control of the city, he remained in New Orleans and made english-sounding his name.[21]

Marie Isabel Wilkinson died in infancy.[20] Elizabeth Stephanie Wilkinson (1816-1871) married Professor Toussaint Francois Bigot (1794-1869) in 1833.[20]

Revolutionary War service change

Wilkinson first served in Thompson's Pennsylvania rifle military unit, 1775 to 1776, and was put into use as a captain in September 1775. He served as an assistant to Nathanael Greene during the Siege (attack) of Boston, participated in the placing of guns on the Dorchester Heights in March 1776, and following the British abandonment of Boston, went with the rest of the Continental Army to New York where he left Greene's staff and was given command of an infantry company.

Sent to Canada as part of the reinforcements for Benedict Arnold's army attacking Quebec, he arrived just in time to see the arrival of 8,000 British reinforcements under General John Burgoyne – which caused the collapse of the American effort in Canada. He became assitant to Arnold just before to the final retreat and left Canada with Arnold on the very last boat out. Shortly after that, he left Arnold's service and became an assitant to General Horatio Gates in August 1776.

When Gates sent him to Congress with official messages about the victory at the Battle of Saratoga in 1777, Wilkinson kept the Continental Congress waiting while he attended to personal affairs. When he finally showed up, he added to his own role in the victory, and was brevetted as a brigadier general (despite being only 20 years old at the time) on November 6, 1777, and selected to the newly created Board of War. The promotion over more senior colonels caused a bunch of angry people yelling among Continental officers, especially because Wilkinson's gossiping seemed to show that he was a participant in the Conway Cabal, a conspiracy to replace George Washington with Horatio Gates as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army. Gates soon had enough of Wilkinson, and the young officer was forced to quit in March 1778. On July 29, 1779, Congress selected him as the clothier-general of the Army, but he quit on March 27, 1781, due to his "lack of ability for the job".[1]: 68 

References change

  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 Linklater, Andro (2009). An Artist in Treason: The Extraordinary Double Life of General James Wilkinson. Walker Publishing Company. ISBN 978-0-8027-1720-7.
  2. Montgomery, M.R. (2000). Jefferson and the Gun-Men: How the West Was Almost Lost. New York, NY: Random House. p. 284. ISBN 978-0-609-80710-1.
  3. Bell, William Gardner (2005). "James Wilkinson". Commanding Generals and Chiefs of Staff: Portraits and Biographical Sketchs. United States Army Center of Military History. pp. 64–65. Archived from the original on 2021-04-10. Retrieved 2022-12-29.
  4. "The Man Who Double-Crossed The Founders". Morning Edition. NPR. Retrieved 2017-04-04.
  5. Stewart, David O. (2011). American Emperor. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster. p. 299. ISBN 978-1-4391-5718-3.
  6. John Thornton Posey, "Rascality Revisited: In Defense of General James Wilkinson." Filson Club Historical Quarterly 74 (2000): 309-52.
  7. "James Wilkinson, portrait by Charles Willson Peale". U. S. National Park Service. October 9, 2001. Retrieved 2007-12-15.
  8. "Joseph & James Wilkinson Marker". Historical Marker Database. November 11, 2007. Archived from the original on 2011-07-18. Retrieved 2007-12-16.
  9. 9.0 9.1 Andro Linklater (9 August 2010). An Artist in Treason: The Extraordinary Double Life of General James Wilkinson. Bloomsbury Publishing. p. 10. ISBN 978-0-8027-7772-0.
  10. "Guide to the James Wilkinson Papers, 1790-1818". Historic Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Library System. Retrieved May 8, 2020.
  11. 11.0 11.1 Radbill, Kenneth A. (1978). "Quaker Patriots: The Leadership of Owen Biddle and John Lacey, Jr". Pennsylvania History. 45 (1978): 48–49.
  12. 12.0 12.1 Wheelan, p. 117
  13. Hay, p. 34
  14. "Journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition Online". The University of Nebraska. Archived from the original on 2011-05-17.
  15. Hay, p. 36
  16. Hay, p. 35[permanent dead link]
  17. Hay, Thomas Robson, ed. (2006). Letters of Mrs. Ann Biddle Wilkinson from Kentucky 1788–1789. Kessinger Publishing. ISBN 1-4286-6212-X.[permanent dead link]
  18. Wheelan, Joseph (2005). Jefferson's Vendetta: The Pursuit of Aaron Burr and the Judiciary. Carroll & Graf Publishers. ISBN 0-7867-1437-9. james wilkinson ann biddle.
  19. "Dictionary of Louisiana Biography". LA History.org. New Orleans, LA: Louisiana Historical Association. Archived from the original on May 31, 2022. Retrieved May 9, 2020.
  20. 20.0 20.1 20.2 Arthur, Stanley Clisby, ed. (1931). Old Families of Louisiana. New Orleans, LA: Harmanson. p. 392. ISBN 9780806346885 – via Google Books.
  21. 21.0 21.1 "A Brief Outline of Louisiana History, 1682-1815". The Louisiana Purchase: A Heritage Explored. Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University. Retrieved May 9, 2020.