Alexander Hamilton Papers

To Alexander Hamilton from James Wilkinson, 15 December 1799

From James Wilkinson

On Board the Patapsco Sloop
of War, Hampton road [Virginia]
December 15th 1799


Soon after writing you from Baltimore on the 21st Ulto. I discovered that Capt Geddes, who commands the vessel in which I sail,1 had been deceived in his calculation of time necessary to prepare for Sea, and he did not leave Baltimore until the 29th, nor reach this place until the 9th Inst., where the Store Brig had been waiting for us more than two weeks. Capt. Geddes found it necessary to procure a few seamen in Norfolk, which circumstance and some necessary equipments to his ship, combined with tempestuous weather & adverse winds, have detained us to this day, but we are now perfectly ready & shall put to sea this evening or tomorrow morning.

I have had the honor to receive your several letters of the 14th.2 15th. & 21st Ulto. and shall pay strict regard to the orders they convey. I regret the Secretary of War had not offered his objections to the works proposed for the Barrier on the Mississippi, anterior to my departure, because it would have afforded me an opportunity to correct the errors of his opinions, touching the impracticability of guarding the Mississippi, against the ascent and descent of small or large craft, by Batteries judiciously planted & constructed, &c. have vindicated the plan I pursued, which I feel I am able to do on principle, usage, precedent and practice; independent of the strong motives, which presented to my own mind, the Governor of the Territory,3 & the Commissioners of Limits4 on the spot, with the voice of the whole country urged me to the measure adopted. It is more than a year since the Minister of War was apprized of my intention,5 & he has been since regularly advised of any proceedings, yet never before did he offer a disapprobatory hint even. I trust it will be in my power to curtail the expence, & you may rest assured of my attention to that point. It seems to me from the tenor of the Secretary’s letters that the prosecution of the work on the Crown of the Hill is to depend on your opinion, I must therefore request from you specific instructions on the subject* as early as possible—by sea, if you please, under cover to our Consul at New Orleans,6 & by mail via Pitts Burgh & the Ohio.

I shall write to you from New Orleans and from my Head Quarters the moment I arrive there; and shall lose no time in repairing by the most expeditious route to Pitts Burgh, of which you shall be duly advised.

With the most perfect respect   I am Sir,   your obedient Servant

Ja Wilkinson

Major General Hamilton.

LS, Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress.

1Henry Geddes, a captain in the Navy, was given the command of the Patapsco (formerly the Chesapeake) on September 24, 1799 (Naval Documents, Quasi-War, August, 1799–December, 1799 description begins Naval Documents Related to the Quasi-War Between the United States and France: Naval Operations from August 1799 to December 1799 (Washington, 1936). description ends , 222).

2H’s letter of November 14, 1799, which concerns appointments in the Western Army, is listed in the appendix to this volume.

3Winthrop Sargent.

4Section 1 of “An Act for an amicable settlement of limits with the state of Georgia, and authorizing the establishment of a government in the Mississippi territory” (1 Stat. description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America, I (Boston, 1845); II (Boston, 1850). description ends 549–51 [April 7, 1798]) authorized the President “… to appoint three commissioners; any two of whom shall have power to adjust and determine with such commissioners as may be appointed under the legislative authority of the state of Georgia, all interfering claims of the United States and that state … And also to receive any proposals for the relinquishment or cession of the whole or any part of the other territory claimed by the state of Georgia, and out of the ordinary jurisdiction thereof.” The commissioners for the United States were not appointed until January 1, 1800 (Executive Journal, I description begins Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate (Washington, 1828), I. description ends , 331). The commissioners for the state of Georgia were James Jackson, Abraham Baldwin, and John Milledge (ASP description begins American State Papers, Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States (Washington, 1832–1861). description ends , Public Lands, I, 126).

5See Wilkinson to James McHenry, December 6, 1798, enclosed in McHenry to H, March 19, 1799.

6Evan Jones was appointed United States consul at New Orleans during the recess of the Senate on May 11, 1799, and his name was submitted for confirmation on December 5, 1799 (Executive Journal, I description begins Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate (Washington, 1828), I. description ends , 326, 327).

7The footnote is in Wilkinson’s handwriting.

Authorial notes

[The following note(s) appeared in the margins or otherwise outside the text flow in the original source, and have been moved here for purposes of the digital edition.]

* My Opinion is decidedly in favor of the Measure, because it is necessary to the protection of the Water Battery, Magazine, Barracks & Store Houses.7

J: W:

Index Entries