Thomas Jefferson Papers

James Wilkinson to Thomas Jefferson, 21 January 1811

From James Wilkinson

Washington Jany 21st1 1811


It is a long time since I have been inclined to write to you, but the pressure of my persecutions, the desolation of my humble fortunes, the abandonment of those who owed me support, and that inextinguishable2 pride which is inseperable from conscious Honor, have prevented me.—

And now I should not intrude on your time, but to repel a falsehood which has recently come to my knowledge, viz that I have declared, but when or where is not alledged “as to long Tom” meaning yourself, “He dare say nothing, for I have got Him under my Thumb” The folly & the indecency of the expression, which I do most solemnly disavow, ought to have protected me against this imputation; but in this instance, as in that of the profligate fictions & forgeries of Danl Clark, the current of popular prejudice has served to sanction allegations the most vile & the most absurd.

Finding on my Arrival here the last Spring, that my whole public Life & Conduct had been deemed3 worthy of scrutiny; I determined to indulge my Enemies & to gratify my Family, by giving it to them in my plain way, with such authentic testimonials of the Activity, patriotism & Utility of my course, as must excite every Breast, which is not steeled against Justice or dead to sensibility; But I have been compeled to suspend my purpose, by the renewal of those Scenes of persecution, which will forever distinguish the last session of Congress, after I had finished the 2nd Vol. in a very rude manner, and partially arranged the Documents proposed to be appended to the 1st & 4th Vols, which I now take the Liberty to send you.—

The two criminatory committee’s of Congress which have been raised, occupy my every attention; I have appeared before them not for myself but for posterity, as the measure of my wrongs has been surcharged, and the Country does not possess the Capacity, to repair the Injuries or to heal the Wounds, which have been inflicted upon me, for my Zeal & fidelity in Her service.

Look sir at the Appendix of the 4th Vol, retrospect the Calumnies which have been heaped on me on that subject, and your Mind will revolt with Horror from the cruelty & Injustice of my accusers—indeed my Injuries seem to have kept pace with my services, and I can discern no End to the impending Enquiries, no cessation to my persecutions, but in voluntary exile—Bruff, D. W. Coxe Clark Partner in every species of iniquity, Simmons, Peters & others have born Testimony against me, who made no concealment of the vindictive Spirit by which they are urged, yet have expended themselves in smoke.—The Committees manifest a becoming Zeal in the public cause, i.e. they do as they please & investigate with much industry & acuteness, and I must do them the justice to say they have not betrayed the least biass or sympathy for the accused; Dayton is summoned to bear Witness against me, & I can discover no reason why Bollman & Swartwout may not follow Him,—seeing that he was indicted & they were not—In short any thing to support the pride of opinion & to secure the Victim—These things augur almost as illy for the Republic, as did the conspiracy which I dared to defeat—But I have neither the right nor the Interest to complain, my sand is running rapidly & the Glass will soon be out—in the mean time my Health, Spirits & tranquillity remain unshaken, and on my pillow I can pity the public delusions which have destroyed me—I have often4 thought Bollmans confession might be useful to me, but have not ventured to ask for it, because I did not know whether your obligations to reserve had ceased or not.—

I sincerely wish you sir a serene Evening of Life, and, when the time shall come, a painless exit to Glories which never fade & happiness without End.—

Ja: Wilkinson

The enclosed will give you a Glimpse of my treatment before the Grand Jury—

RC (DLC); at foot of text: “Thomas Jefferson Esqr”; endorsed by TJ as received 2 Mar. 1811 and so recorded in SJL. Enclosures: Wilkinson, Memoirs of General Wilkinson, vol. 2 (Washington, D.C., 1810; Sowerby, description begins E. Millicent Sowerby, comp., Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson, 1952–59, 5 vols. description ends no. 3511); only vol. published at this time; evidently also including separately paginated appendices to vols. 1, 2, and 4.

James Wilkinson (1757–1825) was a native of Maryland who practiced briefly as a physician before joining the Continental army as a volunteer in 1775. He soon rose from captain to lieutenant colonel and received a brevet promotion to brigadier general in 1777 after the Battle of Saratoga. Wilkinson left the army in 1778 but returned a year later as clothier general, serving until irregularities in his accounts led to his resignation in 1781. By 1784 he moved to Kentucky, where he advocated separation from Virginia in 1785 and developed such close financial and personal ties to Spanish Louisiana that he eventually faced charges of bribery and intrigue. In 1792 Wilkinson was commissioned a brigadier general in the United States Army and served under Anthony Wayne, with whom he quarreled until the latter’s death in 1796. At that point Wilkinson became the highest-ranking officer in the army, a status he retained until his discharge, effective in 1815. He had intimate knowledge of Aaron Burr’s alleged western conspiracy, although he eventually turned Burr in to the government and served as a key prosecution witness when Burr was acquitted of treason in 1807. Distrusted by many for reasons that included his involvement with Burr, Wilkinson eventually published an extensive memoir in his own defense. In 1811 he faced a court-martial, but he was acquitted and restored to command in New Orleans. Wilkinson was promoted to major general in 1813 but relieved of duty and transferred to Washington, D.C., after an unsuccessful effort to capture Montreal. He died in Mexico while trying to obtain Texas land patents (ANB description begins John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes, eds., American National Biography, 1999, 24 vols. description ends ; DAB description begins Allen Johnson and Dumas Malone, eds., Dictionary of American Biography, 1928–36, 20 vols. description ends ; PTJ description begins Julian P. Boyd, Charles T. Cullen, John Catanzariti, Barbara B. Oberg, and others, eds., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, 1950– , 32 vols. description ends , 31:312–3; Wilkinson, Memoirs of My Own Times, 4 vols. [Philadelphia, 1816]; Heitman, Continental Army description begins Francis B. Heitman, comp., Historical Register of Officers of the Continental Army during the War of the Revolution, April, 1775, to December, 1783, rev. ed., 1914 description ends , 592).

In 1809 danl clark published Proofs of the Corruption of Gen. James Wilkinson and of His Connection With Aaron Burr: With a Full Refutation of his Slanderous Allegations in Relation to the Character of the Principal Witness Against Him (Philadelphia, 1809). In December 1810 Congress carried over from the last session two committee’s to look into Wilkinson’s conduct. The first of these explored his relations with Burr and the Spanish, while the second examined troop mortality rates under Wilkinson’s command in New Orleans (JHR description begins Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States description ends , 7:339–42, 345–8, 399, 450–3, 455 [3, 4, 26 Apr., 18, 19 Dec. 1810]). On 26 Jan. 1807 Justus Erich Bollman wrote TJ a confession of his knowledge of the Burr conspiracy (DLC).

1Reworked from “22d.”

2Manuscript: “inextinguisable.”

3Word interlined.

4Word interlined.

Index Entries

  • Bollman, Justus Erich search
  • Bruff, James search
  • Burr, Aaron (1756–1836); treason trial of search
  • Clark, Daniel (of Louisiana); Proofs of the Corruption of Gen. James Wilkinson search
  • Congress, U.S.; activities of search
  • Congress, U.S.; investigates J. Wilkinson search
  • Coxe, Daniel W. search
  • Dayton, Jonathan search
  • Memoirs of General Wilkinson (Wilkinson) search
  • Peter, George search
  • Proofs of the Corruption of Gen. James Wilkinson (Clark) search
  • Simmons, William; War Department accountant search
  • Swartwout, Samuel; and allegations against J. Wilkinson search
  • Wayne, Anthony search
  • Wilkinson, James; Congress investigates search
  • Wilkinson, James; identified search
  • Wilkinson, James; letters from search
  • Wilkinson, James; Memoirs of General Wilkinson search
  • Wilkinson, James; public sentiment toward search