George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Lieutenant Colonel James Wilkinson, 28 March 1778

From Lieutenant Colonel James Wilkinson

Reading [Pa.] 28th March 1778


I beg you to receive the grateful Homage of a sensible Mind, for your condescension in exposing to me M[ajo]r Genl Gates’s Letters which Unmask his Artifice & efforts to ruin me.1 The Authenticity of the Information recd thro Lord Stirling I cannot confirm; As I solemnly assure Your Excellency I do not remember the Conversation which passed on that occasion, nor can I recollect particular passages of that Letter as I had but a cursory view of it, at a late Hour;2 however I so well remember its general Tenor that (altho Major General Gates has pledged his Word it is a wicked & Malicious Forgery) I will stake my Reputation if the Genuine Letter is produced, that Words to the effect will appear; else how could Conway acknowledge to Col. Stewart that he had wrote such a Letter, or how could Doctr Hutchison have heard this identical passage mentioned in Philadelphia before he left that City.3 I am with the most profound respect and the firmest Attachment, Your Excellencys, Obliged & ready Servant

James Wilkinson


Wilkinson probably enclosed with this letter the following account, dated 28 Mar.: “Major General Gates having attempted (in a Letter to his Excellency General Washington) by a most Uncandid Representation of a private Conversation to dishonour me; I find myself reduced to the painful Necessity of recapitulating that discourse, (as it realy happened) with Major General Gates’s Conduct subsequent thereupon.

“Immediate on my Arrival at Albany Major Genl Gates informed me ‘that the affair of Conways Letter had been communicated to him from the Southward, and that he suspected Col: Hamilton had possessed himself with a Copy of it, as the channel thro which it was conveyd to his Excellency General Washington.[’] I was apprized of the Mode he had adopted to Unmask the Author & heard him declare that unless Congress would insist on his being given up, that he would leave the Service.

“Tis true I did observe to Him that Col: Hamilton & Col. Troup had long been on an intimate footing, and that the Circumstance might have been incautiously mentioned by the latter to the former; tho it is equally true that I afterwards communicated this Suspicion & Conversation to Col: Troup who acknowledged, the Suspicion to be Natural, that it had struck himself, and as it was groundless, that he had taken Measures to obviate it.

“On my late Arrival at Congress, I demanded Satisfaction of Major Gen: Gates for Injuries he had offered me, and about half an Hour before the time of assignation, I received a Message from Him, by Capt. [Benjamin] Stoddert of Hartleys Regt, requesting to speak with me, (Lt Colo. [Burgess] Ball my second was at this Time preparing our Pistols) I followed Capt. Stoddert & fell in with Major Gen. Gates near the place of appointment, he was Unarmed & alone—As I approached him I desired Mr Stoddert to keep up with me, which he did, but M. G. Gates on opening the Conversation turned from Mr Stoddert & slowly walked off, I was ⟨correct⟩ in this course & as I imagined I spoke to a Man of Honor I did not penetrate this Artifice—Genl Gates at this Time positivly denied having traduced my Honor & as I had taxed him on a Popular Report I had no Author to confront Him, but I produced a Letter from Col. Troup containing the following Paragraph—‘Your generous Conduct at Albany, in indeavouring to fix Genl Gates’s Suspicions on me, will be duly remembered.[’] He replyed, that this was Col. Troups own affair, I answered him, true it was, but that it had been wrote under his Auspices & was founded Upon his Information. He then declared that he had only observed to Col. Troup—that if I had mentioned this Affair to Lord Stirling it was very extraordinary I should intimate to him the possibility of its passing between Col. Hamilton & Troup—Genl Gates then made professions of attachment to me & we parted.

“In consideration of our past connexion & as a Matter of Justice to Myself, on the Day I left York, I voluntarily declared to Genl Gates that I had never in any intercourse with Lord Stirling said or done any thing with design to injure him or his correspondent. He beged leave to call Mr Peters to witness this declaration, with what view I cannot determine” (DLC:GW).

1Wilkinson had probably been shown letters from Horatio Gates to GW of 8 Dec. 1777 and 23 Jan. 1778 about the so-called Conway Cabal, for discussion of which, see GW to Horatio Gates, 4 Jan. 1778, n.3.

2For Stirling’s information about a letter from Thomas Conway to Gates, see Stirling to GW, 3 Nov. 1777, and note 4.

3On this date Wilkinson wrote Dr. James Hutchinson at Moore Hall: “I enclose you my Letter to his Excellency, containing a Narrative of certain Interviews between Major Genl Gates and myself. I beg you to copy this letter & Narrative as I have not Time to do it, and then close & forward them to the General.—I hope this Representation, joined to your Inclination to some one, & the Mutual Duty incumbent on Gentlemen, will enable my Friends to silence any Efforts which may follow a Publication of this Infamous Conduct.—Guard my Honor during my Absence, Dear Hutchinson, for I am now sensible I have to deal with a Machaivel in Principle & an adept in the science of cunning” (“Letters of Gen. James Wilkinson,” description begins “Letters of Gen. James Wilkinson Addressed to Dr. James Hutchinson, of Philadelphia.” Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 12 (1888): 55–64. description ends 55). James Hutchinson (1752–1793) graduated with a bachelor of physic from the College of Philadelphia in 1774 and went to England in 1775 to study medicine. He returned to Philadelphia in March 1777 bearing dispatches from Benjamin Franklin and by May of that year was employed on the staff of the Pennsylvania Hospital. Hutchinson evidently was a military surgeon at this time, for when the army left Valley Forge in June, he remained at the camp to care for the sick troops left behind (see General Orders, 31 May, and Pa. Mag. description begins Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography. 138 vols. to date. 1877—. description ends , 39 [1915], 221). In July 1778 Hutchinson was appointed surgeon of the Pennsylvania navy; in August 1780 he was appointed director general of militia hospitals for the state; and in October 1781 he became surgeon general and director of hospitals for Pennsylvania. He was also elected in May 1780 to represent Philadelphia in the Pennsylvania general assembly. After the war Hutchinson served as a trustee and on the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania. Hutchinson and Wilkinson would become brothers-in-law by early 1779, each having married a sister of Clement Biddle.

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