Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to James Wilkinson, 16 January 1800

To James Wilkinson

Philadelphia Jan. 16. 1800.

Dear General

A mr Morgan Brown1 of Palmyra has been so kind as to offer me two Indian busts of marble or other stone, which are to be forwarded to New Orleans to the care of mr Daniel Clarke junr. of that place. as there would be considerable danger of their being lost, should they come by any common conveyance from thence to this place, and understanding you will be coming round in a frigate in the spring, I take the liberty of soliciting your patronage & care of these curiosities. I take for granted you will stop at New Orleans, where mr Clarke will take the trouble of embarking them under your permission; and in whatever port you may arrive, they may be landed & put under the care of some one who will notify me. here mr John Barnes mercht. 16. South 3d street would recieve them & reimburse any expences they may have occasioned. the value which you set yourself on objects of this nature, will I am sure be my best apology for the trouble I propose to you; which I do the more willingly as it furnishes me an occasion of assuring you of the sentiments of respect & esteem with which I am Dear General

Your most obedt. & most humble servt

Th: Jefferson

PrC (DLC); at foot of text: “Genl. James Wilkinson.” Recorded in SJL as directed to Wilkinson “at Loftus’s heights.” Probably enclosed in TJ to Harry Innes, 23 Jan. 1800.

Born on a farm in Maryland, James Wilkinson (1757–1825) trained as a physician but joined the military in 1775 almost immediately after commencing his medical practice. He quickly rose in rank during the American Revolution, was secretary of the Board of War, and became clothier general. Forced to resign from the latter post due to accounting irregularities, he also earned a reputation as an ambitious and self-serving officer. Released from active duty and settling near Lexington, Kentucky, in the 1780s, he negotiated special trade privileges for himself with Spanish authorities in New Orleans and secretly went on their payroll, convincing them that he would help Spain sever Kentucky from the U.S. although he simultaneously promoted statehood. In the 1790s he returned to active military service, becoming brigadier general and, upon Anthony Wayne’s death in 1796, assuming command of the army on the frontier. For a time after the acquisition of Louisiana he governed that territory. Concealing his own involvement in western intrigues, Wilkinson in 1806 informed TJ of Aaron Burr’s activities on the frontiers. His own conspiratorial actions were evidently always aimed at his own self-promotion rather than any larger purpose, and he seems to have alienated all of his influential allies in the U.S. with the exception of TJ. During Madison’s presidency in 1811 Wilkinson was court-martialed, winning acquittal for lack of evidence. Again court-martialed for dereliction of duty as major general in the War of 1812, he was once more acquitted. He did not, however, regain his command, and he spent his final years in New Orleans and Mexico (ANB, description begins John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes, eds., American National Biography, New York and Oxford, 1999, 24 vols. description ends 4:35–6; 23:400–1; DAB, description begins Allen Johnson and Dumas Malone, eds., Dictionary of American Biography, New York, 1928–36, 20 vols. description ends 20:2226).

Value which you set yourself on objects of this nature: Wilkinson was elected to membership in the American Philosophical Society in January 1798 and later that year was, with TJ, named to a committee appointed to seek information and specimens related to the natural history and prehistory of North America. That year he sent some unidentified bones to the society and, in 1799, meteorological tables from Michilimackinac (APS description begins American Philosophical Society description ends , Proceedings, 22, pt. 3 [1884], 266, 270, 275, 287, 302, 304; note to Hugh Williamson to TJ, 3 Mch. 1798).

A letter from Wilkinson to TJ, written 12 Mch. 1797 and received the same day, is recorded in SJL but has not been found.

1Interlined in place of “Bryan.”

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