Thomas Jefferson Papers

Notes on a Conversation with Hugh Henry Brackenridge, 27 March 1800

Notes on a Conversation with
Hugh Henry Brackenridge

Mar. 27. Judge Breckenridge gives me the following informn. he and mr Ross were originally very intimate; indeed he says he found him keeping a little Latin school, and advised & aided him in the study of the law & brought him forward. after Ross became a Senator and particularly at the time of the Western insurrection they still were in concert. after the British treaty Ross, on his return, informed him there was a party in the US. who wanted to overturn the govmt, who were in league with France, that France, by a secret article of treaty with Spain was to have Louisiana; and that Gr. Brit. was likely to be our best friend & dependce. on this informn he Breckenridge was induced to become an advocate for the British treaty. during this intimacy with Ross he says that Genl. Collot in his journey to the Western country called on him, & frequently, that he led Breckenridge into conversns on their grievances under the govmt & particularly the Western expedn, that he spoke to him of the advges that country would have in joining France when she should hold Louisiana, showed him a map he had drawn of that part of the country, pointed out the passes in the mountain & the facility with which they might hold them against the US. & with which France could support them from N. Orleans. he says that in these conversns Collot let himself out without common prudence. he says Michaud (to whom I at the request of Genet, had given a letter of intrdn to the Govr. of Kentucky as a botanist, which was his real profession) called on him; that Michaud had a commissary’s commission for the expedn which Genet had planned from that quarter against the Spaniards; that the late Spanish commandant of St. Genevieve with one Powers an Englishman called on him. that from all these circumstances together with Ross’s stories he did believe that there was a conspiracy to deliver our country or some part of it at least to the French. that he made notes of what passed between himself & Collot and the others, and lent them to mr Ross, who gave them to the President by whom they were deposited in the office of the board of war. that when he complained to Ross of this breach of confidence, he endeavored to get off by compliments on the utility & importance of his notes. they now cooled towards each other, & his opposn to Ross’s election as governor has separated them in truth tho’ not entirely to appearance.

MS (DLC: TJ Papers, 108:18559); entirely in TJ’s hand; on same sheet as Notes on a Conversation with Perez Morton, 24 Mch. 1800.

Hugh Henry Brackenridge (1748–1816) attended college at Princeton, where he was a contemporary of James Madison and Philip Freneau. He continued his studies with the intention of entering the Presbyterian ministry, but decided instead to read law under Samuel Chase in Maryland. He then established himself as an attorney in Pittsburgh. Thomas McKean, whom Brackenridge had supported for the governorship against James Ross, appointed him to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in December 1799. Moving from Pittsburgh to Carlisle, Pennsylvania, in 1801, Brackenridge remained on the bench for the rest of his life. He was also a journalist and an author. His best-known writings are Incidents of the Insurrection in the Western Parts of Pennsylvania, in the Year 1794 (Philadelphia, 1795) and a novel, Modern Chivalry, the first part of which appeared in 1792, that provided vignettes of society and politics along the frontier (ANB description begins John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes, eds., American National Biography, New York and Oxford, 1999, 24 vols. description ends ; Claude Milton Newlin, The Life and Writings of Hugh Henry Brackenridge [Princeton, 1932], 207–13).

James Ross, fourteen years younger than Brackenridge, taught Latin and Greek at an academy in western Pennsylvania before undertaking the study of the law in Philadelphia. During the Whiskey Rebellion in 1794 both Ross and Brackenridge attempted to maintain credibility with the people of western Pennsylvania, although Ross, who had strong professional and political ties to Federalists, was named to the commission representing the U.S. government, whereas for a time the Washington administration suspected Brackenridge of complicity with rebellion (ANB description begins John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes, eds., American National Biography, New York and Oxford, 1999, 24 vols. description ends , 18:914–16; Newlin, Brackenridge, 147, 155–6; Daniel Marder, ed., A Hugh Henry Brackenridge Reader, 1770–1815 [Pittsburgh, 1970], 290, 295).

A professional soldier, Georges Henri Victor Collot served with Rochambeau during the American Revolution and was chargé of the French mission in the U.S., 1789–90. Appointed governor of Guadeloupe, 1792–94, after surrendering the island to the British he was paroled to Philadelphia, where in 1796 Pierre Auguste Adet called on him to make a journey of observation, its actual purpose kept secret, down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. Collot made extensive maps and notes along the way and studied American and Spanish military posts, developing a plan for French seizure of the western country that included holding the passes through the Allegheny Mountains (George W. Kyte, “A Spy on the Western Waters: The Military Intelligence Mission of General Collot in 1796,” MVHR description begins Mississippi Valley Historical Review, 1914–64 description ends , 34 [1947], 427–42; Dictionnaire, description begins Dictionnaire de biographie française, Paris, 1933–18 vols. description ends 9:307–8).

Letter of intrdn to the govr. of Kentucky: TJ to Isaac Shelby, 28 June 1793. For André Michaux’s role in Edmond Charles Genet’s proposed expedition to seize Louisiana, see also Vol. 25:75–84 and Vol. 26:438–9. The former Spanish commandant of the Mississippi River post at Ste. Genevieve was Henri Peyroux de la Coudrèniere; see TJ’s letter to him of 21 June 1796. One powers: Thomas Power, who in 1795–97 as the agent of the Baron de Carondolet, Spanish governor at New Orleans, gathered intelligence and made preparations for a plan to separate Kentucky and the adjacent region from the United States (James Ripley Jacobs, Tarnished Warrior: Major-General James Wilkinson [New York, 1938], 150–2, 160, 163–6; Daniel Clark, Proofs of the Corruption of Gen. James Wilkinson, and of his Connexion with Aaron Burr [Philadelphia, 1809; repr., 1971], “Notes,” 15–16, 33–8, 66–74, 80–8, 106–7).

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