James Madison Papers

To James Madison from John Wayles Eppes, 18 January 1810

From John Wayles Eppes

Congress-Hall January 18th. 1810.

Dear Sir,

A letter has been received by Mr. Kenan of North Carolina1 from an officer of the army of good character and veracity stating That of the Troops at Orleans only 950 remain—That of these 520 are on duty and convalescent—That 150 have deserted and about 850 have died since their being stationed there. This extraordinary situation of our force there is attributed to a disobedience of orders from the Secretary at War. It is said with what truth I know not that Genl. Wilkinson against the possitive orders of the Secretary at War, kept the Troops in a swamp below Orleans and absolutely sacrificed them. I have no view in stating to you this circumstance but to put you in possession of information which is now circulating through the House of Representatives and producing some sensibility.2

I do not know how far you may be already apprized of the state of public sentiment as to Genl. Wilkinson. Without expressing any opinion on his innocence or guilt and indeed I am unable to pronounce on either, I have no hesitation in saying that he has lost completely the confidence of nine tenths of all persons with whom I am acquainted either here or elsewhere. He hangs like a dead weight upon the administration and so completely has suspicion pervaded the great mass of the community that men of the purest patriotism and best dispositions towards the administration, would if difficulty or danger should occur withold from the public their services if he was to be their commander.

In making to you this communication, I am influenced by no personal feeling of any kind towards Genl. Wilkinson. I wish only to apprize you of what I believe to be the state of public feeling on this subject. It will be easy for you to asscertain by enquiry how far the opinion I have expressed is correct. With great respect I am Yours &ce

Jno: W: Eppes3


1Thomas Kenan (1771–1843) was a Republican representative from North Carolina in the Ninth, Tenth, and Eleventh Congresses.

2The rumors Eppes referred to led Virginian Thomas Newton, Jr., to move resolutions in the House on 22 Jan. and 13 Mar. calling for information on the condition of the “regular force allotted for the defence of New Orleans” and on the “cause or causes of the great mortality” at the Terre aux Boeufs encampment. Over the winter of 1808–9 Brig. Gen. James Wilkinson had been assigned a force of some two thousand regular troops for the defense of the Gulf Coast, but during the following summer approximately half the men in his command died in appalling circumstances produced by bad weather, poor food, unsanitary conditions, and inadequate medical care. At the same time that Newton moved for his inquiries, Joseph Pearson of North Carolina presented a resolution calling for an investigation of some much earlier allegations about Wilkinson’s involvement with Aaron Burr and his receiving bribes from the agents of foreign governments, particularly Spain. The subsequent inquiries were lengthy and continued into the third session of the Eleventh Congress. Both resulted in inconclusive verdicts, and Wilkinson survived the scandals until he was utterly discredited by his conduct during the War of 1812 (Annals of Congress description begins Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States ... (42 vols.; Washington, 1834-56). description ends , 11th Cong., 2d sess., 1255–56, 1533, 1606–7, 1727–57, 2288–2379; ASP description begins American State Papers: Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States ... (38 vols.; Washington, 1832-61). description ends , Military Affairs, 1:268–95; ASP description begins American State Papers: Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States ... (38 vols.; Washington, 1832-61). description ends , Miscellaneous, 2:79–127; Jacobs, Tarnished Warrior, pp. 251–65).

3John Wayles Eppes (1773–1823), Jefferson’s nephew, served as a congressman, 1803–11 and 1813–15, and U.S. senator, 1817–19, from Virginia. His first wife was Jefferson’s daughter Maria (1778–1804).

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