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Traitor General James Wilkinson re Intercepted Letters, Praises American Reaction to the XYZ Affair
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I have had many Letters intercepted, in search for my politics, so much the better, yet I think it might be worthy Enquiry, to know the fate of yours & Mr. Bootes…

The french are at length unmasqued, & stand confessed a band of freebooters, unequaled among civilized nations. The Conduct of our Envoys has been noble, that of our President decisive.

Wilkinson was undoubtedly in the pay of the Spanish, but somehow managed to retain the trust of each president from Washington to Madison. He was acquitted by several public inquiries and courts martial despite his involvement in the Burr conspiracy and other intrigues. A month after this letter, Wilkinson left Pittsburgh. Going downriver, he stayed Fort Massac in July and August. In August 1799, Major General Alexander Hamilton ordered Wilkinson to establish a base to seize the lower Mississippi Valley and New Orleans if the Quasi-War turned into open war with France or its ally Spain; luckily it did not.

JAMES WILKINSON. Autograph Letter Signed, to Anthony Walton White, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, May 2, 1798. 1 p., 7¾ x 12½ in.

Inventory #24489       Price: $1,750

Complete Transcript

                                                                        Hd Quarters Pitts Burgh

                                                                        May 2nd 1798

My Dear White

            By the last mail I received your favor of the 15th Ultmo, the first I give you my Honor since I crossed the Mountains. I am surprised you have not heard of the result of my Enquiries after the —, as they were compleatly successful & the result has been long since reported to our friend McPherson. I write Mr [William R.] Bootes by this conveyance, & shall be happy to see Him, altho I cannot promise him a place near my Person, I can & will take care of Him. I wish you to hurry Him forward. Let Him be well provided with Linnon, Handkerchiefs, Stockings, Shoes, & Summer Cloathing, a uniform Coat & regimental pack. I have had many Letters intercepted, in search for my politics, so much the better, yet I think it might be worthy Enquiry, to know the fate of yours & Mr. Bootes, transmitted to the War Office. You will soon hear of my leaving this place. Wherever I may be, or whatever my fate, I shall remember you with affection & pray for your happiness, being ever

                                                                        Your

                                                                        Ja Wilkinson

Gen: White}

[Postscript vertically in left margin:] The french are at length unmasqued, & stand confessed a band of freebooters, unequaled among civilized nations. The Conduct of our Envoys has been noble, that of our President decisive.

Historical Background

In the summer of 1796, General James Wilkinson was assigned to command the U.S. Army at Detroit, recently evacuated by British troops. In 1798, after Detroit’s citizens protested his greed, he was transferred to command the Army’s Southern Department. In February 1798, Secretary of War James McHenry admonished Wilkinson for going to Pittsburgh, rather than to Fort Massac near the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers.

James Wilkinson (1757-1825) was born in Maryland. His study of medicine at the University of Pennsylvania was interrupted by the Revolutionary War. He served in various capacities and was sent to Congress with news of the American victory at the Battle of Saratoga in 1777. After inflating his own role, he was promoted to brigadier general but was compelled to resign in 1778. He moved to Kentucky in 1784 and aided attempts to make Kentucky independent of Virginia. In 1787, he traveled to New Orleans, where (it is now known) he discussed with Spanish colonial officials the possibility of Kentucky joining the Spanish empire. In 1791, he received a commission as a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army. After Anthony Wayne (who had tried to court martial Wilkinson) died in December 1796, Wilkinson became the Senior Officer of the Army. In 1798, he was transferred to the southern frontier during the Quasi-War with France. While the Senior Officer of the Army from 1800 to 1812, Wilkinson became involved in Aaron Burr’s conspiracy to separate western states and territories from the United States. He turned on Burr and testified against him, but his testimony was so self-serving that he was nearly tried for treason himself. After he survived a military court of inquiry in 1811, he was commissioned a Major General during the War of 1812.  He also served as U.S. Envoy to Mexico from 1816-1825.  Theodore Roosevelt later wrote that “in all our history, there is no more despicable character,” and military historian Robert Leckie summed up Wilkinson as “a general who never won a battle or lost a court-martial.”

Anthony Walton White (1750-1803) was born in New Jersey and was educated by his father. In October 1775, he was commissioned as major and became an aide-de-camp to General George Washington. Appointed lieutenant colonel in the Continental Army in 1777 and promoted to colonel in 1780, he took command of all cavalry in the southern army. He joined the Marquis de Lafayette in Virginia, then operated before Savannah in 1782, and returned to Charleston, South Carolina by the end of the war. He became security for debts for his officers in Charleston, and speculation after the war ruined him financially. In 1793, he moved from New York back to New Jersey. In 1794, President George Washington appointed White a brigadier general of cavalry to operate against the insurgents in the Whiskey Rebellion.

Condition

Remnants of prior mounting along right edge verso, moderate staining along left edge touching text, folds.


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