After the Revolution many adventurers, bereft of all but the spirit that had brought them to America and accomplished their national independence, turned their faces toward the Appalachian Mountains and crossed over into a newer land that was famed for fertile soil and abundant water. To them the French interpretation of Ohio, as the country of the beautiful river, was not unknown. Soon hardwood cabins sprang up where clover fields had blossomed and great elm and hickory trees spread their cool, green branches. Louisville, Lexington, and Harrodsburg gave promise of becoming important centers of frontier trade. The fame of George Rogers Clark and his trail-blazers, peace with England, and the lure of commerce and land speculation led many to settle upon the hunting grounds over which the Indians had long roamed without molestation. Incensed at this intrusion and the loss of their game, the savages began to plunder and despoil, torturing and killing whoever fell into their truculent hands. The pioneers in the District of Kentucky could not cope with such acts of barbarity; they had no power to call out the militia and no money for arms, ammunition, and supplies. In final despair they began to abandon their clearings and seek safety within the shadow of poorly constructed and scantily garrisoned blockhouses. Such refugees soon sank into "poverty and indolence" and were ever ready to inveigh against their own state of Virginia and the federal government, both of which they believed should render them aid. Their wretchedness became more acute during the extremely severe winter of 1783‑1784. Even at New Orleans the cold was so intense that jams of ice prevented any one from crossing the Mississippi for five days.1
In spite of the fact that the Kentuckians were afflicted with trouble, many immigrants came to their country hoping to profit from the p71 gifts with which Nature had blessed it. James Wilkinson was among those who arrived in 1783. He was no aimless drifter; he was an accredited representative of the substantial firm of Barclay, Moylan & Co. of Philadelphia. Although his particular business was to dispose of limited quantities of general merchandise — salt, calicoes, corduroys, chintzes, crosscut saws, liquors, etc.2 — his vision was not limited to these petty things. This one-time brigadier at twenty years of age was dreaming of a more spectacular career in the rapidly changing West, where Louisville and New Orleans could afford him a better opportunity for a hasty rise than did those drab conservative cities of the Atlantic seaboard.
Even his most unfriendly critics believed that Wilkinson was a man to be reckoned with. He was, as a contemporary politician saw him, "A person not quite tall enough to be perfectly elegant, compensated by symmetry and appearance of health and strength; a countenance open, mild, capacious, and beaming with intelligence; a gait firm, manly, and facile; manners bland, accommodating and popular; and address easy, polite and gracious, invited approach, gave access, assured attention, cordiality and ease. By these fair terms, he conciliated; by these he captivated."3
Wilkinson had a mind of many facets, but none was of great brilliance. His knowledge, neither accurate nor deep, was varied and pretentious and satisfied the ordinary frontiersman. Doctor, lawyer, schoolmaster, merchant, chief — he played the rôles of them all and a half-dozen besides. When a midwife was needed he stood by; when neighbors required a physic he prescribed — salts, tartar, laudanum, and blistering "plaisters" were some of his favorite remedies; and hence Charles Scott, a friend of Revolutionary days, was urged to have a "snug little apartment" of them when he came to Kentucky. He was also asked to bring along vegetable seeds; for Wilkinson, like many others, enjoyed seeing things grow and having turnips, cabbages, and melons to supplement his frontier fare.4 He greatly treasured a little book that Abercrombie had written on gardening, and took pains that it should not be lost while he was out on a trip trying to outdo the peddlers who had cut into the profits of his Lexington store.5
p72 Sometimes he traveled with a mule and a horse or two, eating his own bacon and biscuit to avoid the "damn'd Tavern keepers," exchanging gossip, retailing his wares, and keeping his eyes open for a trade in real estate.6 He declared that he knew more about western lands than "any Christian in America." He may have been right. Anyhow, his personal and broker holdings were large, and he was able to supply anything from town lots to tracts of •60,000 acres.7 When sales in merchandise and real property declined he took a hand in politics and in fighting the Indians. Like most Kentuckians, he had a relish for both, well satisfying the public demand for a vigorous leader and a wily and hardy advocate. More fluent than others, he was ever ready to take time out for contention and dispute. In the tangled skein of western surveys and business methods, Wilkinson was always able to unravel himself, and this faculty proved reason enough for others to turn to him in times of perplexity.
By nature he was a gregarious soul, generally to be found in the midst of things. He may have wanted to make his home at Louisville, where the Falls of the Ohio caused a natural interruption to river traffic and were proving an important inducement to settle.8 Nevertheless, he determined to reside where his expenses were less, land holdings greater, and business prospects more immediately encouraging. At Lexington he began to exchange calico and blankets for lumber and labor, and by the last of July, 1784, the building of his "mansion" was well under way.9 It was a place of size, although not so pretentious as the one that he erected at Frankfort,a occupied for a while, and then sold to Andrew Holmes.10 Returning to Lexington, he lived there for several years, offering frontier hospitality to those who might come his way. His house there had a hall large enough for brother politicians to gather in, rooms numerous enough for the privacy of his family as well as for secret interviews with friends.
It is true that some Kentuckians openly shunned him — Humphrey Marshall, for example, that bitter, combative young lawyer whom Wilkinson had publicly snubbed, and, perhaps, privately blackballed p73 for membership in the Political Club, a local organization of considerable importance. It included a number of Wilkinson's friends, chief of whom was Harry Innes. He had come to Kentucky in 1785, when thirty-three years of age, and quickly identified himself with the movement for statehood and better defense against the Indians. In spite of opposing the ratification of the Constitution, he was appointed Judge of the United States District Court out of Kentucky in 1789, an office that he held until his death in 1815. He handled most of Wilkinson's legal business, proving himself a genial friend as well as a reasonably able advocate. Partly because of this close connection with his client, Innes was finally charged with a dishonorable connection with Spain, but he proved able to clear himself. The charges were prompted by those who in 1806 and 1807 had brought Benjamin Sebastian to book because he had been receiving a Spanish pension. Without evincing any marked talent, Sebastian tried to be preacher, lawyer, judge, and merchant at one time or another. He met with better success in wheedling money out of the Spaniards. On one occasion when Wilkinson feared for his life, he recommended him as his natural successor in hoodwinking the dons at New Orleans. John Brown, abler and stronger in character, had a less detailed knowledge of Wilkinson's schemes of intrigue. The two were of the same age, and worked harmoniously together in politics. Brown was one of Kentucky's first senators, and from the seat of government often informed Wilkinson of federal affairs. From Caleb Wallace, Samuel McDowell, and less important figures in the legal fraternity of the District, Wilkinson kept posted on local matters. Once in a while General Charles Scott of the militia coterie came to visit him, guzzling for a while and expatiating upon ways to defend the settlers. No matter who came and talked with Wilkinson at Lexington or Frankfort, all agreed that something must be done to relieve the unfortunate conditions that were spreading gloom throughout Kentucky.
Indians were then roaming through the forest and blue-grass meadows, killed cruelly those who had come across the mountains and built their cabins in fruitful valleys. Richmond, •five hundred miles away, could not readily aid the scattered immigrants; and hence they had to depend on their own methods of protection, which were often illegal and frequently disturbing to the authorities in Virginia. As the Kentuckians became more numerous, they sensed p74 their own strength and felt that they should no longer compose a mere district, but that they deserved to become a state of the Confederation — an idea that was publicly discussed in a meeting held at Danville during the last days of 1784. Since nothing decisive was done in this First Assembly, it was thought better to call another, which almost every one hoped would be endowed with full legal powers to act.11
During the early months of 1785 the menace from Indians was not alone in disturbing the thoughts of the people: a rumor circulated that Congress was planning to abandon for twenty-five years all claims to navigation of the Mississippi in return for commercial advantages that Spain offered the seaboard states. A treaty of this kind would close the most natural and profitable route of trade to those who lived along the "western waters." Now more than ever Kentuckians laid plans for autonomy. Wilkinson keenly shared their hopes, although not as one of the members of the Second Assembly, which was called to meet during May, 1785, for initiating the legal machinery for separation. Friends like Harry Innes and others, however, were present, and these doubtless gave expression to ideas like his own. Certainly the two addresses adopted revealed his thoughts: one was entitled "To the honorable General Assembly of Virginia," and petitioned for separation; the other, "To the Inhabitants of the District of Kentucky," gave forceful reasons for requesting it. Both are reputed to have been written by Wilkinson, a belief that gains strength with time.12
If he was the author, they mark his first important contribution to the politics of the District. Soon another followed. In August, 1786, a Third Assembly was called; the Second did not have enough authority to carry through what it had begun. Wilkinson was a delegate from Fayette County; once more he made articulate the hopes of his followers; again the settlers of Kentucky were addressed, and again Virginia was petitioned. The case was clear for those who would see it. Soon the state legislature made reasonable terms for separation in what is known as the "First Enabling Act." Some were satisfied, but others grew restive because a Fourth Assembly became necessary before further action could be taken.13
p75 Wilkinson led those who wanted to do quickly what in a legal way required considerable time. He harped on dangers from Indians and the need for immediate independence. This was a much more aggressive and artful program than that which was advanced by his opponent, Humphrey Marshall, who advocated leaving the whole matter with the Assembly.14
Wilkinson was a hardy campaigner and pressed his arguments with spirit. On one occasion he confessed to speaking three and a half hours and quickening all his friends with pleasure. He wrote and told about it with more than frank complacency:
"I pleased myself, &, what was more consequential, every Body else, except my dead opponents — these I with great facility turned into subjects of ridicule and derision. I have experienced a great change since I held a seat in the Pennsylvania Assembly. I find myself much more easy, prompt, & eloquent in a public debate, than I ever was in private conversation, under the greatest flow of spirits."15
Perhaps Wilkinson had improved, for no record exists that as a Pennsylvania lawmaker he had been able to anger the dead with his eloquence. Granted that his oratorical power was unique, this gift alone would not account for the winning of all his votes. Some of his critics have suggested more earthly reasons. He knew "the way to men's hearts, was down their throats. He lived freely and entertained liberally. If he paid for his fare it was well for those who furnished it; if he did not, it was still well for himself and those who feasted on it. He surrounded himself with the idle young men, of both town and country, who loved him dearly; because they loved his beef, his pudding, and his wine. They served to propagate his opinions, to blazon his fame, to promote his popularity, and to serve him in elections; objects of primary consideration with him."16 Where places were unfavorable to him, these friends had a way of helping his cause. Wilkinson was not to be denied. He was elected to the Fourth Assembly, which did not meet as early as expected because so many of its members were absent on an expedition against the Indians.
When it finally convened in January, 1787, more than fear of the savages worried those gathered at Danville. Virginia had passed p76 the "Second Enabling Act" postponing separation until January, 1789. Hence Kentuckians had so far accomplished nothing, could hope for nothing until two years had passed. Divested of their authority, they angrily returned to their homes, although not without first unanimously passing a resolution to abide by the act. Neither Wilkinson nor other members were ready to go beyond the provisions of law.17
Meanwhile word had come that Jay's treaty with Spain had been secretly approved. John Brown, Benjamin Sebastian, Harry Innes, and others were bitter in denunciation and recommended that delegates assemble again at Danville. They did so in May, 1787, only to adjourn quickly because they learned that this disturbing story about the Mississippi was untrue. Nevertheless, they clearly saw that little help could be expected from a federal government which was daily becoming more contemptible in the eyes of those who knew it beside, and that their own state of Virginia was so limited in powers and so concerned with its own interests that they must depend upon their own efforts to secure protection, establish law and order, and gain a natural outlet to the sea for their growing commerce and trade. There appeared to be a very natural remedy: Kentucky should become independent and make her own terms with those whom she could. However inviting this plan, it did not have enough supporters to obtain immediate and controlling action;18 instead, a Fifth Assembly was called to meet in September. Wilkinson became a candidate and was duly elected, but never appeared to claim his seat.
The newly elected assemblyman had gone on a more distant mission involving both business and politics. If the governments of Virginia and the Confederation could do nothing for two years, maybe more, Spain, with all her procrastination, offered a better field of effort. At least friendly overtures from her might arouse such fears in the States that they would not suffer the district's alienation without trying to meet its legitimate demands.
In 1784 Spain had closed the Mississippi to Americans.19 As a result, settlers in the West could no longer profitably dispose of their tobacco, hams, skins, and flour at New Orleans and return home overland with bulging pockets, or else travel by sea with their coveted pieces of eight to Philadelphia where they might buy dry goods, p77 hardware, fine liquors, and firearms for sale along the Ohio. If these articles were purchased, they had to be carried across the Alleghenies, to Pittsburgh, at a freight rate of about seven cents a pound, then loaded on flatboats for Louisville or some other frontier settlement.20 For entrepreneurs this business was heavily fringed with profit; for the pioneers it helped to overcome a dearth of hard money and an uncomfortable lack of manufactured things.
Wilkinson was not slow to understand the possibilities of this three-cornered trade; but he realized that its success lay only in the acquiescence of the Spaniards. Hence, in order to learn more through personal reconnaissance, he approached the governor of Virginia and also the Spanish minister to the United States for passports down the Mississippi.21 Failing in both cases, he then tried to win the favor of Francisco Cruzat, commandant of the fort at St. Louis, by informing him of how a Spanish merchant at Vincennes might obtain satisfaction for goods that had been seized by certain freebooters under George Rogers Clark. At the same time he told of a meditated attack on Natchez under the auspices of a certain Colonel Green.22 Such advice and warning were to have their price. By the middle of May, Wilkinson was writing to ask Cruzat for a passport, while he was even then at the mouth of the Ohio. He was reasonably sure that if he went farther he would not be impeded.23 Nor was he disappointed. At Fort Panmure, Natchez, he was welcomed. When he left, a letter went forward to Esteban Miró, the Spanish governor at New Orleans, stating that a United States brigadier-general was on his way thither with interesting news and a bargeful of merchandise for disposal.24 The gift of a pair of blooded horses to one in authority at Natchez may have given zest to hospitality and stimulus to friendly words of introduction.25 At each opportunity Wilkinson intrenched himself in good will, pushing on from point to point in full belief that he could sweep aside any barriers that might be raised by Spanish machinations.
Map of New Orleans and the lower Mississippi.
p78 Confident of success, he came to New Orleans for the first time on July 2, 1787.26 The city then numbered 5,388 inhabitants, while 37,243 were scattered through Louisiana and West Florida. Within New Orleans flourished a mixture of races. The French were the first Europeans. Then came the Spaniards, who had held the reins of government since 1769.27 A few Englishmen were there for business reasons. Negro slaves, already numerous, were destined to increase rapidly. Sometimes Indians came and went on peaceful missions of trade, for fears of them had long since been removed.
The lineaments of this assorted population, though decidedly French, were not cut with a cameo's distinctness. In general, however, it was as unmistakably French as the swelling hills that rise out of the morning mist in the valley of the Rhone. Everywhere were courtly ways and old love for household gods. French of high degree set the pattern for humbler folk. Neither the crassness of the frontier nor the deviltry of their enemies could turn them from their masses or detach them from their allegiance to the ways of the Capetians. They filled their interludes of leisure with dancing, high gaming, and tranquil drinking, and from the fish, fowl, and vegetables of the neighborhood they evolved a delectable cuisine.
Many a flatboater loosened his belt as he lingered over gumbo, calas, and vintages from across the sea. His eyes might rest enchantedly upon powdered Frenchwomen, sweeping by in their intriguing finery; or if not, on some of those "ladies of joy" who, denied their silks and plumes by Miró's decree, still made merry at quadroon balls.28 Then perhaps, he would ruefully think of his horny-handed spouse and her homespun gown. If he became sluggish in the sale of his goods and cared less and less that the water receded from the willows where his flatboat lay tied, there were no antidotes in his creed for sins such as his. For him no requiem would be chanted, for him no prayers would be offered by faithful priests in far-off cathedral places; yet all too often he adopted the Frenchman's vices with the vigor and enthusiasm of a pioneer.
In New Orleans, Wilkinson came into contact with a people whose language he did not understand, whose religion he never highly regarded. But with his gifts of friendliness, contagious confidence, and apparent sincerity he was soon on easy terms with the Spanish officials, p79 especially Esteban Rodriguez Miró who had been appointed governor of Louisiana after helping the Spaniards wrest the Floridas from the British during the American Revolution. Miró was thirteen years older than Wilkinson, had married a sprightly creole, and entertained with easy hospitality. He spoke French, knew a little English, and was well acquainted with the country and people over which he ruled. Though whole-heartedly loyal to the King, he was wisely generous to the people of Louisiana and the neighboring Indians and Americans. Knowing the deep wounds on the hearts of some of his subjects, he hoped that time and considerate officials would heal them, that even the execution of prominent Frenchmen for alleged conspiracy by his predecessor O'Reilly would be forgotten. Never especially aggressive, and without marked independence, he was still able to rule Louisiana with comparative success for nine precarious years prior to January 1, 1792.29 Eager to supplement his inadequate salary of four thousand dollars a year, he soon lent ears to Wilkinson's tales of easy wealth, believing him highly agreeable, refreshing, well educated, and possessed of uncommon talent.
Don Esteban Miró.
From a portrait owned by Louisiana State Museum. Courtesy of its President, James J. A. Fortier.
Besides his own personal gain, Miró may have calculated that friendly relations with Wilkinson served the best interests of the Spanish government. Louisiana and the Floridas were regarded as barriers for other possessions in America, and both of them had to be maintained against the raids of irresponsible Indians and the increasing encroachment of lawless Americans. The administration of these two provinces was costly, the Spanish government usually incurring an annual deficit of half a million dollars. There were few or no Spanish immigrants in either; Spain could not supply the settlers already there with the kind of articles they wanted, and the things that they produced — furs, lumber, tobacco, and rice — had no continuing market in the mother country. The colonial government was based on the theory of extreme centralization. Each town was controlled by an army officer who was often guilty of petty graft and exasperating tyranny. This condition was frequently made worse by his appointments being made on some other basis than genuine fitness for the positions. Though not of outstanding ability, Miró united in his person both civil and military authority. All of his subordinates used him as a channel of communication on important matters of imperial concern; in a similar way he forwarded his own p80 requests and recommendations through his superior, the captain-general of Cuba, to one of the Crown's ministers on colonial affairs.30 Answers were long in arriving, and sometimes the conditions that they were designed to remedy had already passed. In the eyes of the turbulent and unconventional Americans living along the borders of Louisiana, the Spaniards were procrastinating, evasive, bigoted, tyrannical, and usually dishonest.
The backwoods children of "Ol' Man River" had many grievances against them. Especially were they incensed that "His Most Catholic" Majesty had cut them off from the sea and that their Atlantic kinsmen were callous to this strangling of western trade. The coonskins and wool-hats of Kentucky and Tennessee looked upon the uninterrupted navigation of the Mississippi as their natural right; they also visioned New Orleans as a prize that was priceless and easy to obtain. To the Spaniards they were the incarnation of Goths and Vandals.
Hence, as Wilkinson shuttled back and forth between his boats and the government house, he scattered veiled hints as to what American upcountry men might do in case they were not prudently handled.31 It would not be good policy to offend their leader; better, perhaps, to give him a hospitable reception and allow him to dispose of his cargo. Nor was fear the only basis for appeal: New Orleans and the Spaniards needed many products from the interior. And Wilkinson convincingly outlined plans for advancing Spanish interests in Kentucky; the details were given in an essay of about seventy-five hundred words, commonly known as the "First Memorial."
It was presumably a true picture of conditions in Kentucky; in reality it was purposely colored to win the Spaniards' fancy. It stressed the indifference of eastern states to the welfare of western settlements, and the consequent discontent that had been created. Forces were making for a western Confederation; Congress would not, or could not, put them down. To promote disunion and ultimate alignment with the Crown, he advised Spain to retain control of the navigation of the Mississippi and grant the privilege of downriver trade to only a distinguished few. These favored sons of her adoption would in return convert others to her allegiance. Then, if western settlers were not completely detached, at least the number of them p81 loyal to Spain would be sensibly increased. In time a barrier would be raised against American aggression. By inference Wilkinson would be the Spanish agent in Kentucky. But let Spain beware; she might incense these western settlers until they united with the British in the Northwest to secure by force what could not be gained by friendly methods.32
Here was an apparition that caused the Spaniards to quake. Louisiana was loyal but defenseless. Therefore when Wilkinson asked to ship, duty-free, to New Orleans fifty to sixty thousand dollars' worth of Kentucky produce, he obtained consent. Fear and eagerness for profit induced this favorable decision. Miró was to become a silent, though deeply interested, party in the business of buying tobacco in Kentucky at two dollars and selling it at nine dollars per hundredweight at the King's warehouses in New Orleans.33
Wilkinson not only delighted the Spaniards with a chance of profit, he gratified their weakness for empty forms. He wrote out and signed what has been commonly considered as an oath of allegiance to the King of Spain. Almost as a matter of routine those who came down the Mississippi with merchandise were accustomed to doing so in order to please the Spaniards whose favors they sought.34 Wilkinson, like others, went through this meaningless gesture. Unlike them, he wrote out a form of his own in which he gave reasons for his changing allegiance; but, schemer that he was, he never once directly avowed that he had abandoned his own country and sworn fealty to Spain. Nevertheless, the equivocally worded document passed muster with the Spaniards and for over a century was kept secret from Americans. As to his other political ruminations, the "liberal and gentlemanly" Miró was urged to bury them in "eternal oblivion."35
But at the same time the Spanish governor was enjoined to keep his memory keen concerning certain disreputables who might come down the river while Wilkinson was on his way home: "Patrick Joyes, an Irishman . . . a Fool and a Knave, and an abominable liar"; Maurice Nagle, another Irishman, "without principle or property"; William Dodge, a third Irishman, "an artful, subtle scoundrel, in desperate circumstances." However, the rogues were not all Irishmen, p82 for the Tardiveaus were always either drunk or deceiving themselves. Brodhead was "as unprincipled a Scoundrel as ever went unhung," and a bastard in the bargain.36
With this fling at his enemies, Wilkinson was ready to leave New Orleans and begin the detailed work of promoting his own interests at the Spaniard's expense. In the light of his subsequent activities, he must have hoped that Spain would keep the Mississippi closed while she left him a monopoly of trade in payment for his pretended efforts at promoting a conspiracy that he hoped, and must have soon realized, would never be consummated. His was an artful program, altogether unhampered by any ethical idea.
Miró could not have been entirely duped by political forecasts that had their origin in greed. He, too, had an ulterior motive. Wilkinson might prove to be of distinct value as an informer from Kentucky and as a vigorous promoter of desirable immigration into Spanish territory. The governor, besides, may have had a vision of Louisiana revived and strengthened with the consequent growth of his own political reputation and personal fortune. Whatever each saw in the other, it was enough to call forth mutual protestations of friendship when Wilkinson left New Orleans on the 16th of September, 1787.37
By this time Wilkinson had created the impression that he was eager to induce the people of Kentucky to seek the benefits of Spanish rule. After repeated assurances of his great affection for Miró and deep admiration for the "personal charms" of the governor's consort, Wilkinson took ship; and by the 20th of September had reached Balize, where he was soon on friendly terms with the Spanish officer in command. Once in the Gulf the weather was rough and he suffered his usual seasickness. Off the coast of Cuba he transferred to a swifter vessel headed for North Carolina, arriving at Wilmington on the 4th of November. About three weeks later he was in Richmond, then perturbed by two bitterly hostile factions: one ardently desired the adoption of the new federal Constitution; the other, which Wilkinson immediately espoused, violently opposed it.38 Governor Randolph thought that his animosity arose from a belief that Congress would surrender the Mississippi.39 He did not know that Wilkinson had lately advocated this very measure when he had written from New p83 Orleans to St. Clair, governor of the Northwest Territory, recommending the acceptance of the Gardoqui Treaty.40 To hold to the same faith in Virginia meant political suicide; Wilkinson accordingly changed. He was aware also that his peculiar plans would flourish best while Kentucky was in ferment and no federal government existed strong enough to give protection and compel obedience. To most of the settlers along the Ohio, an active and adequate government connoted few or no benefits, only taxes and unwarranted curtailment of individual liberty. Therefore by inveighing against the Constitution he would simultaneously serve his purposes and win a following.
It was not alone his "Old Hobby" politics that had drawn Wilkinson to the Virginia capital; he had important personal business to transact. He was interested in lands along the Ohio. Friends could tell him how warrants for them might be advantageously obtained; he knew better than almost any one else what tracts were desirable for purchase. For past and future speculations in Kentucky he had to make reports and draw up agreements satisfactory to his associates.41 Thus a month passed before he was ready to resume his journey. This delay prevented him from making a visit to Mount Vernon as he had expected; the best he could do was to express his regret and send Washington some Indian fabrics as a slight token of esteem. Unwilling to miss news from the Southwest, Washington sent a Colonel Fitzgerald to travel a part of the way with him. The weather was bad and the snow deep in the Alleghenies, and Wilkinson did not reach the Monongahela until January 12, 1788. Ice was breaking up in the Ohio •about a hundred and twenty miles below Fort Pitt, and so he hastened thither to take a boat for Kentucky. After a narrow escape from drowning and constant suffering from bitter cold, he reached his "Mansion" on the 24th of February, 1788.42
Here Wilkinson, the far traveler, found happiness at his journey's end; for his was an attractive, affectionate family and one that he loved well. His wife, Ann Biddle, was dowered with Quaker charm and beauty. Her head was small but with fine-cut features and a wealth of dark brown hair; her eyes were large and met one's own in serene, level glances. There was something of determination in p84 her lips, thin and tightly closed, and much of grace in the movement of her slender figure. Not a child of the wilderness but of gentle lineage, she knew the sweet ways and quiet manners of good people. Without the strength, yet having the spirit, to withstand hardships, she had come from Philadelphia in 1784, bringing with her their two boys, John and James Biddle. John was then only three; James was a year or two younger; Joseph Biddle was to be born in 1785. Another child came four years later, but was destined to live only a short while.43
The care of these three youngsters bore heavily upon a mother so frail, especially since she tried to rear them not as backwoods children but like their Pennsylvania cousins. Even the essentials were difficult to secure for them. They were forever "treading out" their shoes, and replacements were hard to get, sometimes came in wrong sizes, or two of them for the same foot. And when they wore their clothes thin, cloth was dear and mending was not easy for her weary, weakened eyes. When the boys were ready to begin reading and writing, she engaged the best tutor available, although he was more of a simpleton than a scholar. Often her kindly father in Philadelphia, John Biddle, sent tea, coffee, and sugar — articles common enough along the Atlantic but scarce in Kentucky. And sometimes came things for which she so often longed — glistening china, lustrous garments, and gloves to cover her roughened hands.
She was one who could look her best in the presence of her hero. The confidence she had in him, many others shared. Even then Kentuckians were diverted with the pageantry of his success: four glistening horses drew his splendid coach, followed by a retinue of slaves. Underlings stood by and "chortled" at the rumors of his opulence. Truly he had done great things, this affable, open-faced, masterful man. In a few months he had accomplished what neither Virginia nor the federal government had been able to do in years. He had wheedled out of the Spanish government a sort of private trading concession that permitted him to navigate the Mississippi and granted him the privilege of selling tobacco and beeswax, apples and butter, and other interior products, all duty-free at New Orleans. He announced himself ready to buy tobacco at the current price of two dollars per hundredweight, perhaps higher.44 The long desired millennium was arriving, and Wilkinson had fathered it!
p85 Backwoodsmen saw in Wilkinson a person who accomplished things immediately helpful. They liked him because he worked at concrete things and rode straight to popular objectives. They were his friends because he mixed with them readily, spent freely, talked convincingly, and entertained lavishly. Here was a man favorably known by most of the leading people of his section. In 1788 none loomed larger on the Kentucky horizon than did this Wilkinson, who so successfully practiced the theories of Machiavelli.
Wilkinson lost no time; he took immediate steps to maintain his valuable connection with New Orleans. No sooner was he back in Kentucky than he sent Richard Thomas posthaste with letters to Innes. The judge read them with interest and sat up most of the night preparing papers that he and Thomas would take back at the crack of dawn. Arriving at Lexington, Innes immediately went into consultation with Wilkinson. Thomas and others were left in the hall to make the best of their own society, along with a bottle of spirits. Wilkinson's hospitality and the promise of a job kept Thomas about the place until nearly the 1st of March. Then he and two companions were sent on a trip to New Orleans as messengers for Wilkinson. In their canoe was loaded a trunk stuffed with papers that were to be delivered to certain Spaniards at Natchez and New Orleans. In case there was any danger that the papers might fall into improper hands, they were to be destroyed without delay.45
Such emissaries were something more than common report had them, heralds of Wilkinson's safe return who would explain the delay of promised tobacco shipments. Documents in a mud-spattered trunk, if all went well, were to bring Miró new visions of commercial gain and expanding empire.46 Even as the governor read, the messengers stood waiting to plunge again into the wilderness. Several weeks later, in April, they were returning, carrying letters carefully wrapped in oilcloth and securely fastened to their waists. Ostensibly they were written by Daniel Clark, Sr.,47 and perhaps some of them were. At least one was from Miró, regretting that no answer had yet come to the "First Memorial," but expressing delight at the good news that Wilkinson's letter had told and reciprocating the affection that it fulsomely expressed.48
About the middle of June, 1788, Major Isaac Dunn appeared in p86 New Orleans. He was one of Wilkinson's old-time Revolutionary friends and a sort of business associate. Within a few days he was writing back that others had been granted passports to bring tobacco down the river but they were to be charged a duty of 25 per cent and to be denied the use of the King's warehouse. This distinction, he added, constitutes our particular favor and "you cannot be at a loss to know where a participation of Profits is expected, & where it is due."49
Money was a sure means of holding Miró's attention and obtaining a continuance of trade dispensations. Wilkinson had other ways too. On May 15, he wrote that Virginia's jurisdiction over Kentucky would cease January 1, 1789; those to whom Miró's offer had been communicated, were filled with "keenest joy"; as soon as some form of government could be organized in Kentucky, agents doubtless would be appointed to treat of the "union in which we are engaged." From Congress he anticipated no trouble, for it lacked both money and power, and the new federal government, of course, would remain contemptible for years. Then he added, if Mr. Daniel Clark, Sr., would help in sending him merchandise, such trade would tie Kentucky to New Orleans rather than to cities across the Appalachians.50 Miró thought well of the scheme, and advanced Wilkinson and Clark, Sr., $6,000 to help in their upriver shipments.51 Beside this important favor, a certain D'Arges was forbidden to work as Spanish agent in Kentucky. Wilkinson was left with a free hand.52
But these turns of good fortune were counterbalanced by losses in tobacco. Much of it had arrived in bad condition: 15,000 pounds was an entire loss and 80,000 more was of poor quality. Only 118,000 pounds had been received and paid for. In addition, he was warned not to ship more than two hundred hogsheads, about 200,000 pounds, for the ensuing year, including all then on the way. The governor explained that he had already received more than the King allowed and that the Louisiana crop would more than supply his current needs.53
Apparently money accruing to Wilkinson was deposited with the p87 firm of Clark & Reese. By July they had credited him with $9,835.50. Thus he was able to return $3,000 that he had borrowed from them; Major Dunn received $3,389; several small bills were settled, and there still remained to be sold eight hogsheads of tobacco and an unknown quantity in bulk.54 The major had not had so much hard money in his keeping for a long time. Disappointing as business was, it was improving. Those who had tasted the sweets of profit, now (August 7, 1788) were ready for a new commercial agreement, and so the principals — Daniel Clark, Sr., Wilkinson, and Isaac Dunn — organized a sort of trading company for the purpose of developing the Kentucky and New Orleans business. Clark, who had apparently invested the greater capital, was to have double the profits of the other two equal shareholders.55
With the help of a $6,000 loan from Miró, they were soon outfitting and stocking a bateau that bore the ironical name of Speedwell. It was designed for upriver trade, and involved an outlay of some $21,000. The crew were lazy and made slow progress against the current of "Ol' Man River." By the time they had reached the Ohio, winter had come, and before long the Speedwell was caught in the ice and sunk with its cargo of brass candlesticks, barrels of coffee, sugar, "rheams of paper," pieces of Irish linen, cases of fine wine and potent brandy.56 Those concerned suffered not only immediate loss; they realized that they had failed in the larger undertaking of turning the western settlements from the Philadelphia market to that of New Orleans. If they had succeeded there might have been some chance that Louisiana and Kentucky would coalesce their interests; and Miró, the patron of the enterprise, might have beheld the ripening of his plans. From the failure it became evident that the frontiersmen along the Ohio would continue to obtain their religion, their medicines, their luxuries, and their hardware, as well as their government, from the same places as before.
Major Dunn did not accompany the Speedwell. He returned home via Philadelphia in order to purchase supplies for the Lexington store. Once in the East, he made a trip to Rhode Island to visit his family; and, while passing through New York, he fell in with Gardoqui, minister of Spain. Gardoqui seemed to be full of promises p88 and good humor. With easy nonchalance, he spoke of granting land and passports, and even belittled Miró's powers, while he waxed eloquent over his own beneficence.57
Soon Dunn was crossing the mountains to tell Wilkinson all that he had seen and heard. Speedily he had come, yet more speedily he was told to retrace his steps and to make use of the apparent generosity of Gardoqui. He was to get a grant of •600,000 acres on the Yazoo and the Mississippi for the joint ownership of himself, Wilkinson, Benjamin Sebastian, and John Brown.58 Compliance on Gardoqui's part would of course frustrate Colonel George Morgan and his magnificent plans for colonizing in Spanish territory. Dunn failed to obtain pay for the information that he gave; and, one pretext or another, the patent was refused, although Wilkinson declared that his time, his business, and his political character had been sacrificed for the mutual welfare of Kentucky and Spain.59 Gardoqui did not even defray the cost of Dunn's trip East.60 From this quarter all hopes of lands, gold, or Spanish favors quickly passed.
In another quarter they were stronger. Unlike Wayne, of a few years later, Miró seemed to value Wilkinson's "damned long letters," which were usually in cipher, filled with rumors, gossip, and political cogitations, sometimes documented even with newspaper clippings and extracts from friends' correspondence. Wilkinson had acquired some skill in propaganda; he knew how to ballyhoo himself into Kentucky prominence, and now he saw to it that the people of Louisiana learned of his success. Nor did he ever oppose the current of Miró's ambition; he was able to tell him tales pleasing but untrue, because of peculiar conditions in Kentucky.
During his absence in New Orleans the Fifth Assembly had met and decided unanimously for separation, adopting a petition for admission to the Union and securing appointment of John Brown as a delegate for delivering it to Congress. By the next summer Brown was writing to his friends that New England opposed their plan through fear of an increase in strength of the southern delegation. The same clause, he suspected, would operate in the future; certainly nothing could be done immediately — the new federal government had to become effective. Under the circumstances he advised Kentuckians p89 to declare their independence. Dismayed with such disappointing news, the Sixth Assembly convened at Danville on July 28, 1788. It lasted for only a few days but paved the way for the Seventh, which expected to meet in November and hoped to achieve Kentucky's entrance into the Union, obtain unrestricted navigation of the Mississippi, and set up a constitutional government for the district.61
Playing upon Miró's ignorance of existing politics, Wilkinson solemnly assured him that he found all men of the first class in the district, save Colonels Marshall and Muter, decidedly in favor of separation from the United States and ultimate alliance with Spain. Then, with easy grace in lying, he added that Caleb Wallace, Harry Innes, and Benjamin Sebastian vigorously advocated a prompt separation from the American Union.62 Miró was duped, and interpreted the liberal grant of powers to the Seventh Assembly as if they were designed to promote the rapprochement of Spain and Kentucky.
Until the Assembly met in the fall, Wilkinson was busy with his own affairs, turning tricks only now and then that might help in his intrigues with Spain. During October a certain Colonel John Connolly left Detroit, apparently bent on obtaining a favorable adjustment of old land claims in the neighborhood of the Falls of the Ohio. When he arrived at Louisville in November, Wilkinson "insinuated" himself into his confidence, and learned the real object of his journey. Connolly confessed being an agent of Lord Dorchester, who he declared would furnish pay, clothing, and equipment for 10,000 men if they would join with the British and seize Louisiana. Additional assistance would be given by a fleet based on Jamaica and operating against the Balize. For Kentuckians who would join in the enterprise honors were to be bestowed liberally. Any "Rank or Emolument"63 Wilkinson might ask for himself was to be granted. Soon Miró's ears were filled with this harrowing tale. To allay the governor's fears, Wilkinson wrote that he had secretly set a reputed assassin upon Connolly and had beheld his headlong departure from Kentucky — only an armed escort had saved him from death. Wilkinson, as a civil magistrate, had furnished this protection, thereby gaining Connolly's gratitude and promise of information concerning Great Britain's future designs against Spain. Once back in Canada, p90 Connolly supplied data for an estimate of conditions in Northwest Territory. Lord Dorchester came to sensible conclusions; he did not yield to advice contained in a paper that was entitled "Desultory Reflections by a Gentleman of Kentucky." It suggested that Great Britain "should employ the interval [of unrest along the Ohio] in forming confidential connections with men of enterprise, capacity and popular influence resident in the Western Waters."64 The "Reflections" seem to have been Wilkinson's composition. Unlike his "First Memorial" written for Miró, they resulted in no tangible returns. Even so, Wilkinson could feel elated because of his last bit of scheming; he had improved simultaneously his standing with Spain, the United States, Great Britain, and Kentucky, and at a time when their interests in many respects were diametrically opposed. He had set himself up as a clearing house where national secrets would be sold for money or perquisites. If he had none to suit the purchaser, his fluent pen would quickly supply the deficiency. In his program of deception his casual disregard for truth and his singular ability to detect the weaknesses of others were invaluable aids.
Equally skillful tactics were employed in local politics. Although the Court party was not popular with the people of Kentucky, Wilkinson accepted its backing and was the only one of its candidates who was elected to the Seventh Assembly from Fayette County. His success arose partly from personal popularity, dubious methods, and reiterated promises to comply with the wishes of his constituents. When the Assembly convened on November 3, 1788, Wilkinson was its dominant figure, emphatically telling its members that United States treaties and Spain's objections thwarted their navigation of the Mississippi, and that the government could not reasonably be expected to aid them. "The way to obtain it," said he, "has been indicated in the former convention, and every gentleman present will connect it with a declaration of independence, the formation of a constitution and the organization of a new State, which may safely be left to find its own way into the Union on terms advantageous to its own interests." As he concluded, Wilkinson — looking at John Brown, who had lately talked with Gardoqui — remarked that there was one among them who had important information. Brown, however, p91 would make no disclosures, merely stating that if they were unanimous, everything was in their reach.
Thus runs the story of the assembly's proceedings according to Humphrey Marshall, who was a deeply prejudiced person blatantly hostile to Wilkinson. Therefore it cannot be entirely accepted. Although Wilkinson no doubt wanted Miró to believe that he was advocating the program of which he was accused, he knew that its realization would be opposed to his own personal interests and against the views of many of his constituents. He clearly saw that few or no rewards would come to him for hatching conspiracy in Kentucky; nevertheless he left no stone unturned to make Miró believe this was the prime aim of his efforts. With this deception in mind, he asked permission to read an essay that he had composed concerning the Mississippi. In twenty or more pages he described Kentucky's resources, now valueless because the inhabitants had no easy water route to the open sea. He reminded his hearers that they had been on the point of seceding when Congress once threatened to abandon for twenty-five years their natural claims to navigate the Mississippi. If Spain would not yield now to their contention, England was ready to help them. Those present were stirred with his words and gave him a vote of thanks for the interest that he had evinced for the "Western Country," but still they hesitated to take decisive action. They even tabled John Brown's motion, which declared that the people of Kentucky wished to separate from Virginia and become "an independent member of the federal union." A resolution calling for popular instructions and another assembly proved more acceptable. Wilkinson fathered it and was happy to see it unanimously passed.65 The state of unrest along the Ohio would continue — a condition that he might employ to very personal advantage.
Once the assembly had adjourned, Wilkinson told of its proceedings in a way that suited his purpose. Both Miró and the Kentuckians thought his essay was identical with the "First Memorial" that he had written in New Orleans during the hot summer days of 1787. Hence Miró concluded that the Kentuckians were thoroughly acquainted with his henchman's plan of separation and were eager for it. This misconception was intensified when he learned that Brown's motion had failed and that of Wilkinson had been passed without a dissenting vote. To deceive more, Wilkinson wrote Miró on February p92 12, 1789, stating that the Seventh Assembly had agreed unanimously that, should Virginia refuse separation to Kentucky or should Congress fail to support free navigation of the Mississippi, then the people would be invited to set up their own government. This was a whole-cloth prevarication, more than welcome in a Spanish market. Finally, the governor was urged to close the Mississippi, although Wilkinson had spent most of his energy in Kentucky demanding that it be opened!66
As a political chameleon Wilkinson was peerless. When circumstances demanded, he changed the color of his faith; in Kentucky he was one person; in New Orleans, another. Whether here or there, he appeared to be in entire accord with those whom he would influence, employing their weaknesses to serve his ends. "Some men," he said, "are sordid, some vain, some ambitious. To detect the predominant passion, to lay hold and to make the most of it is the most profound secret of political science." It was this kind of creed that he practiced when he wrote Miró in 1789 that he had become a "good Spaniard."67 No matter, Miró diplomatically accepted him as such, and Wilkinson reciprocated by addressing him as "the friend of my bosom."
During the winter of 1788‑1789 Wilkinson could ponder how cleverly he had deceived the Spaniards for the benefit of himself and his countrymen. Kentuckians were not concerned with his methods while they enjoyed prosperity at the expense of their enemies. Only a year had passed since he had spread tales of selling tobacco in the New Orleans market while he himself had furnished the means of sending it thither. When he had embarked in politics, Kentuckians had listened to him eagerly and taken his directions as obedient children. He was a newly found favorite, although he had not yet obtained the philosopher's stone for turning their possessions into gold. What if a few boats had gone down the river under his auspices, why worry if their cargoes had failed to bring expected returns? If some began to lose faith in his vision of opulence, many others still came and sat beside his open fire and helped consume his brandy and Madeira when nights were long and cold.
When their visits were returned, Wilkinson showed no misgivings, then or thereafter; on the contrary, there was something of a swagger and a strut to match the right royal waistcoat and the pair of heavy p93 silver buckles that Miró had sent him as aº "regalos."68 Young and resourceful, Wilkinson was a man who could play the game with Spanish diplomacy. He had discovered gold in the hills; he would work his claim with borrowed pick and pan. He would go to New Orleans when the ice began to disappear from the river; spring, for him, would be a propitious season.
There were good reasons for the trip. It was in keeping with Ann's character to urge her husband to go. She and the children could now be left behind in relative safety. Her loyalty would recall his successes, while she knew that misfortune had come when he had been forced to turn his business over to agents. His family no longer prevented his going.
Politics was at a standstill; nothing decisive could be expected in the district until the new federal government became operative with respectable powers. After the Articles of Confederation had been discarded, Virginia realized that Kentucky could not meet the conditions that she had previously imposed; hence the "Third Enabling Act" was passed on December 29, 1788. Two of its provisions caused great discussion; one called on the prospective state to share Virginia's existing debt; the other abridged sovereignty until certain surveys and land titles were completed. So bitter was the opposition, especially to the second of these provisions, that when the Eighth Assembly met on July 20, 1789, it vigorously protested in the hope of a more generous act.69 Until Virginia could pass the liberal Fourth Enabling Act six months later, nothing much could be done. Wilkinson had few opportunities at the time to promote his intrigue against Spain; in fact, a display of too much zeal might hurt his reputation.
On the other hand, his presence was needed to revitalize Miró's interest in their mutual plans so that grants, loans, and pensions would be forthcoming. It behooved him to bewitch Miró and the Spaniards again with the icon of conspiracy, especially when Kentucky was farther from Spain than ever before. In his delusion, Miró was hoping for Wilkinson to come as a public character some time in April, 1789.70 If he thought that Kentucky would then be in a mood to listen to overtures from Spain, he was in abysmal ignorance concerning p94 the state of public opinion along the Ohio. If Wilkinson could dupe him into believing matters of this kind, he might deceive him in other things of consequence. It was the psychological time to act. Any day an answer might come to the "First Memorial"; he had better be in New Orleans to soften its rigor or to extend the range of its benefits.
Besides, it was high time to thwart the plans of a certain Colonel George Morgan who was suing the Spanish for favor. He cherished an entrancing plan of founding a Utopia on •2,000,000 Spanish acres that lay in the southeast corner of what later was to become the state of Missouri. The capital city, New Madrid, was to be the metropolis of the West; it was to be located beside a lake of purest water and have magnificent avenues shaded by uncut forest trees. In so lovely an environment there were to be churches for the pious and schools for the enterprising; the poor were to be no longer poor, but to have land for the asking. The government would be of the people's making, and prosperity was not to be clouded with taxes. The West was agog about this hoped-for paradise, and many were already travelling thither as quickly as they could.71
Wilkinson, too, felt the urge to travel. He was restless to be on the way to New Orleans. He wanted to go, not as a catchpenny merchant, but as a wholesaler on a scale such as the Southwest had never seen. He advertised right and left for the Kentucky produce desired for his cargoes. Through the payment of a few dollars and hearty promises of more, his purchases mounted. Goods that had lain about in warehouses for years were bought at fancy prices. Tobacco, flour, and land values rose; through his aid, prosperity was flowing into Kentucky through a Spanish channel.72 For the transportation of his purchases, twenty-five boats were built, some of which were armed with cannon. With their protection, along with that of one hundred and fifty virile spirits who composed the crews, the fear of Indian attack was removed.73 Even the Spaniards might not be so stony-hearted with all these stout oak boats tied up along the river bank and scores of backwoodsmen clambering out of them. To avoid civil tumult, Miró might be induced to propitiate their wily leader with extensive purchases. Surely he would not anger the Goths p95 knocking at the gates of his city, now just beginning to rise from the ashes of the great fire of 1788.
During June, 1789, the spectacular Wilkinson set foot in New Orleans again. Miró was friendly; the two lived together in the same house and joined in the courtesies of friendship.74 Although Miró appeared to believe distorted tales about Kentucky politics, Wilkinson was not confident of the future. The Court had sent a disquieting answer to his "First Memorial" of 1787. By its order, he was no longer to enjoy a monopoly of trade on the Mississippi; the waters of the river were to be opened to all those who paid a duty of 15, in some cases 6, per cent. Nor was he to be the sole arbiter of immigration. Those who gave evidence of becoming bona-fide settlers were to be granted lands, commercial privileges, and religious toleration. In short, Spain hoped to cajole her neighbors into friendship by a plan directly opposite to that of Wilkinson's apparent program. She would pay no money for hatching revolution in Kentucky. Whatever was to be done in the future, must be accomplished by methods that would not compromise the Crown.75
Apparently Spain was inclined to favor the plans of Colonel George Morgan, who had recently visited the city to obtain the backing of Miró for the promises of Gardoqui. With his apparent honesty and liberal plans of colonization, he had allayed the distrust of the governor.76 But he was wholly unable to overcome the bitter opposition of Wilkinson, who had referred to him as a speculator twice bankrupt and governed by the "vilest self-interest." Statements like these were not as true as the prophecy that he offered: that Morgan's colonists would retain their prejudices, unite with their countrymen across the river, and later embroil Spain with the United States.77 And the Spaniards accepted the prognosis without waiting fifty years for the Texas Revolution and the Mexican War to verify it. For these and other less apparent reasons, the Morgan grant was ultimately canceled.
Wilkinson met with better success; his tobacco business was in the heyday of prosperity. During the early part of 1789 he had received large sums of money for his shipments to New Orleans. Up to the 1st of May his gross sales amounted to $16,441. After getting p96 the net balance of $6,251, Captain A. B. Dunn took it to the East and turned it over to his brother, who was then Wilkinson's partner.78 Again Spanish dollars enriched the circuit of trade between Louisville, New Orleans, and Philadelphia, and caused it to burgeon with profit.
After Dunn left, Clark and Rees found little to do for their merchant friends. Not until Wilkinson arrived in June did business pick up. By August 29 his credits aggregated $21,632; by September his net balance had dwindled to $48, so many disbursements had been made.79 On September 18 the connection with Clark and Rees was dissolved. Wilkinson acknowledged a debt to them for their share in the Speedwell speculation, as well as another sum of £318, Virginia currency, due the firm of Craig & Johnson.80 The first of these obligations he planned to liquidate by early shipments of tobacco, while the second was left apparently to time and circumstance for adjustment.81
Thus Wilkinson dropped his former business associates, except Miró, and trimmed his sails to changing wind. After a disappointing reply to his "First Memorial" had come, he industriously prepared another. Inasmuch as easy immigration to Louisiana had been decreed, Wilkinson now declared himself an ardent advocate for its prosecution; in place of stirring up revolution in Kentucky, he urged that "secret and indirect" agencies should be set in motion for its separation and its independence from the United States. He would build up Kentucky as a barrier state, bind her to Spain by ties of mutual advantage. Both Great Britain and the United States should be thwarted in their efforts to gain her friendship and alliance. New Orleans should be made a free port. There the West would then dispose of its products, making the city renowned for prosperity. If Spain did not adopt a plan like this, she might expect the overrunning of Louisiana and the ultimate loss of Mexico. Whatever the program, Wilkinson would need money, about seven thousand dollars, to sustain his efforts in propagating the ideas of Spain. If the sum were not forthcoming, Miró could expect no help from him except "prayers and good wishes." Mindful perhaps of the Crown's late decision to open the waters of the Mississippi to any one on terms of 15 and 6 per cent, he requested as a personal favor that the Spanish p97 government buy, duty-free, two hundred more hogsheads of his tobacco at eight dollars per hundredweight.82
Wilkinson knew well how to win favor; on critical occasions with Miró he was never too easily compliant nor too hardy in opposition. He wanted to get the maximum benefit from the conditions Miró and the Court had imposed.
To facilitate the work of "secret and indirect agencies," Wilkinson submitted to the governor a descriptive list of twenty-two persons whom he recommended for a yearly pension from Spain. The rate of payment was to be in proportion to the importance of the individual concerned, ranging from six hundred to a thousand dollars; the whole amount involved, $18,700. Among those to be bribed in such a fashion were John Brown, "member of Congress," Isaac Shelby, "man of fortune and great influence," and Caleb Wallace, "a judge." Even the "Devil's own," Humphrey Marshall, "a villain without principles, very artful, and could be troublesome," was to get six hundred dollars for helping along the cause of Spain.83 Being called a "villain" would hardly have bothered Marshall, but his pride must have been blasted had he known that his arch enemy classified him as only important enough for the minimum bounty.
To have one's name on the list was no index of dishonesty, only an indication that Wilkinson considered the person worth mentioning to Miró. Wilkinson planned to be the chief beneficiary, for he was to be the dispenser of Spanish dollars, while he would leave Miró with an account increasingly difficult to explain. Although there were plenty of reasons to deter Miró from making so extensive a raid on the royal treasury, he did give Wilkinson $7,000 with the understanding that should the Spanish Court fail to allow it as pension money the amount would be repaid.84 As both men had expected, no objection was made to this advance payment.
Although the loan itself was enough to repay Wilkinson for his trip to New Orleans, he had accomplished much more during those dazzling summer days in the South. He had sold much of his tobacco at eight dollars per hundredweight and had induced the governor to continue the rôle of patron saint to the wholesale grocery business. He had tested Miró's warming friendship by presenting a "Second p98 Memorial" and accompanying it with plenty of verbal advice. With Miró an apparent convert to his schemes, Wilkinson believed that the psychological moment for his departure had come.
About September 18 he left New Orleans, in spite of incomplete settlements for his yearly shipments. Urgent reasons existed for hastening back to Kentucky if he expected to send down many hogsheads of tobacco or impress Miró with his work in the field of intrigue. The overland route home, although several weeks quicker than that by the Atlantic Ocean and the Ohio River, was menaced by Indians and full of hardship.85 He chose the former in spite of fears and misgivings. Sickness overtook him on the way, and he stopped a few days with his friend Gayoso de Lemos, Spanish governor of Natchez. There his visit was marked by an improvement in health and the acquisition of a cane that he openly purloined from his host.86
Wilkinson's travelling companion was Philip Nolan, a typical goodman Friday, who had come out of nowhere to Wilkinson and the West, and who passed a dozen or more years in bright adventure before losing his life and his ears to the Spaniards in 1801.87 For his strength, faithfulness, and his knowledge of the Indians he was invaluable to the varied schemes of his ubiquitous patron. Current gossip along the route to Kentucky told how Nolan could lift a sack containing $2000 with one hand from the back of a mule, and carry it into the house.88 Apparently there were enough silver dollars in the baggage of the two travelers to prove this feat of strength to anyone who might be doubtful. Taming drunken Indians was another one of Nolan's accomplishments. Several times while in the Southwest Andrew Ellicott, official Surveyor of the United States, was to call on Nolan for help against the savages and he was to give it in full force now high satisfaction. Nolan was, in fact, one of those capable assistants that Wilkinson frequently selected to send on missions of difficulty and importance. In return for his help, Wilkinson paid him well, trusted him implicitly, and treated him as a member of the family.89
By November the two had gone as far north as the Cumberland River. Here Wilkinson dispatched a letter to Gayoso in which he stated that "the Convention" had adopted "my policy"; he also declared p99 that the question of the navigation of the Mississippi was a matter that would be settled in Madrid, for no Spanish minister was to be near Congress in the future.90 If the Eighth Assembly that met in Danville, July 20, was "the Convention" referred to, its chief work consisted in petitioning Virginia to alter the terms on which Kentucky might change from a district to a state.91 Legislative action of this kind may have been part of Wilkinson's elastic program, but it certainly did not compass the whole of it. Gayoso was far from the theater of affairs, and Wilkinson could easily impose on his ignorance.
Once more in Lexington, Wilkinson could not profit from politics as he had done before. The end of hesitancy and turmoil had almost come. He perceived that Miró was beginning to doubt whether any section of the United States would ever become a part of Spanish domain, a conclusion certainly warranted by the circumstances. During December, 1789, Virginia had enacted the Fourth Enabling Act, which proved wholly acceptable to the Ninth Assembly meeting in the following July. The 1st of June, 1792, was selected as the date when Kentucky's separation should occur. Necessary details were adjusted in a subsequent meeting known as the Tenth Assembly, and the day on which Kentucky was lost to Virginia she became a state of the Union.92
It took no political clairvoyance to forecast in 1790 that this event would happen. Wilkinson knew that he could not continue to interest Miró in their original scheme of winning Kentucky; hence, while attempting other means for continuance of favor, he bent every effort to get what he could from the dispensations that he already enjoyed. He had sent five hundred hogsheads of tobacco to New Orleans the previous year; he now planned to send a thousand. If he were successful the Speedwell account could be liquidated and his personal fortune stabilized. His scheme was to sell the planter's tobacco on commission. They were to assume the hazards and the expense of shipping and were to receive two-thirds of the rise over and above fifteen shillings per hundredweight, the minimum price expected at New Orleans. Wilkinson and Peyton Short, his associate, were to have the other third.93 Miró was importuned to admit all the tobacco that he could in "his Majesty's Store" — a favor that p100 would give Wilkinson a distinct advantage over his competitors and increase the chances of a gratifying profit.94
Wilkinson's finances were in a bad way; he was bending every effort to improve them. The money that he had brought back with him from New Orleans was not nearly enough to meet his personal wants and business obligations. He anxiously waited for the coming of John Ballinger, a messenger of his, from the lower Mississippi. Finally he arrived on Christmas Day, 1789, bringing two muleloadsb of silver.95 The amount was much less than the sum Wilkinson had counted on. The same might be said of his creditors, whose hopes of hard money had been greatly inflated by the rumors that Ballinger had brought more than enough for all. Perhaps some did not even get their proportion; Wilkinson's papers were in confusion. Major Isaac Dunn had been his bookkeeper, and recently he had committed suicide, driven to desperation by the acts of his wife and the state of his finances. His death, as Miró was told, entailed a burden of $10,000 on Wilkinson.96
The estimate was perhaps exaggerated. Wilkinson was appealing to a source from which he expected financial aid, although he realized that efforts to get money from the Spaniards were seldom successful and frequently met with embarrassing investigations. At this very time he was aware that a belief was growing that his dealings with the Spaniards were not honest. To Miró, he confessed:
"I have the best authority to say that my connexion with you is strongly suspected by the Congress, & they have spys [sic] on my motives in this country.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . .
"I am narrowly watched by the servants of General Washington."97
To prevent any disclosures the governor was enjoined to "suffer no American to leave the Province by sea, because that will open a direct correspondence with President Washington who I am satisfied must have a spy in New Orleans."98
Suspected by many persons, Wilkinson took great pains that incriminating letters to and from him should be written only in code. p101 An English pocket dictionary furnished the key; one was sent to Miró with elaborate instructions how to use it. Today the Spanish archives reveal how sense was extracted from an apparent jumble of numbers and letters. Secretaries, doubtless, groaned at the task of decoding and translating the long, verbose communications that the governor received from Wilkinson, who was seldom noted for his brevity. Even though guilty of this failing, he did have the ability to write with spirit, particularly when his interests were at stake. He did not waste words when he wrote to Gayoso on February 6, 1790:
"Let me conjure you to be rigid in exacting the 15 p. c. duty [and] every other charge as it will have a happy effect. But we shall never be able to accomplish any thing very important on the subject of immigration until the present injudicious system is destroyed, & the commercial privileges confined to actual settlers only."99
When his boats were preparing to move southward he wrote again with even more vehemence: "for God's sake cut off the commercial intercourse with this country it utterly destroys all our plans & views, & if not immediately checked may eventually ruin Louisiana."100
In other words, rivals were cutting into a monopoly that Wilkinson wanted to remain unbroken. He tried constantly to show that dispensations for himself and rigorous exactions from others would best promote the interests of Spain. According to his reasoning, enemies were to be created outside of the royal domain so that many loyal subjects would settle within it. Emigrants from a dismembered Union would cross the Mississippi and lay the foundation of empire, furnishing a sturdy bulwark against intrusion of their own kinsmen. Such a miracle might be achieved by using this suggested prescription:
"In any accommodation which may occur the [Spanish] minister should keep his eye steadily to one object, that is to render the treaty as oppressive to this Country as it may be beneficial to the Atlantic Cities; this would cherish the seed of disunion implanted here, excite immigration to Louisiana and support all our plans."101
To what an end Wilkinson might have come, had Kentuckians known that he advocated the most irksome sections of the Jay-Gardoqui treaty that the West detested!
Miró did not subscribe wholly to this program that was inspired by p102 self-aggrandizement. He did not care to surrender any of his power as arbiter of the use of the Mississippi except in accordance with the orders of the Crown. He did not dare disobey them unless he could offer results well justifying his action. Certainly Wilkinson had not done enough for the general good of Louisiana to enjoy special privileges. On the other hand, the governor did not care to be so unbending toward the backwoodsmen that they, alone or in concert with others, would make a trial of strength against the weakened defense of the province.
If Wilkinson and Miró differed on some things, they were in hearty accord when competition from an unexpected quarter threatened the success of their personal schemes. In 1790 the United States government attempted to establish a satisfactory overland route from Kentucky to New Orleans. Wilkinson learned of the plan, and wrote Miró to set the Creeks on the makers of this new line of communication. Soon the members of Major Doughty's reconnoitering party were attacked, and a few of them had need of the shrouds that had been carried along for gifts to the Indians.102 The major, a Revolutionary friend of Wilkinson, escaped, and consequently the Northwest was blessed with the Doughty peach instead of the South with a Doughty Highway. Discouraged by this initial failure, the government lost interest in a road to New Orleans.
Those who would go South with slaves and chattels found travel by the Mississippi the only satisfactory route, no matter how disagreeable the Spaniards and their regulations might be. There were many immigrants, for in 1788 Spain had made much easier the conditions of settlement.103 Wilkinson learned about those going from Kentucky and often gave them personal letters of introduction to Miró; it was understood that, unless the governor received a private communication at the same time, the bearer was not to be seriously considered. Many besought Wilkinson for the open sesame. Ezekiel Forman with his thirteen children and sixty-five slaves and other dependents wanted to settle near Natchez; one James Walsh was eager to start a "manufactory" of cotton, hemp, and flax; and one Forde had invented a steamboat and was ready to build a working model of it at New Orleans. Such were a few of the prospective settlers of Louisiana.104
p103 Spain wanted to know about these individuals who were filtering into her domain; but she was more interested in Wilkinson's confidential information concerning the great land companies that were working to acquire magnificent holdings on the lower Mississippi for extensive colonization. In method these companies were none too squeamish; they might easily prove themselves troublesome to their neighbors; and servants of the Crown were inclined to look askance and shrug their shoulders when the names of these real estate pirates were mentioned.
The South Carolina Yazoo Company was true to type. Wilkinson first heard of it in the early spring of 1789 when he was preparing to leave for New Orleans. Thomas Washington, a Charleston promoter of dubious honesty, wrote and told him that he and others had purchased •some 3,000,000 acres near the mouth of the Yazoo River from the Choctaw Indians; they believed that Georgia would give title for £100,000, and that a part of this amount might be paid in public securities. Wilkinson was asked to join in the venture.105 Thinking that some connection with it might be personally profitable, he quickly replied, outlining a few of the requisites of success. He felt sure that several men of "talent and sagacity" ought be selected to act as agents; he suggested that he was well qualified to treat with Miró.106 After offering his services for this purpose, he wrote to Miró, declaring that the Yazoo settlements might be annexed easily to his Majesty's domain and the leader of the whole project delivered into his hands.107 The governor evinced no enthusiasm; he asked Wilkinson to make plain to the promoters that any settlement on the lands contemplated would be considered as an act of hostility. Wilkinson suggested that capital be made of the company's "Needy adventurers and Gentlemen of Rank," provided they settled as "aliens of Congress" and "close auxiliaries of Spain" — a condition that the directors, as he said, had willingly accepted. He therefore advised Miró to seize this glorious opportunity to show the King "your zeal for his interest and your ability to serve him."108 Turning disgruntled Americans into presumably loyal subjects of Spain was a piece of political magic p104 of which nobody except Wilkinson would have had the temerity to boast. Beside fathering this miracle, he further declared that he had prevented a settlement at Walnut Hills, an act that would have been dynamic with trouble. In his process of effort he had spared neither himself nor his purse; he therefore wanted a loan of $10,000 to sustain his dwindling finances.109 Miró did not yield to his devious reasoning or pay immediate attention to his venal request; his opposition to the South Carolina Yazoo Company was as unyielding as before.
Thereupon Wilkinson changed his tack, and bent his efforts to ruin the organization. He advised Miró that St. Clair, Governor of the Northwest Territory, had no relish for the plans of these real estate swindlers, for he wanted immigration into the lands north, not south of the Ohio, and was therefore hoping that Spain would incite the Indians against the Yazoo settlers and the United States would wink at this piece of scurvy trickery.110 To meet any such situation James O'Fallon, the company's western representative, proclaimed that he and his associates were entirely prepared; he glibly talked of two thousand settlers, and half that number of accompanying troops made up of all branches of the service.111 His blatant threat to Spain disturbed Miró, who had no desire for belligerent immigrants, especially when relations between England and the United States were critical, and he made redoubled efforts to resist their intrusion.
By this time Wilkinson had a very personal reason for actively helping to accomplish O'Fallon's ruin. From John Brown, member of Congress, he learned that an embarrassing story was being circulated in the East; it declared that "an influential American has been engaged in trade to New Orleans and now acts the part of secret Agent for Spain in Kentucky and is employed by that Court through Miró for the purpose of effecting a separation of Kentucky from the Union." This interesting bit of news originated in a thirty-page letter that O'Fallon had written to President Washington on September 30, 1790.112 Wilkinson knew that he was the one described. In an outburst of anger, he swore to hang O'Fallon, that "son of Lucifer," on tenterhooks; he would ruin that renegade "whose voice was like unto the roaring of a lion and whose uplifted arm was like the Thunder p105 of Jove"; he would rid himself of that hack of a doctor whose conduct was "consecrated to villainies of the blackest dye," and who had been guilty of "transcendent turpitude" while under his own roof, "cherished by his family" and professing attachment "to him and his interests."113 Wilkinson was getting a bit of his own medicine in something larger than homeopathic doses.
Wishing to get O'Fallon out of the neighborhood before he learned anything more, Wilkinson wrote him an anonymous letter. It informed him that while Congress was considering his September letter to the President, another written by him to Miró on July 16 had been introduced. As a result of the second, Congress had directed the president to issue a warrant for his arrest, and John Brown was hourly expected with full authority to carry it out.114 Not so easily duped, O'Fallon wrote to Wilkinson asking him to inform the author of the anonymous letter that no decision had been reached on the "expediency or inexpediency of the advice." He also remarked that "much must come out of" the investigation before Congress.115 In other directions Wilkinson succeeded better. He had one of his henchmen insinuate himself into the company and bring about the protesting of one of O'Fallon's bills at Charleston. The artifice was deeply embarrassing to O'Fallon, strutting about in fine feathers with his newly acquired bride — no less than the fifteen-year‑old sister of General George Rogers Clark.116 Life became more complicated for him when the federal government, on learning of the company's warlike preparations for taking forceful possession of Spanish territory, issued a proclamation warning all those involved to desist.117 Preparations dwindled away, and before long the South Carolina Yazoo Company was just another great real estate venture that had failed. O'Fallon sank into insignificance, and Thomas Washington was later hanged as a counterfeiter.
Wilkinson's part in the whole affair had a definite motive; he wanted pay for his services. His finances were in a bad way, and he hoped Miró would come to his rescue. His latest speculation in tobacco during 1790 had failed to recoup his blasted fortune or still the demands of his creditors. It had been undertaken with several associates p106 and had been dogged with misfortune from the very beginning. One of their boats sprang a leak and sank. Three others grounded in the Kentucky River and could not start out in June with the rest. From New Orleans came word that only 262,000 pounds had passed the royal inspection, out of 551,000 sent; 40,000 was still to arrive. Contingent expenses proved nearly the same as if all the tobacco had been profitably sold. In the end, Wilkinson found himself six thousand dollars in debt during the winter of 1790‑1791. In this dilemma he wrote a circular letter to his creditors, asking them to refrain temporarily from pressing their claims.118
Miró's anger added to the burden of adversity. He was vexed because excessive tobacco shipments had flooded the market and because Wilkinson's business transactions were not in harmony with ideas set forth in his "Memorials." He, therefore, advised Wilkinson to leave off his mercantile operations and to devote himself exclusively to the interests of Spain, suggestively adding that in her service would be found abundant reward.119 Miró had the acuteness to realize that Wilkinson would never become important through trade, and that his efforts to become the "Willing of the West" would only mar his usefulness as an agent of the Crown.
In spite of the governor's advice and his own previous failure, Wilkinson, in 1791, made one more effort to ship tobacco to New Orleans. His companion in the enterprise was Hugh McIlvaine, whose name was to cover the first one hundred and eighty hogsheads, as well as others, that were to be shipped down the river. In this way Wilkinson would appear not to run counter to the wishes of Miró. According to the articles of agreement, McIlvaine was to receive the tobacco in New Orleans and there make a sale of it; while Wilkinson was to assume all the risk and receive a big slice of the profit. There was money to be made if the Spaniards could be brought around by some "political molasses." Miró was about ready to leave for Spain; the incoming governor might prove to be less experienced, and might succumb to the tactics of these two confederates. Nolan also was in New Orleans to help them, particularly to protect his patron's interests against McIlvaine's sharpness. But again Wilkinson's schemes failed; the p107 last great speculation in some 400,000 pounds of tobacco proved disastrous.120
By this time Wilkinson was near the brink of ruin. To be sure, Miró had advanced him $7,000 in 1790 with the understanding that it would be repaid in case the Court would not agree to credit it as pension.121 Even this amount was not enough to meet his mounting obligations. During the winter of 1791 he tried to dispose of his Frankfort estates. Finally a certain Andrew Holmes proved a purchaser, and the proceeds were largely used to satisfy the claims of insistent creditors.122 Wilkinson was eager to close out his business interests as soon as possible, so that he might leave Kentucky with a good name for honesty and fair dealing. On October 22, he had been commissioned as lieutenant-commandant of the 2d United States Infantry, and he knew that he would soon be ordered to Fort Washington for duty.123
To his friend Judge Innes he entrusted the liquidation of his affairs, and to him he wrote:
"I pray you, my friend, to say that I have left (if you think as I do) sufficiently property to discharge my debts and that I am determined to do this at any sacrifice.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . .
"I think it will be most proper for you to advertise for my debts, and direct my debtors to make payment. There is much confusion in my books and papers, but yet under such an explanation as I can give, justice may be done."124
Wilkinson's creditors were to be satisfied. His lands were put on the market; carriages, horses, oxen, mules, the old family phaeton, and a lot of odds and ends were ordered sold. Harassed as he was, he still made effort to show himself a "man of honor," even if he had failed in commerce and trade.
Though Wilkinson could vision the pathway to great riches, what he actually beheld was in a darkened light and without sharpness of detail. Only in his political relations was he ever able to follow successfully p108 a tortuous and ill defined course. Constantly occupied with a wide variety of interests, he could not concentrate his energies on the tasks of a merchant, and so he stumbled in pitfalls that a more careful person might have avoided. His mind was not accurate or deep enough to give precision to the preparation and execution of plans. Unwilling to go through the grinding toil of money grubbing, he still wanted to cut a smart, gay figure in the world of opulence; often he flung his dollars about in abandon, creating for himself a momentary paradise of illusion. His trait was very human and made for friends, but it was contrary to successful business and a long continued confidence of the public.
As a politician he was clever, ambitious, and always engaging. He did not suffer from the Puritan handicaps of exact honesty and bigoted piety; with pleasing habits of manner and mind he could fit himself nicely into an environment peopled with Spanish officials. Where the defense of Louisiana against the rapidly increasing Anglo-Saxon population was difficult, where there was neither money nor means to defend the colony, the Spaniards turned to the indirect methods that they had long practiced. Wilkinson was paid to help; more frequently he helped himself and the United States. He intrigued, sometimes with, often against Spain, and masterfully, for the furtherance of his own interests.
For several years he had harped loudly on conspiracy in Kentucky and the district's rapprochement with Spain. When Miró realized that Kentucky was destined to become a state, when the profits from tobacco had begun to dwindle, Wilkinson changed his tactics and grew boisterous about dangerous emigrants and filibustering expeditions from the upcountry. Whether he chose these or other subjects, they were all vibrant with meaning to the Spaniards; and, in proportion to their fears, they paid him well. From them he gained a pension and perquisites.
Kentuckians, however, were the chief beneficiaries of the deceptive schemes that he practiced from 1784 to 1791. He opened their eyes to the value of New Orleans trade. Others had preceded him down the Mississippi but none had ever returned with loads of Spanish dollars to distribute among the men of the backwoods. Hard money was what they needed to pay onerous federal taxes and buy the luxuries of the East that they coveted — money that the Spaniards supplied under Wilkinson's aegis in exchange for tobacco, tallow, hams, p109 and beef. Such trade, according to one estimate, was worth $3,500,000 annually to growers of Kentucky tobacco alone.125 The farmers, no longer confined to a local market, were able to extend the range of their planting and, from the sale of their surplus, to enjoy prosperity.126 When once they had tasted of it, they were more unwilling than ever to surrender the navigation of the Mississippi in return for the benefits that the Spaniards offered their kinsmen along the Atlantic seaboard. When the federal government threatened to ratify such a one-sided treaty, Kentuckians were incensed at the sacrifice of their interests. Wilkinson fed their anger and so directed their efforts that the East grew fearful that they might withdraw from the Union. Partly to prevent such an event the government insisted on free navigation of the Mississippi; and the Spaniards, ever mindful of the fears that Wilkinson had helped to arouse, thought it best to grant this privilege in 1795, before it might be wrested from them. In these antecedents of the treaty of San Lorenzo, Wilkinson played a determining rôle, which, contrary to his expectations, had helped more the general good of his countrymen than his own personal fortune. He was not a genuine but a fortuitous patriot.
1 Christian, James Wilkinson and Kentucky Separatism, 1784‑1798, 1‑7; Alexander Breckinridge to John Breckinridge, Mar. 4, 1784, Breckinridge Papers, Vol. II.
2 To Shiell, July 4, 1784, in Ky. State Hist. Society Register, XXIV (1926), 260.
3 Marshall, The History of Kentucky (1824 ed.), I, 165.
4 To Shiell, July 4, 1784, in Ky. State Hist. Society Register, XXIV, 259‑260.
5 To Shiell, March 31, 1785, in Ibid., 265‑266.
6 To Shiell, in Ibid., 262.
7 To Hutchinson, June 20, 1785, in Pa. Mag. of Hist. and Biog., Apr., 1888, pp56‑61.
8 To Miró, May 24, 1790, A. G. I., Seville, Papeles de Cuba, leg. 2374.
9 To Shiell, July 20, 1784, in Ky. State Hist. Society Register, XXIV, 262, and Innes Papers (Library of Congress), Vol. XXIII, passim.
10 Hay, "Letters of Mrs. Ann Biddle Wilkinson from Kentucky," in Pa. Mag. of Hist. and Biog., LVI, 35‑36.
11 McElroy, Kentucky in the Nation's History, 117‑118.
12 Ibid., 118‑125; Littell, "Political Transactions in and Concerning Kentucky," in Filson Club Publications, No. 31, pp62‑66.
13 McElroy, op. cit., 125‑130.
14 To Hutchinson, Aug. 16, 1786, in Pa. Mag. of Hist. and Biog., XII, 64.
15 Marshall, op. cit., II, 243.
16 Marshall, op. cit., I, 244‑245.
17 Bodley, "Introduction" to Filson Club Publications, No. 31, p. xii.
18 McElroy, op. cit., 134.
20 From 1797 to 1801, the freight rate on government supplies from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh was six to seven cents a pound. Possibly before then it was somewhat higher. Expenditures for the Military and Naval Establishments by the Quarter-Master and Navy Agents, 1797‑1801. Passim.
22 Ibid., 91‑93.
23 Ibid., 86.
24 Ibid., 94‑96.
25 Appleton's Cyclopaedia of American Biography, VI, 511.
26 Miró to Valdez, Sept. 25, 1787, A. G. I., Estado, leg. 16.
27 Fortier, History of Louisiana, II, 119.
29 For data on Miró, see Dictionary of American Biography, XIII, 35.
31 M. de Villars to General and Intendant of Santo Domingo, Sept. 26, 1787, in Whitaker, "James Wilkinson's First Descent to New Orleans in 1787," Hispanic American Historical Review, VIII, 97.
32 Filson Club Publication, No. 31, pp. cxix‑cxxxvii.
33 Wilkinson, Memoirs, Vol. II, Appendix, Deposition VI; Clark, Proofs, Appendix, Note 1; Whitaker, The Mississippi Question, 33.
34 Wilkinson to Innes (no date), in Verhoeff, The Kentucky River Navigation (Filson Club Publications, No. 28), 224.
35 For declaration, see Filson Club Publications, No. 31, pp. ccxxvii‑cxxxix.
36 To Don Andrés, Aug. 1, 1787, A. G. I., Seville, Papeles de Cuba, leg. 2373.
37 To Miró, Sept. 16, 1787, A. G. I., Seville, Papeles de Cuba, leg. 2373.
38 To Miró, Sept. 16, 20, 1787, Mar. 16, 1788, A. G. I., Seville, Papeles de Cuba.
39 Bodley, "Introduction" to Filson Club Publications, No. 31, p. xliv.
40 To St. Clair, July 4, 1787, Northwest Territory Papers, L. C.
41 Clark, Proofs, Notes, 27, 28.
42 To Miró, Mar. 16, 1788, A. G. I., Seville, Papeles de Cuba, leg. 2373; Christian, James Wilkinson and Kentucky Separatism, 1784‑1798, 122‑126.
43 Hay, "Letters of Mrs. Ann Biddle Wilkinson from Kentucky," Pa. Mag. of Hist. and Biog., LVI, 33‑55, passim.
44 McElroy, Kentucky in the Nation's History, 133; Wilkinson, Memoirs, II, 115‑116.
45 Deposition of Richard Thomas, Aug. 3, 1812, Innes Papers, Vol. XXII.
46 To Miró, Mar. 16 (?), 1788, A. G. I., Seville, Papeles de Cuba, leg. 2373.
47 Statement of Joshua Barbee, Innes Papers, Vol. XXII.
48 Miró to Wilkinson, Apr. 11, 1788, A. G. I., Seville, Papeles de Cuba, leg. 2373.
49 Dunn to Wilkinson, June 15, 1788, Wilkinson Papers, Vol. I, Chicago Historical Soc.
50 To Miró, May 15, 1788, Pontalba Papers, No. 10; extracts in Fortier, A History of Louisiana, II, 134‑136.
51 Miró to Wilkinson, Aug. 6, 1788, A. G. I., Seville, Papeles de Cuba, leg. 2373.
52 Miró to Wilkinson, Apr. 11, 1788, Ibid.
53 Miró to Wilkinson, Aug. 6, 1788, Ibid.
54 Clark, Proofs, Notes, 55.
55 Amer. State Papers, Miscel., II, 123‑124.
56 Clark, Proofs, Notes, 30, and Inventory of the Speedwell, A. G. I., Seville, Papeles de Cuba, leg. 2373.
58 Petition of Wilkinson and others to Gardoqui, Jan. 15, 1789, Gardoqui Papers.
60 To Miró (undated), A. G. I., Seville, Papeles de Cuba, leg. 2374.
61 McElroy, Kentucky in the Nation's History, 136‑138.
62 Bodley, "Introduction" to Filson Club Publications, No. 31, p. lii.
63 To Miró, Feb. 12, 1789, A. G. I., Seville, Papeles de Cuba, leg. 2373.
64 Enclosure in a letter of Dorchester to Sidney, Apr. 11, 1789, Canadian Archives, Colonial Office Records, Series A, XLI, 283, printed in Brown, The Political Beginnings of Kentucky, 245‑246.
65 For the proceedings of the Seventh Assembly, see McElroy, op. cit., 138‑141.
67 To Gardoqui, Jan. 1, 1789, in Fortier, A History of Louisiana, II, 141‑142.
68 For these articles see Miró to Wilkinson, Aug. 6, 1788, A. G. I., Seville, Papeles de Cuba, leg. 2373.
69 McElroy, op. cit., 142‑144.
72 James, The Life of George Rogers Clark, 396‑397.
73 American Museum, V, 209.
74 To Gayoso, July, 1789, A. G. I., Seville, Papeles de Cuba, leg. 2373.
76 Saville, loc. cit.
77 To Miró, Feb. 12, 1789. A. G. I., Seville, Papeles de Cuba, leg. 2373.
78 Clark, Proofs, 33, and Notes, 28.
79 Ibid., Notes, 32.
80 Amer. State Papers, Miscel., II, 123‑124.
81 Clark, Proofs, 33‑37, and Notes, 30 and 31.
82 Shepherd, "Papers Bearing on Wilkinson's Relation with Spain (1787‑1789)," in Amer. Hist. Rev., IX, 748‑766.
85 To Gayoso, Aug. 5, 22, 1789, A. G. I., Seville, Papeles de Cuba, leg. 2373.
86 To Gayoso, Oct. 12, 1789, Ibid.
87 Brown, History of Texas, I, 38‑41.
88 Deposition of Evan Jones, Amer. State Papers, Misc., vol. 2, p81; Clark, Proofs, Notes, 6.
89 To Miró, May 25, 1790, A. G. I., Seville, Papeles de Cuba, leg. 2373.
90 To Gayoso, Nov. 10 (?), 1789, Ibid.
91 Littell, "Political Transactions in and Concerning Kentucky," in Filson Club Publications, No. 31, 109‑110.
92 McElroy, op. cit., 143‑146.
93 Wilkinson and Short to Planters of Kentucky, Dec. 19, 1789, Durrett Collection, Univ. of Chicago.
94 To Miró, Apr. 30, 1790, N. A. C., Papeles de Cuba, leg. 2.
95 Deposition of John Ballinger, in Clark, Proofs, Notes, 6.
96 To Miró, May 2, 1790, A. G. I., Seville, Papeles de Cuba, leg. 2374; Kentucky Gazette, June 27, 1789.
97 To Miró, Jan. 26, 1790, A. G. I., Seville, Papeles de Cuba, leg. 2374.
98 To Miró, April 3, 1790, Ibid.
99 To Gayoso, Feb. 6, 1790, Ibid.
100 To Miró (?), undated, Ibid.
101 To Miró, (undated), Ibid.
102 To Miró, Feb. 4, 1790, Ibid.
104 To Miró, Feb. 22, Apr. 18, 19, Dec. 17, A. G. I., Seville, Papeles de Cuba, leg. 2374.
105 Washington to Wilkinson, Feb. 21, 1789, A. G. I., Seville, Papeles de Cuba, leg. 2373.
106 To Moultrie, Huger, and others, Jan. 4, 1790, A. G. I., Seville, Papeles de Cuba, leg. 2374.
107 To Miró, Jan. 20, 1790, Ibid.
108 To Miró, May 20, 1790, Ibid.
109 To Miró, May 4, 1790, Ibid.
110 To Miró, July 2, 1790, Ibid.
111 Kentucky Gazette, Feb. 26, 1791; James, The Life of George Rogers Clark, 404.
112 Brown to Wilkinson, Feb. 10, 1791, A. G. I., Seville, Papeles de Cuba, leg. 2374.
113 To Gayoso, Feb. 24, and Miró, Mar. 19, 1791, Ibid.
114 To O'Fallon, Mar. 31, 1791, Ibid.
115 O'Fallon to Wilkinson, Apr. 10, 1791, Ibid.
116 To Miró, Mar. 17, 1791, Ibid.
117 Haskins, "The Yazoo Land Company," in Amer. Hist. Assn. Papers, V, 395‑437.
118 Wilkinson to Rees and Clark, May 20, June 20, 1790, Amer. State Papers, Miscel., II, 121‑122; Miró to Wilkinson, Sept. 2, 1790, A. G. I., Seville, Papeles de Cuba, leg. 2374; Wilkinson to La Cassagne, Jan. 20, 1791, Durrett Collection, Univ. of Chicago.
119 Miró to Wilkinson, Sept. 2, 1790, A. G. I., Seville, Papeles de Cuba, leg. 2374.
120 Agreement between Wilkinson and McIlvaine, Mar. 17, 1791, Innes Papers, Vol. XXIII; Wilkinson to Short, Dec. 15, 1791, Innes Papers, Vol. XXIII.
121 Miró to Wilkinson, Sept. 2, 1790, A. G. I., Seville, Papeles de Cuba, leg. 2374.
122 To Short, Dec. 15, 1791, and Articles of Agreement between Wilkinson and Short, Jan. 28, 1792, Innes Papers, Vol. XXIII.
123 Heitman, Historical Register and Dictionary of the United States Army, II, 1037.
124 To Innes, Feb. 29, 1792, Innes Papers, Vol. XXIII.
125 McDougall MS. in Lexington, Ky., Library.
126 Verhoeff, The Kentucky River Navigation, 270.
a Wilkinson, by settling there, is often credited with having founded the town of Frankfort; he owned much of the land, subdivided it, and named its streets, including Wilkinson Street after himself. His actual house, though, a wooden structure — but not a "log cabin" as read in various places online — was demolished sometime after 1868. According to William H. Averill, A History of the First Presbyterian Church, Frankfort, Kentucky (1901), pp267‑278: Appendix, "The Love House":
The "Love House," or "Love Tavern," as it was sometimes called in the early years of the town, was the first building erected in Frankfort. It was built by General James Wilkinson in 1786, when he laid out the town, and was intended for his own occupation and use. When he left Frankfort, in 1791, to re-enter the United States Army, the property passed into the hands of Mr. Andrew Holmes, by whom it was held until it was sold by General Wilkinson, in 1797, to Major Thomas Love, of the United States Army, who served under General Charles Scott (afterwards Governor of Kentucky), in Wayne's campaign in 1793. Mr. Andrew Holmes was one of the public-spirited citizens of the town, and took an active and leading part in the negotiations with the State, which ultimately secured the location of the Capital at Frankfort, acting as the representative of his fellow citizens, and signing the agreements made with the Commissioners of the State. One of the stipulations was the free use of this building by the State for the accommodation of the Legislature; and it was so used, that body occupying it from 1793 until the completion of the first Capitol building. The place continued to be used as an "Inn" even after the death of Major Thomas Love, which occurred in 1809. [. . .] the property was sold in 1868, and the old building gave place to a modern structure. For nearly a hundred years this house withstood the ravages of time, and when removed, so sound were its massive timbers and so well joined in construction under its well-worn and furred sheathing, that it was an object of interest and wonder to all beholders.
The oldest extant house on Wilkinson's land in downtown Frankfort is one that Wilkinson would have known well: Senator John Brown, mentioned a bit further on in the text as a working acquaintance of Wilkinson's, built it in 1796:
John Brown's house, also known as Liberty Hall (see its website).
b For most of us, this isn't as informative as it could be. Fortunately, quadrupeds carrying silver is a sort of leitmotiv onsite, in part thanks to Wilkinson himself: about 15 years later we will hear of more specie-laden mules. For an idea of the weight and value of the silver a mule might carry, see our hero's grandson in Louisiana Historical Quarterly, Vol. I, No. 2, p116; but his estimate is not too good, and required correction in my footnote there with its further link. Along the way you will read Plutarch on the Roman triumph of Lucullus in the 1c B.C., and a U. S. Army expert on the Burma Campaign in World War II. Once you've followed all that, the short answer here is that Ballinger's two mules carried a total of something very near $4,800 in money of the time, say about $65,000 in today's money (according to Morgan Friedman's Inflation Calculator).
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