Wilkinson's business transactions in New Orleans, when conducted on an equal footing with competitors, had proved neither remunerative nor especially suited to his taste. In that murky underworld of Spanish politics and commercial bootlegging into which he had adventured, his more powerful rivals were nullifying his best efforts. By 1790 stark bankruptcy impended. His prospects, but recently so verdant, had withered until there remained only his rather dubious claim to a two‑thousand-dollar pension from the Spanish authorities. If he were to remain on the Castilian pay roll, he had to impress the dons with his undiminished influence with the solons at New York and Philadelphia. Looking to his friends, he was encouraged by the example of those whom he perceived to be enjoying the fruits of federal office while at the same time they diligently and profitably tilled the fields they had secretly sown. Once again in the government service, he himself might cut an important figure in the West, keep his name untarnished, and still retain what was profitable in the Spanish connection.1
Wilkinson's honest faith in his talents as a military genius suffered no diminution when he doffed the uniform. His rapid rise during the Revolution had convinced him that opportunity was his only need. When, in 1790, war seemed imminent between England and Spain, he wrote to Miró from Kentucky, urging him to authorize the enlistment of a thousand American riflemen who were to be commanded by ex-Revolutionary officers and employed in defense of Spanish Louisiana.2 Although the expected clash failed to materialize, it was still possible to fall back on the ever-present Indians as available p111 opponents. Exception would, of course, have to be made in the case of the Creeks in the Southwest. They were enemies of the United States but allies of Spain. Therefore a Spanish agent had better win a military reputation by fighting others.3 In the Northwest lay his opportunity. Here existed a chronic state of savage warfare that Wilkinson urged should be ended. Frontiersmen held a similar opinion; they hailed with delight a foray against their old enemies, especially when it was financed with federal funds. The fact that the Indians would be aroused to greater activity, and the President embarrassed in his future negotiations, cast no shadow on the Roman holiday that Wilkinson planned for himself and his followers. His own reputation had to be enhanced, and the government's efforts employed where Spanish interests would not be jeopardized.
To issue his program, Wilkinson wrote to General Josiah Harmar, then ranking federal officer in the Northwest, asking for advice and aid against the Indians who were attacking boats near the mouth of the Scioto. Hundreds of immigrants were sweeping down the Ohio in flatboats, bringing all their household effects, as well as a great deal of merchandise to barter or sell. On these hardy pioneers the Indians levied a heavy toll of scalps and booty. And the forty-three hundred Americans who were already scattered in lonely groups on the lands north of the Ohio often saw their cabins burned to the ground and their women and children brutally murdered.
By the summer of 1790, Washington had decided upon a more militant policy in the Northwest. General Harmar was selected to lead a punitive expedition against the Miamis. Though brave and competent during the days of the Revolution, he never understood the ways of the savages or the frontier. During the last week of September a force of 1,453 men set out from Fort Washington under his command. The Indians fell back before his advance without making resistance. He destroyed five villages, burning log houses, wigwams, and many acres of ripening corn. Incensed by the loss of their food and shelter for the winter, the Indians attacked an isolated detachment of Harmar's force, completely routing it. A few of its 320 regulars showed that they knew how to die, but the militia demonstrated that they were cowardly and could not be trusted. The whole campaign was just another sorry exhibition of incompetence. Harmar made what explanations he could to a board of inquiry and p112 was given in turn a few daubs of whitewash.4 Its members may have believed that his failure was due to the "ignorance, imbecility, insubordination and want of equipment of the militia"5 rather than to his own lack of capacity.
Wilkinson's moment had evidently arrived. Bravely he piped that "the voice of all ranks called him" to lead a thousand volunteers on a punitive expedition without further delay. "All obstacles," he said, "arising from the inclemency of the season, from Frost, from Ice & Snow, from deep and Rapid Rivers," would yield to his transcendent powers of leadership.6 As the winter wore on, however, his ardor appears to have cooled. Certain matters at first regarded as insignificant became portentous. Congress evinced only slight enthusiasm in support of his proposals. He wrote that the command was actually offered to him; but when the time came to accept or decline he obeyed the dictates of prudence and refused it.7
Charles Scott, a former brigadier-general of the Continental Army, and lately a member of the Virginia Legislature, accepted the appointment as a four‑dollar-a‑day brigadier to command the expedition. Wilkinson went along as second-in‑command. On the 19th of May, 1791, they assembled eight hundred one-month volunteers at the mouth of the Kentucky River. Four days later they crossed the Ohio on their way to the Wabash country. Before many days Wilkinson had a brush with the Indians, his battalion shooting up five canoe loads of refugees from a village that Scott had attacked. Ordered to search for a reputed river crossing, and to round up the fugitive savages on the far side, he met with no success. On June 2 he retraced his steps and started during the morning with a detachment to capture the village of Kethtipecanuck on Eel Creek. Unimpressed by the melodious name of the place, his volunteers committed it to the flames, and joyously slaughtered any of the fleeing inhabitants they could catch. On the third day, highly satisfied with his accomplishments, the colonel returned to headquarters to report what he had done.
In such touch-and‑go methods both Wilkinson and his men delighted. By the end of June the volunteers were back in Kentucky, p113 eager to spread the word of their prowess on campaign.8 Scott wrote handsomely of his second-in‑command's efficiency, and Wilkinson spoke very well for himself. He told of the villages he had burned, of the acres and acres of growing corn that he had destroyed, and mentioned with favorable emphasis the thirty-two warriors he had slain, "chiefly of size and figure." He numbered among his captives the Indian Queen Thunderstruck, her daughters the Princesses Speckled Loon, Swift Waves, and Clearwater, with fifty-four others of lesser rank. Among the prisoners whose origin was unmarked by distinction were certain aboriginal ladies known as Striped Huzzey, Eat-all, and Beaver Girl.9 Additional satisfaction was to be derived from the very moderate cost of the expedition. Only about twenty thousand dollars of federal funds had been expended, and the casualties mounted to a total of five men wounded.10
Colonel Wilkinson assumed that his apprenticeship as an Indian fighter had been honorably concluded. He was ready for independent service. St. Clair was urging another punitive expedition; the Kentucky Committee agreed and selected Wilkinson to command it.11 He gathered five hundred and thirty-two rank and file at Fort Washington and started with them for L'Anguille, a village •about one hundred miles distant. August 1 was the date of their departure; within twenty days they had destroyed the village named as their objective, cut down •four hundred and thirty acres of corn, and taken a few prisoners. They might have done even more, according to Wilkinson's report, if his men had not wearied and the horses become foot-sore while floundering in mud and swamps for •four hundred and fifty-one miles.12 The raid had no decisive effect other than to arouse the exasperated Indians to greater violence. But Wilkinson had added materially to the kind of reputation that made for preferment.
The Secretary of War, Henry Knox, flatteringly acknowledged his services. Said he: "I have, by this post, instructed Major General St. Clair to thank [you], if he had not already performed that pleasing duty, in the name of the President of the United States, for the zeal, perseverance and good conduct manifested by you in the Command of the expedition, and for the humanity observed towards p114 the prisoners whom you captured; and also to thank the officers and privates of volunteers, for their activity and bravery while under your command; and to express the hope that you and they may enjoy in future, entire peace, as a reward for your services."13
Wilkinson saw that the situation was developing according to his estimate. As early as the 14th of April he knew that a considerable force was to be led against the savages by General St. Clair, his former Revolutionary commander, now governor of the Northwest Territory. Influential Kentuckians disapproved of St. Clair's selection. They said he had no proper appreciation of their needs, nor did he possess the knowledge and experience to fit him for Indian warfare. Why, they protested, remove the conduct of the operations from Kentuckian control? Why employ improvised regulars instead of expending good federal money on good Kentucky volunteers?14 Wilkinson himself shied at the notion of taking any part in the expedition. He felt "damn skittish" when his own reputation was at stake and might be injured through the fault of others. Harmar's record had been blighted; Scott was little more than a voluble politician, and should St. Clair fail it was reasonable to suppose that the government would see in Colonel Wilkinson the man of promise.
On October 22, 1791, recognition was accorded his services. The President appointed him "Lieutenant Colonel Commandant" of the Second United States Infantry.15 Wilkinson attributed this honor to his influence in Kentucky and to the relative success of his campaign against the Indians.16 There is no doubt that he had a numerous following in the blue-grass country and the administration coveted its favor. Judge John C. Symmes thought that a better choice would have been hard to make; Wilkinson seemed to him peculiarly well fitted for such a commission:
"I take him to be a temperate man of considerable talents. He has youth, activity, ambassador, bravery of clear understanding, and ever since I have been in this country, he has always intimated to me that a military life was what he was anxious to attain to. He has one advantage beyond many other men who might be appointed to the command in this country. In him are found those talents which will render him agreeable to the regular troops, and at the same time that his p115 familiar address and politeness render him very pleasing to the militia of Kentucky by whom he is much respected and loved, and on this body of militia the United States must very much depend in their future operations against the Indians; they are nigh at hand, and they are mostly riflemen."17
Wilkinson's Commission as Lieutenant Colonel.
Courtesy of the Library of Johns Hopkins University.
Modesty did not deter the newly appointed lieutenant-colonel from believing and repeating to his friends the opinions of the judge. To some of them he secretly confessed that there might be another interesting reason for his selection. It might have been made in order to separate him from his pursuits in New Orleans.18 As a government agent he would come under the surveillance of the "Father of his Country." And his knowledge of the devious ways of the Spaniards might well prove priceless to President and his colleagues, struggling as they were to unravel a tangled skein of affairs at home and abroad. Perhaps some of Wilkinson's supporters indicated to the powers that were, what a help he might be in solving diplomatic riddles. Washington may have listened to their suggestions and determined not to separate him from those mysterious "pursuits in New Orleans." It was conceivable that he might prove more useful as a sort of federal stool-pigeon.
In accepting his commission on the 5th of November, 1791, Wilkinson was required to subscribe to the following oath:
"I do solemnly swear to bear true allegiance to the United States of America, and to serve them honestly and faithfully, against all their enemies or opposers whomsoever, and to observe and obey the orders of the President of the United States of America, and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to the articles of war."19
Wilkinson was a presumptive subject and an actual pensioner of the Spanish Crown, but he did not hesitate to take this oath. He entered the service, as he says, because his need for "Bread and Fame" was great.20 He knew that the Spaniards paid well and they would appreciate him more as an army officer. To ingratiate himself with Carondelet, he wrote to him in December, 1792, bidding him make use of the opportunity offered by an "incompetent Secretary of War," "an ignorant commander in chief," and a "contemptible" p116 Union.21 And this advice was given after he had been raised to a brigadier's rank and was junior in the service only to Wayne. In December, 1791, he had written to Miró, giving conventional reasons for becoming an officer and hinting of his rapid rise. "My private interests," he explains, "the Duty which I owe to the Country I live in, & the aggrandizement of my family have determined me to accept the appointment, & it is most probable, as soon as St. Clair is known of that I shall be promoted the chief command."22
General Anthony Wayne
Courtesy of the Librarian, Alexander J. Wall.
The resentment against St. Clair had been rapidly growing. His task was to perform not only the duties of governor of the Northwest Territory but those incident to his position as commanding general of United States troops north of the Ohio. The frontiersmen were "disgusted & inflamed" because St. Clair had been selected to lead them against the savages. They were not confident of victory with him; they bitterly assailed the policy of the federal government that had made him their principal defender. Wilkinson wrote to Miró, declaring that he would capitalize this division of opinion for his own and the Spaniards' benefit.23
In 1791 St. Clair's military reputation received its coup de grâce. During the fall of the same year he started out with a motley collection of untrained troops to punish the Indians in northwestern Ohio. By October they had reached the neighborhood of Fort Jefferson and were heading for the Maumee country. Progress was extremely slow. In ten days his men had covered only •twenty-nine miles. St. Clair was afflicted with gout and burdened with years; weakened with colic and asthma he lacked the physical power to command. His men were sick and ignorant, poorly fed and clothed, and the trail over which they marched was rough and swept by a cutting wind.
On the 3rd of November the army reached a branch of the Wabash River, near the site of the present city of Fort Wayne, Indiana. It was bitterly cold, and the bedraggled troops, utterly exhausted and with their morale at the lowest ebb, pitched their tents almost wherever they could. Military precautions against surprise were neglected; the militia bedded down across the creek and at a distance from the regulars; the sole outpost was •a mile away in the dense brush. Throughout the night the Indian hordes covertly encircled the camp, a thousand fierce warriors led by the ferocious Simon Girty ("the p117 Great Renegade"), Little Turtle (the Miami chief famed for his oratory), and perhaps Tecumseh, younger than the other two, but far superior to them in appearance and organizing skill. Indian volleys drove the panic-stricken militia into the hastily formed ranks of the regulars. For a brief space those "hirelings of the gutter" and "sweepings of the street" rose to full stature of heroic men. Sporadic firing temporarily halted the advancing savages, but from behind trees, bushes, and rocks they poured in an accurate and deadly fire on the confused and milling ranks of the Americans. St. Clair was no craven; eight bullets pierced his clothing, one his whitening hair. Officer after officer was picked off, and of the soldiers not more than six hundred remained on their feet. Retreat — on the part of the militia headlong flight — was the sole recourse. The rout was "pitifully complete." No battle ever fought before by an American army had equaled it in its measure of defeat. Of the Indians not more than a hundred and fifty fell; nearly half the Americans lay dead upon the field, two-thirds of their total number were casualties. By nightfall the demoralized remnants of the army staggered into Fort Jefferson. They had covered in their race for life the •twenty-nine miles that had taken them ten days to make on their forward march. The wounded and captives were left behind to be torn limb from limb by the frenzied savages. The luckless women who had followed the column perished in miserable agony; huge stakes were driven through their writhing bodies that fiends had first defiled.24
In January, 1792, Wilkinson took a detachment and gave burial to some of the fragments that littered the field of battle.25 Two years later Major-General Wayne, marching to the Miami country, covered many whitening bones and then pressed on to exact an indemnity of blood.
Sinister rumors circulated about "the great defeat." The Western World declared that one Sweezey had informed the Indians where to attack St. Clair's troops, and broadly hinted that Wilkinson had put him up to it. The Palladium made use of the same article on August 21, 1806. Neither paper was above stretching a story to satisfy partisan purposes. The tale is little worthy of belief; it appeared p118 fifteen years after the event and at a time when a host of manikins was assailing Wilkinson's crumbling reputation.26
As a matter of fact, the Indians' reconnaissance was continuous and thorough, and there was no need to tell them just when and where to attack. On the other hand, the Americans had only the information acquired from desultory patrolling, and even this was not acted on at critical junctures. On the night of the 3rd, General Richard Butler, whose heart the Indians ate the next day, failed to tell St. Clair that the camp was surrounded and that an attack might be expected, although Captain Slough, leader of a patrol, had brought in a report of this kind.27
In contrast to St. Clair's disastrous campaign, Wilkinson's August foray against the Indians now stood forth brilliant and convincing; and as a lieutenant colonel of regulars, during the succeeding fall and winter, he showed great enterprise and spirit. To many he was the man who would rid the West of an Indian menace. Washington, impressed by his apparent capacity and past performance, generously commended him:
General Wilkinson has displayed great zeal and ability for public weal since he came into the service. His conduct carries strong marks of attention, activity, and spirit, and I wish him to know the favorable light in which it is viewed."28
Others like John C. Symmes and Harry Innes along the Ohio, John Brown and Jeremiah Wadsworth in Congress, and Henry Knox of the Cabinet, all held Wilkinson in high esteem.29
By the interposition of friends and an ostensibly good record, Wilkinson was made a brigadier-general on March 5, 1792, when Congress increased the Army by three regiments and made somewhat better provision for its equipment and keep.30
Only out of sheer necessity had the government taken such steps for national defense. Most people, raucous and blatant with an excess of democracy, still declared a standing army a potential source of p119 tyranny. To them, whatever bore earmarks of authority was inconsistent with their ideas of liberty. Hence, anything like the British Army, with its formalism and subordination, represented the worst concomitants of a system that they had fought eight years to abolish. In addition, hasty-pudding volunteers and militia considered themselves better than regulars at Indian fighting and were always greedy for the hard money of the federal treasury.
It was in this army that enjoyed so little popular esteem that Wilkinson was to spend the best years of his life. His first station was Fort Washington, which had been built at Cincinnati in 1789. Three years later, the town, confident and vulgar, contained about nine hundred people and two hundred frontier houses. Building lots sold at from thirty to sixty dollars each; two years later prices had jumped, ranging from one hundred and fifty to four hundred dollars for those desirably situated. Everyday articles of dry goods and hardware were plentiful and brought only small profits to the merchant who bartered them across the counter. Meat was generally abundant, particularly that which the hunters brought in from Kentucky across the river. In 1795 wild turkeys could be purchased at from twelve and one-half to twenty-five cents apiece, pork at from fifty to seventy-five cents per hundred pounds. At the same time powder brought a dollar to a dollar and a half for a single pound, and salt from six to seven dollars a bushel. Imported liquor was high, but that of local manufacture cheap and easy to obtain. Along the river were several taverns and dram-shops, and here those who would, might spend their time in idleness, drunkenness, and "carnal sin." Although Fort Washington soldiers might get fifty lashes for mixing in civilian brawls, they kept at their deviltry; perhaps they instinctively felt that they were keeping fit for the Indians, who often came close in to kill and steal. The savages did not greatly fear the sallies of the diminutive garrison of about two hundred men.31
From a painting by H. W. Kemper
Courtesy of Public Library of Cincinnati.
In 1792 this small number could scarcely be expected to guarantee peace to a rapidly expanding neighborhood, especially when their days were filled with routine tasks and the hard labor common to the frontier. Fort Washington was a piece of their handiwork and its red-painted walls rose luridly above the lower level of the town to still the fear of determined attack. Its well made bastions and sturdy p120 palisades were manned by hardy soldiers, versed in the use of four- and six‑pound cannon. These guns seldom thundered at an enemy, but civilians often heard them boom in salute to a distinguished visitor or in honor of an Indian chief who had died while a guest of the garrison.
Beyond the stockade were long, low buildings for the Army's artificers, mechanics, washerwomen, etc. Near by, potatoes, pumpkins, turnips, and corn were growing. There, too, perhaps were four-o'clocks, petunias, periwinkles, sweet williams, and roses, gorgeous in patchwork of color. In the gardens a few summer houses were built; Wilkinson's, of course, was the most pretentious.32
More distant, lay fields of hay and grain. Fort Washington, like other posts of the time, probably grew its own winter feed for horses and pack mules, and men from the garrison did the harvesting. Toward sunset a sentinel might hear the sound of small iron bells; then he knew that the oxen drawing huge loads of hay, were approaching, quickening their sluggish steps in their hunger for fodder or pumpkins. If a private soldier had been on this haying detail, he possibly might have earned an extra dime for his day of labor. Since his Army pay came only three or four times a year, he lived on loans at pawnbroker's rates, if he had any money at all for himself. In 1790 his pay was reduced one dollar per month for clothing and hospital stores;33 the rest, two dollars, represented the current price of a few pounds of coffee or a good-sized jug of whisky. Against this modest amount were entered deductions for loss of equipment or bills to the trader. Only a super-Caledonian could save money under such conditions. Sometimes the soldier put a few small coins into his purse by plying a trade or craft. If he could qualify as carpenter, axman, wheelwright, or saddler, he might earn a little extra; a trifle might be picked up also by hunting. Deer, buffalo, beaver, and bear skins all had value, and could be sold, in case he did not need them for his own bed or shirt or breeches.
In 1790 the yearly clothing allowance of a soldier consisted of one hat, one coat, one vest, two pairs of woolen overalls, two pairs of linen overalls, four pairs of shoes, four shirts, two pairs of socks, one blanket, one stock and clasp, and one pair of buckles.34 Underclothes were not supplied; nor were breeches, which were usually made of p121 leather. Blue and buff were the predominating colors. The uniform was better suited for ceremonial occasions than for work; hence hunting shirts, linen overalls, and coats and caps of individual design were worn by the soldiers on active campaign. Little clothing, less soap, plenty of hard work, and few facilities for bathing explain why the soldier was dirty. His long hair he frequently dusted with flour, or anointed with bear-grease. Nevertheless, with frequent inspections, he was usually cleaner than the ordinary frontiersman with whom he rubbed elbows.
On the other hand, ordinary laborers generally had better food than that provided soldiers. The ration consisted chiefly of whisky, meat, and flour, often varying greatly in quality and amount, according to the honesty and ability of the contractor, who was a person outside the control of the Army. Sometimes fresh beef was supplied, cattle being driven along the line of march and slaughtered when supplies were low. At other times salt pork, frequently unfit to eat, was issued. If the contractor wished, he made the flour into bread; otherwise, soldiers did their own baking. They usually did so in groups of six. First the flour was kneaded in one of the large iron pots of the company; then the dough was worked into a ropelike shape and wound on an iron rod that was kept turning over the fire. When baked, it was cut into pieces, and sandwiches were made with the meat that had been roasted in the meantime. On the march, soldiers usually got one hot meal out of three. When they went into evening camp they cooked their supper, along with breakfast and dinner for the following day.35 Rum, brandy, or whisky when available was dealt out daily at the rate of •one-half gill per man. When service was uncommonly hard or deserving of great approbation, a double quantity might be the reward. No vegetables were regularly issued until after the War of 1812. Sometimes turnips, cabbages, beans, and pumpkins were raised in the company gardens; and, if the sick were lucky, they might have a little rice and wine to offset the drastic dosing and bleeding of the doctors.
The soldiers' small pay, poor clothing, and indifferent ration made an appeal to only a very few. Of these many were from Ireland and Germany,36 where living conditions were hard; a few were Americans, p122 veterans of the Revolution, whose senses were quickened at the sound of a trumpet or the sight of colors — for the most part aimless drifters in need of food and shelter. Recruiting parties were accustomed to sounding their fifes and drums just around the corner from brothels and alehouses. Gathered from sources like these, recruits often lacked both physical and moral stamina, and a heavy burden rested on their officers to make them decent and reliable soldiers.
The Army was a hard school in which rewards were few and punishments severe. Sentinels could not sleep nor soldiers desert in the face of Indian attack; whatever the cost, disintegration and massacre had to be avoided. For such offenses, fifty or a hundred lashes were the fewest that might be expected from a court-martial. Before the culprit was drummed out of camp, he might have his head and eyebrows shaved, a rope tied around his neck and a "D" branded on his forehead. If what he had done was peculiarly heinous, troops might be paraded during the morning to witness his death at the hands of a hangman or a firing squad. Johnson, O'Brien, Gill, Trotter, and others apparently left the Army after the manner of Danny Deever.37 To catch a deserter, scouts were enjoined to trail him and claim the forty-dollar reward for bringing back his head, which might be placed later on a pike where the soldiers would see it and be warned.38
For offenses less serious, punishments were proportionately severe. Poor John Grimes got a hundred lashes for returning to camp drunk and carrying along with him a few drams of whiskey for future use.39 Sergeant Ogden fared no better when he stole from a storekeeper and lost the goods in gambling.40 When Solomon Brewer, a trader, let soldiers in late, gambled with them, and sold liquor, he was drummed out of camp and had tied around his neck a dirty pack of cards.41 Samuel Farwell made a somewhat similar exit; he had labeled upon his back, "The just reward of cheating and gambling,"42 because he had swindled a certain Sergeant Healy out of ninety-five dollars. A pair who went absent for twenty-four hours were leniently dealt with: five days to miss their gill of whisky and five days to wear coats p123 wrong side out.43 Presumably they were then drawing all of their ration and had the clothes that were due them.
The officers of these men were not always the best. Gentlemen in commission often received their appointments for political rather than military accomplishments. Capacity was not the ruling guide for selection. In disgust, Wilkinson declared that of the 1st Regiment some officers were peddlers, others drunkards, and nearly all of them fools. There were some who had gone little past the horn-book, a few could scarcely sign their names.44 Ignorance was, in fact, general; labor, often continuous; and liquor, universally potent. In this narrow, hard world, Wilkinson bore sway over officers and men, often ingratiating himself through his fluency and charming manners, occasionally arousing their inveterate hate on account of innovations introduced for the good of the service.
Most of his first year as an officer, Wilkinson spent at Fort Washington, the largest Army post in the Northwest; other forts, like St. Clair, Knox, and Hamilton, were in the process of construction. He often corresponded with, and sometimes visited, Captain John Armstrong, who had been the commanding officer at Hamilton since the fall of 1791. Here a stout fort had been built from forest timber by a few skilled laborers working with indifferent tools. In spite of Indians who scalped and stole, winter stores were laid by for man and beast. The grass in adjacent meadows was cut, and a hundred tons or more of hay were ricked high in rounded stacks. Quarters were made comfortable so that Wilkinson might be properly cared for whenever he chose to come. A huge cellar was dug and provided with a •four‑hundred-gallon cistern designed for a cooler and fish pond. One day in a spirit of bedevilment, Lieutenant Gaines withdrew the plug; as punishment he was made responsible for keeping the cistern filled for a month. The task may not have been wholly distasteful if it gave the lieutenant access to the •ten gallons of port and fine brandy that the General sent to Captain Armstrong shortly after being asked for radish seeds. The liquor may have been sent to stifle further requests for seeds; in any event it was doubtless acceptable.45
Like all commanders of frontier posts, Armstrong had to be something of a gardener. He raised green peas in abundance and had p124 strawberries too. When he invited Wilkinson to come and dine with him, he thoughtfully added that if only a cow were made available, they might enjoy berries and cream.46 Since the General and his wife had made possible the planting of his garden, the invitation very naturally followed. As a further mark of courtesy, he sent Mrs. Wilkinson a note of appreciation and a welcome frontier gift upon St. Patrick's Day. In quaintly gallant words he wrote
"Unacquainted with the etiquette of addressing a lady, I have hopes, the language of my profession will not be offensive to the companion of a brother officer. Be pleased therefore, Madam, to accept the thanks of my family, alias the mess, for your polite attention in sending us garden seeds, etc., and should we be honored by a visit from the donor, the flowers will be taught to smile at her approach, and droop as she retires. We beg you to accept in return a few venison hams, which will be delivered you by Mr. Hartshorne, they will require a little more pickle and some nitre."47
During the winter of 1792 Wilkinson fell out with Armstrong, whom he charged with trying to get a sick leave, although apparently hale and hearty. He declared the captain was also guilty of fraud and peculation.48 In disgust with the service, Armstrong resigned early in 1793. Continuing to live in the Northwest, he enjoyed the benefits of public office and a worthy reputation for honesty. In time he and Wilkinson became reconciled.
The General determined to make Fort Hamilton his headquarters when Wayne came West to assume command. He liked the post with its many conveniences. In his opinion the neighborhood was an "interesting, captivating" place, giving "abundant sport for Dog and Gun" and furnishing a plentiful supply of "Fish, Fowl and Wild Meats." He relished a piece of venison washed down with cool Madeira or made piquant with "tomato essance" obtained from his friend Winthrop Sargent, secretary of the Northwest Territory, only six hours distant by post messenger. From the same source came fine melons, which with cabbages, turnips, beans, and other homely vegetables permitted a fare of rude plenty.49
The two men, so different in character, managed to maintain the outward forms of friendship, but little more. Sargent was frequently p125 wanting arms, escorts, and transportation. These could not always be easily supplied, and Wilkinson would sometimes offer his instructions as an excuse for denial. On the other hand, it was Sargent's aid that was invoked when Lieutenant William Henry Harrison, later President, gave a lashing to some artificers who claimed they were not subject to military control. The culprits wanted to make much of the matter through the medium of "guard-house" lawyers. The secretary helped to frustrate their efforts. Wilkinson, on his part, recognized that the lieutenant had exceeded his authority and took steps to prevent a recurrence of similar errors.50 Harmony had to exist between civil and military authorities.
Wilkinson indicated one way to maintain amicable relations. For the important people of the community he often acted as an engaging host in a lavish and attractive manner. One of these occasions is thus described in the Kentucky Gazette of May 26, 1792:
"On the first of the month being the anniversary of the Titular Saint of the Nation [St. Tammany], the day was celebrated with much harmonious festivity in a Wigwam prepared for the occasion on the margin of the Ohio in front of the Garrison. Our Commandant, Wilkinson, with his amiable Lady and a small, but genteel female group, the Secretary of this Territory, Judge Symmes, the Superior Judges and Justices of the County of Hamilton, the principal officers and most respectable citizens sat down to a most sumptuous dinner at 3 o'clock, where the following toasts were drank [sic] under the discharge of many cannon. (1) North American Nation; (2) Washington; (3) The Congress; (4) The Atlantic States; (5) The Western Settlements; and eleven others of a similar nature, 16 in all."
Under the influence of the "16 in all" the Indians must have been temporarily forgotten. As it actually was, peace had to be maintained with them until negotiations were settled in Philadelphia, in spite of the fact that they had become more brazen after St. Clair's defeat. Wilkinson would have curbed their murder and rapine with seven hundred and fifty mounted men and nine companies of infantry.51 His plan was to institute a short, aggressive campaign like the one in August of the year before. It would never have achieved lasting results, although Wilkinson's reputation among regulars and volunteers might have been enhanced before the arrival of Major-General Wayne, p126 now near Pittsburgh. It might have made the people almost entirely forget Charles Scott, a militia general, whom Wilkinson considered a rival — "a poor old wretch . . . galled and chafed with jealousy and impatience of office."52 Wilkinson was restive because he could not enhance his own reputation in a way that he wished while opportunity offered.
Instead, he had to build up a machine that Wayne was to use in winning permanent peace. He often rose at five o'clock in the morning and was busy at army administration. He built Fort St. Clair, •about twenty-five miles west of Dayton, Ohio, and supervised the strengthening of Hamilton, Knox, and other places; improved the system of communication between them; laid by large supplies of grain and fodder for the animals; saw that his men were sometimes paid and better provided with clothing; and made war on peculation, drunkenness, insubordination, and other vices, common to an army on the frontier.53 For such good work he merited and received the thanks of Henry Knox, the secretary of war.54
Meanwhile, no offensive measures against the Indians were permitted, for peace negotiations were simmering around Niagara. In 1792 General Putnam came West, spending the summer and autumn in the Ohio country in the hope of stopping outrages against immigrants and settlers. Wilkinson supported schemes of conciliation and limited his men to defensive measures. When chiefs came to Fort Washington he gave them clothing and stuffed them with food. They liked sitting at the same table with their white hosts, being sandwiched in between them, and eating out of the same bowl. And if one of them died perchance from overeating or drinking, Wilkinson laid him away with military honors in the cemetery of the post. Here old Nawiatchtenos was interred, much to the resentment of white men who twice dug him up and placed him upright in the street. Finally he was lastingly buried at about the same time the news was brought of the treacherous murder of Colonel John Hardin, who had been sent under a flag of truce to confer with the Miami tribes.55
The killing of a peace commissioner was not the only indication of the Indians' desire for war. At daybreak on the 6th of November, p127 1792, a detachment of Major John Adair was attacked near Fort St. Clair, suffered fifteen casualties, and lost most of its horses. The fort commander gave no aid to the hard-pressed pack train, pleading, in extenuation of his cowardice, that he had been ordered to limit himself to defensive measures. Adair did not criticize this disgraceful act in his report to Wilkinson; he merely told of his losses and the action of his men in a few simple words:
"I can with propriety say, that fifty of my men fought with a bravery equal to any men in the world, and had not the garrison been so nigh, as a place of safety to the bashful, I think many more would have fought well.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . .
"I am sorry I cannot send you better news."56
Stirred by this Indian outrage, Wilkinson still had to stay his hand until the means of peace were exhausted. He became more discontented daily. The drab round of Army routine irked him. In his restless way he wanted to do something calling for a fanfare of trumpets and applauding audiences. Uxorious man that he was, he greatly missed his "beloved Ann" and the romping boys. His wife had left in the early summer of 1792 for the East, where she expected to visit relatives and place James, John, and Joseph in school. Arriving at Pittsburgh in July, she and the children had been politely helped on their way through the courtesy of Wayne. The dashing young lieutenant, William Henry Harrison, acted as her escort to Philadelphia.57 In a few months Wilkinson began to miss her keenly. In his own words, her absence was "Hell on earth" for him; nothing could repay for a year's separation. Hurry her back, his friends were bidden; meanwhile he was "panting, sighing, dying for her embrace." Send her to me or give me plenty of Indian fighting.58 Being without humor, he did not sense the odd turn to his words, but doubtless Ann correctly understood what he meant to say.
During her absence, as well as before, he was harassed with financial troubles. He had entered the Army burdened with debts, and his efforts to recoup his losses through future speculation only increased them. His last great venture in tobacco during 1791 had proved a disastrous failure; and his partner of the previous year, Peyton Short, p128 "embarrassed, perplexed with Duns and applications," called on him for aid.
"To save me in this hour of extreme distress," said he, "I now call upon you by every principle that ever warmed an honest heart. Both God and man can witness that you now have it in your power. I beg, entreaty, and conjure you to avail yourself of the happy occasion. Lay aside for a moment those prejudices wh. I must suspect have be artfully insinuated into yr. bosom — embrace the offer made you by Mr. Holmes."59
Wilkinson did accept the offer on January 28, 1792. By the terms of it Short secured most of the proceeds from the sale of some real estate and chattels in Frankfort, while he assumed, on his own part, a number of Wilkinson's debts.60 This arrangement did not pay Wilkinson's most pressing obligations. "Distressed and unfortunate" as he was, he made efforts to meet them by sending one hundred dollars of his Army pay to Innes for the benefit of his creditors, and soon added another eighty dollars for the same purpose. Eager to maintain the judge's friendship, he offered to give him "uncontrolled power over my whole property in your own language." He wanted, as he said, to "remove the shackles which oppress my spirit and sit heavy upon my soul."61 In November, 1792, he sold Louisville property, amounting to £830, to La Cassagne.62 During the following January he turned over his interest in •about 150,000 acres to Benjamin Sebastian, who in turn assumed responsibility for some more of his debts.63
If he could only continue to wheedle money out of the Spaniards and salvage something from his Kentucky holdings, he might again enjoy comparative affluence. On February 1, 1792, Carondelet wrote that the Court had granted him an annual pension of $2,000, which was to be retroactive to January 1, 1789.64 In the summer, $4,000 was sent him as an ostensible tobacco balance through the medium of La Cassagne.65
In return for this retaining fee, Wilkinson was liberal in advice to the Spaniards. Of course, as an Army officer, he could not give any p129 active assistance. No longer engaged in business, he revamped his philosophy of deception; he urged that Americans be given a free port on the Mississippi and that merchandise be made as cheap for them in New Orleans as in the East. Thereby the West might be detached from the Union and enticed into an alliance, a result that would be highly desirable in view of the prophecy that he made — inevitable war with Spain in a few years. To prevent invasion of Louisiana, he suggested the creation of strong barriers along its frontiers. Carondelet appeared to accept most of this advice at almost face value. Gayoso was not so easily misled, although he did believe that the United States would ultimately break up into three distinct confederacies, and in the western one of them he thought Wilkinson might play the rôle of a George Washington.66
Fascinated with prospect of his own greatness and covetous of Spanish treasure, Wilkinson wanted to continue in the service of both countries. He was hopeful that his intrigue might remain undetected through an elaborate use of codes and trusted agents. While he was commanding general along the Ohio, he could do almost as he pleased; and few would have the temerity to question his acts. When Wayne came to take active command, it would be a different story. Wilkinson would then be just another ranking subordinate, unable to go where he wished and subjected to a measure of surveillance. Hence, he warned his New Orleans accomplices to cover his tracks, while he himself determined to tread more warily than ever before.
1 Innes, Brown, Muter, Wallace, and Sebastian all held federal offices. See Bodley, "Introduction" to Filson Club Publications, No. 31, p. lxix.
2 To Miró, Aug. 27, 1790, A. G. I., Seville, Papeles de Cuba, leg. 2374.
3 To Miró, Apr. 29, 1790, A. G. I., Seville, Papeles de Cuba, leg. 2374.
4 For an account of the Harmar Expedition, see Amer. State Papers, Mil. Aff., I, 20‑36, and Harmar to Sec. of War, Nov. 4, 1790, Amer. State Papers, Indian Aff., I, 104‑105.
5 Burnet, Notes, 105.
6 To Miró, Dec. 17, 1790, A. G. I., Seville, Papeles de Cuba, leg. 2374.
7 To Miró, Feb. 14, 1791, Ibid.
8 Scott to Knox, June 28, 1791, and Wilkinson to Scott, June 2, 3, 1791; in Amer. State Papers, Indian Aff., I, 131‑133.
9 Scott to Knox, June 28, 1791, in Ibid., 131‑133.
10 Knox to Scott, Mar. 9, 1791, and Scott to Knox, June 28, 1791, in Ibid., 131‑133.
11 Smith, The St. Clair Papers, II, 222‑223.
12 To St. Clair, Aug. 24, 1791, in Ibid., 223‑239.
13 Knox to St. Clair, Sept. 29, 1791, in Amer. State Papers, Indian Aff., I, 182.
14 McElroy, Kentucky in the Nation's History, 156.
15 Wilkinson's commission, Johns Hopkins Univ. Library.
16 To Carondelet, Dec. 15, 1792, A. G. I., Seville, Papeles de Cuba, leg. 2374.
17 Symmes to Dayton, June 17, 1792, in Miller, Cincinnati Beginnings, 196.
18 To Carondelet, Dec. 15, 1792, A. G. I., Seville, Papeles de Cuba, leg. 2374.
19 Callan, Military Laws of the United States, 89.
20 To Peyton Short, Dec. 28, 1791 (not sent), Innes Papers, Vol. XXIII.
21 To Carondelet, Dec. 15, 1792, A. G. I., Seville, Papeles de Cuba, leg. 2374.
22 To Miró, Dec. 4, 1791, Ibid.
23 To Miró, June 20, 1790, Ibid.
24 "Unveiling of Fort Recovery Monument," in Ohio Archaeological and Hist. Quarterly, July, 1913, 420‑424; St. Clair to Sec. of War, Nov. 9, 1791, in Amer. State Papers, Ind. Aff., I, 136‑138; McMaster, History of the People of the United States, III, 43‑47.
25 Miller, "History of Fort Hamilton," Ohio Arch. and Hist. Society Pub., XIII, 102.
26 McElroy, op. cit., 160‑161.
27 "Major Denney's Journal," in Smith, The St. Clair Papers, I, 174.
28 Washington to Knox, Aug. 13, 1792, in Ford, Writings of Washington, XII, 158.
29 Symmes to Dayton, June 17, 1792, in Miller, Cincinnati Beginnings, 196. For Innes' opinion, see Innes Papers, Vol. XXIII, passim; for Brown's, Appleton's Cyclopaedia, I, 402; for Wadsworth's, Wilkinson to Wadsworth, Sept. 18, 1792, Wilkinson Papers, L. C.; for Knox's, Knox to St. Clair, Sept., 1791, in Amer. State Papers, Ind. Aff., I, 182, and Knox to Wilkinson, Jan. 4, 1793, Wilkinson Papers, Vol. I, Chicago Hist. Soc.
30 Heitman, Historical Reg. and Dic. of the U. S. Army, II, 1037; Act of Mar. 5, 1792, in Callan, Military Laws of the United States, 92‑94.
31 "Narrative of John Heckewelder's Journey to the Wabash in 1792," in Pa. Mag. of Hist. and Biog., XII (1888), 34‑54; Cist, The Cincinnati Miscellany, II, 53‑54, 65.
32 "Narrative of John Heckewelder's Journey, etc.," loc. cit.
33 Annals of Congress, 1st Congress, 1789‑1791, II, 2281‑2284.
34 Act of Apr. 30, 1790, in Thian, Leg. His. Gen. Staff U. S. Army, 328.
35 Williams, "Expedition of Capt. Henry Brush," in Ohio Hist. Miscellanies, No. 1, pp30‑35.
36 See the deserter list of Capt. Rudolph's Company, in Augusta Chronicle and Gazette of the State, Feb. 25. 1792.
37 Wayne's Order Books, VI, 21, and III, 132.
38 To Armstrong, May 11, 1792, Miscellaneous Papers, N. Y. Public Library.
39 Wayne's Order Books, III, 136 ff.
40 Ibid., VI, 60.
41 Ibid., VI, 119‑120.
42 Ibid., VI, 130.
43 Ibid., III, 167 ff.
44 To Wadsworth, Sept. 18, 1792, Wilkinson Papers, L. C.
45 For the relations of Armstrong and Wilkinson, see scattered letters in The Cincinnati Miscellany, Vols. I and II.
46 Armstrong to Wilkinson, June 1, 1792, Ibid., I, 30.
47 Armstrong to Wilkinson, Mar. 17, 1792, Ibid., I, 210.
48 To Wayne, Nov. 1, 1792, Wayne Papers, Vol. XXII.
49 To Sargent, Sept. 27, 1792, Sargent Papers.
50 To Sargent, June 2, 1792, Ibid.; Sargent to Wilkinson, June 4, 1792, see Carter, Northwestern Papers, III, 376‑378.
51 To Knox, Sept. 17, 1792, Wayne Papers, Vol. XXI.
52 To Innes, Feb. 29, 1792, Innes Papers, Vol. XXIII.
53 For Wilkinson's work before Wayne's arrival, see The Cincinnati Miscellany, Vols. I and II, and the following papers for the years 1792 and 1793: Innes Papers, Wayne Papers, Sargent Papers, and Wilkinson Papers (Chicago Historical Soc.).
54 Knox to Wilkinson, Jan. 4, 1793, Wilkinson Papers, Vol. I, Chicago Historical Soc.
55 "Narrative of John Heckewelder's Journey, etc.," loc. cit.
56 Adair to Wilkinson, Nov. 6, 1792, Amer. State Papers, Ind. Aff., I, 335.
57 Wayne to Wilkinson, July 7, 1792, Wayne Papers, Vol. XX.
58 To Wayne, Sept. 17, 1792, Jan. 14, Mar. 27, 1793, Wayne Papers, Vols. XXI, XXIV, XXV.
59 Short to Wilkinson, Dec. 20, 1791, Innes Papers, Vol. XXIII.
60 Agreement, Wilkinson and Short, Jan. 28, 1792, Ibid.
61 To Innes, Apr. 10, 1792, Ibid.
62 Indenture of Wilkinson and La Cassagne, Nov. 12, 1792, Durrett Coll., Univ. of Chicago.
63 Indenture of Wilkinson and Sebastian, Jan. 29, 1793, Innes Papers, Vol. XXIII.
64 Carondelet to Wilkinson, Feb. 1, 1792, A. G. I., Seville, Papeles de Cuba, leg. 2374.
65 Wilkinson, Memoirs, II, 119.
66 Wilkinson to Carondelet, Dec. 15, 1792, and to Gayoso, Dec. 21, 1792; Gayoso to Wilkinson, June 20, 1793, A. G. I., Seville, Papeles de Cuba, leg. 2374.
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