[image ALT: Much of my site will be useless to you if you've got the images turned off!]
Bill Thayer

[image ALT: Cliccare qui per una pagina di aiuto in Italiano.]

[Link to a series of help pages]
[Link to the next level up]
[Link to my homepage]

This webpage reproduces an article in
Hispanic American Historical Review
Vol. 8 No. 1 (Feb. 1928), pp82‑97

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though, please let me know!

This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

p82 James Wilkinson's
First Descent to New Orleans in 1787

The object of this note and the accompanying documents is to explain how James Wilkinson succeeded in descending the Mississippi River past the Spanish posts and in arriving at New Orleans in July, 1787, unmolested by Spanish officials. It is a well known fact that in 1784 the Spanish government issued a proclamation closing the Mississippi River to all foreigners pending the adjustment by treaty of outstanding disputes with the United States.1 For several years (i.e., until 1789) this proclamation was enforced and the property of American citizens attempting to navigate the river below its junction with the Ohio was confiscated by the Spanish government.2 How did Wilkinson succeed where others had failed? Even had he come as a mere sightseer, a tourist, he would have been liable to arrest, as the Spanish dominions were closed to travelers as well as to merchants; but Wilkinson was not a mere tourist, for he brought with him a flatboat loaded with "flour, butter, bacon and tobacco".3 Nor can his success be attributed to any invitation or overtures from Spain, for, as Professor W. R. Shepherd has pointed out,4 the Spanish intrigue in Kentucky was begun on the initiative of Wilkinson, not of Spain, and was begun after he had completed the journey now under discussion and had arrived unmolested at New Orleans.

p83 Previous writers on this subject have generally taken for granted Wilkinson's safe descent of the Mississippi, and have confined their attention to his reception by Governor Miró and Intendant Navarro at New Orleans. Professor Shepherd, in his notable article on Wilkinson, gathers together some of the explanations offered in this connection by Wilkinson and his contemporaries and by subsequent writers, and then advances his own.5 Among Wilkinson's contemporaries we may mention Daniel Clark, who claimed that his uncle, a New Orleans merchant, persuaded Miró not to confiscate Wilkinson's property, since the latter's influence in Kentucky would make him a dangerous enemy to Spanish Louisiana. Wilkinson, however, denied this, and furthermore averred that he arrived in New Orleans in July, 1787, a "perfect stranger".6 Miró and Navarro explained to the court, in the letter transmitting Wilkinson's memorial (September, 1787) that it was Wilkinson who had destroyed George Rogers Clark's expedition against Natchez in the spring of that year.7 Their statement might be understood to imply that they were acquainted with the fact before Wilkinson's arrival in New Orleans and it has apparently been so accepted by Professor Shepherd, as it seems to be the only authority for his assertion that Wilkinson's military and political reputation preceded him to New Orleans and that in consequence Miró forbore to seize his boats and cargo until the precise object of his visit could be ascertained.

Now it is a curious fact that, on the one hand, there is no indication that Miró and Navarro ever had the slightest intention of seizing his boats and cargo, nor yet, on the other hand, is there any evidence that before his arrival in New Orleans they knew of the existence of such a person as James Wilkinson. p84The letter which is apparently Professor Shepherd's authority was written by Miró and Navarro in September, 1787, and, with regard to their acquaintance with Wilkinson, states nothing more than that they were aware at the time of writing the letter (i.e., three and one half months after the date of his arrival in New Orleans) that Wilkinson was a person of consequence in Kentucky.8 They do not state when or how they acquired this information, and nothing in the letter warrants the assertion that Wilkinson's fame was known to them before his arrival in New Orleans. Moreover, we have evidence of a negative character that Wilkinson was either unknown or lightly esteemed at New Orleans as late as June 1, 1787, for, while, at a later time, Miró frequently declared that Wilkinson's first service to Spain was his opposition to the projected attack on Louisiana by Clark and Green in the spring of 1787, yet in a comprehensive despatch describing the failure of that project and dated June 1, 1787, Miró did not even mention Wilkinson.9 There is no evidence that the governor heard of him in the course of the month that intervened between the writing of this letter and Wilkinson's arrival in New Orleans.

There have recently appeared two other works containing accounts of Wilkinson's reception at New Orleans. These accounts are mutually contradictory, and yet neither writer seems aware that there might be any other version of the affair than his own. In one of these books, Mr. Temple Bodley10 tells us that Wilkinson prepared the way for his arrival by instructing a confidential agent in New Orleans

to warn Governor Miro that arrest of so eminent an American would likely cause war and perhaps Spain's loss of Louisiana. Under instructions the agent even suggested to Miro that it was probably Wilkinson's real purpose to provoke his own arrest in order to bring p85on a war and conquest of Louisiana, and that it would therefore be safer for the Governor to receive the distinguished American courteously, instead of arresting him. With Miro thus alarmed in advance, Wilkinson could pretty confidently expect an attentive hearing, and this he received.

The other recent account, written by Professor Samuel F. Bemis,11 runs as follows:

His [Wilkinson's] ready wit somehow got him by the Spanish posts. He actually floated down to New Orleans before his cargo was seized and himself arrested and brought before the Spanish Governor. . . . It is certain that he [Wilkinson] was no whit daunted by his detention.

Mr. Bodley implies that Wilkinson was not arrested, Professor Bemis asserts that he was, and neither of them tells us how he reached New Orleans. Clearly the whole episode needs more careful study.

Fortunately, documents exist which enable us to follow with some degree of assurance the course of Wilkinson's relations with the Spanish officials on the Mississippi up to the time of his safe arrival in New Orleans. From these documents and from other sources is drawn the following brief account of Wilkinson's preparatory measures and his descent to New Orleans in 1787.

Some time late in 1786, Wilkinson attempted, with the aid of no less a person than John Marshall, to secure a passport from Governor Randolph of Virginia,12 and from the circumstances that will shortly appear it is highly probable that he intended to use the passport for a journey down the Mississippi to New Orleans. About the same time, he also attempted through Baron von Steuben to obtain a passport from Gardoqui for the same purpose.13 As a further preparation, he p86wrote the first of the letters appended below. This letter, dated December 20, 1786, was addressed to the commandant of the Spanish post at St. Louis, Francisco Cruzat. The subject of the letter was George Rogers Clark's recent seizure of the property of Spanish subjects at Vincennes, which Wilkinson deplored on behalf of all the law-abiding people of Kentucky. His letter was accompanied by one in English from Richard Anderson to the commandant (the text of this letter also is given below), and both were delivered at St. Louis by a Captain Carberry.

Wilkinson's next communication to the commandant of St. Louis was dated May 15, 1787. By this time he had doubtless received John Marshall's letter informing him that Governor Randolph was of the opinion that he had no authority to issue a passport for use outside of Virginia,14 and by this time it was also apparent that there was no hope of getting a passport from Gardoqui. At St. Louis Wilkinson's efforts had met with more success, and Carberry had returned with the cheering news of the favorable reception given him by the commandant of that post. Wilkinson had then completed his preparations and had begun his journey down the Ohio. Arrived at its junction with the Mississippi, he went into camp, wrote Francisco Cruzat, commandant of St. Louis, the letter of May 15 mentioned above, again despatched Captain Carberry as his messenger, and awaited an answer.

In this letter15 he referred to his "former address" to Cruzat (i.e., the letter of December 20, 1786), thanked him for his civilities to Captain Carberry on his previous mission to St. Louis, stated that he was on his way to Philadelphia via New Orleans, and asked for a passport for himself, his servant, and baggage. Informing Cruzat of the failure of Green's projected attack on Louisiana, mentioned in his previous letter, Wilkinson concluded with the postscript: "You will p87pardon this scral, wrote under the assaults of Legions of Musquitoes."

Just what action Cruzat took on receiving Wilkinson's request cannot be stated with certainty. Search has failed to discover any letter from Cruzat either to Miró or to the commandant at Natchez, Carlos de Grand-Pré, referring to this affair, but there can be little doubt that he did write such a letter or letters. In the first place, the presence in the Spanish archives of Wilkinson's letters to Cruzat proves beyond a reasonable doubt that Cruzat forwarded them to Miró with a covering letter, and the Spanish government's neglect of its Louisiana records until very recent times will explain the absence of this covering letter from its proper place in the colonial archives. Cruzat's hypothetical despatch was probably written about June 1, 1787, in order to transmit Wilkinson's letter to him of May 15, and also, we may suppose, enclosed the earlier letter (that of December 20, 1786), which would not seem to require transmission on its own account, but would be necessary to explain the letter of May 15. Cruzat's despatch probably did not reach Miró before the arrival of the expeditious Wilkinson at New Orleans (July 2), but at the same time or later.

In the second place, it seems highly probable that Cruzat wrote about Wilkinson to Grand-Pré as well as to Miró. Whether the letter was official or personal, and whether or not he gave Wilkinson the desired passport, it is impossible to say. Grand-Pré's letter to Miró (see below) reporting Wilkinson's arrival at Natchez contains no reference to any kind of communication from Cruzat, and yet some sort of introduction Wilkinson must have had. We know that Captain Carberry carried his letter of May 15 to Cruzat, and that the object of this letter was to obtain a passport for the voyage down the Mississippi. We also know that "a captain", probably Carberry, accompanied Wilkinson on his arrival at Natchez. It seems highly probable, therefore, that Carberry delivered Wilkinson's letter to Cruzat and returned to his p88employer with a reply satisfactory enough to induce Wilkinson to continue on his way down the Mississippi. This assumption is strengthened by Grand-Pré's treatment of Wilkinson. Instead of forcing the American to return to Kentucky, as the law required, or of holding him a virtual prisoner at Natchez while consulting Miró, as was done in extraordinary cases, the Spanish commandant entertained Wilkinson in Fort Panmure, showed him every courtesy, permitted him to continue immediately on his way to New Orleans, and recommended him warmly to the governor. Even the engaging personality of the American adventurer or the flattering promises that he knew so well how to hold out will hardly explain Grand-Pré's assumption of such a responsibility. Everything indicates that he had knowledge of unusual circumstances entitling Wilkinson to special consideration. It is highly improbable that he owed this knowledge to Miró, for he wrote as if Wilkinson were (as he probably was) an utter stranger to the governor. It seems probable, therefore, that Cruzat complied with Wilkinson's request to the extent of giving him a personal letter to Grand-Pré in order to facilitate his descent to New Orleans.

However this may be, Wilkinson left his camp at the mouth of the Ohio and continued on his way down the river. On June 16, 1787, he arrived at Natchez, accompanied by "a captain" (probably Carberry), a slave and a servant, and followed by a barge. As we have seen, Grand-Pré entertained him in Fort Panmure and wrote Miró an official letter (June 18, 1787) recommending him highly. Grand-Pré's letter apparently left Natchez with Wilkinson and arrived in New Orleans at the same time that Wilkinson did, namely, on July 2.16 This letter alone was enough to save Wilkinson from immediate arrest and makes it unlikely that the intervention of Daniel Clark's uncle was required, for when once the Kentuckian obtained a hearing his own glib tongue could be relied p89on to do the rest. Finally, Grand-Pré's letter is the only evidence, so far as the present writer is aware, that Wilkinson's fame preceded him to New Orleans, as Professor Shepherd says. It would therefore be more accurate to say that his fame accompanied him to New Orleans.

That Wilkinson was not arrested on his arrival at New Orleans is further indicated by his own report of the affair to Gardoqui in a letter dated January 1, 1789.17 In this letter Wilkinson declared that in 1787 he had run the risk of prosecution by entering Louisiana without a passport or permission, determined, if he failed in that quarter, to negotiate with the British; but that he was most warmly welcomed by the governor and intendant. We are justified in inferring from this letter that Wilkinson was not arrested, for, since he sent a copy of it to Miró, the facts stated in it must have been accurate so far as they could have been known to the governor, and a faithful statement of the facts would have required a reference to the arrest if Wilkinson had been arrested. Furthermore, we have two letters written from New Orleans at the time of Wilkinson's visit there, one by Villars, the French commissaire in Louisiana,18 the other by Enrique White, sargento mayor of the fixed regiment of Louisiana,19 and although both of these letters mention Wilkinson's presence in the city, neither of them contains any allusion to an arrest. Since neither Miró, Navarro, Wilkinson, White, nor Villars mentions an arrest, it is highly improbable that Wilkinson was arrested on his arrival at New Orleans.

In conclusion, this note and the accompanying documents show that George Rogers Clark's act of violence at Vincennes was the starting point of James Wilkinson's intrigue with Spain; they corroborate (if corroboration were needed) Professor Shepherd's statement that Wilkinson, not the Spaniards, p90took the initiative in the Kentucky intrigue; and they give the first authentic information as to the circumstances of his first voyage down the Mississippi and of his arrival at New Orleans. Some of the details of his descent are conjectural, but there seems to be little doubt that for once in his life Wilkinson told the truth when he said in his Memoirs that he arrived in New Orleans in July, 1787, a "perfect stranger". He remained a stranger only until Miró had opened his mail received on the same day and had read Grand-Pré's despatch of June 18. This letter assured Wilkinson a favorable welcome and a hearing for his schemes, and crowned with success the plan that he had been maturing at least as far back as the fall of 1786.

It may be added by way of postscript that George Rogers Clark was well aware that his enemies in Kentucky had capitalized the Vincennes episode in order to open commercial relations with Louisiana. In 1788 Clark, like so many other Americans, offered Gardoqui his services for the establishment of a colony in Spanish territory. Defending his conduct at Vincennes two years earlier, he protested that his enemies in Kentucky had misrepresented the affair, and continued:

The real motive of my accusers [in Kentucky] was that, wishing to trade with New Orleans, they thought that by pretending to take the side of the Spanish vassals, they might hope to be favored in their projected commerce.20

He could hardly have stated the case more accurately even if he had seen Wilkinson's letter of December 20, 1786, to the Spanish commandant of St. Louis.

The documents and translations follow:a

p91 Document No. 121

James Wilkinson to His Excellency the Governor of St. Louis, District of Kentucky, December 20, 1786.

District de Kentock 20 Xbre 1786.


Mes Sentiments sur ce qui est dû à la foy publique, mon désir de ne pas voir exposé la dignité de mon pays, et ces liens qui connectent partout les hommes d'honneur, m'ont engagé à m'addresser à Votre Excellence dans ce moment.

Afin de vendiquer l'honneur du peuple parmi lequel je vis maintenant, J'ose vous assûrer que l'outrage commis dernièrement contre la propriété d'un marchand Espagnol au poste Vincennes est désavoué généralement ici, et n'est l'ouvrage que d'un petit nombre d'hommes sans principes sous le commandement de Général Clark, lequel ayant été déchargé de sa commission en qualité d'officier militaire, n'est maintenant qu'un simple citoyen. Le poste Vincennes étant hors de la Jurisdiction de l'état de Virginie il n'est pas au pouvoir de la Judicature de lui infliger aucune punition, mais nous nous sommes adressés à ce sujet au Gouverneur qui transmettra cette affaire au Congrès où nous espérons qu'on prendra des mesures pour punir l'offenseur. En même tems Je peux assûrer Votre Excellence que si la personne qui a souffert par cette déprédation veut venir ici, il est en son pouvoir d'avoir une ample reparation en commençant un procès dans nos cours judiciaires contre Mr Clark.

Mais, Monsieur, J'ai à vous communiquer quelque chose de plus grande importance. Le voisinage de nos établissements et des déserts de l'autre côté de l'Ohio est si favorable à ceux qui entreprennent de vivre de rapine et de piraterie que la vigilance de notre Gouvernement qui sied à six cent miles d'ici n'est pas suffisant pour mettre nos amis et alliés à couvert d'insultes pareilles: ce moment présent, un certain colonel Green, et autres hommes de fortune désespérée, meditent d'attaquer les postes de Sa Majesté très Catholique aux Natchez p92en violation des lois de leur pays, de la foi des traités, et de la coutûme des Nations. Afin de prévenir ce coup de piraterie, et de vous mettre en état par des moyens sûrs non seulement de prévenir, mais de tirer vengeance sur les auteurs de ce complot, j'ai crû de mon devoir de vous donner cet avis de bonne heure. Nous ferons ici tout ce qui est en notre pouvoir pour prévenir cette association, mais par les raisons que je vous ai déduites, ils peuvent éluder notre vigilance. A tout é[vénement] ce parti ne sera pas en mouvement avant le 20 de février, ce qui vous donne le tems d'informer son Excellence Don Miro du plan projetté.

Je recommande à votre attention le porteur de la présente Capitaine Carberry en qualité de frère d'armes. Sa conduite dans la derniére guerre dans laquelle il a servi parmi les troupes de l'Amérique lui a attiré les honneurs et les applaudissements les plus mérités, et dans tous les cas vous pouvez reposer votre confiance en son zéle pour tirer vengeance d'aucun outrage qu'on puisse offrir aux sujets de sa Majesté Trés Catholique.

J'ai l'honneur d'être avec le plus profond respect


Votre très humble et
très obeissant Serviteur

[signed] James Wilkinson.

[Addressed:] à son Excellence le Gouverneur de St. Louis.


District of Kentucky, 20 December, 1786.


My sentiments on what is due to public faith, my unwillingness to see the dignity of my country exposed, and those bonds which unite men of honor everywhere, have led me to address myself to your Excellency at this time.

In order to vindicate the honor of the people among whom I am now living, I venture to assure you that the outrage recently committed against the property of a Spanish merchant at the post of Vincennes is generally disavowed here, and is the work of only a small number of unprincipled men under the command of General Clark, who, having been discharged from his commission as an officer in the army, is now only a private citizen. The post of Vincennes being outside p93of the jurisdiction of the State of Virginia, it is not within the power of its courts to inflict any punishment upon him, but we have addressed the governor on this subject. He will communicate this affair to congress, where we hope measures will be taken to punish the offender. At the same time, I can assure your Excellency that, if the person who suffered by this depredation cares to come here, it is in his power to obtain ample reparation by bringing suit in our courts of law against Mr. Clark.

But, sir, I have something of still greater importance to communicate to you. The proximity of our settlements to the deserts on the other side of the Ohio is so favorable to those who undertake to live by rapine and piracy that the vigilance of our government, which is situated six hundred miles away, is not sufficient to protect our friends and allies from such insults: at this very moment, a certain Colonel Green and other desperate adventurers are meditating an attack on the posts of his most Catholic Majesty at Natchez, in violation of the laws of their country, of the faith of treaties, and of the custom of nations. In order to prevent this act of piracy and in order to enable you with certainty not only to forestall but also to take vengeance upon the authors of this plot, I thought it my duty to give you this warning in good time. We shall do everything in our power here to foil this band but, for the reasons that I have mentioned, they may elude our vigilance. At all events, this party will not start before February 20, which gives you time to inform his Excellency, Don Miró, of the projected plan.

I recommend to your attention the bearer of this letter, Captain Carberry, as a brother in arms. His conduct in the late war, in which he served in the American forces, won for him most richly merited honors and plaudits, and in any case you can rely on his zeal to take vengeance for any outrage that may be offered to the subjects of his most Catholic Majesty.

I have the honor to be with the most profound respect


Your very humble and
very obedient Servant

[signed] James Wilkinson.

[Addressed:] To his Excellency the Governor of St. Louis.

p94 Document No. 222

Richard C. Anderson to the Governor of St. Louis,
January 1, 1786 [i.e., 1787].

Louisville, January 1st, 1786 [i.e., 1787].


Your Excellency will excuse the liberty of a letter from a stranger to your person on the present occasion: The seizure of one of your Boats at Post St Vincent by a set of men without any color of Authority, and expresly contrary to the inclination and Interest of the Inhabitants of this District, as will plainly appear by a report of a Committee of Convention, of which I have the Honour of being a member, and send you this by their approbation. On the arrival of the Boat we detained Seven Hundred weight of Beaver fur, either taken in the Boat, or the produce of the cargo, to be refunded to the Origin[al] Owner, or Owners when called for, and for the balance would advise a civil prosecution, by which means the Owners would not only recover their just demand but sufficient and adequate damages. As to the particulars of this transaction I beg leave to refer Your Excellency to General Wilkinson's letter which will be handed you together with this by Captain Carbery a Gentlemenº of the late American Army, and a Man of Integrety and Honour, And may have Occasion for Your Excellency's atten[tion] in serving of whom your Excellency will confer [an] Obligation on Your Excellencies most Obedient and

Very Hbble servant

[signed] Richard C. Anderson.

[Addressed:] His Excellency The Governor of St. Louis.

Document No. 323

Grand-Pre a Miro. Fuerte Panmur, junio 18 de 1787.

n.o 360.

Antes de ayer a las doce del dia llegaron aqui los Americanos Jph Parker Carlos Agustin Geoffrey y Juan Kice Jones con los enganchados Guillermo Hollard, Pedro Ferguson y Juan Ridelle, en una Bercha p95cargada de diez Paquetes de Pieles de venado y Castor que llevan dicen vnicamente para pagar los gastos del viage hasta Nueva Orleans donde se dirigen para solicitar de V. S. el permiso de establecerse en esta Provincia. Les é dexado esta Peltreria baxo la expresada condicion de no disponer absolutamente de ella hasta que se hayan presentado a V. S.

Por la tarde del mismo dia llegó igualmente el Brigadier de los Extos de los Estados Vnidos de America D.n Juan Wilkesen en vna canoa con vn Capitan que le acompaña, vn esclavo suyo y vn enganchado á quien é dado vn quarto en este Fuerte, obsequiando lo de todas mis facultades, siendo este Ofizial mui recomendable por todos terminos. Está esperando aqui vn Lanchon mui grande que á de llegar oy, para seguir con el su viage hasta esa Capital, donde se deue embarcar para Philadelphia. No hago á V. S. ningun detal sobre la notizias que é adquirido de este Ofizial respecto de hallarse al Ynstante de baxar, y de participar á V. S. por si mismo las que ocurren en el dia, las que esparcieron y esparcen los bagabundos son falsas como sucede Siempre.

Dios Gue a V. S. muchos años. Fuerte Panmur de Natchez 18 de Junio de 1787.

Carlos de Grand-Pre.


[Addressed:] S.or D.n Estevan Miró.


Fort Panmure [Natchez], June 18, 1787.

No. 360.

Day before yesterday at noon the Americans Joseph Parker, Charles Augustine Geoffrey and John Kice Jones arrived here with the enganchados [i.e., river boatmen?], William Hollard, Peter Ferguson, and John Ridelle, in a boat with a cargo of ten bundles of deer and beaver skins, which they say they are bringing for the sole purpose of paying the expenses of the voyage to New Orleans, where they are going to ask your lordship for permission to settle in this province. I let them keep this peltry on the express condition that they should not dispose of it under any circumstances until they have presented themselves before your Lordship.

On the afternoon of the same day arrived likewise the brigadier general of the army of the United States of America, John Wilkesen p96[i.e., James Wilkinson], in a canoe with a captain who is accompanying him, his slave, and an enganchado. I gave him a room in this fort, entertaining him to the best of my ability, since this officer is a very worthy person in every respect. He is awaiting here a big barge, which should arrive today, in order to continue with it his voyage to the capital, where he is to embark for Philadelphia. I shall not dwell on the information that I have obtained from this officer, since he is on the point of departure and will himself inform your Lordship of what is going on. The reports that vagabonds spread and are spreading are false, as is always the case.

May God keep your Lordship many years. Fort Panmure, Natchez, June 18, 1787.

[signed] Carlos de Grand-Pre.


[Addressed:] Señor Don Estevan Miró.

Document No. 424

Copie d'une lettre de M. de Villars Commissaire du Roi a la Louisiane, a M. M. Les General et Intendant de St. Dominique, Datee de la Nelle Orleans le 26/7bre. 1787.


Le Brigadier Américain Wilkenson, descendu icy du Kentoky dans le courant de Juillet dernier, vient de partir pour se rendre par mer, à Charlestown. Il a eu dans les derniers moments de son séjour ici, de longues Conférences avec les administrateurs Espagnols et il leur a donné sur les établissements de Lohio, tous les Renseignemens et plans Nécessaires pour exciter les allarmes de ces Messieurs et appuyer la demande qu'ils font à leur Cour pour la liberté du Commerce du Kentoky avec la Nouvelle Orléans.

Mr. Wilkenson a donné clairement à entendre que peu de tems avant Son départ les habitans de L'Ohio s'étoient décidés à forcer Le passage, mais qu'il avoit obtenu d'eux la suspension de leurs Mouvements jusqu'au terme de Ses négociations avec les administrateurs de p97la Louisiane. On pense que cette assertion déterminera enfin l'acquiescement de la Cour d'Espagne aux Clauses du dernier Traité de Paix.

Je suis avec Respect &ca

signé Villars
Pour Copie


Copy of a Letter from M. de Villars, Commissaire of the King in Louisiana, to the General and Intendant of Santo Domingo, dated New Orleans, September 26, 1787.


The American Brigadier General Wilkinson, who came down here from Kentucky last July, has just left for Charleston by sea. At the end of his stay here he had long conferences with the Spanish officials, and, in regard to the settlements on the Ohio, he gave those gentlemen all the information and plans necessary to excite their fear and to support the request that they are making to their court for freedom of commerce between Kentucky and New Orleans.

Mr. Wilkinson has made it clear that shortly before his departure the settlers on the Ohio decided to compel the opening [of the Mississippi],º but that he had persuaded them to suspend action pending the outcome of his negotiations with the officials of Louisiana. It is thought that this statement will at last bring about the acquiescence of the court of Spain in the clauses of the late treaty of peace.

I am with respect, etc.,

[signed] Villars
A Copy
de Marbois

Arthur Preston Whitaker.

Vanderbilt University.

The Author's Notes:

1 Houck, Spanish Régime in Missouri, I.237; Archivo General de Indias (Seville), 146‑3‑11, Rendón to José de Gálvez, Philadelphia, February 12, 1785, No. 124.

[decorative delimiter]

2 Information relating to two such cases will be found in Secret Journals of Congress, Foreign Affairs, III.610‑611, and State Records of North Carolina, XVIII.359.

[decorative delimiter]

3 W. R. Shepherd, "Wilkinson and the beginnings of the Spanish conspiracy", American Historical Review, IX.494.

[decorative delimiter]

4 Ibid., p491.

[decorative delimiter]

5 Ibid., p494 and notes 6 and 7. See especially Gayarré, Louisiana: the Spanish Domination, pp194‑197, and M. Serrano y Sanz, El Brigadier Jaime Wilkinson, pp17‑22.

[decorative delimiter]

6 Wilkinson's account of his descent will be found in his Memoirs, II.108‑11.

[decorative delimiter]

7 Despatch No. 13 reservado [secret], addressed to the Ministro de Indias, dated New Orleans, September 25, 1787: Archivo General de Indias, 86‑6‑16.

[decorative delimiter]

8 Letter of Miró and Navarro cited in preceding note.

[decorative delimiter]

9 Archivo General de Indias, 86‑6‑16, Miró to the Marqués de Sonora, June 1, 1787, No. 9 reservada.

[decorative delimiter]

10 Reprints of Littell's Political Transactions. (Filson Club Publications, No. 31), Introduction, pp. xxxix‑xl.

[decorative delimiter]

11 Pinckney's Treaty, p135.

[decorative delimiter]

12 American Historical Review, XII.346‑348.

[decorative delimiter]

13 Archivo General de Indias, Papeles de Cuba, leg. 177, Wilkinson to Gardoqui, January 1, 1789 (Spanish translation). The text of this letter will be found in Gayarré, op. cit., pp247‑251.

[decorative delimiter]

14 See note 12.

[decorative delimiter]

15 Archivo General de Indias, Papeles de Cuba, leg. 2373, Wilkinson to Cruzat, May 15, 1787 (original in English, in Wilkinson's handwriting).

[decorative delimiter]

16 Archivo General de Indias, Papeles de Cuba, leg. 4, Miró to Grand-Pré, July 3, 1787, No. 240.

[decorative delimiter]

17 Wilkinson to Gardoqui, op. cit. (see note 13).

[decorative delimiter]

18 For the text of this letter, see No. 4 of the accompanying documents.

[decorative delimiter]

19 Archivo General de Indias, 86‑6‑16, Zéspedes to Valdés, November 21, 1787, No. 2 reservada, quoting a paragraph from a letter from Enrique White to Carlos Howard, dated New Orleans, July 20.

[decorative delimiter]

20 Archivo Histórico Nacional (Madrid, Sección de Estado, leg. 3894, Gardoqui to Floridablanca, New York, July 25, 1788, No. 282, enclosing a Spanish translation of a letter from George Rogers Clark to Gardoqui, dated Falls of the Ohio, March 15, 1788. Mr. Temple Bodley, op. cit., and George Rogers Clark, passim, makes a valuable contribution to the history of the rivalry of Clark and Wilkinson.

[decorative delimiter]

21 Archivo General de Indias, Seville, Spain. Papeles de Cuba, Legajo 199. Only the signature of this letter is in Wilkinson's handwriting. A copy or draft of this letter, in Wilkinson's handwriting and in English is in the above archives in Papeles de Cuba, Legajo 2373. It is dated "[Falls of the Ohio: crossed out in original] District of Kentucky 20 Decr. 1786", and is without signature or direction.

[decorative delimiter]

22 Archivo General de Indias, Seville, Spain. Papeles de Cuba, Legajo 199.

[decorative delimiter]

23 Archivo General de Indias, Seville, Spain. Papeles de Cuba, Legajo 13.

[decorative delimiter]

24 Original in Paris, Arch. Nat., Colonies, C13A.50.221‑221vo. This copy was made from a transcript in the Library of Congress.

Thayer's Note:

a The French of Document No. 1 is awkward and occasionally ungrammatical, betraying imperfect translation; not only is it transparent to English, it may even be the work of someone whose native language was Spanish, or at least whose Spanish was better than their French and also tends to contaminate the result. It would have been useful to append not the English translation that follows it here (uncredited, but presumably Whitaker's) but the item mentioned in note 22, which is manifestly the underlying original. That said, when a document is itself a translation betraying such transparency to the original language, back-translating it to the original intent of the writer is easy — the wheels of the cart following of themselves the ruts in the road, as it were; although what matters equally or even more, the nuances as read by the recipient, may suffer in the second translation.

[image ALT: Valid HTML 4.01.]

Page updated: 11 Nov 13