Fair-Weather Patriot: General James Wilkinson

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General James WilkinsonGeneral James Wilkinson was the 5th Commanding General of the US Army, fought along the St. Lawrence River during the War of 1812, and was a spy for the Spanish. Find out more about this colorful character when Matt Dudley presents For King and Countries: The Remarkable Life of an Occasional Spaniard and a Fair-weather Patriot on Saturday, March 1st, 2 p.m. at the St. Lawrence County Historical Association at the Silas Wright House, 3 East Main St., Canton.

This War of 1812 program is part of the St. Lawrence County Historical Association’s Commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812, which was fought from 1812-1815. St. Lawrence County was one of the battlefields of the War of 1812.

Matt Dudley is a Senior History Major at St. Lawrence University and a native of Cazenovia, NY. He began studying General James Wilkinson’s career in the Fall of 2011, focusing mainly on Wilkinson’s 1813-1814 winter campaign in the North Country. This past summer, thanks to funding from St. Lawrence University, Matt furthered his investigation of Wilkinson’s life in the General Archive of the Indies in Seville, Spain and at the Chicago History Museum.

Wilkinson’s adventures ranged from Mexico City to Braintree, from Havana to Quebec City. The sources uncovered by Dudley in Seville and Chicago shed new light on Wilkinson’s service to not only the United States and Spain, but also the revolutionary governments of Mexico. On March 1st, Dudley will focus on these new sources in particular in an effort to deepen our understanding of how James Wilkinson became an occasional Spaniard and a Fair-weather Patriot in service to the United States and Mexico.

The St. Lawrence County Historical Association at the Silas Wright House is open Tuesday through Saturday noon to 4 p.m., Friday noon to 8 p.m. Admission to the museum is free; admission to the archives is free for members and children, $2.50 for college students, and $5 for the general public. The St. Lawrence County Historical Association is located at 3 E. Main St., Canton. Parking is available in back of the SLCHA, next to the museum’s main entrance. The St. Lawrence County Historical Association is a membership organization open to anyone interested in St. Lawrence County history. For more information, or to become a member, call the SLCHA at 315-386-8133 or e-mail info@slcha.org.

3 thoughts on “Fair-Weather Patriot: General James Wilkinson

  1. James S. KaplanJames S. Kaplan

    Sounds Fascinating. Hopefully you will bring your lecture and/or magazine article or book downstate to New York City where we are about to have a July 4 in Lower Manhattan for the first time in 40 years. Wilkinson was a key aide to General Horatio Gates at the battle of Saratoga before they
    had a failing out. Gates recently marked grave in Trinity Churchyard will be a focus of our festival, as will Marinus Willett, whose speech on August 10, 1814 from the steps of New York’s City Hall was a key factor in rallying the New York militias to defend the City. Like Willett, Wilkinson’s
    career spanned both Saratoga and the War of 1812, and a talk about him would be very interesting.

    1. Matt Dudley

      Hi James,

      It’s great to hear about the 4th of July Celebration you have mentioned. If there is an opening I would be happy to speak regarding Wilkinson’s contributions. After the battle, at only 20 years of age, he was Gates’ envoy to Gen. Burgoyne and had a major role in settling the terms of surrender. If you have ever visited the Rotunda you probably saw Trumbull’s “The Surrender of General Burgoyne.” If you look closely the artist actually gave a nod to Wilkinson. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:KeyTrumbullsSurrenderOfGeneralBurgoyne.jpg

      Kind Regards,
      Matt Dudley

  2. Miguel HernandezMiguel Hernandez

    The role of Spain in helping Great Britain’s American colonies secure their independence deserves to be reevaluated since there is abundant historical evidence that disproves the traditional view of some historians that Spain’s participation was of little or no value to American Independence. My unscientific survey of American history course offerings at 25 major U.S. universities show none that appear to examine Spain’s intervention in the American Revolution except in passing. The records do show however that Spain began funneling considerable supplies and war materiel to the Americans even before France formally allied itself to the United States.In October, 1775, for instance two Spanish ships sailing from Central America called at Charleston, SC and sold gunpowder and supplies to a local rebel leader. When the British government formally protested, Spain ordered one of the ships’ captains to be put on trial, to maintain the appearance of neutrality, but they were later acquitted. Also. during the summer of 1776, Luis de Unzaga y Amezaga, the governor of New Spain at New Orleans, had privately delivered some thousands of pounds of gunpowder, out of the King’s stores, to Captain George Gibson and Lieutenant Linn of the Virginia Council of Defense. Although some historians credit the French/Spanish “dummy’ corporation, Rodrique Hortalez & Cie.firm based in Paris, they completely ignore a Spainsh firm based in Bilbao, José de Gardoqui e Hijos, that sent far more aid directly to the Americans. There is some American acknowledgement of the military contributions of General Bernardo Galvez’s combat actions against the British in the Mississippi River Valley and the in what are now the Gulf States. Also in reviewing the record of the British Prison ships based in New York Harbor I did find dozens of Spanish-surnamed individuals. Spain’s naval and military actions in the Siege of Gibraltar (one of the longest sieges in history) did force the British keep the bulk of their navy and other forces closer to home and thus unable to deploy them to the colonies. Finally in terms of spying assistance o the American cause King Carlos III set up wide-spread a system of “observers” throughout the British colonies in America as well as in Europe to keep tabs on British movements and this intelligence was shared with General Washington. Oh one other thing. I have always wondered how differently Spain’s contributions to Americas independence would have been viewed IF the Continental Congress had sent Benjamin Franklin to Madrid instead of Paris.


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