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Wilkinson was born in Benedict, Maryland, in 1757. He studied medicine at the University of Pennsylvania and opened a medical practice in Maryland. During the Revolution, he served as aide-de-camp to General Horatio Gates and carried the news of America's victory at Saratoga to Congress. Wilkinson's indiscreet criticism of General Washington's authority forced his reassignment to administrative duty as clothier general, in which post he served until 1781. Three years later, he moved to the Virginia frontier, where he promoted the territory's reorganization as the new state of Kentucky. At that time, he secretly advised the Spanish government on American plans for western development, receiving a sizable annual pension and favored trading status for his cooperation.

In 1791, Wilkinson returned to military duty during the Ohio River Territory Indian campaigns, succeeding General Anthony Wayne. As military governor of the southwest territory, Wilkinson participated in the 1803 transfer of the Louisiana Purchase from France to the United States. He served briefly as governor of the vast new territory. He was publicly criticized for his heavy-handed administration and reassigned to frontier military duty. Public concerns about his abuse of authority increased when Wilkinson's participation in former vice president Aaron Burr's scheme to establish an independent western nation was revealed. He narrowly escaped indictment during Burr's treason trial, and was twice investigated by Congress. Following an unsuccessful court-martial, he returned to his military command in New Orleans.


With the outbreak of renewed war between America and England in 1812, Wilkinson was posted to Canada. His major offensive against the British in Montreal failed, and he was discharged from active service. Wilkinson died in Mexico on 28 December 1825.

Details

  • Title: JAMES WILKINSON
  • Creator: by Charles Willson Peale, from life
  • Date Created: 1796/1797
  • Contributor: Independence National Historical Park, National Park Service
  • Original Source: http://www.nps.gov/museum/exhibits/revwar/image_gal/indeimg/wilkinson.html
  • Source: Independence NHP
  • Portrait Figure Birth and Death Dates: 1757-1825
  • Ownership History: Listed in the 1813 Peale Museum catalog. Purchased by the City of Philadelphia at the 1854 Peale Museum sale.
  • National Park Service Catalog Number: INDE 14166
  • Measurements: H 24, W 20 in (H 61.0, W 50.8 cm)
  • Materials: Oil on canvas.
  • About This Portrait: In late 1796 or early 1797, Charles Willson Peale painted Wilkinson's portrait for the Philadelphia Museum. The subject had come to Philadelphia in order to testify before Congress about his unofficial trade relations with Native Americans in the Ohio Territory. While Wilkinson was there, he succeeded his territorial commander, Anthony Wayne, who had suddenly died en route to his post. Wilkinson's new assignment, initially a popular one, probably influenced Peale's consideration of him as an appropriate subject for the museum

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