It was said of him that he never won a battle nor lost a court-martial. He was called "the most consummate artist in treason that the nation ever possessed." Perhaps the kindest assesment of his career was that "He had considerable military talent, but used it solely for his own gain." He betrayed virtually every commander he served under — including Benedict Arnold. But to his credit, he was always a snappy dresser. His name was General James Wilkinson.
Wilkinson was born in 1757 on a farm in Maryland. During the American Revolutionary War he served in the Continental Army, being commissioned as a captain in 1775. Charming and charismatic, he proved very adept at advancing his own career and wrangled a promotion to the board of war over other more senior officers. He appears to have been a part of the "Conway Cabal" to replace George Washington with Horatio Gates as Commander-in-Chief of the army. He was forced to resign in 1778, managed to receive another army appointment the following year, and was forced to resign again amidst charges of corruption.
After the war, he moved across the Appalachians, where he was involved in gaining statehood for Kentucky at the same time he was negotiating with Spain to seek union between Kentucky and the Spanish territories. Although his plans fell through, he remained on Spain's payroll for many years and was known by the Spanish as "Agent 13".
He led a volunteer force in one of the Indian wars in 1791, leading to his return to the Army. While commanding U.S. forces in the west, he continued to sell information to the Spanish. He corresponded with Aaron Burr about Burr's conspiracy to set up an independent nation in the west. It is speculated that he actually was the mastermind of the plot; but when things began to go sour, he sold out and testified against Burr.
His service prior to and during the War of 1812 was marked by corruption, mishandling and disaster — frequently because he devoted more attention to land deals and kickbacks than to his men. Time and again, he faced criticism and inquries for his actions, but somehow he always came out, as one historian put it, "smelling like a well-fertilized rose."
After his death, his correspondence with the Spanish governor of Louisiana, proving his espionage, was discovered and published in 1856
Game and Story Use
- In a historical or time-travel campaign set in the late 18th or very early 19th Centuries, General Wilkinson might make an interesting adversary.
- Or more interesting yet, a corrupt superior whom the PC's have to either work around or try to bring down
- In any campaign, Wilkerson is a model for a corrupt official to bedevil the PC's.
- Of course, some PC's might regard Wilkerson as a role model!