JAMES WILKINSON was born in Calvert County, Maryland, probably in 1757; received his early education from a private tutor and later studied medicine in Philadelphia; served in Thompson's Pennsylvania rifle battalion, 1775-1776; was commissioned a captain in the Continental Army, September 1775; served in the siege of Boston and with Benedict Arnold at Montreal; was aide to General Horatio Gates in early 1776, then served under General Washington in the battles of Trenton and Princeton at the turn of the year; was brevet brigadier general in the Continental Army, November 1777-March 1778, and concurrently secretary to the Board of War, January-March 1778; was forced by General Washington to resign both offices because of his part in the Conway cabal against the commander in chief; was clothier general of the Army, July 1779-March 1781, resigning as a result of irregularities in his accounts; married Ann Biddle, circa 1782; became brigadier general of Pennsylvania militia, 1782, and state assemblyman, 1783; moved to Kentucky, established trade relationships with the Spanish in New Orleans, and engaged in various intrigues; was a member of the Kentucky Convention of 1788 and advocated separation from Virginia; led a force of Kentucky volunteers against Indians north of the Ohio River, March 1791; returned to federal military service as lieutenant colonel commandant of the 2d Infantry, October 1791; was promoted to brigadier general and served on the frontier under General Anthony Wayne, commanding the right wing in the Battle of Fallen Timbers, August 1794; was the senior officer of the United States Army, 15 December 1796-13 July 1798. (For details of Wilkinson's second term as commanding general and his later life, see page 66.)

The Artist

Charles Willson Peale (1741-1827) was only twenty-three when the agitation associated with the Stamp Act prompted him to join the Sons of Freedom. Although this lost him the support of the Loyalists who were backing him in his trade as saddler, forcing him to abandon that occupation, it proved to be a providential development, for it turned him to the field of art. His portrait of Brig. Gen. James Wilkinson reposes in the Independence National Historical Park Collection in Philadelphia, part of an invaluable element by this one artist that embraces contemporary portraits of Presidents George Washington, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson; Revolutionary soldiers Horatio Gates, Henry Knox, Henry Dearborn, and Nathanael Greene; foreign comrades-in-arms Marquis de Marie Lafayette, Baron Johann de Kalb, Comte Jean de Rochambeau, and Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben; and explorers Meriwether Lewis, William Clark, Zebulon Pike, and Stephen Long.


Painting:  James Wilkinson.  By Charles Willson Peale.
James Wilkinson
By Charles Willson Peale
Oil on canvas, 231/2" x 191/4", 1797


Return to Table of Contents

Search CMH Online

Last updated 24 February 2006