The Jefferson Conspiracies, by David Leon Chandler, Copyright 1994, ISBN 0-688-12225-6
Chandler traces the career of thehighest ranking traitor ever known in American history, James Wilkinson.
Wilkinson was a hero of the battle of Saratoga during the Revolution for which he was promoted to brigadier general. He eventually went on the rise to the top post of Commandant of the U.S. Army in a career that spanned four presidencies from Washington through Madison.
All the while he was selling top military secrets to the Spanish government!
Although Spain was in the decline in the early 19th century it was still a major power. Spain controlled New Orleans and so could control trade from the entire Mississippi and Ohio River Basin by denying it access to the sea. One of Wilkinson's schemes won him exclusive trade licensing rights from the Spanish government in return for his spying.
He was also involved in the schemes of Aaron Burr. The former Vice President was going to head a group to seize land on the western frontier and create a new country (with himself as king of course). At one point he offered to make the new country a colony of Spain in order to gain their support and international recognition.
As the plots became more complex, Wilkinson, in order to cover his own involvement, betrayed Burr who was arrested and tried for treason. Burr was later acquitted in a landmark Supreme Court ruling.
In 1805, as a result of the Louisiana Purchase, Wilkinson was appointed military governor of Upper Louisiana at St. Louis. He evidently ran it in a totally corrupt manner, selling favors, taking kickbacks, etc. In 1807, at the end of his term Meriwether Lewis was appointed to be his successor and he was reassigned to New Orleans to prepare defenses to repel a possible British invasion.
Having uncovered Wilkinson's corruption, his involvement with Burr and possibly his ongoing spying for Spain, Lewis intended to leave St. Louis and return to Washington to expose him. Originally intending to travel by ship via New Orleans, he for no known reason changed his mind at the last minute and started overland via the Natchez Trace.
Lewis died outside of Nashville, at a tavern called Grinder's Stand where he had stopped to spend the night. He was traveling with James Neally, an Indian Agent appointed to his post by Wilkinson, as his guide.
Lewis died as the result of multiple knife wounds and two pistol shots, one in the head and one in the chest.
The official reason for his death was given as suicide. Speculation about his death were set aside once former President Jefferson stated publicly that he knew Lewis personally and knew him to be distraught. This is strange as there is no other historical record regarding Lewis condition. Also it is known that Jefferson personally intervened to stop a previous investigation into Wilkinson's alleged Spanish connections. Jefferson had also seemed aware of them during a scheme to break Cuba free of Spain to be added to the U.S.
There was never any offical investigation into Lewis' death.
Wilkinson's treachery, although suspected and alleged, was never proven during his life time but only much later with the unsealing of secret Spanish historical records.
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