Page images

tion of a new state, to be a member of the Union, another hinting at the scheme of an independent government, and a third deprecating both these plans, as one might lead to the other, and preferring to remain for the present under the jurisdiction of Virginia.

From this time up to 1792, when Kentucky became a state, conventions continued to be held, memorials were addressed to the Virginia legislature, and a continued excitement was kept alive on the question of separation. In the meanwhile, rumors of a design, on the part of congress, to cede the right of navigating the Mississippi to Spain, reached this country, and greatly agitated the public mind; and this absorbing topic became mingled with every discussion in relation to the forming of a state government.

An incident may be mentioned here, to show the excitable state of the public mind in these early times, and the various causes of irritation to which it was exposed. The noted Tom Paine had written a book, to prove that Virginia had no claim, by her charter, to the territory west of the mountains, and advising Congress to take possession of the new lands, in behalf of the Union. A person appeared at Lexington, supposed to be an emissary from- nobody knew who— but who probably was some chance traveler, aiming at a little notoriety, and who ventured to advocate the doctrines of Paine in a public speech. The indignant people called upon a magistrate to arrest the propagator of such arrant heresy, as a disturber of the peace. There was no

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

law to justify such a proceeding; but an old Virginia statute was discovered, which imposed a fine, payaable in tobacco, upon the “propagators of false news," and the offender was convicted by acclamation, and fined a thousand pounds of tobacco. Being unable to pay the fine, and unwilling to go to jail, he was released by the people, on the condition that he should leave the country.




It is difficult to compress into a work like this, the details of a transaction, which caused great uneasiness to the early settlements, and which is too important to be passed over in silence. No sooner did Spain observe the movements in Kentucky, towards the establishment of a separate government, and the discontents of the people, in reference to the navigation of the Mississippi, than she commenced a series

a of intrigues with the leading men of that region, for the purpose of detaching this district from the Union.

In 1786, Colonel Wilkinson (since General Wilkinson), who had been two or three years settled in Kentucky, began to appear as a conspicuous politician, and was one of those who advocated the erection of an independent government. He was soon pronounced to be a pensioner of Spain, and an agent of that government, but with how much justice, we are not now able to determine. The people either did not believe the report, or considered the offence one of no great magnitude, for he was repeatedly elected by them to a seat in their conventions.

In 1788, Mr. Brown, an inhabitant of Kentucky, a personal and political friend of Wilkinson, and a delegate from Virginia to the congress then sitting at New York, wrote to a friend as follows: “ In private conferences whch I have had with Mr. Gardoqui, the Spanish minister at this place, I have been assured by him in the most explicit terms, that if Kentucky will declare her independence, and empower some proper person to negotiate with him, that he has authority to open the navigation of the Mississippi, for the exportation of their produce on terms of mutual advantage. But that this privilege can never be extended to them while part of the United States, by reason of commercial treaties existing between that court and other powers of Europe.” This letter was addressed to Mr. Muter, one of the judges of Kentucky.

Mr. Innis, the attorney of the United States for the Kentucky district, in a letter to the president, about the same time, uses this language: “ I am decidedly of opinion, that this western country will in a few years act for itself, and erect an independent government; for under the present system we cannot exert our strength; neither does congress seem disposed to protect us.'

These indications were succeeded by operations which rendered the designs of the Spanish government too palpable to be mistaken. General Wilkinson made a voyage to New Orleans, and on his return, announced that he had effected a contract with the governor, by which the exclusive privilege had been granted to him, of supplying that market with tobacco from Kentucky. The trade in this article, was at that time a monopoly in the hands of the king, and the port was not open for the reception of any produce from the territories of the United States; so that the privilege granted to Wilkinson was one of great favor, and much pecuniary


value. He immediately advertised that he would purchase all the tobacco that was raised in Kentucky; and he continued for several years to make large shipments. In the meanwhile, messengers were passing between himself and the Spanish governor, and large sums of money were known to be transmitted from New Orleans to Kentucky; events which were explained by Wilkinson as connected with his tobacco speculation, while they were suspected by the public to be parts of the machinery of a great political intrigue, involving the peace of the country.

At a later period, a person named Thomas Power, a subject of Spain and an emissary of the Spanish government, visited the western country, and had frequent interviews with Wilkinson, and some other influential gentlemen. The persons chiefly implicated, were Wilkinson, Brown, Innis, and Sebastian. The particulars are interesting, but too voluminous to be given in this volume; nor can they be condensed without injustice to those who were concerned in them, whose motives should be taken in connection with their acts, and for whose conduct an apology may be found in the distracted state of the country, and in other circumstances to which we have alluded. It is our intention to give this subject a full consideration in another work.

In 1793, shortly after the arrival of M. Genet, in the United States, as minister from the French Republic, a plan was organized by that factious diplomatist, to embroil the western people with the Spaniards, and four emissaries, whose names were La

« PreviousContinue »