WILKINS, JOHN, army officer; date and place of birth and death unknown; fl. 1748–75.
John Wilkins entered the British army about 1748. On 18 June 1753 he became adjutant in the 32nd Foot, probably as an ensign. On 29 Oct. 1754 he was promoted lieutenant, still keeping the post of adjutant, perhaps because of the additional pay. In 1755 he became a captain in the 57th Foot; the regiment (renumbered the 55th) came to America in 1757. Wilkins was made a major in the Royal Americans (60th Foot) on 9 June 1762. He commanded the garrison at Fort Niagara (near Youngstown, N.Y.) from June or July 1762 and was in command throughout Pontiac*’s uprising of 1763–64. He was severely criticized by Amherst for his lack of aggressiveness and for his “infatuated stupidity” in failing to provide a guard for the Huron, sent to supply Detroit, where Henry Gladwin was besieged by Pontiac’s Indians. In September 1763, a supply convoy and two parties from the 80th Foot were ambushed by a large Indian force along the Niagara carrying place, a disaster that Wilkins might have averted with more effective patrols. In October he himself set out with a relief expedition. A storm on Lake Erie resulted in the loss of 70 or 71 men, tons of supplies, and several boats before the party was able to land at Long Beach (Ont.), whence it returned to Niagara. Despite such apparent incompetence, Wilkins was allowed to purchase the lieutenant-colonelcy of the 18th Foot at a price he later claimed was £4,000, £500 over the legal limit. He took rank from 13 June 1765 and went to Ireland to help bring the unit to America for further service.
Following his return to America, Wilkins was assigned in May 1768 to command Fort de Chartres (near Prairie du Rocher) in the Illinois country, and he reached the post on 7 September. He remained at Fort de Chartres until the summer of 1771, when he was replaced by Major Isaac Hamilton. During his three-year tenure Wilkins managed to antagonize most of the French settlers, in part because of his shady dealing with the British trading firm of Baynton, Wharton, and Morgan, but also because of his high-handed and possibly unauthorized administration of courts in the region. On Wilkins’ departure Lieutenant-General Gage advised him to begin assembling evidence to refute charges that had been made against him, and Wilkins apparently left immediately for London to do so. Nothing more is known about his career except that he left the army in 1775, perhaps selling his commission to Adam Williamson, who replaced him in the 18th Foot.
Huntington Library, Brock coll., BR Box 257; 80487, [G.B., WO], “All commissions in the Dragoons, and the field officers in the Foot, at ten years purchase. Captains and subalterns of Foot at nine years purchase” (broadside). PRO, WO 34/49, Amherst to Gladwin, 1 Aug. 1762, 6 Oct. 1763. Amherst, Journal (Webster). Correspondence of General Thomas Gage (Carter), I, 4–6, 208–11, 309–12. Johnson papers (Sullivan et al.), III, 903–4; X, 815–18. Michigan Pioneer Coll., XIX (1891), 27–295. Trade and politics, 1767–1769, ed. C. W. Alvord and C. E. Carter (Springfield, Ill., 1921). British officers serving in North America, 1754–1774, comp. W. C. Ford (Boston, 1894), 6, 105. G.B., WO, Army list, 1755, 1759, 1763, 1767–69, 1771, 1773, 1775–77. L. W. G. Butler and S. W. Hare, The annals of the King’s Royal Rifle Corps . . . (5v., London, 1913–32), I, 20, 134–39. Peckham, Pontiac. Colton Storm, “The notorious Colonel Wilkins,” Ill. State Hist. Soc., Journal (Springfield), XL (1947), 7–22.