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John Adams autobiography, part 2, "Travels, and Negotiations," 1777-1778
sheet 3 of 37, 19 - 26 February 1778

Travels &c. 1778
In the morning We discovered three Vessells a head of Us. They appeared to be large Ships, and Captain Tucker observing them with his Glasses, gave it as his Opinion that they were British Frigates and was preparing to give orders to avoid them. But a murmur arising among the Men which was countenanced by some of the petty Officers, if not by some of the three Lieutenants, who were eager for Prizes; "They would not run from an Enemy before they saw him; they would not fly from danger before they knew they were in it. They were only three fine rich English Merchantmen, or perhaps transports, and would make fat Prizes"&c. To humour his Men Captain Tucker gave orders to make all sail towards them. It was not long before We were near enough to see they were Frigates and count their Guns, to the full Satisfaction of every Man on board. No man had an Appetite for fighting three Frigates at once in our feeble State. Orders were given to put away, and our Officers had discovered that our Frigate sailed uncommonly fast near the Wind. This Course was therefore taken, and We soon lost Sight of two of the Ships, but the third chased Us the whole day. Sometimes she gained up [upon] Us, and sometimes We gained in our distance from her.
In the morning nothing to be seen: but soon after a Sail discovered a bead: supposed to be the same Frigate. She pursued Us the whole day. When the night approached, the Wind died away and We were left rolling and pitching in a Calm, with our Guns all out, our Courses or Coursers, I know not which is the right Word, all drawn up and every Way prepared for battle, the Officers and Men appeared in good Spirits and Captain Tucker said his orders were to carry me to France and to take any Prizes that might fall in his Way; he thought it his duty therefore to avoid fighting especially with an unequal force if he could, but if he could not avoid an Engagement he would give them something that should make them remember him. I said and did all in my power to encourage the Officers and Men, to fight them to the last Extremity. My Motives were more urgent than theirs, for it will easily be believed that it would have been more eligible for me to be killed on board the Boston or sunk to the bottom in her, than to be taken Prisoner. I sat in the Cabin at the Windows in the Stern and saw the Ennemy gaining upon Us very fast, she appearing to have a Breeze of Wind, while We had none.

Our Officers were of Opinion she had Oars out or some other machinery to accellerate her Course. Our Powder, Catridges and Balls were placed by the Guns and every thing ready to begin the Action. Although it was calm on the Surface of the Sea where we lay, the heavens had been gradually overspred with very thick black clouds and the Wind began to spring up, our Ship began to move, the night came on and it was soon dark. We lost Sight of our Enemy who did not appear to me to be very ardent to overtake Us. But the Wind increased to a Hurricane. The Ship laboured under the Weight of her Guns which were all out ready for Use, she shuddered and shivered like a Man in an Ague, she darted from Side to Side and pitched forward with such Velocity, that it was a very dangerous Operation to get the Guns into their places. If by any Accident or want of Skill or care, one of those heavy cannon had got loose, it would have rolled with the Vessel and infallibly have gone through the Side. All hands were called, and with much difficulty the Guns were all got in and secured. As it was impossible to sleep upon deck or in the Cabin one of the Lieutenants came to me and begged me to go down to his Birth below. But such was the Agitation of the Vessell that instead of sleeping it was with the Utmost difficulty that my little Son and I could hold ourselves in bed with both our hands, and bracing our selves against the boards, planks and timbers with our feet. In this Situation, all of a sudden, We heard a tremendous Report. Whether the British Frigate had overtaken Us, and fired upon Us, or whether our own Guns had been discharged We could not conjecture, but immediately an Officer came down to Us and told Us that the Ship had been struck with lightening and the Noise we had heard, was a Crash of Thunder: that four Men had been struck down by it upon deck, one of them wounded by a Scortch upon his Shoulder as large as a Crown. This Man languished and died in a few Weeks. That the Mainmast was struck and it was feared, damaged, but to what degree could not yet be ascertained. In the midst of all this terror and confusion, I heard a Cry that the Powder room was open. Cartridges, Powder horns, if not some small casks of Powder had been left rather carelessly in various parts of the Ship, near the Guns. If a Spark of the lightening had touched any of these, the Consequences might have been disagreable enough, but if it had reached the Powder room, it would have made an End of the Business. The Men were allarmed at the danger of the Powder room, and Sailors and Marines scampered away with their Lanthorns in such

a hurry, that I apprehended more danger to the Powder room from their candles than from the Lightening, but instantly I heard the Voice of an Officer. "Be cool! No Confusion! come back with all your lanthorns. I will go with mine and secure the Powder room." I was as much pleased to perceive the immediate Obedience of the Men, as to hear the Voice of the Officer. He soon returned and proclaimed that he had secured the Powder room and all was Safe.
exhibited such Sc nes as were new to me, except in the Histories of Voyages, and the descriptions of the Poets. We lost sight of our Ennemy it is true, but We found Ourselves in the Gulph Stream, in one of the most furious Storms, that ever Ship survived, the Wind North East, then North and then North West. It would be fruitless to attempt a description of what I saw, heard and felt, during these three days and nights. Every School Boy can turn to more than one description of a Storm in his Virgil, but no description in Pose [Prose] or Verse of a hurricane in the Gulph Stream, alway the Wind always crossing the rapid current in various Angles, has [ever] yet been Attempted, as far as I know. To describe the Ocean, the Waves, the Winds, The Ship, her motions, rollings, pitches, Wringings and Agonies, The Sailors, their countenances, language and behaviour, is impossible. No man could stand upon his legs; nothing could be kept in its place; an universal Wreck of every thing in all parts of the Ship, Chests, casks, chairs, Bottles &c.; no place or person was dry. The Wind blowing against the current, not directly, but in various Angles, produced a tumbling Sea, vast mountains of Water above Us, and as deep caverns below Us, the mountains sometimes dashing against each other, and sometimes piling up on one another like Pelion on Ossa, and not unfrequently breaking on the Ship threatened to bury Us all at once in the deep. The Sails were all hauled down but a foresail under which We hoped to scudd, but a sudden Gust of Wind rent it in an instant from the bottom to the top, and We were left with bare poles entirely at the Mercy of Wind and Water. The Noises were such that We could not hear each other speak at any distance. The Shrouds and every other rope in the Ship exposed to the Windand became a Cord of a very harsh musick. Their Vibrations produced a constant and an hideous howl, of itself enough to deafen Us, added to this the howl and Whistle of the Winds, and incessant roar of the Ocean all in boiling rage and fury, white as Snow with foam through the whole Extent of the horrison; and to compleat the whole, a Sound more allarming I found to our Officers than all the rest, a constant Cracking night and day, from a thousand places in all parts of the Ship, excited very serious Apprehensions of the Starting of the Butts.

Our Mainmast and Maintopmast had been hurt by the Lightening. On Tuesday We espyed a Sail and gave her chase. We gained upon her, and upon firing a Gun to leward and hoisting American Colours, she fired a friendly Gun and hoisted the French Colours of the Province of Normandy. She lay to, for Us, and as we were coming about to speak to her, when the Wind sprung up fresh of a sudden, and carried away our Maintopmast. We lost the Opportunity which I greatly regretted of speak [speaking] to our Friend the Norman, and were sufficiently employed for the remainder of the three days, in getting in a new Maintopmast, repairing the Sails and rigging, which were much damaged in the late Storm and in cleaning the Ship and putting her in order. From the thirty sixth to the thirty ninth degree are called the Squally Latitudes and We found them fully to answer their Character. It was reported among the Seamen that two Sailors who happened to be aloft, had no way to save themselves but by wrapping themselves in the Sail and going over with it. Whether it was true or not, and for what purpose it was propagated if it was not true, I know not: but the report itself was a sufficient illustration of a great Truth of which Ihave had abundant Experience both before and since that Event, that He who builds on Popularity is like a Sailor on a topmast whether drunk or sober, ready at the first blast to plunge into the briny deep.
I [It] had been my intention to keep an exact journal of all that happened in this Voyage, and I should have been much pleased to havekept preserved all the Occurrences in the late Chases, and turbulent Weather: but I was constantly so wett, and every Place and thing was so wett, and every Table and Chair was so wrecked, that is was impossible to touch a Pen or Paper. There was is one Anecdote humorous and instructive too, which I will record from my memory. We had on board about thirty french Gentlemen, of General Du Coudrays Corps of Engineers, whom Congress had sent back to France at the Expence of the United States, because they could not ratify the absurd and unauthorised Contract which Mr. Deane had made with them, and among those was a Captain Parison, who has been repeatedly mentioned before. In the course of our three days chase, I had often heard this Gentleman when any danger, or difficulty occurred, exclaim among his Fellow Passengers, Patience! Pondicherry! By means of our Interpreter Dr. Noel, I enquired of him what he meant, by these Words, and he very civilly told me

Cite web page as: John Adams autobiography, part 2, "Travels, and Negotiations," 1777-1778, sheet 3 of 37 [electronic edition]. Adams Family Papers: An Electronic Archive. Massachusetts Historical Society. http://www.masshist.org/digitaladams/
Original manuscript: Adams, John. John Adams autobiography, part 2, "Travels, and Negotiations," 1777-1778. Part 2 is comprised of 37 sheets and 7 insertions; 164 pages total. Original manuscript from the Adams Family Papers, Massachusetts Historical Society.
Source of transcription: Butterfield, L.H., ed. Diary and Autobiography of John Adams. Vol. 4 Cambridge, Mass. : Harvard University Press, 1961.
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