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Adams Family Papers : An Electronic Archive
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John Adams autobiography, part 2, "Travels, and Negotiations," 1777-1778
sheet 7 of 37, 27 - 29 March 1778


Travels
On monday last We made the Land on the coast of Spain.
On Tuesday We ran into the Bay of Saint Anthonio. Four or five Boats with fifteen or sixteen men in each, came to Us, out of one of which We took a Pilot.
At Sight of the Country of Spain, which I viewed as distinctly and particularly as the Glasses we had in our possession, would permit, I had a great Curiosity to go on Shore. Though the mountains at a distance were covered with Snow, there was a fine Verdure near the Sea. I saw one convent but We could not come in Sight of the Town. The Moment We were about turning the point of the Rock, to enter the harbour, a Sail appeared. She might be an English Merchantman, and We must put out, to see who she was. As prizes were not my particular Objects, I had not enthusiasm enough to see any probability of a prize and felt much disappointed, but said nothing. After She was ascertained to be a Spanish Brigg, We found it impracticable upon repeated Efforts to get into the harbour. In the night a sudden Wind caught Us at Anchor, from the North West, obliged Us to weigh, make all the
Sail We could and put to Sea. We steered our course for Bourdeaux. Yesterday was almost a calm, the little Wind there was directly against Us. This morning the Wind was a little better. We were supposed to be within thirty Leagues of Bourdeaux River.
Last night and this morning We were in the thoroughfare of all the Ships from Bourdeaux. A great number of them were always in Sight. By Observation to day our Latitude was forty six degrees three minutes north, about seven minutes South of the middle of the Isle of Rea. We were therefore about twenty leagues from the Tower of Cordovan. We had no Wind, but a very disagreable Suel , and nothing could be more tedious to me than this idle Life. I had not yet learned the French Word, Ennui, but I felt enough of it.
Last Evening We had two little Incidents, which were very unpleasant. One was, the French Barber, attempting very roughly to go below, contrary to orders, the Centinell, after repeatedly announcing his orders, and giving warning of the consequences to no effect, cutt off his Toe with a Cutlace. The French People on board, as was very natural, at first were allarmed and expressed much resentment, but finding on Inquiry, that the fellow had been wholly [in the wrong and]

deserved all he had suffered and the Centinell had done no more than his duty they all very honourably acquiesced.
The other disagreable incident was this. Our English Prisoners, though in general they behaved very well, were sometimes out of humour, and had made some invidious remarks upon our Officers and Men and their awkward Conduct of the Ship, and especially on the Evening of Saint Patricks day, when many of them declared they would get drunk, and I suppose had been as good as their Words, were overheard to wish to meet a British Man of War and hinted that We could not stand an Engagement of half an hour with a british Vessell of half our force &c. &c. &c. On this day one of these Prisoners a little more elevated than Usual, grew out of temper and was very passionate and abusive to Mr. Vernon, and afterwards to Captain Palmes of the Marines, but a little prudent language used to both parties composed their humours and the difficulty subsided.
Captain McIntosh was of North Britain, and had been twenty Years before a Lieutenant of a Man of War. He was very open and decided against America, in her contest, and his Passions were so engaged that they easily inkindled.
Mr. Gault was an Irish Gentleman, and as decided against America, at least in her Claim of Independence as the other.
Mr. Wallace was more reserved, cautious, silent and secret. Jealousies arose among the Men, that the Prisoners were plotting with some of our profligate People. But I believed the Suspicion was not well grounded; at least that there was not much danger to be apprehended from any such Intrigues.
All day Yesterday, and all the forenoon of this day We had been looking out for Land, with no light Apprehensions on our Approach to the dangerous and unexperienced Coast of France, where a sandy Shore generally extends a great Way into the Sea, and very shoal Water is often at a great distance from Land. The Country also is very flatt and low so that a Vessell gets into very shallow Water before the Land is discerned. About four O Clock, We cryed France! France! We saw the Isles of Rhee and Oleron, between which two, is the Entrance into the Harbour of Rochelle, which is about half way between Nantes and Bourdeaux. The land was extreamly level and low, scarcely visible. We saw a Tower. The Water was but twenty or thirty fathoms deep.

The Bottom all Sand: in all respects the reverse of the Spanish Coast on the other Side of the Bay of Biscay. In the Afternoon We had an entire calm and Mr. Goss played upon his Violin and the Sailors danced, which seemed to have a happy effect on their Spirits and put them all in good humour. Numbers of small Birds from the Shore, came along to day, some of which alighted on our Rigging, Yards &c. One of them a little Lark We caught. These Birds venture from the Shore till they loose sight of it, and then they fly till they are so fatigued, that the instant they alight upon a Ship, they drop to sleep.
Becalmed all the last night. This morning a vast number of Sails were in Sight. Saint Martins and Oleron were visible, at least the Towers and Windmills, but the Land was very low and level. A Pilot boat, with two Sails and four Men, came on board of Us, and the Pilot instantly undertook to carry Us to Bourdeaux. He said the Ship might go quite up to the City, if she drew twenty feet of Water. We were soon sailing very agreably towards our Port. The Pilot said War was declaired last Wednesday, and that the Pavillions were hoisted Yesterday at every Fort and Lighthouse. This News, I did not believe, but it signified something, which I did not Understand nor the Pilot neither.
There was a civil Frenchman on board, whose name I had never asked till this day. His Name was Quillau, Fourier des Logis de Monseigneur Le Compte D'Artois. He was not of Du Coudrays Corps. I know not whether my Conjecture was well founded [but] I then suspected that the Court of Versailles had sent some of their domestic and confidential Servants to America to reconnoitre the Country and that they might not receive all their Information from the Representations [(possibly) Representatives] of their Ministers.
The French Gentlemen on board could scarcely understand our new Pilot. They said he spoke Gascoine, the Dialect of Bourdeaux, which they said was not good French.
This day six Weeks We had sailed from Nantaskett Road. How many dangers, distresses, and hairbreadth escapes had We seen. There was one however which has been omitted. One Evening when We were approaching the French Coast, I was sitting in the Cabin, when Captain McIntosh our Prisoner came down to me and addressed me, with great solemnity "Mr. Adams this ship will be captured by my Countrymen, in less than half an hour. Two large British Men of War are bearing directly down upon Us, and are just by, you will hear

from them I warrant you in six minutes. Let me take the Liberty to say to you that I feel for you more than any one else. I have always liked you since I came on board, and have always ascribed to you chiefly the good treatment I have received as well as my People; and you may depend upon it, all the good Service I can render you with my Countrymen shall be done with pleasure." I saw by his Countenance, Gestures, Air, Language and every Thing that he believed what he said, that he most heartily rejoiced in his own prospect of deliverance and that he heartily pitied me.... I smiled however at his Offers of kind Offices to me, knowing full Well that his Prayers and tears would be as unavailing as my own if we should both he should be generous and I weak enough to employ them, with British Officers, Ministers, judges or King, in the then Circumstances of Things and Temper of the Britons. I made him a bow expressive of my Sense of his politeness, but said nothing. Determined to see my danger before I would be intimidated at it, I took my hat and marched up to the Quarter Deck. I had before heard an uncommon trampling upon Deck and perceived Signs of some Alarm and confusion, but when upon Deck I saw the two ships indeed. They both appeared larger than our Frigate and were already within Musquet Shot of Us. The Air was clear and the Moon very bright. We could see every thing even the Men on board. We all expected every moment to be hailed, and possibly saluted with a broadside. But the two ships passed by Us without speaking a Word, and I stood upon Deck till they had got so far off as to remove all Apprehensions of danger from them. Whether they were English or French, or Spanish or Dutch, or whether they were two American Frigates which had been about that time in France We never knew. We had no inclination to inquire about their business or destination, and were very happy that they discovered so little curiosity about ours.
Every Ship at Sea is a kind of Prison, and the poor Inhabitants are obliged to have recourse to songs, cards, dances and Stories to amuse them, and wear away the tedious hours. We had many Stories told but I remember very few. In some of the dull hours of calm upon


Cite web page as: John Adams autobiography, part 2, "Travels, and Negotiations," 1777-1778, sheet 7 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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