A website from the Massachusetts Historical Society; founded 1791.
Adams Family Papers : An Electronic Archive
Next Page
Previous Page

John Adams autobiography, part 3, "Peace," 1779-1780
sheet 5 of 18, 13 November - 11 December 1779

Peace Nov. 13 1779
nine, and one Servant for me and another for Mr. Dana, in all seven Persons. That Mr. Dana was a Gentleman of principal Rank in this Country, a Member of Congress and of the Council of Massachusetts Bay and now in a very important Commission, which made it necessary for me to request, that a particular Attention might be paid to his Accommodation, and at least as much as to mine.
, I had again the melancholly Tryal of taking Leave of my Family, with the Dangers of the Seas and the Terrors of British Men of War before my Eyes, with this additional Aggravation that I now knew by Experience, how serious they were, much better than I had when I embarked in Nantasket Road in 1778. We went to Boston and embarked on Board the Frigate whose Yards were manned, in Honour of the Passengers. We found the Ship crouded, full 350 Sailors, a great number of whom had been recruited in America: and a great many Passengers, among whom were Mr. Jeremiah Allen and Samuel Cooper Johonnot, Grandson of Dr. Cooper.
I shall not consume much time in the Relation Narration of this second Voyage to Europe though it was attended with as much danger as the first. We met indeed no British Men of War, which in my Estimation were the Worst of all Evils. We had but one very violent Gale of Wind, and that was so much inferiour to those I had encountered the Year before in the Bay of Biscay, in the English Channel and above all in the Gulph Stream, that it appeared to me to have no terror in it. It was nevertheless furious enough to allarm the Officers and People, and their Apprehensions were increased by the foundering of a or at least by the sudden and final disappearance of a Chasse Maree, that had hitherto sailed under our Convoy from L'Orient. Their Fears as well as mine were increased by another Circumstance, which very seriously threatened destruction to Us all. We had not been two days at Sea before I perceived that the Pumps were going and that a Leak in the Ship was constantly admitting a great deal of Water. At first it was said to be a steady Leak, and not attended with much danger, but it constantly increased from day to day, till our Arrival in Spain. During all the latter part of the Voyage, a large Stream of Water was constantly pouring over each Side into the Sea, from the Pumps which were worked by day and by Night, till all the People on board, Passengers and Officers as well as Seamen were almost exhausted with fatigue. The Sensible was an old Frigate, and her Planks and timbers were so decayed, that one half the Violence of Winds and Waves which had so nearly wrecked the new and strong Ship the Boston the Year before, would have torn her to pieces. Or had We been chased by a superiour British Force, and obliged to spread all

our Sails, it is highly probable that the Leak would have been increased and the Ship foundered.
We were on the Grand Bank of Newfound Land, and about this time, We spoke with an American Privateer, The General Lincoln Captain Barnes. He came on board and our Captain supplied him with some Wood and other Articles he wanted. We all wrote Letters by him to our Families.
Since I came on board I found that even the French Officers had heard more News, or at least more Title Tattle than I had. This was the first time that I heard that Envy and Calumny had been busy with the Character of my Friend General Warren and his Family. That his Son had made a great Fortune, by Privateering, by Trade, by purchasing Sailors Shares and by Gambling: That he had won of C, whom Nobody pittied, a great Sum of Money. That he had made great Profits by buying, in great quantities what he knew was wanted for the Navy and then selling it to the Board. That the Agent too had made a great fortune, that his Wife was a Tory and many Anecdotes of her Conversation &c. These Reports which were mentioned as undoubted and notorious Truths gave me great Uneasiness, because, though I gave very little Credit to them, It was not in my Power to contradict them. There are no Appearances remaining I believe of the Great fortunes, and probably the Accusations were greatly exaggerated, if not merely invidious Suspicions. Indeed I had found that the Passions of Envy, jealousy, hatred and Revenge engendered by Democratical Licentiousness, had encreased in a great degree by the political Competitions in many other Instances, and was not a little allarmed at the Prospect they opened of still greater Evils.
The Wind was fair and the Weather pleasant. We had passed the Grand Bank, and found ourselves on the Eastermost Edge of it. On sounding We found Bottom in thirty fathoms of Water.
The Captain and all his Officers and Passengers were so much alarmed at the increasing danger of the Leak and at the fatiguing Labour of all hands in keeping the Pumps in play, that it was concluded to make for one of the Western Islands as the first Friendly Land We could possibly reach: but We missed them and some day in the beginning of December 1779 We found ourselves, as was supposed within one hundred Leagues of Ferrol or at least of Corunna, to one or the other of which places We determined to direct our Course with all the Sail, the Ship could prudently bare. The Leak which kept two Pumps constantly going, having determined the Captain to put into Spain. This

Resolution was a great Embarrassment to me. Whether I should travel by Land to Paris a journey of twelve or thirteen hundred miles, or Wait for the Frigate to be examined and repaired, which would might require a long time? Whether I could get Carriages, Horses, Mules or any other Animals to convey Us? What Accommodations We could get upon the Road? How I could convey the Children, and what the Expences would be? were all questions which I could not answer: nor could I find any Person on board, who was able to give me any satisfactory Information. It was said however by some that the Passage of the Pyranees was very difficult: that there was no regular Stage or Post: that We must purchase Carriages and Horses &c. . . . I could not help reflecting how much greater these inconveniences had been rendered, and how much more our perplexity if the rest of my Family had been with me. With Ladies and young Children and Additional Servants Male and Female We should have been in more distress on Land  [illegible than at Sea.
About Eleven O Clock We discovered Land. Two large Mountains, one sharp and steep, the other large and broad, made their Appearance. We passed three Capes, Finisterre, Tortanes and Veillane. The Chevalier de La Molion gave me some Accajou Nutts. In handling the outside Shell, which has a corrosive Oil in it, in order to come at the meat, I got a little of this juice on my fingers and afterwards inadvertently rubbing my Eyes, I soon found the Lids swelled and inflamed up to my Brows.
We got into Ferrol, where We found a Squadron of French Ships of the Line under the Command of the Count De Sade. We went on Board, the General as they called him, that is The Commodore, to make our Compliments. We then went on Shore, visited the Spanish General Don Joseph St. Vincent, and then took a Walk about the Town, saw a great Number of Spanish and French Officers, who all congratulated Us on our narrow Escape and applauded Captain Chavagne for making the first Port. When We returned on board the Sensible We found she had made seven feet of Water in her Hold, within the first hour of her coming to Anchor when the Pumps had been abandoned from the fatigue of every Body worn out by pumping.
Went on Shore with all my Family, and took Lodgings. Dined with the Spanish Lieutenant General of the Marine with twenty four French and Spanish Officers. Don Joseph, though an old

Officer had a great deal of Vivacity and good humour as well as Hospitality. The difference between the Faces and Airs of the French and Spanish Officers was more obvious and striking than that of their Uniforms. Gravity and Silence distinguish the latter: Gaiety, Vivacity and Loquacity the former. The Spanish Uniforms were laced ornamented with a very broad and even Gold Lace, the French with a narrow and scolloped one. The French Wiggs and Hair had several Rows of curls over the Ears: The Spanish only one. The French Bags were small, the Spanish large: Many of the Spaniards had very long hair quieued, reaching down to their hams almost. All the Officers of both Nations had new Cockades, made up of two, a red and a white one in token of the Union of the two Nations.
In the Evening We went to the Comedy or rather the Italian Opera; where We saw many Officers, and very few Ladies. The Musick and dancing were tolerable; but the Actors and Actresses very indifferent, at least it was a dull Entertainment to me. Perhaps it might have been more pleasing, if I had Understood the Italian Language: but all the Knowledge I ever had of this, which was not much, was acquired after that time.
This Evening the French Consul, whose Name was De Tournelle Consul of France at Corunna, arrived at Ferrol, and was introduced to me at my Chamber, by the French Vice Consul. Both made me the politest Offers of Assistance of every Sort. Supped and lay down, but I cannot say I slept or rested, at my Lodgings. We had too many Companions in Bed, in whose Society I never could sleep, much more than if I had been buried in hot embers.
Breakfasted for the first time on Spanish Chocolate which fully answered the fame it had acquired in the World. Till that time I had no Idea that any thing that had the Appearance of Chocolate and bore that name could be so delicious and salubrious.
Every Body now congratulated Us, on our safe Arrival at this place. The Leak in the Sensible had increased since she had been at Anchor; and all agreed that We had escaped a very great danger.
I wrote to Congress the following Letter and prepared a Duplicate and Triplicate to go by different Opportunities.
Ferrol December 11. 1779
I have the Honour to inform Congress, that on the thirteenth day of November I embarked on Board the French Frigate Le Sensible, and on the fourteenth came on Board The Honourable Francis Dana Esq., the Secretary to my Commission, when We fell down to King Road, and on the fifteenth sailed for France.

Cite web page as: John Adams autobiography, part 3, "Peace," 1779-1780, sheet 5 of 18 [electronic edition]. Adams Family Papers: An Electronic Archive. Massachusetts Historical Society. http://www.masshist.org/digitaladams/
Original manuscript: Adams, John. John Adams autobiography, part 3, "Peace," 1777-1778. Part 3 is comprised of 18 sheets and 1 insertion; 72 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.
Next Page
Previous Page