Adams Family Correspondence, volume 1

John Adams to Abigail Adams, 7 July 1774 JA AA John Adams to Abigail Adams, 7 July 1774 Adams, John Adams, Abigail
John Adams to Abigail Adams
My Dear Falmouth July 7th: 1774

Have you seen a List of the Addressers of the late Governor? There is one abroad, with the Character, Profession or Occupation of each Person against his Name.1 I have never seen it but Judge Brown says, against the Name of Andrew Fanuil Phillips, is “Nothing,” and that Andrew when he first heard of it said, “Better be nothing with one Side, than every Thing with the other.”—This was witty and smart, whether Andrew said it, or what is more likely, it was made for him.

A Notion prevails among all Parties that it is politest and genteelest to be on the Side of Administration, that the better Sort, the Wiser Few, are on one Side; and that the Multitude, the Vulgar, the Herd, the Rabble, the Mob only are on the other. So difficult it is for the frail feeble Mind of Man to shake itself loose from all Prejudices and Habits. However Andrew, or his Prompter is perfectly Right, in his Judgment, and will finally be proved to be so, that the lowest on the Tory Scale, will make it more for his Interest than the highest on the Whiggish. And as long as a Man Adhers immoveably to his own Interest, and has Understanding or Luck enough to secure and promote it, he will have the Character of a Man of Sense And will be respected by a selfish World. I know of no better Reason for it than this—that most Men are conscious that they aim at their own Interest only, and that if they fail it is owing to short Sight or ill Luck, and therefore cant 131blame, but secretly applaud, admire and sometimes envy those whose Capacities have proved greater and Fortunes more prosperous.

I am to dine with Mr. Waldo, to day. Betty, as you once said.2

I am engaged in a famous Cause: The Cause of King, of Scarborough vs. a Mob, that broke into his House, and rifled his Papers, and terrifyed him, his Wife, Children and Servants in the Night. The Terror, and Distress, the Distraction and Horror of this Family cannot be described by Words or painted upon Canvass. It is enough to move a Statue, to melt an Heart of Stone, to read the Story. A Mind susceptible of the Feelings of Humanity, an Heart which can be touch'd with Sensibility for human Misery and Wretchedness, must reluct, must burn with Resentment and Indignation, at such outragious Injuries.3 These private Mobs, I do and will detest. If Popular Commotions can be justifyed, in Opposition to Attacks upon the Constitution, it can be only when Fundamentals are invaded, nor then unless for absolute Necessity and with great Caution. But these Tarrings and Featherings, these breaking open Houses by rude and insolent Rabbles, in Resentment for private Wrongs or in pursuance of private Prejudices and Passions, must be discountenanced, cannot be even excused upon any Principle which can be entertained by a good Citizen—a worthy Member of Society.

Dined With Mr. Collector Francis Waldo, Esqr. in Company with Mr. Winthrop, the two Quincys and the two Sullivans. All very social and chearfull—full of Politicks. S. Quincy's Tongue ran as fast as any Bodies. He was clear in it, that the House of Commons had no Right to take Money out of our Pocketts, any more than any foreign State repeated large Paragraphs from a Publication of Mr. Burke's in 1766, and large Paragraphs from Junius Americanus &c.4 This is to talk and to shine, before Persons who have no Capacity of judging, and who do not know that he is ignorant of every Rope in the Ship.

I shant be able to get away, till next Week. I am concerned only in 2 or 3 Cases and none of them are come on yet. Such an Eastern Circuit I never made. I shall bring home as much as I brought from home I hope, and not much more, I fear.

I go mourning in my Heart, all the Day long, tho I say nothing. I am melancholly for the Public, and anxious for my Family, as for myself a Frock and Trowsers, an Hoe and Spade, would do for my Remaining Days.

For God Sake make your Children, hardy, active and industrious, for Strength, Activity and Industry will be their only Resource and Dependance.

John Adams

RC (Adams Papers); addressed: “To Mrs. Abigail Adams Braintree To be left at Mr. Adams's Office in Queen Street Boston”; endorsed: “No 7.”


Two broadside editions of this List of Addressers were issued, both of them probably by Edes & Gill, publishers of the Boston Gazette (Ford, Mass. Broadsides , Nos. 1699, 1700). One of them is reproduced in this volume from an original in MHi; see the Descriptive List of Illustrations. The other, preceded by a text of the Address and brief editorial comment, was reproduced in Boston Public Library, Bulletin, 12:217–218 and insert (Oct. 1893).


Francis Waldo, Harvard 1747, was one of the leading citizens and the first collector of the port of Falmouth, later Portland; he later fled to England as a loyalist exile (Sibley-Shipton, Harvard Graduates , vol. 12 [in press]). The signification of “Betty” is not apparent.


Though perhaps once “famous” (as JA says), and certainly illustrative of the feelings aroused by the Revolutionary struggle in its early stages, this “Cause” seems to have been almost entirely overlooked by historians and biographers.

The principal in it was Richard King (1718–1775), a well-to-do farmer, storekeeper, and timber exporter who had settled in Scarborough, Maine, in the 1740's. He took the ministerial side in the Stamp Act, and this, in addition to his being both the largest creditor and the treasurer of the parish, made him obnoxious to a certain class of his neighbors. After a good deal of talk among themselves about his getting “his Estate by robbing the Poor” and his deserving “a good Whipping and to have his Ears cutt off because he had treated them ill,” twenty or thirty men, including some who owed him money, gathered at his house late in the night of 19 March 1766. With much “Thumping, Yelling, Hooping,” they threw hatchets through windows, came in after them, terrorized King, his servants, his five children, and his wife (who was “far gone in her Pregnancy”), smashed furniture and dishes, hacked walls and staircase, and scattered and burned all the papers they could lay their hands on. One of King's children (by a former wife) was Rufus King, later a leading Federalist politician and diplomat and a friend of two generations of the Adamses. He was then eleven years old and was probably at home during that night of violence, though no mention of it is made in the six-volume Life and Correspondence of Rufus King compiled by his grandson, Charles R. King, N.Y., 1894–1900. A faint and misleading echo of it may appear in the note on Richard King's papers at vol. 1:2, but a considerable mass of documents bearing on the mobbing and trials actually remains among the Rufus King Papers in the New-York Historical Society.

Other, if lesser, acts of vandalism against King's property occurred in the following months, and King, despite threats of personal injury if he went to law, sued his persecutors for trespass, claiming damages of £2,000. The case and its sequels continued in the courts until long after King's death. They can only be summarized here. Fuller documentation will appear when JA's legal papers are edited and published.

The trial of Richard King v. John Stewart et al. (Jonathan Andrews Jr., Amos Andrews, John Timothy, and Samuel Stewart) came on in Falmouth Inferior Court in March 1773. King was allowed no damages and appealed to the Superior Court in its July term. Here he won a judgment for £200. Both sides requested writs of review, King because he considered the judgment insufficient and the defendants because they thought the verdict wrong. This necessitated a trial de novo in July 1774.

It was at this point that JA entered the case, which had now, however, become two—King v. John Stewart et al., and Jonathan Andrews et al. v. King. JA and Theophilus Bradbury acted for King in both cases; James and John Sullivan were their opponents in both. JA's emotional harangue to the jury in the first case was written out more or less in full and is preserved among his legal papers. He concentrated on the physical damage to King's property, the intangible damage to his “Credit in Trade” (through the destruction of his papers), and the anguish suffered by 133the whole family from the malice and cruelty of the mob. For example:

“The Cruelty, the Terror, the Horror of the whole dismal scene. It would be affectation to attempt to exaggerate, it is almost impossible to exagerate, the distresses of this innocent Family at that Time.—The Excellency of a Tryal by Jury is that they are the Partys Peers, his equalls, men of like Passions, feelings, Imaginations and Understandings with him. If your Passions are not affected upon this Occasion, you will not be the Plaintiffs Peers. It is right and fit, it is reasonable and just that you should feel as he did, that you should put yourselves in his Place, and be moved with his Passions.

“Be pleased then to imagine yourselves each one for himself—in Bed with his pregnant Wife, in the dead of Midnight, five Children also asleep, and all the servants. 3 Children in the same Chamber, two above. The Doors and Windows all barrd, bolted and locked—all asleep, suspecting nothing—harbouring no Malice, Envy or Revenge in your own Bosoms nor dreaming of any in your Neighbors, In the Darkness, the stillness, the silence of Midnight.

“All of a sudden, in an Instant, in a twinkling of an Eye, an Armed Banditti of Felons, Thieves, Robbers, and Burglars, rush upon the House.—Like Savages from the Wilderness, or like Legions from the Blackness of Darkness, they yell and Houl, they dash in all the Windows and enter—enterd they Roar, they stamp, they yell, they houl, they cutt, break, tear and burn all before them.

“Do you see a tender and affectionate Husband, an amiable deserving Wife near her Time, 3 young Children, all in one Chamber, awakened all at once—ignorant what was the Cause—terrifyd—inquisitive to know it. The Husband attempting to run down stairs, his Wife, laying hold of his Arm, to stay him and sinking, fainting, dying away in his Arms. The Children crying and clinging round their Parents—father will they kill me— father save me! The other Children and servants in other Parts of the House, joining in the Cries of Distress.

“What Sum of Money Mr. Foreman would tempt you, to be Mr. King, and to let your Wife undergo what Mrs. King underwent, and your Children what theirs did for one Night?

“I freely confess that the whole sum sued for would be no temptation to me, if there was no other Damage than this.

“But how can the Impression of it be erased out of his Mind and hers and the Childrens. It will lessen and frequently interrupt his Happiness as long as he lives, it will be a continual Sourse of Grief to him.”

But JA's eloquence had limited effects. King obtained additional damages of £60 in this case, but in the other Jonathan Andrews was found not guilty and recovered £40 from the previous award to King.

JA's minutes of the testimony, of the opposing arguments, and of his own plea are in Adams Papers, M/JA/6 (Microfilms, Reel No. 185). See also Superior Court of Judicature, Minute Book 99; Records, 1773, fol. 92; 1774, fol. 229–231; Suffolk County Court House, Early Court Files, &c., Nos. 139590, 139642, 139645. Richard King's papers (in Rufus King MSS, NHi) include drafts, originals, and copies of depositions of witnesses in his favor (some of whom had originally been defendants but were excused when they agreed to testify for King); lists of the rioters and of King's losses; King's petitions and remonstrances to the Governor, General Court, and Superior Court; some correspondence; and even a doggerel poem by King about his adversaries, which is revealing enough to be quoted in part:

If mixt with those, vile Sons there are, Who, Burn and Steal, and fallsly Sware, Or make their Gain, by such fowl Deeds, Select them Lord, as vitious weeds;

Shall falls Confession Save the Soul, Who still retains what he has Stole, Or having don his Neighbour wrong, Will God be pleased with his Song

Richard King died early in 1775, and his widow had difficulty collecting the small judgments her husband had won at law. She was still trying to collect some part of the damages as late as 1790 (Records, 1790, fol. 140–141; Early Court Files, &c., Nos. 139893, 139894, 140140).

A drawing of “The King Mansion” 134in Scarborough appears as an insert on a detailed map of the region preceding the titlepage in Maine Hist. Soc., Colls., 1st ser., vol. 3 (1853). This volume has a garbled account of the “King Riot” of 1766 at p. 182–186, and some information on Richard King, p. 163, 172; see also same, 3d ser., 2 (1906):370–373.


Edmund Burke published in 1766 “A Short Account of a Late Short Administration,” a manifesto of the Rockingham whigs. “Junius Americanus” was a pen name used by Arthur Lee in contributing political pieces to the London papers.

John Adams to Abigail Adams, 9 July 1774 JA AA John Adams to Abigail Adams, 9 July 1774 Adams, John Adams, Abigail
John Adams to Abigail Adams
My Dr. Falmouth July 9. 1774

I never enjoyed better Health in any of my Journeys, but this has been the most tedious, the most irksome, the most gloomy and melancholly I ever made.

I cannot with all my Phylosophy and christian Resignation keep up my Spirits. The dismal Prospect before me, my Family, and my Country, are too much, for my Fortitude.

Snatch me some God, Oh quickly bear me hence To wholesome Solitude the Nurse of Sense Where Contemplation prunes her ruffled Wings And the free Soul looks down to pity Kings.

The Day before Yesterday, a Gentleman came and spoke to me, asked me to dine with him on Saturday. Said he was very sorry I had not better Lodgings in Town, desired if I came to Town again I would take a Bed at his House and make his House my Home. I should always be very welcome. I told him I had not the Pleasure of knowing him. He said his Name was Codman.1 I said I was very much obliged to him, but I was very well accommodated where I lodged. I had a clean Bed and a very neat House, a Chamber to myself, and every Thing I wanted.

Saturday I dined with him in Company with Brigadier Prebble,2 Major Freeman and his son, &c. and a very genteel Dinner we had. Salt Fish and all its apparatus, roast Chickens, Bacon, Pees, as fine a Salad as ever was made, and a rich meat Pie—Tarts and Custards &c., good Wine and as good Punch as ever you made. A large spacious, elegant House, Yard and Garden &c. I thought I had got into the Palace of a Nobleman. After Dinner when I was obliged to come away, he renewed his Invitation to me to make his House my Home, whenever I should come to Town again.

Fryday I dined with Coll., Sherriff, alias Bill Tyng.3 Mrs. Ross and 135her Daughter Mrs. Tyng dined with us and the Court and Clerk and some of the Bar.

At Table We were speaking about Captain Maccarty, which led to the Affrican Trade. Judge Trowbridge said that was a very humane and Christian Trade to be sure, that of making Slaves.—Ay, says I, It makes no great Odds, it is a Trade that almost all Mankind have been concerned in, all over the Globe, since Adam, more or less in one Way and another.—This occasioned a Laugh.

At another Time, J. Trowbridge said, it seems by Coll. Barres Speeches that Mr. Otis has acquired Honour, by releasing his Damages to Robbinson.4—Yes, says I, he has acquired Honour with all Generations.—Trowbridge. He did not make much Profit I think.—Adams. True, but the less Profit the more Honour. He was a Man of Honour and Generosity. And those who think he was mistaken will pity him.

Thus you see how foolish I am. I cannot avoid exposing myself, before these high Folk—my Feelings will at Times overcome my Modesty and Reserve—my Prudence, Policy and Discretion.

I have a Zeal at my Heart, for my Country and her Friends, which I cannot smother or conceal: it will burn out at Times and in Companies where it ought to be latent in my Breast. This Zeal will prove fatal to the Fortune and Felicity of my Family, if it is not regulated by a cooler Judgment than mine has hitherto been. Coll. Otis's Phrase is “The Zeal-Pot boils over.”

I am to wait upon Brother Bradbury to Meeting to day, and to dine with Brother Wyer. When I shall get home I know not. But, if possible, it shall be before next Saturday night.5

I long for that Time to come, when My Dear Wife and my Charming little Prattlers will embrace me.

Your John Adams

RC (Adams Papers); addressed: “To Mrs. Abigail Adams Braintree To be left at Mr. Adams's Office Queen Street Boston”; endorsed: “No 8.”


Deacon Richard Codman, a merchant who in 1762 had built “one of the best houses in town on the corner of Middle and Temple streets” (William Willis, History of Portland, from 1632 to 1864, Portland, 1865, p. 795).


Brig. Gen. Jedediah Preble, who had served in Canada under Wolfe and was frequently a representative to the General Court; one of his daughters married a son of Richard Codman, and his son Edward became famous in American naval annals (same, p. 835–836).


William Tyng (1737–1807), sheriff of Cumberland co., had just been commissioned colonel by Gage; a loyalist, he later fled to New York City and afterwards to New Brunswick in Canada (MHS, Colls. , 1st ser., 10 [1809]:183–186).


On the Otis-Robinson quarrel and suit, in which JA had acted for Otis, see JA, Diary and Autobiography , 1:342; 2:47–48.


Presumably on one of the remaining days that he spent at Falmouth Court 136(for if it had happened earlier he would surely have mentioned it in a letter), JA took his painful leave of his colleague and oldest friend, Attorney General Jonathan Sewall, on Munjoy's Hill overlooking Casco Bay. In 1819 JA gave the following account of this incident:

“We continued our friendship and confidential intercourse, though professedly in boxes of politics, as opposite as East and West, until the year 1774, when we both attended the Superior Court in Falmouth, Casco-bay, now Portland. I had then been chosen a delegate to Congress. Mr. Sewall invited me to take a walk with him, very early in the morning, on the great hill. In the course of our rambles he very soon begun to remonstrate against my going to Congress. He said 'that Great Britain was determined on her system; her power was irresistible and would certainly be destructive to me, and to all those who should persevere in opposition to her designs.' I answered, 'that I knew Great Britain was determined on her system, and that very determination, determined me on mine; that he knew I had been constant and uniform in opposition to all her measures; that the die was now cast; I had passed the Rubicon; swim or sink, live or die, survive or perish with my country, was my unalterable determination.' The conversation was protracted into length, but this was the substance of the whole. It terminated in my saying to him, 'I see we must part, and with a bleeding heart I say, I fear forever; but you may depend upon it, this adieu is the sharpest thorn on which I ever sat my foot.' I never conversed with him again 'till the year 1788. Mr. Sewall retired in 1775 to England, where he remained and resided in Bristol....

“In 1788, Mr. Sewall came to London to embark for Halifax. I enquired for his lodgings and instantly drove to them, laying aside all etiquette, to make him a visit. I ordered my servant to announce John Adams, was instantly admitted, and both of us forgetting that we had ever been enemies, embraced each other as cordially as ever. I had two hours conversation with him in a most delightful freedom upon a multitude of subjects. He told me he had lived for the sake of his two children; he had spared no pains nor expense in their education, and he was going to Halifax in hope of making some provision for them. They are now two of the most respectable gentlemen in Canada. One of them a Chief Justice; the other an Attorney General. Their father lived but a short time after his return to America; evidently broken down by his anxieties and probably dying of a broken heart. He always lamented the conduct of Great Britain towards America. No man more constantly congratulated me, while we lived together in America, upon any news, true or false, favorable to a repeal of the obnoxious Statutes and a redress of our grievances; but the society in which he lived had convinced him that all resistance was not only useless but ruinous.”

(Preface to Novanglus and Massachusettensis..., Boston, 1819, p. vi–vii. As late as 1819 JA still wrongly believed Sewall was the author of “Massachusettensis.”)

JA was mistaken in dating this meeting with Sewall in London in 1788, for Sewall (who now spelled his name “Sewell”) on 21 Sept. 1787 addressed a long autobiographical letter to Judge Joseph Lee in Cambridge from St. John's, New Brunswick, which described the meeting and furnished a memorable characterization of JA:

“While I was in London, my quondam friend, Jno. Adams, sent me a complimentary card, and afterwards made me a long friendly visit, as Mrs. Adams soon after did to Mrs. Sewell; and they then earnestly pressed us to take a family-dinner with them; in a way so evidently friendly and hearty, that I was sorry I could not comply; but having resolved to make no Visits nor accept of any Invitations; and having upon this ground previously declined invitations to dine with Sr. Wm. Pepperrell, your friend Mr. Clark, and several other friends, I was obliged, to avoid giving offence, to decline this. When Mr. Adams came in, he took my hand in both his, and with a hearty squeeze, accosted me in these words—how do you do my dear old friend! Our Conversation was just such as might be expected at the Meeting of two old sincere friends after a long separation. Adams has a heart formed for friendship, and susceptible of it's finest feelings; he is humane, generous and 137open—warm in his friendly Attachments tho' perhaps rather implacable to those whom he thinks his enemies—and tho' during the american Contest, an unbounded Ambition and an enthusiastic Zeal for the imagined, or real, glory and welfare of his Country, (the ofspring perhaps, in part, tho imperceptible to himself, of disappointed Ambition,) may have suspended the operation of those social and friendly principles, which, I am positive, are in him, innate and congenial; yet, sure I am, they could not be eradicated;—they might sleep inactive, like the body in the grave, during the Storm raised by more violent and impetuous passions, in his political career for the Goal to which, Zeal and Ambition, united, kept his Eye immoveably fixed; but a resuscitation must have been the immediate Consequence of the peace; gratify'd in the two darling wishes of his Soul,—the Independence of America acknowledged and established, and he himself placed on the very pinnacle of the temple of Honor!—why, the very Devil himself must have felt loving and good-natured after so compleat a victory—much more a Man in whose heart lay dormant every good and virtuous, social and friendly principle. Nature must, and I have no doubt did break forth and assert her rights—of this I am so well convinced, that, if he could but play backgammon, I declare I would chuse him, in preference to all the Men in the world, for my fidus Achates, in my projected asylum: and I believe he would soon find it the happiest State; for if I am not mistaken, now he has reached the summit of his Ambition, he finds himself quite out of his element; and looks back with regret to those happy days, when in a snug house with a pretty farm about him at Braintree, he sat quiet in the full possession of domestic happiness with an amiable sensible wife and an annual increase of olive plants round his table, for whose present and future support he was, by his own honest Industry, for he was an honest lawyer as ever broke Bread, rapidly making ample provision: he is not qualifyed by nature or education to shine in Courts—his abilities are, undoubtedly, quite equal to the mechanical parts of his business as Ambassador; but this is not enough—he cant dance, drink, game, flatter, promise, dress, swear with the gentlemen, and talk small talk and flirt with the Ladys—in short he has none of the essential Arts or ornaments which constitute a Courtier—there are thousands who with a tenth part of his Understanding, and without a spark of his honesty, would distance him infinitely in any Court in Europe. I will only add that I found many Americans in London whose Sentiments and conduct towards him were by no means so liberal as I could have wish'd.”

(MHi: Lee Family Papers); a surviving fragment of a much longer letter. Tr of the full text is in Adams Papers, probably furnished to JQA by Benjamin Waterhouse, whose wife was a grandniece of Joseph Lee the addressee; see Waterhouse to JQA, 9 May 1827, Adams Papers.