Adams Family Correspondence, volume 1

Abigail Adams to John Adams, 16 March 1776 AA JA Abigail Adams to John Adams, 16 March 1776 Adams, Abigail Adams, John
Abigail Adams to John Adams
Braintree March 16 1776

I last Evening Received yours of March 8. I must confess my self in fault that I did not write sooner to you, but I was in continual Expectation that some important event would take place and give me a subject worth writing upon. Before this reaches you I immagine you will have Received two Letters from me; the last I closed this Day week;1 since that time there has been some movements amongst the Ministerial Troops as if they meant to evacuate the Town of Boston. Between 70 and 80 vessels of various sizes are gone down and lay in a row in fair sight of this place, all of which appear to be loaded and by what can be collected from our own observations and from deserters they have been plundering the Town. I have been very faithless with regard to their quitting Boston, and know not how to account for it, nor am I yet satisfied that they will leave it—tho it seems to be the prevailing opinion of most people; we are obliged to place the Militia upon Gaurd every Night upon the shoars thro fear of an invasion. There has been no firing since Last twesday, till about 12 o clock last Night, when I was waked out of my sleep with a smart Cannonade which continued till nine o clock this morning, and prevented any further repose for me; the occasion I have not yet heard, but before I close this Letter I may be able to give you some account of it.

By the accounts in the publick papers the plot thickens; and some very important Crisis seems near at hand. Perhaps providence see's it necessary in order to answer important ends and designs that the Seat of War should be changed from this to the Southeren colonies that each may have a proper sympathy for the other, and unite in a seperation. The Refuge of the Believer amidst all the afflictive dispensations of 358providence, is that the Lord Reigneth, and that he can restrain the Arm of Man.

Orders are given to our Army to hold themselves in readiness to March at a moments warning. I'll meet you at Philippi said the Ghost of Caesar to Brutus.

Sunday Noon 2

Being quite sick with a voilent cold I have tarried at Home to day; I find the fireing was occasiond by our peoples taking possession of Nook Hill, which they kept in spite of the Cannonade, and which has really obliged our Enemy to decamp this morning on board the Transports; as I hear by a mesenger just come from Head Quarters. Some of the Select Men have been to the lines and inform that they have carried of every thing they could possibly take, and what they could not they have burnt, broke, or hove into the water. This is I believe fact, many articles of good Household furniture having in the course of the week come on shore at Great Hill,3 both upon this and Weymouth Side, Lids of Desks, mahogona chairs, tables &c. Our People I hear will have Liberty to enter Boston, those who have had the small pox. The Enemy have not yet come under sail. I cannot help suspecting some design which we do not yet comprehend; to what quarter of the World they are bound is wholy unknown, but tis generally Thought to New york. Many people are elated with their quitting Boston. I confess I do not feel so, tis only lifting the burden from one shoulder to the other which perhaps is less able or less willing to support it.—To what a contemptable situation are the Troops of Britain reduced! I feel glad however that Boston is not distroyed. I hope it will be so secured and guarded as to baffel all future attempts against it.—I hear that General How said upon going upon some Eminence in Town to view our Troops who had taken Dorchester Hill unperceived by them till sun rise, “My God these fellows have done more work in one night than I could make my Army do in three months” and he might well say so for in one night two forts and long Breast Works were sprung up besides several Barracks. 300 & 70 teems were imployed most of which went 3 load in the night, beside 4000 men who worked with good Hearts.

From Pens Hill we have a view of the largest Fleet ever seen in America. You may count upwards of 100 & 70 Sail. They look like a Forrest. It was very lucky for us that we got possession of Nook Hill. They had placed their cannon so as to fire upon the Top of the Hill where they had observed our people marking out the Ground, but 359it was only to elude them for they began lower upon the Hill and nearer the Town. It was a very foggy dark evening and they had possession of the Hill six hours before a gun was fired, and when they did fire they over shot our people so that they were coverd before morning and not one man lost, which the enemy no sooner discoverd than Bunker Hill was abandoned and every Man decamp'd as soon as he could for they found they should not be able to get away if we once got our cannon mounted. Our General may say with Ceasar veni vidi et vici.

What Effect does the Expectation of commisioners have with you? Are they held in disdain as they are here. It is come to that pass now that the longest sword must deside the contest—and the sword is less dreaded here than the commisioners.

You mention Threats upon Braintree. I know of none, nor ever heard of any till you mentiond them. The Tories look a little crest fallen; as for Cleverly he looks like the knight of the woful countanance. I hear all the Mongrel Breed are left in Boston—and our people who were prisoners are put into Irons and carried of.

As to all your own private affairs I generally avoid mentioning them to you; I take the best care I am capable of them. I have found some difficulty attending the only Man I have upon the place, being so often taking of.4 John and Jonathan have taken all the care in his absence, and performed very well.5 Bass got home very well. My Fathers horse came home in fine order and much to his satisfaction. Your own very poor.—Cannot you hire a Servant where you are. I am sorry you are put to so much difficulty for want of one.—I suppose you do not think one word about comeing home, and how you will get home I know not.

I made a mistake in the Name of the Grammer—tis Tandons, instead of Took.6 I wish you could purchase Lord Chesterfields Letters—I have lately heard them very highly spoken of. I smiled at your couplet of Lattin,7 your Daughter may be able in time to conster8 it as she has already made some considerable proficiency in her accidents, but her Mamma was obliged to get it translated.

Pray write Lord Sterlings character. I want to know whether you live in any harmony with——9 and how you setled matters. I think he seems in better humour.

I think I do not admire the Speach from the Rostrum, tis a heavy unelegant, verbose performance and did not strike my fancy at all.10 I am very sausy suppose you will say. Tis a Liberty I take with you; indulgance is apt to spoil one. Adieu—Yours most Sincerely.


PS Pray convey me a little paper. I have but enough for one Letter more.

Monday morning

A fine quiet night—no allarms no Cannon. The more I think of our Enemies quitting Boston, the more amaz'd I am, that they should leave such a harbour, such fortifications, such intrenchments, and that we should be in peaceable possession of a Town which we expected would cost us a river of Blood without one Drop shed. Shurely it is the Lords doings and it is Marvelous in our Eyes. Every foot of Ground which they obtain now they must fight for, and may they purchase it at a Bunker Hill price.

RC (Adams Papers); addressed in John Thaxter's hand: “To The Honble: John Adams Esq. at Philadelphia To the Care of Coll: Palmer”; franked: “Free Wm Ellery”; endorsed: “March 16. 1776. answed April. 6th. 1776.” (No letter from JA to AA of 6 April 1776 has been found.) MS damaged by wear at bottom and fore edges; a few words have been supplied (in brackets) from CFA's printed text in JA–AA, Familiar Letters , p. 140–144.


Her letter of 2–10 March, above.


17 March, a day still annually celebrated in Boston as Evacuation Day.


On Hough's Neck in Braintree (now Quincy).


Thus in MS. AA's meaning probably is: I have found some difficulty managing the affairs of the farm, the only hired hand I have being so often taken off (by militia duty or by illness). (CFA omitted this entire paragraph in editing the letter, as he regularly did details of farm management and the Adamses' business affairs.)


It is not perfectly certain that John is JQA (who was not yet nine years old), but probably so. Jonathan must have been a farm boy.


See JA to AA, 18 Feb., and AA to JA, 2–10 March, both above. BN, Catalogue , lists J. E. Tandon, A New French Grammar Teaching a Person ... to Read, Speak, and Write That Tongue, 3d edn., revised, London, 1736. BM, Catalogue , lists I. E. Tandon, The Englishman's French Grammar, new edn., London 1815. No Adams copy of this book has been found.


The line from Virgil in his letter of 13 Feb., above.


OED gives this spelling for construe as encountered from the 16th into the 19th century.


Doubtless Robert Treat Paine is meant.


If JA's reply to this letter were not lost (see descriptive note above), it would undoubtedly be possible to tell with certainty what AA meant by “the Speach from the Rostrum” which she found so distasteful. In any case, her present comments would not have been, as she says, “sausy” unless she were criticizing something for which JA had had some personal or official responsibility. One possibility is the Proclamation of the Massachusetts General Court of 23 Jan., designed to be read at annual town meetings in March, at the opening of courts, and in pulpits. This paper had actually been written by JA; see his Works , 1:192–197; Diary and Autobiography , 2:226; Ford, Mass. Broadsides , No. 1973, with facsimile facing p. 272. But whether or not AA knew of his part in the Proclamation, she was more likely to have approved its sentiments and style than to have criticized them. Her strictures may of course have been intended for an as yet unidentified pamphlet or a piece in one of the newspapers among those that JA was cur-361rently sending her from Philadelphia. But the editors incline to think that they apply to Provost William Smith's Oration in Memory of General Montgomery, which was delivered on 19 Feb., advertised on 4 March, and could have been sent to AA with JA's letter of 8 March, here acknowledged. If AA was indeed commenting on Smith's performance, her opinion accorded very well with that of the Philadelphia ladies who had heard the eulogy delivered. On 26 Feb. Samuel Adams wrote his wife:

“Certain political Principles were thought to be interwoven with every part of the Oration which were displeasing to the Auditory. It was remarkd that he could not even keep their Attention. A Circle of Ladies, who had seated themselves in a convenient place on purpose to see as well as hear the Orator, that they might take every Advantage for the Indulgence of Griefe on so melancholly an Occasion, were observd to look much disappointed and chagrind” (Burnett, ed., Letters of Members , 1:365).

John Adams to Abigail Adams, 17 March 1776 JA AA John Adams to Abigail Adams, 17 March 1776 Adams, John Adams, Abigail
John Adams to Abigail Adams
My dearest Friend March 17. 1776

Our worthy Friend Frank Dana arrived here last Evening from N. York, to which Place he came lately from England in the Packet.1 In Company with him, is a Gentleman by the Name of Wrixon, who has been a Field Officer in the British Army, served all the last War in Germany, and has seen service in every Part of Europe. He left the Army some time ago, and studied Law in the Temple, in which Science he made a great Proficiency. He wrote lately a Pamphlet under the Title of the Rights of Britons, which he has brought over with him. He is a Friend of Liberty and thinks justly of the American Question. He has great Abilities as well as Experience in the military Science, and is an able Engineer. I hope We shall employ him.2

The Baron De Woedke, We have made a Brigadier General, and ordered him to Canada. The Testimonials in his favour I shall inclose to you.3

Mr. Danas Account, with which Mr. Wrixons agrees, ought to extinguish in every Mind all Hopes of Reconciliation with G. Britain. This delusive Hope has done us great Injuries, and if ever We are ruined, will be the Cause of our Fall. A Hankuring after the Leeks of Egypt, makes us forget the Cruelty of her Task Masters.

I shall suffer many severe Pains, on your Account for some Days. By a Vessell from Salem a Cannonade was heard from Dark till one O Clock, last night was a Week ago. Your Vicinity to such scenes of Carnage and Desolation, as I fear are now to be seen in Boston and its Environs, will throw you into much Distress, but I believe in my Conscience I feel more here than you do. The sound of Cannon, was not so terrible when I was at Braintree as it is here, tho I hear it at four hundred Miles Distance.


You cant imagine what a Mortification I sustain in not having received a single Line, from you since We parted. I suspect some Villany, in Conveyance.

By the Relation of Mr. Dana, Mr. Wrixon and Mr. Temple,4 Mr. Hutchinson, Mr. Sewall, and their Associates are in great Disgrace in England. Persons are ashamed to be seen to speak to them. They look dejected and sunk.

I shall inclose an Extract of a Letter from Monsr. Dubourg in Paris and a Testimonial in favour of our Prussian General. Adieu.

RC (Adams Papers). Enclosures not found.


Francis Dana (1743–1811), Harvard 1762, a lawyer of Cambridge, Mass., and a political moderate, had gone to England early in 1775 with notions of finding some mode of reconciliation between the ministry and Massachusetts. His observations evidently convinced him that separation was the only course. On returning home he was at once elected to the Council; in 1777 and again in 1784 he was elected a delegate to the Continental Congress. Dana accompanied JA on his second or “Peace” mission to Europe in 1779 as secretary of legation, and during 1781–1783 served as the first (but never accredited) American minister to the Russian Court at St. Petersburg, young JQA going with him as French interpreter. He was appointed an associate justice of the Supreme Judicial Court in 1785; from 1791 until his resignation in 1806 he presided as chief justice. See DAB ; Cresson, Francis Dana (a rather unreliable work); and JA, Diary and Autobiography , passim. For many years Dana was one of JA's most trusted correspondents; he was friendly as well with other members of the family; and he will often appear in the story of their lives as told in their correspondence. The middle name of the first Charles Francis Adams, who was born the year after Dana retired from the Massachusetts bench, signalized JQA's respect and friendship for Dana.


Elias Wrixon was appointed to a colonelcy but declined it. See JCC , 4:219–220, 242, 275, 316; also JA's Diary and Autobiography , 3:382. His “Pamphlet” has not been further identified.


Frederic William, Baron de Woedtke, a Prussian soldier of fortune, was appointed a brigadier general, was sent to the northern army, turned out to be a drunkard, and died in the summer of 1776 at Ticonderoga (Benjamin Rush, Letters , 1:112; see the references there).


William Temple of New Hampshire (Burnett, ed., Letters of Members , 1:387).