Adams Family Correspondence, volume 3

Abigail Adams to Jonathan Mason?, August 1778 AA Mason, Jonathan Jr. Abigail Adams to Jonathan Mason?, August 1778 Adams, Abigail Mason, Jonathan Jr.
Abigail Adams to Jonathan Mason?
Dear Sir2 Braintree, August 1778 1

Tho I cannot stile you a plant of my Hand, in some measure I own you as a child of my care, and as such feel anxious for your Glory and welfare. It was with pleasure I found you determined to enter the Feild against our cruel and Barberous foes and should you be calld to action I dout not but you with the rest of your Brethren would Signilize yourselves, and gain immortal Honour to the Arms of America. You must for a while forget the soft endearment of Love, and instead of worshiping at the Shrine of Venus Buckle on the Armour of Mars and fight the cause of Honour, Virtue, and Liberty.

Providence (says a favorite Author) has fitted mankind for the higher engagements which they are sometimes obliged to fullfill, and it is in the midst of such engagements that they are most likely to acquire or to preserve their virtues. The habits of a vigorous mind are formed in contending with difficulties, not in engageing the repose of a pacific station. Penetration and wisdom are the Fruits of experience, not the lessons of retirement and leisure; ardour and generosity are the qualities of a mind raised and animated in the conduct of Scenes that engage the Heart, not the Gifts of reflections or knowledge.3

The present contest is of that Nature, and gives you an opportunity of acquiring and displaying immortalizeing your Fame to future ages.

Honour rewards the Brave and bold alone She spurns the Timirous, Indolent and base Danger and toil stand stern before her Throne; And gaurd, so Jove commands the sacred place Who seeks her must the mighty cost sustain And pay the price of Fame, Labour and care and pain.

Your enterprize is Harzerdous, and I fear you will find an obstinate 83resistance, but it was a maxim of an able warior never to dispair of what had been once accomplished. We do not get such minute intelligence from you as we wish for. I want to know how you weatherd the Storm, where the French Fleet have been, and what became of those they went in chase of, the disposition of your Army, how many regular Troops you have, How many Militia, and every thing respecting your Army. Be so good as to present my regards to Dr. Welch and Mr. Smith. A Letter directed to me with orders to leave it at Vose's at Milton will come safe to Hand. The Hand writing is so well known to you that I need not add any other Signature than that of


Dft (Adams Papers); undated and without indication of recipient; at head of text in JQA's mature hand: “To Nathan Rice 1776”—another example of JQA's misleading guesswork as family archivist; see note 2.


From the questions asked by AA in the last paragraph it is clear that she was writing after the news of Estaing's chase (10 Aug. et seq.) of Lord Howe's fleet off Newport was known in Boston but before Estaing sailed into Boston Harbor to refit (28 Aug.). It may be noted that AA's letters to Thaxter of 19 and 26 Aug., both above, contain quotations found also in the present letter, which may well have been written between those two dates.


Internal evidence leaves no serious doubt that AA was addressing Jonathan Mason, an earlier correspondent of hers and JA's former law clerk, who (as she reported to Thaxter, 19 Aug., above) had recently marched to Rhode Island with the Massachusetts troops supporting Sullivan's army. See a biographical note on Mason, vol. 1:280, above.


MS has closing quotation marks here. Probably opening quotation marks should have been placed at the beginning of this paragraph. The source of the quotation is not known.

James Lovell to Abigail Adams, 1 September 1778 Lovell, James AA James Lovell to Abigail Adams, 1 September 1778 Lovell, James Adams, Abigail
James Lovell to Abigail Adams
Philada. Sepr. 1st. 1778

Yesterday the Letters of Portia of June 24th. and Augst. 19th. came to my hand together, by Post. The wishes expressed in the latter 1 have made all the Impressions of the most pleasing Commands, and shall be strictly attended to upon the first possible Occasion of fulfilling them; which must, I think, be soon, tho the Embargo is not yet taken off.

As to the former, I will not now make it the Baisis of a Declamation against Flattery. I will only tell the sudden Effect which it produced, upon the quick glancing of my Eye over it. Did it add to my former great Respect for the Writer of it? No, Portia, not at the first Reading; but it forced from me, almost audibly, in a grave Assembly where I broke the Seal, “gin ye were mine ain Thing how dearly I would love thee”! Excuse me, Ramsay,2 if I now misspell you; I am sure my Feelings did Justice to your Sentiment!—A second Reading restored me to 84 Decorum, and I recognized my Age, tho I did not find any sudden Aids from Philosophy; nor do I now think that one single Plunge into the Waters of Lethe would quite prevent all after Recollection of the pleasing Impulse which I felt on this Occasion.

I will not, at this Moment, suffer my Ideas to deviate so widely from the Track they have been in as to go into the Trenches and covered Ways at Newport. I will still make them attend to your American Republican, who can, as readily as Vertumnus, throw aside an “awkward” Cloak, in the Presence of a Pomona.3 You will think less of what he can do than of what he really will. You may contemplate Judge Adams at the Louvre; while he will render you Justice with Interest, by contemplating the Mistress of his Happiness, a Portia.

Though I have just avoided a certain Part of your Letter, yet, perhaps, in the Shade of Evening a Raven or a Screech Owl may send Voices to my Ears which will attune my Nerves for a Dirge upon blasted Hopes and abortive Victory.

But,—I almost forget that the Post is to convey this memorandum of my constant affectionate Wishes for your Happiness.

James Lovell

RC (Adams Papers).


Concerning a barrel of flour AA wanted shipped to her. This was not mentioned in her draft printed above under the assigned date of 19 Aug., but it must have been added in the (missing) RC; see Lovell's next letter, 12 Sept., below.


Allan Ramsay (1686–1758), Scottish poet ( DNB ). For the lyric quoted, see Ramsay's Poems, London, 1800, 2:261.


For the legend of Vertumnus' wooing of Pomona, see Harper's Dict. of Classical Lit. under the name of the former.