Adams Family Correspondence, volume 4

John Adams to Abigail Adams, 9 October 1781 JA AA John Adams to Abigail Adams, 9 October 1781 Adams, John Adams, Abigail
John Adams to Abigail Adams
My dearest Friend Amsterdam October 9. 1781

This is the first Time, I have been able to write you, since my Sickness.—Soon after my Return from Paris, I was seized with a Fever, of which, as the Weather was and had long been uncommonly warm, I took little notice, but it increased very slowly, and regularly, untill it was found to be a nervous Fever, of a dangerous kind, bordering upon putrid. It seized upon my head, in such a manner that for five or six days I was lost, and so insensible to the Operations of the Physicians and surgeons, as to have lost the memory of them. My Friends were so good as to send me an excellent Physician and Surgeon, whose Skill and faithfull Attention with the Blessing of Heaven, have saved my Life. The Physicians Name is Osterdike.1 The surgeon the same, who cured Charles, of his Wound.2 I am, however still weak, and whether I shall be able to recover my Health among the pestilential Vapours from these stagnant Waters, I know not.3

I hope Charles is well and happy with you, by this Time. He sailed with Commodore Gillon seven Weeks ago. We have no News from Mr. Dana and his young Fellow Traveller, since they left Berlin.

The Pamphlet inclosed, is a Dutch Translation of the Abby Raynals History of the American Revolution. It is a Curiosity for you to lay up.4

With Sentiments and Affections that I cannot express, Yours.

RC (Adams Papers). For the enclosure see note 4.


Nicolaas George Oosterdijk (1740–1817), professor of medical theory at Leyden from 1775 ( Nieuw Ned. Biog. Woordenboek , 3:935–936).


The surgeon is unidentified. CA had been ill in the spring, and it was in part for this reason that he was being sent home, but the editors have found no other allusions to a “Wound” he had sustained.

225 3.

AA did not learn of JA's illness for a long time to come, because this letter was not received for many months; her first reference to the news in it was in her letter to JA of 17 March 1782, below.

JA had returned to Amsterdam from Paris by the end of July. On 24 Aug. he received a letter from Franklin dated on the 16th enclosing a packet from Congress that contained JA's new joint commission and instructions to treat of peace as adopted by Congress in June (Adams Papers; JA, Works , 7:456–457). JA replied next day, 25 Aug. (Adams Papers; JA, Works , 7:459–461); but on 4 Oct. he wrote again to Franklin in a letter that began: “Since the 25th of August, when I had the honor to write You, this is the first Time that I have taken a Pen in hand to write to any body, having been confined and reduced too low to do any kind of business by a nervous Fever” (PPAmP: Franklin Papers; printed from LbC, Adams Papers, in JA, Works , 7:465–466). The letter sent to Franklin is, however, actually in John Thaxter's hand and only signed by JA, as are the two or three other letters sent over his name during the preceding six weeks.

The illness was severe. In apology for having lately written so little to Congress, JA told Pres. Thomas McKean on 15 Oct.:

Not long after I got home I found myself attacked by a Fever, of which at first I made light, but which increased very gradually and slowly, until it was found to be a nervous Fever of a very malignant kind, and so violent as to deprive me of almost all sensibility for four or five days, and all those who cared any thing about me, of the hopes of my life. By the help however of great skill and all powerful Bark I am still alive, but this is the first time I have felt the Courage to attempt to write to Congress. Absence and Sickness are my Apologies to Congress for the few Letters they will receive from me since June.

“Whether it was the uncommon Heat of the Summer, or whether it was the Mass of pestilential Exhalations from the stagnant Waters of this Country that brought this disorder upon me, I know not: but I have every Reason to apprehend, that I shall not be able to re-establish my Health in this Country. A Constitution ever infirm, and almost half an hundred Years old, cannot expect to fare very well amidst such cold damps and putrid Steams as arise from the immense quantities of dead Water that surround it.” (PCC, No. 84, III; Wharton, ed., Dipl. Corr. Amer. Rev. , 4:780; also printed in JA, Papers .)

For his later recollection of this illness, see JA, Corr. in the Boston Patriot , p. 148, in which he says it resulted from “Anxiety concerning the state of my affairs in Holland,” the “unwholesome damps of the night,” and “excessive fatigue” from travel and work, and “brought me as near to death as any man ever approached without being grasped in his arms.”


Abbé Guillaume Thomas François Raynal, Staatsomwenteling van Amerika. Uit het Fransch, Amsterdam, 1781. Two copies are among JA's books in MB ( Catalogue of JA's Library , p. 208).

James Lovell to Abigail Adams, 9 October 1781 Lovell, James AA James Lovell to Abigail Adams, 9 October 1781 Lovell, James Adams, Abigail
James Lovell to Abigail Adams
Philada. Octr. 9th 1781

Yesterday's Post brought me your Favour of Sepr. 26th.1 Your dear Boy Charles should most certainly have had half of the Bed of one of his Father's devoted Friends here, if the Winds had so directed the Ship's Course in which he is a Passenger; but I am told she is arrived at Falmouth in Casco Bay. I wish you an happy Meeting with him. I shall be rejoyced to find that the Voyage has been beneficial to his Constitution.

I have already given you the dates of Mr. A's Letters which came 226by Newman: viz. May 16. July 11. 14. 15. Aug. 3d.2 In the 1st he says

“This Country is indeed in a melancholy Situation — sunk in Ease, devoted to the Pursuits of Gain, over-shadowed on all sides by more powerful Neighbours, unanimated by a Love of military Glory or any aspiring spirit, feeling little Enthusiasm for the Public, terrified at the Loss of an old Friend and equally terrified at the Prospect of being obliged to form Connexions with a new one, encumbered with a complicated and perplexed Constitution, divided among themselves in Interest and Sentiment, they seem afraid of every Thing. Success on the Part of France, Spain, and especially of America raises their Spirits and advances the Good Cause some what; but Reverses seem to sink them much more.” He adds “The War has occasioned such a Stagnation of Business and thrown such Numbers of People out of Employment that I think it is impossible Things should remain long in the present insipid state. One System or another will be pursued. One Party or another will prevail; much will depend on the Events of the War. We have one Security, and I fear but one; and that is the domineering Character of the English who will make Peace with the Republic upon no other Terms than her joining them against all their Enemies in the War; and This, I think, it is impossible she ever should do.”

It is to be hoped that the Events of this Campaign will be such as to influence Holland and even Britain to do us Justice. There has been a most severe Engagement on the 8th. of Sepr. in South Carolina.3 I think I shall be able to send a printed account to Boston by the Bearer of this. It has been spoken of, here for some days; and this Evening Gen. Green's Thanks to his Army are brought to Philada. by a Gentleman of good Character. It is said the Enemy are Sufferers to the Amount of 1100 and our Army to 500. These Numbers being for killed, wounded and missing.—In Virginia Things are proceeding surely and faster than we had a Right to expect.

I have been chagrined about your Goods the last Week. I hoped to send them by two different Opportunities being promised a Chance. I weighed them and bound the heaviest with Iron Hoops ready for loading, but the Waggoners could not take the Charge. I cannot without great Trouble and Injury to the Chest take out the white BroadCloth. I will double my Diligence to send the Whole.

Your Attentions to Mrs. Lovell prejudice me so much in your Favour that I can let you call me “queer” or any Thing else that hits your Fancy, provided always that you do not call or even think me 227 deceitful when I profess myself with affectionate Respect Madam your Friend & humble Servant,


Perhaps after my Profession of Respect it will be incongruous to hint that you also Madam are a “queer Being.” I verily believe you would be willing to hear any one call your best Friend, “old Darby,” rather than to hear it said he appears lively as Chesterfield. You talk of your Philosopher and his Dame. Why, Nothing was farther from my Intention than your sprightly Husband when I wrote of your Philosopher. No, No, he is too modern to be adduced in the Reasoning I sent you. It was your “Antient,” Ma'am, that had been held up to me as a Pattern, That Wiseacre, who, “had he lived in the House or Family” &c. &c.

Take the Song of Darby and Joan in Hand and stand before your looking Glass to find the Resemblance;—a pretty Dame Adams indeed!4

You “did not misapply Cornelia for Portia.” But, you did, most assuredly. “There was no Fiction in the Story.” “The Dialogue really existed as related.” I supposed so; and therefore all the little malicious Things I have written were intended for Cornelia and not for Portia.

RC (Adams Papers).


Probably the (missing) RC of the (incomplete?) Dft of AA's letter dated 20 Sept., above. Certainly that letter is referred to in the present one, but whether an AA letter of 26 Sept. was also written and is now missing, is not clear.


These letters are accounted for in note 1 on Lovell to AA, 5 Oct., above.


Battle of Eutaw Springs.


Darby and Joan: “A jocose appellation for an attached husband and wife who are 'all in all to each other', especially in advanced years and in humble life”; the names derive from the central figures in a song or ballad published in the Gentleman's Magazine in 1735 ( OED ).