Diary of John Adams, volume 4

[March 8. Sunday. 1778.] JA [March 8. Sunday. 1778.] Adams, John
March 8. Sunday. 1778.

March 8. Sunday. 1778. The same Wind and Weather continued and We went at the rate of seven and a half and Eight Knots.

Mr. Barrons our first Lieutenant, appeared to be an excellent Officer, very Attentive and diligent in his Duty; thoughtfull for the Safety of the Ship, and considerate about Order, Oeconomy and regularity among the officers and Men. He had great experience at Sea. Had used the Trade to London, Lisbon, the West Indies, the Southern States, and I am sorry to add Africa.1

This morning the Captain ordered all hands upon the Quarter Deck to Prayers. Mr. William Cooper, the Captains Clerk, had prepared a composition of his own, a very decent and comprehensive Prayer, which he pronounced in a grave and proper manner. The 24Officers and Men all attended, in clean Cloaths and behaved very soberly. The Weather was cloudy the whole of this day. Towards night it became rainy and windy, and the Ship rolled a little in the old fashion. We were about two thousand miles from Boston.

The Hurricane in the Gulph Stream surpassed all Powers of description. Neither Milton in Verse, nor Gibbon in prose could have given any adequate Idea of it, but the present and subsequent turbulent Weather, as I was a Student in French turned my Attention to Boileaus description of a Tempest. As the Book happened to be at hand I amused myself with it and became very familiar with it. As it was the first morsel of french Verse, except Molières, which I ever attempted to Understand, it may be inserted here.

Comme l'on voit les flots, soûlevez par l'orage, Fondre sur un Vaisseau, qui s'oppose a leur rage, Le Vent avec fureur, dans les voiles frêmit; La Mer blanchit d'ecume, et l'air au loin gémit; Le Matelot troublè, que son Art abandonne, Croit voir dans chaque flot, la mort qui l'environne.


The Diary passage of this date which JA was copying reads: “the Trade to London, Lisbon, Affrica, West Indies, Southern States &c.”

[March 9. 1778. Monday.] JA [March 9. 1778. Monday.] Adams, John
March 9. 1778. Monday.

March 9. 1778. Monday. Last night the Wind shifted to the North West, and blew fresh. It was then fairer for Us than before. The Weather was fair and We proceeded on our Voyage at a great rate. Some of our Officers thought We should reach our Port, by thursday night: others by Saturday night: But these made no Account of Cruisers and Chace's, nor any allowance for the variability of the Winds. From this time however till Saturday, We were in great Confusion and hurry.

[Tuesday March 10. 1778.] JA [Tuesday March 10. 1778.] Adams, John
Tuesday March 10. 1778.

Tuesday March 10. 1778. We espied a Sail and gave her chace. We soon came up with her, but as we had borne directly down upon her, she had not seen our Broadside and knew not our force. She was a Letter of Mark, with fourteen Guns, Eight nines and Six Sixes. She suddenly turned and fired a broadside into Us, but did Us no other damage, than by cutting some of our rigging, piercing some of our Sails, and sending one of her Shot through our Mizzen Yard. I happened to be standing in the gang Way between the Quarter Deck and the Main Deck, and in the direction from the Ship to the Yard, so that the Balls flew directly over my head. We upon this Salutation, turned our broadside towards her. As soon as she saw this she struck her colours. Our Sailors were all in a rage to sink her for daring to fire. But Captain Tucker very promptly and prudently ordered his Officers not to fire, for he wanted the Egg, without breaking the Shell. I 25suspected however that the Captain of the Prize knew our force better than he pretended, and that he discharged his Broadside, that he might have it to say that he had not surrendered his Ship, without firing a Gun.

The Prize was the Ship Martha, Captain Mclntosh from London to New York, loaded with a Cargo of great Value. The Captain told me that seventy thousand Guineas had been insured upon her at Lloyds and that she was worth Eighty thousand. The Behaviour of the Captain was that of a Gentleman, and he bore his misfortune with fortitude but his Mate cryed like a Child in despair. The Sailors seemed to me to felicitate themselves that it was not a British Man of War, and that they were not impressed. There were two Gentlemen on board as Passengers. Mr. R. Gault was One, and Mr. Wallace of New York the other. There were two young Jews, on board. That and the next day were spent in dispatching the Prize, under the command of the third Lieutenant, Mr. Wells1 to Boston.

We soon fell in chace of another Vessell, and overtaking her, found her to be a French Snow, from Bourdeaux to Miquelon. We then saw another Vessell, chaced and came up with her. She proved to be a French Brig from Marseilles to Nantes. This last cost Us very dear.... Mr. Barrons our first Lieutenant, attempting to fire a Gun as a Signal to the Brigg, the Cannon burst, and tore in pieces the right leg of this worthy officer so that the Surgeon was obliged to amputate it, a little below the Knee.

I was present at this afflicting Scaene, and, together with Captain Tucker, held Mr. Barron in our Arms, while the Doctor put on the Turnequett and cutt off the Limb. Mr. Barron bore it with fortitude, but thought he should die, and his principal concern seemed to be for his family.

I could not but think the fall of this officer, a great loss to the PublicUnited States. His Prudence, moderation, Attention and Zeal were qualities much wanted in our Infant Navy. He was by Birth a Virginian.

He said he had a Mother, a Wife and Children who were dependant on him and in indigent Circumstances, and intreated me to take care of his Family. I promised him, that as soon as I could write to America I would recommend his Family to the Care of the Public as well as of Individuals. I recollect to have done something of this: but the Scenes of distraction in which I was soon involved, I fear, prevented me from 26doing so much as I ought to have done, and I feel it, to this hour to be one of the omissions which I ought to regret.


JA's copying error for “Welch.” On this and other incidents recorded in the present entry, see the Diary entry of 14 March 1778 and notes there.