Papers of John Adams, volume 3

From Josiah Quincy, 22 September 1775 Quincy, Josiah JA From Josiah Quincy, 22 September 1775 Quincy, Josiah Adams, John
From Josiah Quincy
Sept: 22d: 1775 Dear Sir

Under my adverse Circumstances, I stood, and still stand in great Need of your Advice; and am therefore, very sorry I had not an Opportunity to converse with you, before your Return to the Congress.

Your kind Letter of July 29th is now before me. Were my Abilities equal to my Inclination, you would be amply assisted, in giving Birth to a Revolution, which, I think with you, “seems to be in the Womb of Providence as important as any that has happened in the Affairs of Mankind.”

Agreable to the Old Man's Sentiments, in this enclosed Paper, “the Sword and not the Quill is now to decide the Controversy;”1 Nothing therefore, could revive my desponding Hopes more, than the assurance 164you give me, of a sufficient Plenty of Powder against another Year, and of our own make.

In my former Letter2 I said, that “the Harbor might be blocked up; and both Seamen and Soldiers made Prisoners at Discretion;” which seems to you incredible. Please, to read at your Leasure this following Explanation. There are but two Channels, through which Ships of Burthen can pass to and from Boston. One of them runs between the west Head of Long Island, and the Moon, (so called) and is about a Mile across. This Channel is too shallow for any Ship of War above 20 Guns. The other runs between the east Head of Long Island, and the south Point of Dear Island; and is about a Mile and half from Side to Side. This, the only Channel through which capital Ships can pass, leads (outward bound) through the Narrows (so called) between Gallop's Island and Lovel's Island; where the Channel is not wider than the Length of a 50 Gun Ship. In the opening between Gallops Island and George's Island is Nantasket Road; where, one, is always, and at present, five Men of War are stationed, to gaurd the Narrows from being stop'd up.

Upon the foregoing Facts, I thus reason:

The Moon Island communicates with Squantum Neck, at low Water, almost dryshod. A defensible Fort, therefore, upon Squantum, may be so placed, as to secure a Retreat not only from the Moon, but from Squantum to the Main. One upon the east Head of the Moon, and another, if found necessary, upon the west Head of Long Island, secures the Passage between, and covers a Retreat from the Latter to the Former. Another upon the Summit in the middle of Long Island covers the Shore on each Side, so, as that no Force can land without being greatly anoyed, if not entirely prevented. Another strong Battery from 20 to 40 peices of heavy Cannon at the east Head of Long Island, commands, not only the Ship Channel, but the Narrows, and Nantasket Road, so that no Ship can remain there with Safety; and consequently, by sinking Hulks in the Narrows we might prevent any Ship of Force from going out or coming in. If the Passage thro' the Narrows is not stop'd, I am sensible, a Ship with a fresh Gale of Wind, and flood or Ebb Tide, which is rapid between Long Island and Deer Island, might run through without any great Hazard; but, after the east Head of Long Island is fortified, I can foresee Nothing to hinder, the Narrows being reduced to such a Draught of Water, as that, no Vessel of any considerable Force, can pass through there. This, being effected; as I said above, both Seamen and Soldiers, if they dont escape, by a timely Flight, must become Prisoners at Discretion.

165 166

I have been told, there is in one of the English Magazines, an accurate Draft of the Harbor.3 If you can procure it, upon Examination, you may determin, the Distance and Depth of Water between the Islands aforesaid with Precision; and consequently, whether such a Scheme is practicable or not.

I have thought, and said from the Beginning, that Row Gallies must be our first mode of Defence by Sea; it gives me therefore, Pleasure to hear, our worthy Friend Doctor F——n is employed in constructing some for the City of Philadelphia. I wish I had the same Employment here, for I am very sure, twenty of them, under proper Direction, would have taken or destroyed all those Cruisers and Cutters, that have infested, and done so much Damage, in, the Vineyard and Long Island Sounds in the Course of the Summer past; besides, being a safe Convoy to our Provision Vessels. When I first proposed the Scheme to our Committee of Safety, it was objected, that, we had no Body skilled in the Construction of them. Afterwards I heard of a Ship Carpenter, just escaped from Boston, who had been several Years a Prisoner in a Turkish Row Galley, and had formed a compleat three feet Model of one. It was then objected, that, heavy Cannon, and Powder were wanting. An insuperable Objection, most certainly; which I hope will soon be removed.

Several Vessels have lately arrived in Boston from England; but the News they bring is industriously secreted. The sullen Silence, and dejected Countenances of the Officers, give Rise to various Conjectures. God grant the Truth may be a Dissolution of a venal P——t, a disbanded Army, and an Order for the Ships and Troops here to return imediately Home.

A few Days since, I received a Letter from my Daughter in Norwich,4 in which is the following Passage: “I have just heard that the Ship in which Mr. —— sailed is arrived in England after 28 Days Passage. I have the Pleasure to hear that there is like to be an Accommodation between Great B—— and America, and that speedily.” By the same Conveyance I received the Resolves Petition and Remonstrance of the City of London to their Sovereign. If such a Spirit of Resentment animates that powerfull Corporation upon the first News of Hostilities, what must be their Indignation, when they come to hear all the Circumstances, that have attended, and disgraced the British Arms, both by Sea and Land! Must not such accumulated Disasters, like so many Flashes of Lightning and Peals of Thunder, penetrate the Hearts of a bloodthirsty Scotch Faction with Dispair of ever enslaving Americans, who have fought with such Valor and Intrepedity as must 167exclude all Hope of Success in any future Attempt! Where will those Sons of Violence, H——n, S——l,5 and others of the same Complection, hide their guilty Heads, when called to answer, for the insidious Arts they have been practicing, against their native Country; to the Ruin and Distruction, of countless Numbers of their industrious Fellow Citizens, whose Worth compared with theirs, is as Diamonds to pebble Stones! When I contemplate the Conduct of such infamous Parricides, my Nerves are braced, my Hand feels the Impulse of my Heart, is ready to drop the Pen and grasp the Sword of Vengeance! I feel my Self young again, and long to exterpate them, and the Memory of them from the Face of the Earth! “Is there no hidden Thunder, in the Stores of Heav'n, Red with uncommon Wrath, to blast the men, Who owe their Greatness, to their Countrys Ruin?”6 Oh! that kindred Flame, has ere this, inspired the Breast of every true Briton; and their s——d S——n7 made to feel, what it is to alienate the Affections of the greatest Part of his Subjects, to gratifie the insatiable Avarice and Ambition, of those treacherous Sycophants, who wish to see him dethroned; and his royal Diadem encircling the Head of a Caledonian Exile.8 Must the Trappings of a M——h and his Minions, which wou'd maintain a Commonwealth be provided for at such an immense Expence of Blood and Treasure? Forbid it Heaven! Shall not the virtuous Part of Mankind, finally prevail over the vicious, notwithstanding the Numbers of the Latter and the Scarcity of the Former? They certainly will, if upon every Occasion, the Spirit of Party is sacrificed, to Unanimity and Perseverance. But whither does my Zeal transport Me? I forget, I am transmitting Sentiments to One, who anticipates all, and more than all I have said or can say upon such interesting Subjects. I beg Leave, therefore, to conclude, with my ardent Wishes, that, the Success of your Endeavors to restore Peace and Tranquility; the genuine Offspring of Order and good Government, may be equal to your distinguished Abilities! And that you and yours, may live long to enjoy the happy Fruits of your patriotic Exertions; however infinite Wisdom may see fit to dispose of Your affectionate and faithfull humble Servant,

P.S. Your good Lady is so well recovered of her tedious Indisposition, as to favour us with a short Visit with your amiable Daughter last Monday.

Be so good as to present my Affectionate Regards to good Doctor F——n; and tell him I have wrote three long Letters to him to 168London, and one since his Arrival at Philadelphia; but, having received no Answer fear they all miscarried.

Please to present my Compliments of Congratulations to Colo. Hancock and his Lady to whom I wish mutual and lasting Happiness.

RC (Adams Papers); with enclosure, for which see note 1.


From an enclosure, a letter printed in the New England Chronicle, 24 Aug., and signed “An OLD MAN, from my cottage near Boston.” Probably written by Josiah Quincy himself, it dealt with the exchange of letters between Gen. Burgoyne and Gen. Charles Lee that occurred in July.


Of 11 July (above).


Probably “A Plan of the Town and Chart of the Harbour of Boston, Exhibiting a View of the Islands, Castle Forts, and Entrances into the Said Harbour,” which originally appeared in the Gentleman's Magazine for Jan. 1775 (vol. 45: facing p. 41). This map is reprinted in reduced size in Adams Family Correspondence , 1: following p. 240, No. 9. JA refers to the map in a letter to James Warren, 8 Oct. (below).


Abigail Phillips Quincy, widow of Josiah Quincy Jr. (Josiah Quincy, Josiah Quincy, Jr. , p. 288–289). She may be referring to the arrival in London on 14 Aug. of Richard Penn, who carried the Olive Branch Petition from the congress.


Thomas Hutchinson and Jonathan Sewall.


Written in the margin and its place in the text indicated by an asterisk, this is a quotation with slight modifications from Addison, Cato, Act I, scene i.


Sacred sovereign.


The Young Pretender, Charles Edward Stuart, grandson of James II.

To James Warren, 26 September 1775 JA Warren, James To James Warren, 26 September 1775 Adams, John Warren, James
To James Warren
Philadelphia Septr. 26. 1775 Dr Sir

This Afternoon, and not before I received a Line from the excellent Marcia,1 which is the first and only Letter I have received from the Family to which She belongs Since I left Watertown. Be pleased to thank her for this Favour, and to let her know that She must certainly have misinterpretted Some Passage in my Letter Since I never thought either Politicks or War, or any other Art or Science beyond the Line of her Sex: on the contrary I have ever been convinced that Politicks and War, have in every age, been influenced, and in many, guided and controuled by her Sex. Sometimes it is to be feared by the unworthy Part of it: but at others, it must be confessed by the amiable and the good. But, if I were of opinion that it was best for a general Rule that the fair should be excused from the arduous Cares of War and State; I should certainly think that Marcia and Portia, ought to be Exceptions, because I have ever ascribed to those Ladies, a Share and no small one neither, in the Conduct of our American Affairs.

I have nothing new to communicate. Every Thing, has been done, and is now doing, to procure the Unum Necessarium:2 I wish I could give you a more agreable account of the Salt Petre Works in this City. 169I fear they have chosen injudiciously a Place for their Vatts, Vaults and Buildings, a low marshy Place which was lately overflowed by the Storm. Still We have Sanguine Accounts of the Skill and Success of some operators.

Coll. Dyer3 produces a Sample of excellent Salt Petre, made by two De Witts, one of Norwich the other of Windham, and he is confident that they can and will make large Quantities. Coll. Harrison of Virginia,4 whose Taste in Madeira, I know, and in Girls I believe, and in Salt Petre I hope to be much Superiour to his Judgment in Men, is very confident that they are making large Quantities from Tobacco House Earth, in his Colony.

We are hourly expecting Intelligence from Canada, as well as Massachusetts, and from London.

My dear sir, Let me intreat you to do every Thing in your Power to get ready the Accounts of all that our Province has done and expended in the Common Cause, for which they expect or hope to be reimbursed by the United Colonies. It has ever appeared to me a Thing of much Importance, that We should be furnished with these Accounts as soon as possible. From present appearances, our session will not be long, and if We should not be furnished with the Necessary Papers, very soon, We shall not be able to obtain any Reimbursement this Fall: and the next Spring We may be involved in so many Dangers, as well as new Expences as to render our Chance for obtaining Justice, more precarious. You know that your Delegates have been here, almost the whole Time since the Commencement of Hostilities, and therefore can say nothing of their own Knowledge concerning your Exertions or Expences, but must depend altogether upon Information from the General Court.

This is really a Strong Reason for a Change in the Delegation. We have been absent so long from our native Country as to be a Kind of Aliens and strangers there. If it is good Policy to reelect one of the old Delegates, because he is personally knowing to what has passed here; it is equally good Policy to elect Some new ones, because they are Witnesses of what has passed with you. For my own Part, as my political Existence terminates with the Year, I Sincerely wish to be excused in the next Election. I long to be a little with you in the General Court, that I may see and hear, and feel with my Countrymen. And I ardently wish to be a little with my Family, and to attend a little to my private Affairs. To be frank and candid to a Friend, I begin to feel for my Family, to leave all the Burthen of my private Cares, at a Time when my affairs are in so much Perplexity, to an 170excellent Partner, gives me Pain for her. To leave the Education of a young Family, entirely to her, altho I know not where it could be better lodged, gives me much Concern for her and them.

I have very little Property, you very well know, which I have not earned myself, by an obstinate Industry, in opposition to the Malice of a very infirm Constitution, in Conjunction with the more pernicious Malice of Ministerial and gubernatorial Enemies. Of the little Acquisition's I have made, five hundred Pounds sterling is sunk in Boston in a Real Estate, four hundred sterling more is compleatly annihilated in a Library5 that is now wholly useless to me and mine, and at least four hundred sterling more, is wholly lost to me, in Notes and Bonds not one farthing of the Principal or Interest of which, can I obtain, and the Signers are dying, breaking, flying every day.

It is now compleatly two years since my Business has been totally ruined by the public Confusions. I might modestly estimate the Profit of my Business before this Period at three hundred sterling a Year, perhaps more. I think therefore I may fairly estimate myself a sufferer immediately, to the amount of two Thousand Pounds sterling. I have purchased Lands, which these Causes have prevented me from paying for, and the Interest is running on without a Possibility of my paying it, and I am obliged to hire Labour yearly upon my Farm to no Small amount.

In the mean Time, all that has been granted me by the general Court for the sessions of this Congress last Fall and this Spring has not defreyed my necessary Expences, however strange it may appear.

The Conclusion from all this is, that I am rushing rapidly into Perplexities and Distresses in my private Affairs from which I can never extricate myself. By retreating from public Life, in some Measure I might, preserve myself and Family from a Ruin, which without it will be inevitable. I am willing to sink with my Country, but it ought not to be insisted on that I Should Sink myself without any Prospect of contributing by that Means to make it Swim. I have taken my Trick at Helm, when it was not easy to get Navigators who would run the Risque of the storm. At present the Course is plain whatever the Weather may be, and the prospect of that is much better than it was when I was called to assist in steering the ship.

RC (MHi:Warren-Adams Coll.); docketed: “Mr. J. A Lettr Sepr. 1775.”


Mercy Otis Warren to JA, 4 Sept. (above).


The “one necessity,” that is, gunpowder.


Eliphalet Dyer (1721–1807), delegate to the congress from Connecticut ( DAB ).


Benjamin Harrison (1726?–1791), 171delegate to the congress ( DAB ).


JA's library, given to the town of Quincy in 1822, is now housed in the Boston Public Library.