Papers of John Adams, volume 3

To James Warren, 28 October 1775 JA Warren, James To James Warren, 28 October 1775 Adams, John Warren, James
To James Warren
Octr. 28. 1775 Dr Sir

Our Association, against Importations and Exportations, from and to Gr. Britain, Ireland andthe British West Indies, if We consider its Influence, upon the Revenue, the Commerce, the Manufactures and the Agriculture of the Kingdom, is a formidable Shield of Defence for Us. It is Shearing of its Beams that Luminary, which in all its Glory might dazzle our feeble Sight.

But a Question arises, whether, our Association against Exportations, can be observed, so as to have its full Effect, upon Britain, Ireland, and the West Indies, unless We extend it further?1 We have agreed not to export to B., I. and the W. Indies. Parliament has made an Act that We Shall not export to any other Place. So that Trade is entirely stopped. But will not a Smuggling Trade be opened? That 255is will not Adventurers push out Vessells against the Act of Parliament? If they do, when the Vessells are once at Sea, will they not go, to the Place where a Famine price is to be had. The Spirit of Commerce is mercenary and avaricious, and the Merchants will go where the Scarcity is greatest, the Demand quickest and the Price highest.

What Security then can we have that Merchants will not order their Vessells to the West India Islands British or foreign, to Ireland or even Great Britain, in Defyance of our association?

Besides is there not reason to apprehend, that the concealed Tories of whom there are many in every Colony, and especially in every maritime Town, will send their Vessells to sea, on purpose to be taken by the Enemy and sent to Supply the Army and Navy in America. It is true, their Vessells would be forfeited, and seized and condemned no doubt but they might be pleased with this, and would easily obtain hereafter Compensation or Retribution for this meritorious Sacrifice, from the Ministry.

In Short may not our association be wholly evaded and eluded, if we dont draw it closer? My own opinion upon these great Questions I may possibly give you sometime or other. But I wish to have yours.

RC (MHi:Warren-Adams Coll.); addressed: “Hon. James Warren Esqr Speaker of the House Watertown”; docketed: “Mr. J. A Lettr Octr. 1775.”


Off and on during October, the congress, sitting as a committee of the whole, had been debating the wisdom of opening up trade. The last of JA's notes on this debate were recorded the day before he wrote this letter ( Diary and Autobiography, 2:219).

From Benjamin Hichborn, 28 October 1775 Hichborn, Benjamin JA From Benjamin Hichborn, 28 October 1775 Hichborn, Benjamin Adams, John
From Benjamin Hichborn
Cambridge 28 Octr: 1775 Dear Sir

If tears of blood were to follow my pen, they wou'd but faintly marke the distressing anxiety I have suffered for near three months past, to be betrayed into a situation which equally exposed me to the Insults of my Enemies and the Suspicions or Contempt of my Friends, by a Scoundrel whose base duplicity, I coud neither expose or counteract, excited feelings, which often proved too severe a trial for my utmost fortitude.1 I have been a week in the Country and till now have not had resolution enough to write you a line. I have So much to communicate, that at present I shall only relieve my Mind of what I cannot contain. It was generally presumed (and I confess with the greatest apparent reason) that the discovery of those letters was owing to my imprudence—imprudence in such a Case I shoud esteem a Crime, and a crime of such a nature as, in myself, I coud never pardon. The 256circumstances were shortly these. When we came to New York, contrary to our expectations, we found a packet-boat waiting for Passengers, and in the opinion of every one there was not the least danger in crossing the Sound, we accordingly took passage for New-Port, and I never saw more reason for destroying your letters till the second day we had been on board the Man of war, than there was for throwing them in the River Delaware. Capt. Ayscough2 Received us on board the Ship with the greatest politeness and Civility, making a thousand apologies for the rough treatment he had given us, said his object was the Sailors, who were in the boat with us, and was very sorry he had stopt us in our passage. This continued till the next day, when his Conduct suddenly wore quite a different appearance. I told Mr. White, that Scoundrel Stone, (a person who formerly was Clerk to Henry Lloyd,3 and came passenger with us from New York) had given Ayscough some information which had produced this Change in his conduct, and it was time for me to secure my letters, I had before this secreted them in a part of the Ship where I thought them perfectly safe. I immediately loaded them with money of the least value I had about me intending to drop them over board in the Evening. We (Mr. White and myself) were then told that we must look upon ourselves as prisoners, and while Mr. Stone was caressed in the Cabin, we had a Centinel over us. However I had then, not the least doubt of eluding their Strictest scrutiny—my plan I thought was compleat and ensured me success; I had provided a couple of blank letters directed to General Washington and Coll. Warren, which in Case Stone shoud acknowledge himself the Informer and confront me with his declaration, I intended to deliver them up with seeming reluctance and pretend I had concealed them through fear. Just as the boat was preparing to carry our baggage on board Capt. Wallace for examination a Gentleman who came passenger with us from New York sent on board for a trunk which we thro' mistake had taken for our own, this circumstance looked so favourable that I coud not avoid seizing it to get the letters on shore. I opened the trunk with my own key, put the letters in the folds of the Gentlemans Linen and with some difficulty locked it again, when the trunk came upon deck the Lieutenant mistook it for mine put it into the boat with the rest of our things and rowed off immediately on board the other Ship. By such a mere accident as this did the letters fall into their Hands. The next day an Officer told Mr. White that he heard Stone giving the Capt. information of the Letters, or we shoud never have been searched or suspected. General Washington does not yet appear altogether Satis-257fied with my Conduct.4 The only Satisfaction I have at present arises from the generous Reception I met with from Coll. Warren, but my anxiety to know your Sentiments of the part I have taken prevents my attention to any thing else. I am Sensible of the injustice I do you in harbouring the least diffidence of your generosity, but at the same time I know your nice feelings must receive such a shock from having your confidential observations, upon such delicate Subjects exposed, that the Reflection gives me the keenest pain. General Washington and the World, may think meanly of me, but suffer me to say without the appearance of adulation, possessed of your Confidence of favourable opinion, I can be happy under their united frowns. Nothing but a line of approbation from you can restore me to myself. Let me intreat you, if from no other motives but pity, to send me a short letter by the Post, and I will then open myself to you with the greatest freedom. Enclosed you have a rude plan of a design which I am satisfied may be carried into execution with the greatest ease.5 I propose communicating it to the Genl. through Mr: Bowdoin. I am Sir your unhappy but Sincere Friend

B Hichborn

RC (Adams Papers); addressed: “John Adams Esq. Philadelphia”; docketed: “Benja. Hitchbourne Octr. 28. 1775.”


This letter is a first installment of Hichborn's defense of his actions and appeal for JA's forgiveness for the capture of JA's letters to James Warren and AA of 24 July. Hichborn also wrote to JA on 25 Nov., and 20 May 1776 (both below). JA's only extant response is his letter of 29 May 1776 (below).


Captain of the British sloop Swan (Disposition of the Fleet on 30th June 1775, MHi:Gay Transcripts, The Conduct of Adm. Graves in North America, 1:132).


Probably Henry Lloyd (1709–1795), the Boston merchant and loyalist (Sabine, American Loyalists , 2:24).


Washington thought that the conduct of Hichborn and Capt. White, who traveled with him, was “imprudent” and added, “If their suffering only affected themselves, I should not think it improper that they should feel a little for their Misconduct or Negligence” (Washington, Writings, ed. Fitzpatrick, 3:398–399, 403).


Enclosure not found. It may have concerned the placing of artillery on Dorchester Heights and Noddle's Island that Hichborn had discussed with James Warren (Warren to JA, 20 Oct., above).