Papers of John Adams, volume 5

From James Sullivan, 22 September 1776 Sullivan, James JA From James Sullivan, 22 September 1776 Sullivan, James Adams, John
From James Sullivan
Dear Sir Hartford 22d Sepr. 1776

Since I received your favour of the 27th of May1 on the Subject of Representation I have heard of a Letter being in the post office in Boston for me which I flattered myself was from you in reply to my answer to yrs above mentioned2 but some body has taken that with one other out of the office and embezzled them.

In my answer to yours of the 27th of May I let you know that I was convinced, that as the qualification of Voters was the first Step from a State of Nature to civil Government it would probably be of dangerous tendency to attempt an Alteration but there is a large Committee out on the Subject and I have no doubt but they will alter the qualification of Voters.

You have doubtless had the intelligence of our sending one 5th part of our Militia under the command of General Lincoln to reinforce General Washington. I wish they may not be too late. We have been a long Time lulled with the Story of a Conferrence3 but are now awakened by the loss of New York which we apprehend is a Most Alarming Stroke. It is said that the Enemy may send their largest Ships up N River4 near Sixty Miles—that General Washington has nothing to build Barracks with—and many reports of that kind—and what is worse than all—that our Army retired from N York in the greatest confusion some throwing away their Arms &c. Surely Sir if this is the State of their Minds we have but Little to hope and our Enemies but Little to fear.

The Capture of General Sullivan is the Most disagreeable circumstance I have met with in my whole Life. I am extreemly anxious about him,5 had he died in Battle then I should have done with him but the Idea of his Captivation has ever been dis-35agreeable to me. And since I have been here it is reported that though he has been to the Congress with proposals of exchange he is not in any probable way to be released, this Suggest to me something unfavourable to his Character and has affected my nerves so that I am Scarcely capable of writing. Pray rob the World of one moment and write me plainly on this matter and either by confirming or dispelling my fears give me a moments rest.

The Superior Court Sat at Braintree on the 2d Teusday of Sepr. and had the honour of dining with your Lady. At this Court the privateer Company of Philadelphia Moore Mercer and others had a prize Tried.6 The opinion of the Court was for discharging a part of her but the jury did not agree and the Cause is continued. I understand that the Captors are Much disatisfied with the Court. It seems she was taken on the 12th May brot in the 16th of June and Libelled the 22d part British part West India and part Spanish property. The Spanish property was in money. The Captors urged that on the Day of Lexington Battle there was a War begun between Britain and America that each Individual in Either State had a Right from that Time to Seize the property of any Individual of or Subject to the other State whereby the property of the West Indians became Liable to Seizure by Americans—that the Resolve of the 24th of July7 for extending that of the 24th of April to Seizure of West Indian property had a Retrospect and that it Justified the taking this Ship on the 12th of May. The Court was not of that opinion. Why the Captors did not withdraw their Libel and make a new Seizure and declare de novo on that I Cannot tell but that might have healed the difficulty at once. I trouble you with this that the Congress or Pensilvanians may not Suppose that Massachusetts is unwilling to Condemn prizes but I should wish the world to know that we will not pervert Justice on any account. I am Dr Sir with the greatest Esteem & Respect Your Most obedient Humble Servan

Ja Sullivan

PS Should write a line please to direct for me at Watertown.

RC (Adams Papers); docketed: “J. Sullivan Sept 22. 1776.”


Sullivan wrote a 7 over the 2; actually JA's letter was dated the 26th (vol. 4:208).


Not found.


The first news of the Howe peace commission had arrived in March 1776 (vol. 4:46, note 2).


North River.


Gen. Sullivan was James Sullivan's elder brother.


Probably the Reynolds, taken by two Pennsylvania privateers, the Congress and the Chance, working in concert. The prize 36was taken to Massachusetts ( Naval Docs. Amer. Rev. , 5:154–155, 428).


On the broadening of the right of American privateers to seize enemy vessels, see vol. 4:240, note 4. Sullivan erred in referring to the resolve of 24 April. The congress passed the original resolve on 3 April ( JCC , 4:253).

From William Tudor, 23 September 1776 Tudor, William JA From William Tudor, 23 September 1776 Tudor, William Adams, John
From William Tudor
Dear Sir Plains of Haarlem 23d Sepr. 1776

Every Day more thoroughly convinces me that an absolute Tyranny is essential in the Government of an Army, and that every Man who carries Arms, from the General Officer to the private Centinel, must be content to be a temporary Slave, if he would serve his Country as a Soldier. The Legions of antient Rome and the modern Battalions of Britain have owed their Triumphs principally to this Cause. I not long since pointed out to you the Defects of the present military Code which governs the Army of the united American States. I have only to add that, almost every Villainy and Rascality that can disgrace the Man, the Soldier or the Citizen, is dayly practised without meeting the Punishment they merit. So many of our Officers want Honour, and so many of our Soldiers want Virtue civil, social and military, that Nothing but the severest Punishments will keep both from Practices which must ruin Us. The infamous and cruel Ravages which have been made on the wretched, distress'd Inhabitants of this unfortunate Island by many of our Soldiers, must disgrace, and expose our Army to Detestation. I have heard some Tales of Woe, occasioned by the Robberies of our Army, which would extort Sighs from the Hearts of Tygers.1 It is true some have been detected, but cashiering for an Officer and 39 Lashes for a Private is the extent of Punishment which our present Articles admit of. When Death itself would hardly atone for the Barbarity which in some Instances has been exhibited. Our Men are at present only Robbers, that they will soon be Murderers, unless some are hang'd, I have little Doubt. For God's Sake then give Us a New Set of Articles, that if we cannot reform Men we may at least punish their Crimes.

I do not write you any News because I know every Movement of the Enemy and every Occurrence in our own Army worth sending, is constantly and immediately transmitted to Congress by the General. For this Reason I have not sent You any Account of the shamefull Conduct of some New England Regiments On Sunday the 15th. in their precipitate Retreat, to call it by the 37softest Name. But Nothing else was to have been expected from Regiments commanded by such Officers as those were.2 New England may continue to pour forth her Inhabitants by thousands, but as she sends Men without Commanders, she only sends them to meet Defeat. Our Men will fight if led on by good Officers, and as certainly run away if commanded by Scoundrels. Sunday was an Instance of the last, and the next Day a Confirmation of the first Assertion.3 New England has Men of Sense and Honour who might soon become good Officers, but the Gentlemen there are so totally absorb'd by the Auri sacra fames,4 and the Views of making Fortunes by Privateering, that no other Consideration seems to be attended to.

I had a very narrow Escape from the Enemy on Sunday the 15th. I continued in the City three Hours after they landed, intending if they got Possession of the Town to get over to the Jersey Shore in some Boat. After I found our Men were running before the Enemy I thought it necessary to take Care of Myself, but found it impracticable to cross the North River unless I swam across. I put on by the Side of N. River, and pass'd the Enemy about two Miles from Town within Musquet Shot, but taking into the Woods I got off with the Loss only of a little Baggage. I am with great Respect Dr Sir very truly Yours

Wm Tudor

We last Night lost a most intrepid Officer in Major Henley Aid de Camp to Genl. Heath, in a Skirmish at Montresor's Island. He landed with Lt. Col. Jackson of Sargent's Regiment with a small Party, but was not supported, and fell a Sacrifice to the Cowardice of some Poltroons.5 This young Officer is universally lamented he bid fair to have been a great military Character. Col. Jackson was wounded and most of the Party in the Boat kill'd. How many of our best Officers must we lose before we learn to beat the Enemy brave are Victims to the Baseness of the Poltroons.6

RC (Adams Papers); addressed: “The Honble. John Adams Esq Member of Congress Philadelphia Free”; docketed: “Tudor Sept 23. 1776 ans. Sept. 26.” Some mutilation.


One of the most shocking deeds was the plundering of the property of Lord Stirling, a captive of the British (Washington, Writings, ed. Fitzpatrick, 6:18, 42).


Before landing at Kip's Bay (about the foot of what is now 34th St.) on 15 Sept., the British laid down a very heavy raking fire from their warships in the East River. When British soldiers debarked from transports, appearing out of the smoke of the naval guns, Connecticut militia under the command of Col. William Douglas fled 38without firing a shot. Their panic was communicated to Gen. John Fellows' brigade of Massachusetts militia and from them to Gen. Parsons' Connecticut Continental regiments. Gen. Washington, who had ordered Fellows and Parsons to move up to the support of the units stationed along the river, reported later that the two generals did their best to form their men into a holding line but that they could not stop the panic. In late October a court of inquiry examined charges of cowardice against Col. John Tyler of Parsons' brigade, but he was exonerated. Henry P. Johnston, a careful scholar, felt that the fire from the ships could not have been withstood even by veteran troops (Johnston, Campaign around New York and Brooklyn , p. 232–237; Washington, Writings , 6:58; Freeman, Washington , 4:193; Force, Archives , 5th ser., 2:1251–1254). See JA's excoriation of officers in his reply ( Diary and Autobiography , 3:438).


The Battle of Harlem Heights, fought on 16 Sept. Some of the troops that had fled the day before now fought bravely, including Connecticut troops led by William Douglas (Johnston, Campaign around New York and Brooklyn , p. 246–258).


The accursed thirst for gold.


Thomas Henly rode in a boat with Lt. Col. Michael Jackson of Paul Dudley Sargent's 16th Continental Infantry. Although Jackson's boat landed on Montressor's (later Randall's) Island, and his men fought, the other five boats fled in the face of fire (Heitman, Register Continental Army , p. 22, 285; Johnston, Campaign around New York and Brooklyn , Part II, p. 99 [this contemporary account confuses Thomas with David Henly]).


JA copied his answer to this letter and to Tudor's of 6 Sept. (above) from his Letterbook into his Autobiography ( Diary and Autobiography , 3:437–441). The RC has not been found, but a copy of it in Tudor's hand is in MHi:Tudor Papers. The Tudor copy contains the following closing paragraph which is missing from JA's Letterbook:

“Excuse my reminding You of this Peice of Greecian History. I wish all of Ye who are in the Army and are Scholars would frequently contemplate the great Spirits of former Ages, and while your generous Souls catch Fire at the recital of illustrious Actions, would assiduously imitate the great Examples.”