Papers of John Adams, volume 11

From Elbridge Gerry, 10 January 1781 Gerry, Elbridge JA From Elbridge Gerry, 10 January 1781 Gerry, Elbridge Adams, John
From Elbridge Gerry
My dear Mr. Adams Marblehead January 10th. 1781

In June last I returned to this State, and have since been favoured with your several Letters of the 23d. and 29th. of Feby., 19th. of March, 28th. of April, 23d. of May and 24th. of June, with the pamphlet by the Baron de Arundl, whom I have not had the Pleasure of seeing.1

Mr. Dalton informed me in July last that notwithstanding the Friendship of yourself and Doctor Franklin, in the Affair of his Vessel, the Payment had been delayed, and he proposed to write to You both, but I have heard nothing further on the Subject.2

The Minister of France, Marquis de la Fayette, and Mr. Marbois, were exceedingly pleased with the Reception they met with in Boston. Indeed, it was impossible for them to express their Satisfaction, in loftier Strains than they did on this Occasion.3

I have sent to Mr. Lovell an Extract of your Letter relative to “drawing,” and presume eer this, You are furnished with the “Orders” requested.4 Your Accounts are liquidated and allowed, as far as my Memory serves me, excepting the Expences of your Son, which are deducted.5 My Journals are in Boston, and for that Reason, it is out 31of my Power to inclose a Copy of the Resolve by this Conveyance; but I have no Doubt of your receiving it, as Mr. Lovell proposed to transmit You Duplicates or Triplicates thereof.

I wish You had sent me the papers in which You was announced, that by republishing the Matter in our papers, the “honorable” Appointment which You received from the American Philosophical Society might be properly corrected—You may depend on the earliest Information, should any Attempt be made to your prejudice, in this Quarter.6

Mr. Lovell under the 9th. of Decr. says, “I will endeavour to get the News papers on to Mr. A pretty regularly, I beleive he has had them since the Date of his last Letter”—and I was informed by the Navy Board at Boston, that they received constantly three Setts of two or three of the Boston papers, for the american Ministers.7 I shall nevertheless confer with General Warren on the Subject, and prevent if possible Disappointments.

I beleive Congress are pretty well convinced of the Impropriety of their former Mode of conducting marine affairs abroad. Jones was not arrived by the last Advices from Philadelphia, and Landais, who so conducted on his Passage to America as to induce the officers and Passengers to take from him the Command of the Ship, is superseded.

The Events of the last Campaign were rather against Us, on Account of the Reduction of Charlestown, and the Defeat of General Gates at Camden in South Carolina. But these Misfortunes were nearly ballanced, by the Capture of 800 of the Enemy at one Time,8 and by the prisoners we have taken in several other Skirmishes with the Enemy in that State, as well as by the alertness of our Militia, the Experience they have gained, and the general purgation in the southern states of their disaffected Inhabitants. The Enemy at New York paid dearly for their Incursion into New Jersey,9 which with their skirmishing at different Times did not I imagine cost them less than 1000 Men: since July they have been confined by our Army in the City. Some Ravages during the summer, were made on our western Frontier, but the Enemy were immediately repulsed by the Militia. I presume You have heard of the Defection of the infamous General Arnold. Inclosed is a pamphlet10 containing the Tryal of the Adjutant General of the british Army, who was convicted of being a Spy and suffered on the Occasion. He had a great Soul, and I sincerely wish that Arnold had been the Victim.

I perceive by the London papers, that the british Merchants and 32Manufacturers were greatly rejoiced at the prospect of a Vent for their Goods in South Carolina: but our privateer Adventurers have diverted the southern, Quebec, and Nova Scotia Trade into the eastern Channel, and made a Drug of British Goods in this State. The prices of these, are nevertheless kept up at present, but West India Goods are very low. Good Jamaica Sugar can be purchased at 7 Dollars in Specie, or for paper Currency at the Exchange of 75 of the old Emissions for 1. A Dollar of the new Emission is current at the Exchange of Congress, Vizt. 40 of the old for 1. So that the new Emission You will perceive is not much more than half the Value of the nominal Sum in Specie. The Exchange of paper Bills has not varied for six Months past, but Bills of Exchange have fallen from 65 to 55 Dollars of the old Emission for 1, and the british in New York are obliged to sell their Exchange for Specie at a Loss of 20 Per Cent and upwards, which is equivalent to the Loss on Exchange in this and the neighbouring States, if sold for Specie, or Bills of Credit at the Exchange. The several States are emitting the new, and cancelling the old Paper Currency agreable to the Resolution of Congress of the 18th. of March last,11 which has produced a Scarcity of Money and brot forth all the Gold and Silver. Every Contract is now made for Specie, but Bills of Credit are preferred at the Exchange, which as I mentioned before is now invariable. Indeed We are freed from all Embarrassments respecting Money excepting its Scarcity; and Commerce and privateering were never more flourishing. The Spirit with which the private Merchants pursue their plans, prevents the Growth of the publick Navy. This I think is a fortunate Circumstance, for the Force of the Frigates and Sloops of War belonging to the Continent or Individual States, being never equal to offensive or defensive Operations, as is evident from the Expedition against Penobscot, and the Loss of our Ships of War at Charlestown, they could only be employed, with a prospect of Success in cruising in the British Trade, or transporting Supplies from Europe; and in both of these Employments, there has been such Confusion and Embarrassment, from the Want of proper Arrangements, that a private Ship of War of equal burthen with a continental or State Ship has been ever able to make two Cruizes, to one of the latter, and when a Merchant's looses a privateer, he is expeditious in obtaining by Exchange his officers and Sailors for manning another, whilst those that are captured in the Service of the Publick, are often long confined in the prisons of the Enemy.

We have a prospect of a fine Army for the ensuing Campaign. 33Congress have required the States to inlist their Quotas, for three Years or during the War,12 and the Legislatures, fatigued with the Trouble of short Inlistments, heartily adopt the plan of Congress. The Number of Batallions is greatly reduced on the principle of Oeconomy, but they consist of more privates, and will furnish Us with an Army, to the best of my Memory, of between 30 and 40,000 rank and file. These, and the Militia which are always ready, are sufficient with the Forces of our Ally for offensive operations by Land. We want then, on this Score, nothing but a superior Navy: but a few more Troops from France may render our Success more certain. The Dispositions of the people, who for the Year past, have been labouring under a Tax equal to the Expences of the whole Campaign, are no Ways altered: and it is astonishing to me that the Administration of G. Britain should be so lost to their own Dignity and Honor, as to assert that there is a possibility, much more a prospect, of Submission, or even of a Reconciliation, or pacification short of compleat Independence. The Governments of the States and Continent, have now obtained such a Consistency and Establishment, which are every Day encreasing; the people feel so much their Dignity and Importance, in being the Fountain of Power and Honor; and the numerous officers in the legislative, executive, judicial, and military Departments, of each State and of the united States, are so interested in the Continuance of their Authority and Emoluments, that the Government of G. Britain may with as much propriety attempt a Repeal of the eternal and fundamental Laws of Nature, as a Revocation of the Independence of these States, supported as they are by an Alliance with France, and a Connection not much short of a Treaty with Spain.

Our last Harvest, excepting of Hay; has been very plentiful. Good Flower is from £100 to £120 Currency or 33/4 lawful in Specie Per hundred. Pork and poultry are sold in this place at 6 Dollars or 6d. lawful a pound. But one thing will surprize You, which by the Valuation Returns of some of the States, is proved to be a Fact; the Stocks on the Farms, are greater, and the people in general, exclusive of their paper Money and Securities, have more solid Interest than they had at the Beginning of the War: for the Truth of which I pledge my Reputation. The publick Debt having been paid in a great Measure by the Depretiation, our Resources, exclusive of Cloathing and military Stores, are and for many Years will be equal to a vigorous War; and a little Experience in the Business of Finance will enable Us annually to procure seasonable Supplies. The several States have been 34under the necessity of obtaining their proportions of these, since the Stoppage of Emissions, by Taxes without the Assistance of Loans, as the loss of their Credit, by the late extraordinary Depretiation, and by the consequent Impracticability of doing Justice, has prevented the Legislatures from establishing the Credit of the State Securities or Treasurers Notes so called. But the Assembly of this State seem now determined to remove as far as possible every Complaint, relative to the Want of publick Justice, and to call on the people for Supplies, by Loans, which in that Case will be funded on Taxes, agreable to the Usage of G. Britain. I wish You could send Us a Financier, according to a former Instruction of Congress.13 The Importance of obtaining our Supplies by Loans, and of regulating our Expenditures, is inconceivable. Instead of taxing the people for the current Expences of each Year, We should then only tax them for the Interest of those Expences, and of the Loans previously made; and by obtaining the Money required for each Campaign, before it commenced, We should furnish the Man and Supplies necessary to carry it on with Vigour. But the two last Campaigns have been turned, by depending for Money on the slow Operation of Taxes.

I am happy to inform You that the farmers of this and the neighbouring states have for several Years past been raising Siberian Wheat, (which exceeds in quality the common Wheat,) and find the former not subject to blight. This, to three of the N.E. States is an acquisition of the greatest Importance, and will not only be a Source of Wealth, but make them independent on other States for an essential Article of Subsistence. A Gallon of this Wheat was in the Year 1774 sent by Mark Duchet, a Brother to Wm. Duchet of London (who the Year before had discovered the Use of it,) to John Furnald of Portsmouth. He distributed it to his Friends, who finding it answerable to the Description raised and sold it for eight Dollars in Specie per bushell, and so promoted the Culture that the last Year produced Seed sufficient for this and the neighbouring States. I doubt not of our raising soon a sufficiency for our own Use, and large quantities for Exportation. Inclosed is a sample of this Grain.

I have given you a tedious History of our Affairs, pray communicate it to Mr. Dana and let me hear from You something relative to the Politics of Europe.

Congress in Decr. last had received 86 of your Letters, to some of which I presume You have Answers.

You are undoubtedly informed that Mr. Dana is commissioned Minister plenipotentiary to the Court of Russia.14 Your Ladies and 35Families are well. Pray give my best Respects to him, and be assured sir that I remain with every Sentiment of Friendship & Esteem your most obed & very hum sert

E Gerry

N.B. I have written to Mr. Dana by this Conveyance.15

The paper inclosed16 contains some fresh Intelligence of our Success at the southward.

RC (Adams Papers); endorsed by John Thaxter: “Mr. Gerry 10th. Jany. 1781.”


JA's letter of 29 Feb. 1780 (Adams Papers), is printed in James T. Austin, The Life of Elbridge Gerry: With Contemporary Letters; To the Close of the American Revolution, 2 vols., Boston, 1828–1829, 1:333–334. For the other five letters, see vol. 8:357–358; 9:70–71, 242–243, 333–334, 470–472. JA sent the pamphlet with the letter of 23 May, which also served as a letter of introduction for the Baron de Arundl; neither the publication nor Arundl has been further identified.


For Tristram Dalton's efforts to obtain compensation from the French government for the loss of the brigantine Fair Play at Guadaloupe in 1779, see Dalton's letter to JA of 4 Aug. 1780, note 2, and references there (vol. 10:87–89).


This is a curious passage for Gerry to include in a letter written in Jan. 1781. La Luzerne and Barbé-Marbois received a very friendly welcome at Boston when they arrived in America in 1779, as did Lafayette when he returned to America in the spring of 1780. La Luzerne would pay a second, less ostentatious, visit in Oct. 1781, but there had not been, as Gerry seems to imply, any recent “Occasion” at which the three men reiterated their pleasure at Boston's reception (Independent Chronicle, 5 and 19 Aug. 1779; 4 May, 19 Oct. 1781; Adams Family Correspondence , 3:225–226).


It is unclear to which letter Gerry refers because none of those mentioned here earlier deals with JA's concern over having to draw on Benjamin Franklin for his salary. He may mean JA's letter of 4 Nov. 1779 in which the issue was raised, but James Lovell was well aware of JA's views from letters dated 25 Oct. and 4 Nov. 1779, and 19 Feb. 1780. See also JA's letter of 17 Feb. 1780 to the president of Congress, and note 1, for Congress' solution to the problem (vol. 8:276–277 226–227, 277–278, 333–334, 330–331).


For JA's accounts from his first mission to Europe in 1778 and 1779 and Congress' action regarding them, see vol. 8:154–160.


JA had not objected to the announcement of his election to the American Philosophical Society. In fact, he even had it reprinted in the Gazette de Leyde of 29 Aug. 1780 (vol. 10:84). AA, however, wrote to Gerry on 13 March 1780 to register her displeasure that the announcement identified JA only as a former member of Congress, but recognized John Jay as minister to Spain. Jay was also listed before JA despite the fact that JA's first diplomatic appointment occurred two years prior to Jay's. Curiously, the Philosophical Society does not have a record of either man's election in 1780. Both were elected again years later ( Adams Family Correspondence , 3:297–300).


Lovell's letter to Gerry has not been found, but for his transmission of newspapers to AA and through her to the Navy Board at Boston for dispatch to JA, see his letter to JA of 4 May 1780 (vol. 9:270–273).


At the Battle of King's Mountain.


Presumably a reference to Lt. Gen. Wilhelm von Knyphausen's raids against Connecticut Farms and Springfield, N.J., in June 1780, for which see vol. 9:510.


Proceedings of a Board of General Officers, Held by Order of His Excellency Gen. Washington, Commander in Chief of the Army of the United States of America. Respecting Major John André, Adjutant General of the British Army, September 29, 1780, Phila., 1780 (Evans, No. 17043).


For Congress' revaluation of its currency on 18 March 1780, see vol. 9:248–249.


Congress' reorganization of the army took place on 21 Oct. 1780 ( JCC , 18:959–962).


On 6 Oct. 1778 Congress instructed the American Commissioners in Europe to ask Richard Price to come to the U.S. to render “assistance in regulating their finances” ( JCC , 12:984–985). Price politely refused the request in a letter of 18 Jan. 1779 to the Commissioners (vol. 7:361–362).


Francis Dana was appointed minister to 36Russia on 19 Dec. 1780 ( JCC , 18:1166–1173).


Gerry's letter to Francis Dana has not been found, but for its substance, see Dana's reply of 15 March (MHi: Dana Family Papers, Francis Dana Letterbook, 1780–1781).


The enclosure has not been found.

From Stephen Sayre, 10 January 1781 Sayre, Stephen JA From Stephen Sayre, 10 January 1781 Sayre, Stephen Adams, John
From Stephen Sayre
Dear Sir St Petersburg 30th. decr. 1780 Old Stile 10 January 1781 N.S.

I am, not many days since favour'd with your Letter of the 6th.;1 and as your Excellency wishes to be further infor'd on the subject, it is my duty to reply. Perhaps some good may arise to our Country if you assist me in my endeavours while here. It was what I supposed, but I am exceedingly sorry you have no powers to make a begining of a trade from this port, which, tho' now somewhat indirect would, and must lead to a direct, and most profitable one to America. At this moment I conceive the Empress would not positivly encourage an immediate navigation to all parts of the Continent but I have good grounds to believe she would might chearfully countenance any Merchants who would charge one of his own Ships, and require a clearance from this port to Rhode Island, or the Isles of St. Peire and Miquillon.2 She means strictly to observe the principles of neutrality with all the powers at war, but to extend her commerce wherever her Merchants can pursue it with advantage.

She knows perfectly who I am, and what are my designs. She has within these 10 days, graciously required of those with whom I am supposed connected that they carefully observe her system; but observing that, we are sure of all possible protection. Circumstanced as I am, the path of my proceedings is plain; I have not a choise. I must take freight in our Ships, from hence to France or Spain. I am now, in treaty with a Merchant who offers Seventy gilders per Last for Hemp. If however you are of opinion that by your writing to Mr. Franklin, he would prevail on the Court of France to load the two Ships (being 900 Tons each, English built) directly for their Islands or for Rhode Island, on account of Congress, which is by far the most to be wished, I would suspend any positive agreement, under that hope.

I must say that from the experience I have had, I form no warm expectations from Mr. Franklins activity in these matters. Your Excellency may perhaps do more with him than my fears suggest. If by such means America can get an ample supply of Sail Cloth, Cordage &c. &c. it is very criminal to neglect any mode of application. France too must have some Articles of this kind there for reparation, in case 37of need. How much easier is the method here proposed. Mr. F. must, have the Apathy of absolute death to refuse a sollicitation. If the Idea is adopted I must have the aid of the French Minister here to get the Ships clear'd out directly for Rhode Island for you may suppose I should have every imaginable opposition from the English Envoy. Your own Reflections will lead you to see every possible advantage that we can wish, attending this begining. The door would be open'd to all Europe by this single movement.

Mr. Franklin cant refuse me his recommendation as to any confidence in these matters; because he has already given me the fullest testimony under his hand, while I was at Copenhagen (tho' by his own fault his Letters came too late) and an opportunity was then lost, where the Court of Denmark had been bold enough to put 500,000 Rix dollars into a Merchants hands, to send us a Frigate with those Articles—Ship and all to be sold Congress. He was press'd for his reply on that head by the Danish Minister at Paris above a month—when it came, the Court had alter'd their resolutions—the Ship was sold for the East India Trade &c. &c. Indeed the delay alone gave unfavourable impressions, and an unfavourable turn to every thing.3

In the present case, however, there is only one point to be decided—that is, will France make the advance for us? or will they try this project for themselves? You will see that the British Court are compell'd to let all goods (not excepted by treaty), tho belonging to the Enemy, go free to all ports. What then can hinder the immediate experiment. I have no private Interest in this channel, for the Ships shall go there for the same freight that I can get by a voyage from hence to France, and to the West Indies. The Minister here may settle such points.

I agree with you, that this Country would benefit exceedingly by a commerce with ours—I have impres'd this Idea, with good effect upon some leading men here: but I feel, with you equal regret, the languor of so many great nations, as to this great object. I could do much more, were I countenanced by Mr. Franklin (for without that any man finds a kind of awkwardness at every Court) its very negative operates like a Curse, and brings actual disadvantages. I have always found such coldness in application, and such insupportable negligence, as to every matter I proposed to him, as to discourage me from all future intercourse.

I am left to contend, alone, against all the influence of the British Minister, and all the malignity intaild upon my opposition while in 38England. Not a day passes without its lie, to ruin my credit, or disturb my peace. All application to draw me away, as an American, and a supposed Agent for Congress, failing, other means are used to prevent my designs. I began a Ship here last Summer and before it was half built, it was consumed by fire—if ever I have opportunity to give the detail, you will agree with me, that chance could have no share in the Calamity.4

I have been an evidence of the unbounded Corruption of that abominable Court of Great Britain for many years. No wickedness or Villainy stands in their way—they are profligate and abandon'd from the King to the Door Keeper. The 5 Minister follows strictly the system of his Court, therefore I have every thing to dread. I am obliged to have a guard and 4 Centinels constantly on the watch. I am obliged to go perpetually arm'd, for I am hourly inform'd that I must expect every mischeif that money and Malice can effect.

I have just received a Long Letter from Mr. Francis Lewis who you must know—he is now presiding at the Board of Admiralty—writes that all Articles for Shipping are extremely wanted—that Congress are at a total loss how they may be procured &c. &c.6 This ought to decide Mr. Franklin as to the proposition. You may also assure him that if once Russian Ships find their way to America, Sweeds and Danes will do the same; but not till then. I have been long enough in Copenhagan and Stockholm to learn, that Russia must take the lead, in all things let them be ever so trifling, of this nature. They never dare speak of protection for their own Ships till it was the language of this Court.

Perhaps you might persuade some Merchants of Amsterdam to make a speculation in Russia Ships from hence to Rhode Island. But let the other Idea be first push'd to a decision.

If your Excellency has not yet an acquaintance with Mr. Finman, who lives, next door to Mr. Burcourd in Keiser's Graff, I recommend him to your freindship, as a hearty advocate, who wishes to serve us. He is connected with the most solid people who can procure us a Loan. But some care must be taken not to excite the jealousy of others.

I hope you have seen the Baron Van der Cappellen—I esteem him perfectly—if with you; pray inform him that on my journey here, I left a Line for him at an Inn, but I forget where. Inclosed I take the liberty of sending a Letter to my old freind—Will you also send this to yourself, along with it, as explanatory of matters here, &c. &c. &c. I have much to do, and have no Secretary.


As to Articles of Remmittance from America to this place—we have none of great importance except Indigo and Rice. But as we shall ever command West India Productions, they will go far to strike a Ballance—Sugar, Coffee, Cotton &c. have found their way even into the utmost extremities of Siberia. And a Port is now opening on the Black Sea for a Commerce with the western Hemisphere. The weight and Resourses of this Country (if no revolutions happen) will soon astonish the rest of the World. I shall probably (pursuing my own path) see you in Amsm. about June next—if you believe I can do Service here, by returning, please to urge such a public appointment as Congress may judge best, for I mean to remain some little time at Burdeaux—long enough to have an answer as to this point. At present, I presume, I could serve America by promoting commercial matters only, but they would lead to political changes with irresistable efficacy.

I am with all possible respect & consideration your Exys most sincere & humble Servant Stephen Sayre

RC (Adams Papers); endorsed by John Thaxter: “Mr. S. Sayre 30th. Decr. 1780.”


For JA's letter to Stephen Sayre of 6 Dec. 1780, see vol. 10:397–398. For information on Sayre's varied career, see vol. 6:209.


St. Pierre, Miquelon, and Rhode Island might be acceptable destinations for Russian ships seeking to trade with the U.S. because the first two were French possessions and a French fleet and Rochambeau's army were at Rhode Island. This would permit neutral Russia to maintain an apparently evenhanded commerce with the belligerent powers of Britain and France without recognizing the U.S. as either an independent state or a belligerent. One problem, of course, was that the British had captured the French islands in Sept. 1778 (vol. 6:290).


For Sayre's efforts to promote U.S. trade with Denmark, see John R. Alden, Stephen Sayre: American Revolutionary Adventurer, Baton Rouge, 1983, p. 104–115. For his correspondence with Benjamin Franklin concerning the Danish offer of naval stores and a frigate, see Franklin, Papers , 28:59–62, 279, 377–379.


For the views of Sir James Harris, British envoy to Russia, regarding Sayre, and his rumored involvement in the burning of Sayre's ship, see Alden, Stephen Sayre, p. 123–126. Sayre believed that British actions against him stemmed as much from his support for the American cause while a resident of London, which resulted in his 1775 arrest for treason and imprisonment in the Tower of London, as it did from actions as unofficial American agent in St. Petersburg (same, p. 68–86).


Blank in the MS.


Francis Lewis was a merchant, former member of Congress from N.Y., and, since Dec. 1779, a commissioner of the Board of Admiralty ( DAB ). Sayre carried on a substantial correspondence with Lewis, whom he described as his “patron, and freind in matters of commerce,” but the letter referred to here has not been found (Franklin, Papers , 28:61).