Adams Family Correspondence, volume 9

Abigail Adams to Mary Smith Cranch

Abigail Adams to John Quincy Adams

John Quincy Adams to Thomas Boylston Adams, 20 April 1791 Adams, John Quincy Adams, Thomas Boylston
John Quincy Adams to Thomas Boylston Adams
Boston April 20th: 1791.

I received by the last Post your short favour, inclosing a much longer one to Quincy which I have punctually delivered:1 I know not whether this will reach you before your departure from Philadelphia; if it does not it can do no harm: and if it does, as you have concluded upon coming this way with the family it may be of some 212service to me.— You recollect doubtless that while I was in Philadelphia, I took some pains to make a complete collection of books and papers relative to the national government. I left one or two little minutes with you to which I requested your attention. A gentleman of your punctuality has certainly not suffered the circumstance to escape your recollection: however a little stimulus to your remembrance perhaps will not be amiss, and if you find any spare room in your trunks when you come on, I must request you to bring with you a set of the laws & journals of both Houses of the last Session, which I presume are published before this.—2 Perhaps you may remember that my set of the U.S. Gazette was not complete. Mr: Fenno directed me to apply to Mr: Sigourney in this town for the numbers which I wanted, and told me, that I could probably get supplied from him. I have done so accordingly but Mr: Sigourney had sent all the papers in his possession to Mr: Fenno a few days before.3 I must therefore trouble you to send to him and request him to furnish you with as many of the following numbers as he can of the first Volume. N: 33. 36, 38, 39, 40, 41, 46, 73, 80, 85, 86, 87, 88, 89, 90, 91, 92, 98, 101, 102, 103, 104. and you will either bring them with you, or leave them to be sent by the first convenient opportunity. I shall want also of the second Volume the Numbers 88, 89, 90 which were published while I was on my passage from Philadelphia hither. I was supplied with a complete set of the second Volume to the 87th: number before I came away, and since I got home I have regularly received the numbers as they came; that little chasm, you will easily be able to assist me in filling up, and I hope you have too great a stock of patience to be wearied by my importunities.

I have little more to say. There have been great rebellions among the sons of Harvard, excited by the new regulations subjecting them to examinations. I have not at present time to give you a full account of the whole transactions; the result of the whole is that Jones, a junior is expelled, Trapier rusticated, Sullivan, Sophimore, suspended for nine months, and Ely, I know not of what class, to undergo a punishment not yet made public.4 I was at exhibition yesterday; Ellery delivered a very pretty English Oration.5 company pretty much as usual.

Adieu, in haste.

J. Q. Adams.

RC (Adams Papers); addressed: “Mr: Thomas B. Adams / Philadelphia.”; endorsed: “Mr JQ Adams / April 20th: 1791.”


Letters not found.


Acts Passed at the Third Session of the Congress of the United States of America, Begun and Held at the City of Philadelphia 213 on Monday the Sixth of December, in the Year M,DCC,XC, Phila., [1791], Evans, No. 23845; Journal of the Third Session of the Senate of the United States of America, Begun and Held at the City of Philadelphia, December 6th, 1790, Phila., 1791, Evans, No. 23901; Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States. Anno M,DCC,XC, Phila., 1791, Evans, No. 23899.


John Fenno (1751–1798), an entrepreneur from Boston, established the Gazette of the United States in New York in April 1789 and continued it in Philadelphia after the federal capital was moved there in the autumn of 1790. Fenno envisioned the Gazette as a national newspaper, a publication that, circulating throughout the country, would foster American unity by promoting and defending the new government under the Constitution. Elisha Sigourney (1753–1811), a merchant in Boston, managed subscriptions to the Gazette there ( DAB ; Jeffrey L. Pasley, “The Tyranny of Printers”: Newspaper Politics in the Early American Republic, Charlottesville, Va., 2001, p. 51–54; Henry H. W. Sigourney, Genealogy of the Sigourney Family, Boston, 1857, p. 11; Boston Columbian Centinel, 23 Nov. 1791).


The laws of Harvard College, revised in 1790, introduced an annual public examination of each class and required all students to attend. Upset by the change in the terms of their enrollment, the senior and junior classes petitioned for exemption from the new regulation, but the overseers denied their request. On 12 April 1791, the day on which the examinations were to begin, Benjamin Foissin Trapier (b. 1774), William Sullivan (1774–1839), and Justin Ely (1772–1850) tried to stop them by putting tartar emetic in the water used to make coffee, tea, and cocoa at breakfast in the commons. With almost every student, instructor, and college officer affected, the examinations had to be postponed, though only for a day or two. The three malefactors were soon caught and obliged to leave Harvard until they passed examinations for reinstatement. While Trapier apparently never returned, Sullivan and Ely did, both graduating in 1792. In a separate incident, Henry William Jones (b. 1773) hurled a stone through a window into the room where the freshman class was being examined, an offense for which he was expelled (B. H. Hall, A Collection of College Words and Customs, N.Y., 1859, p. 180–182; MH-Ar:Faculty Records, 5:324–325; 6:40–41, 50, 104–109, 125, 136, 152–154; Harvard Quinquennial Cat. , p. 204).


Abraham Redwood Ellery (1773–1820), Harvard 1791, delivered the English oration at Harvard's public exhibition on 19 April (MH-Ar:Faculty Records, 5:308–309; 6:101–103; Harvard Quinquennial Cat. , p. 203; D/JQA/16, 19 April, APM Reel 19).