Papers of John Adams, volume 11

To the President of Congress, 6 August 1781 JA President of Congress McKean, Thomas To the President of Congress, 6 August 1781 Adams, John President of Congress McKean, Thomas
To the President of Congress
Sir Amsterdam August 6th. 1781

In several of the London Newspapers of July 26th. appeared the following paragraph.

“An order has been sent from Lord Hillsborough's Office for bringing Curson and Governieur, whom We sometime ago mentioned to have been confined by Command of Sir George Rodney and General Vaughan for having carried on a traiterous Correspondence with the Enemy at St. Eustatia, to Town to be confined in Newgate to take their Trial for the Crime of High Treason. The whole Circumstances 441of their Case and all their Correspondence has been submitted to the Inspection of the Attorney and Solicitor General, and they consider the Offence in so serious a light, that a direct refusal has been given to a Petition from Mr. Curson to be indulged with the priviledge of giving Bail for Appearance on account of the ill health which he has experienced on board the Vengeance, where he and his Colleague have been for some Months confined, and which is now lying at Spithead. It has been discovered from an Inspection of their Papers, that Mr. Adams, the celebrated Negotiator to Holland, was the Man, with whom they held their illicit Correspondence, and it is said that the Appearance of Proof against them, has turned out much stronger, than was originally supposed.”1

Last Fall Mr. Searle informed me, that Messieurs Curson and Governieur were Continental Agents at Statia, and advised me to send my Dispatches to their Care, as worthy Men, a part of whose Duty it was to forward such things to Congress. I accordingly sent several packets of Letters, Newspapers and Pamphlets to their Address, accompanied only with a Line simply requesting their Attention to forward them by the first safe Opportunity.2 I never saw those Gentlemen, or recieved a Line from either. It must have been Imprudence, or Negligence, to suffer my Letters to fall into the hands of the Enemy. I have looked over all the Letters, which I wrote about that time, and I find no Expression in any that could do Harm to the Public if printed in the Gazettes; yet there are some things which the English would not choose to publish I fancy. What other Correspondences of Messieurs Curson and Governieur might have been discovered I know not.

The British Ministry seem to be growing outrageous. The more they dispair, the more angry they are. They think not at all of Peace. America should think of it as little: sighing, longing for Peace, will not obtain it. No Terms short of eternal disgrace and irrecoverable ruin would be accepted. We must brace up our Laws, and our military Discipline, and renounce that devoted and abandoned Nation forever. America must put an End to a foolish and disgraceful Correspondence and Intercourse, which some have indulged, but at which all ought to blush as inconsistent with the Character of Man.

I have the honor to be, with the greatest Respect, Sir, your most obedient and most humble Servant.

John Adams

RC in John Thaxter's hand (PCC, No. 84, III, f. 351–352).


For an example of this report, see the London Courant of 26 July. With regard to Curson and Gouverneur, the same newspaper noted on 2 Aug. that “To pervert the meaning 442of any statute, is to destroy it. . . . if they were English subjects, it was unjust to seize their property along with the other inhabitants; if they were Dutch, and the seizure of their property was a legal measure, the detaining and imprisoning them, on a charge of high treason, for corresponding with the American Congress, or the French, is the most arbitrary stretch of the law that can be imagined—much as we have been used of late years to perversion and misinterpretation.”


On 23 Oct. 1780, JA wrote a first and second letter two letters to the firm presumably covering identical packets going by different vessels (both LbC's, Adams Papers). JA indicated that the packets contained dispatches for Congress, but the specific letters enclosed have not been identified. In a letter of 1 Sept. (Adams Papers), Curson & Gouverneur reported that they forwarded the packets. No other correspondence between JA and the firm has been found.

From Benjamin Franklin, 6 August 1781 Franklin, Benjamin JA From Benjamin Franklin, 6 August 1781 Franklin, Benjamin Adams, John
From Benjamin Franklin
Sir Passy, Augt. 6. 1781

I some time since gave Orders as you desired to Mr. Grand, to furnish you with a Credit in Holland for the Remainder of your Salary to November next. But I am now told that your Account having been mixt with Mr. Dana's, he finds it difficult to know the Sum due to you. Be pleased therefore to State your Account for two Years, giving Credit for the Sums you have receiv'd, that an Order may be made for the Ballance.

Upon this Occasion it is right to acquaint you that I do not think we can depend on receiving any more money here applicable to the Support of the Congress Ministers. What Aids are hereafter granted, will probably be transmitted by the Government directly to America. It will therefore be proper to inform Congress, that Care may be taken to furnish their Servants by Remittances from thence.1

I have the honour to be, Sir, Your most obedient and most humble Servant

B Franklin

RC (Adams Papers); notation: “I have only Time to transmit to Congress, this Copy, for their Consideration, it requires no Comments from their most obedient Servant J. Adams. Amsterdam Aug. 15. 1781.” This note, in JA's hand, also appears on a copy of Franklin's letter in John Thaxter's hand (PCC, No. 84, III, f. 355–356); endorsed: “from Docr Franklin to Mr Adams 6th Augt 1781.”


On 5 March 1782 the secretary for foreign affairs, Robert R. Livingston, wrote JA that he had submitted Franklin's letter to Congress (Wharton, ed., Dipl. Corr. Amer. Rev. , 5:219–222). There is no indication as to what specific action, if any, Congress took on 12 Nov. regarding Franklin's letter. But on 2 Jan. 1782, Congress ordered Livingston to provide it with the estimated expenses of its ministers and their secretaries. At the same time, it instructed the superintendent of finance to supply the ministers and secretaries with their salaries. Under the schedule submitted at that time, JA's salary was £2,500. His secretary, when one should be appointed, would receive £500 ( JCC , 22:1–2).

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