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Browsing: Diary of John Adams, Volume 2


Docno: ADMS-01-02-02-0005-0003-0003

Author: Adams, John
Date: 1775-09-16

1775 Sept. 16. Saturday.

Walking to the Statehouse this Morning, I met Mr. Dickinson, on Foot in Chesnut Street. We met, and passed near enough to touch Elbows. He passed without moving his Hat, or Head or Hand. I bowed and pulled off my Hat. He passed hautily by. The Cause of his Offence, is the Letter no doubt which Gage has printed in Drapers Paper.1
I shall for the future pass him, in the same manner. But I was determined to make my Bow, that I might know his Temper.
We are not to be upon speaking Terms, nor bowing Terms, for the time to come.
This Evening had Conversation with Mr. Bullock of Georgia.—I asked him, whether Georgia had a Charter? What was the Extent of the Province? What was their Constitution? How Justice was ad- { 174 } ministered? Who was Chancellor, who Ordinary? and who Judges?
He says they have County Courts for the Tryal of civil Causes under £8.—and a C[hief] Justice, appointed from Home and 3 other Judges appointed by the Governor, for the decision of all other Causes civil and criminal, at Savanna. That the Governor alone is both Chancellor and Ordinary.
Parson Gordon of Roxbury, spent the Evening here.—I fear his indiscreet Prate will do harm in this City. He is an eternal Talker, and somewhat vain, and not accurate nor judicious. Very zealous in the Cause, and a well meaning Man, but incautious, and not sufficiently tender of the Character of our Province, upon which at this Time much depends. Fond of being thought a Man of Influence, at Head Quarters, and with our Council and House, and with the general Officers of the Army, and also with Gentlemen in this City, and other Colonies.—He is a good Man, but wants a Guide.2
1. That is, JA 's letter to James Warren, Philadelphia, 24 July 1775, which brought more notoriety to its writer than anything else he had yet written. Entrusted (with others) to a well-meaning but meddlesome young Boston lawyer, Benjamin Hichborn, it was captured by a British naval vessel at a ferry crossing in Rhode Island. JA had written the letter in a mood of exasperation with John Dickinson's “pacific System” and alluded to Dickinson as “A certain great Fortune and piddling Genius [who] has given a silly Cast to our whole Doings”( Tr , enclosed in Gage to Lord Dartmouth, 20 Aug. 1775, Dartmouth MSS , deposited in William Salt Library, Stafford, England). This and other reckless expressions in the same letter and in another of the same date to AA , amounting, as some thought, to “an Avowal of Independency,” and likewise intercepted, amused and outraged the British by turns. Literally dozens of MS copies of the letters are recorded in the Adams Papers Editorial Files, but the originals, supposedly sent by Vice-Admiral Samuel Graves to the Admiralty Office in London, have never come to light. Nor did JA himself retain copies. In consequence there is no way of knowing whether or how far the texts were tampered with, as JA asserted, when they were printed in Margaret Draper's Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News Letter, 17 Aug. 1775. From this source they were widely reprinted. The most readily available published texts are in JA, Works , 1:178–180; also at 2:411, note, from early transcripts in the Adams Papers. The story of the interception, Hichborn's escape from a British vessel in Boston Harbor, his efforts to clear himself with JA and others, and the sensation produced by the published letters both in America and England, is too long to tell here and more properly belongs elsewhere. But see, besides JA 's account in his Autobiography, Warren-Adams Letters , 1:88–89, 106, 118; Gage, Corr. , 1:412–413; Stiles, Literary Diary , 1:650–652 (an acute analysis of the offending passages in JA 's letters); Hichborn to JA , 28 Oct., 25 Nov.–10 Dec. 1775, 20 May 1776 (Adams Papers); Jeremy Belknap, “Journal of My Tour to the Camp,” MHS, Procs. , 1st ser., 4 (1858–1860): 79–81. Allen French deals incidentally but helpfully with the Adams letters in his article “The First George Washington Scandal,”MHS, Procs. , 65 (1932–1936) : 460–474, a study of Benjamin Harrison's letter to Washington, 21–24 July 1775, which was also captured on the person of Hichborn and which, when published, was embellished with a forged paragraph on “pretty little Kate the Washer-woman's Daughter.”
Despite the buzzing of tongues and waggling of ears that ensued, it was JA 's considered opinion that the inter- { 175 } ception and publication of his letters “have had no such bad Effects, as the Tories intended, and as some of our shortsighted Whiggs apprehended: so far otherwise that I see and hear every day, fresh Proofs that every Body is coming fast into every political Sentiment contained in them” (to AA , 2 Oct. 1775, Adams Papers). To Hichborn, who was still offering abject apologies, JA wrote on 29 May 1776 that he ( JA ) was not “in the least degree afraid of censure on your Account,” and indeed thought his own aims had been more promoted than injured by Hichborn's gaucherie ( LbC , Adams Papers).
2. William Gordon, a dissenting clergyman who had come from England and was settled as minister of the third Congregational society in Jamaica Plain (Roxbury). Appointed chaplain to the Massachusetts Provincial Congress, he was an incurably political parson, corresponded widely with military and political leaders, and began at an early date to collect materials for a history of the Revolution. The four-volume work which resulted, entitled The History of the Rise, Progress, and Establishment, of the Independence of the United States (London, 1788), though suffering from defects common to its kind, notably plagiarism, is more valuable than has sometimes been recognized, because Gordon knew many of the persons he wrote about and made the earliest use of the manuscript files of Washington, Gates, and others. See DAB ; “Letters of the Reverend William Gordon” (including some from the Adams Papers), ed. Worthington C. Ford, MHS, Procs. , 63 (1929–1930):303–613. JA 's marginalia in his own copy of Gordon's History (in the Boston Public Library) have been printed by Zoltán Haraszti in the Boston Public Library Quarterly, 3:119–122 (April 1951).