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Browsing: Papers of John Adams, Volume 3


Search for a response to this letter.

Docno: ADMS-06-03-02-0034

Author: Adams, John
Recipient: Palmer, Joseph
Date: 1775-07-05

To Joseph Palmer

The bearers of this letter, Mr. Stephen Collins and Mr. John Kaign, are of the peaceable society called Quakers or Friends, yet they are possessed of liberal sentiments, and are very far from being enemies to American principles or practices.2 They are warm, zealous friends of America, and hearty well wishers to her councils and arms, and have contributed much to promote both in this province.
We have an infernal scoundrel here, a certain Col. S——, who comes over full of plans and machinations of mischief. He has had the most unreserved and unlimited confidence of Lord Dartmouth, during the whole of the past winter, and it seems for some time before; and together with a contemptible puppy of a parson, V——, has been contriving to debauch, seduce, and corrupt New-York. The ministry have given him a commission in the woods as surveyor, and another to be governor of Ticonderoga and Crown Point. He is permitted to roam about, upon his parole of honour not to transgress certain limits, but is doing mischief.3
The colonies are not yet ripe to assume the whole government, legislative and executive. They dread the introduction of anarchy, as they call it.
In this province, indeed in this city, there are three persons, a Mr. W——, who is very rich and very timid;4 the provost of the college, who is supposed to be distracted between a strong passion for lawn sleeves and a stronger passion for popularity, which is very necessary to support the reputation of his Episcopal college;5 and an I—— P——, who is at the head of the Quaker interest: these three make an interest here which is lukewarm; but are all obliged to lie low for the present.6
I am greatly obliged to you for your letters, which contain the most exact accounts we have been able yet to obtain. We are to the last degree anxious to learn even the most minute particulars of every engagement.
I want an exact list of all the officers in our army, if it can possibly be obtained.
I wish I could know exactly what powder you have. We are trying our possibles to get it; but one would not have conceived it possible that the colonies should have been so supine as they have been.
{ 55 }
A large building is setting up here to make saltpetre, and we are about trying what can be done in the tobacco works in Virginia.
This day has been spent in debating a manifesto setting forth the causes of our taking arms. There is some spunk in it. It is ordered to be printed, but will not be done soon enough to be enclosed in this letter.7
MS not found. Reprinted from (the New York Review and Atheneum Magazine, 2:220–221 (Feb. 1826).)
1. See note 7 (below).
2. This is one of several letters that were to serve in part as introductions for Stephen Collins and John Kaighn of Philadelphia. In a letter to AA of 4 July, JA gives a brief sketch of each, and AA in a letter to JA of 16 July mentions meeting Collins and Kaighn and gives her impressions of them ( Adams Family Correspondence , 1:238, 245–251).
3. For Col. Philip Skene see JA to Joseph Warren, 21 June, note 2 (above). Rev. John Vardill (1749–1811) was a graduate of King's College, which in 1773 appointed him a fellow and professor of natural law. A staunch tory, his writings satirizing the whigs made him the object of a parody in John Trumbull's McFingal. In London in 1774 Vardill was ordained a priest in the Anglican Church. He remained in England in an effort to have King's College made a university, an effort that proceeded successfully until the war intervened. Vardill, who never returned to America, served as a spy in the British service from 1775 to 1781. His most important accomplishment was the theft, in 1777, of a packet of dispatches from Silas Deane to the congress containing all of the confidential correspondence between the American Commissioners and the French Government between March and Oct. 1777 ( DAB ; Lewis Einstein, Divided Loyalties, Boston, 1933, p. 51–71).
JA 's reference to a ministerial plot to subvert the government of New York through Skene and Vardill was probably based on documents examined by JA 's committee appointed to deal with Skene. Only two such documents appear in the records of the congress, and Skene reputedly destroyed private papers relating to his mission; yet Eliphalet Dyer of Connecticut, citing private letters from London, also wrote about Skene's purpose of undermining New York's government (PCC, No. 51, I; Doris Begor Morton, Philip Skene of Skenesborough, Granville, N.Y., 1959, p. 39; Dyer to Joseph Trumbull, 8 June, in Burnett, ed., Letters of Members , 1:115). An unsigned letter dated “London, March 4, 1775.” that may have been carried by Josiah Quincy Jr. on his last voyage, states that “a Major Skene, and a Parson Vardell, a native of New York, are to be sent over thither with propositions of advantages for the college, the city, and the Province, and with a list of profitable places for individuals, sufficient, as they conceive,—with the favorable disposition which they are persuaded pervails there,—to draw off that city from the common cause, and attach them to government. They are determined to spare no promises and temporary douceurs to effect their purpose” (MHS, Procs. , 4 [1858–1860]: 229).
Although Dyer does not mention him, Vardill's involvement in such a scheme would seem plausible, his personal participation being prevented only by the war's outbreak. Indeed, in a memorial dated 16 Nov. 1783 to the Parliamentary commission formed to compensate loyalists, Vardill noted that his service to the crown had begun very early and had included an effort “to secure to Government the Interest of two Members of the Congress by the promise of the Office of Judges in America,” which failed only because of the Battle of Lexington. In addition, he stated that the new charter for King's College and his appointment as Regius Professor of Divinity were intended as payment for such services “and to give the Loyalists at New York a Proof of the Attention and Re• { 56 } wards which would follow their Zeal and Loyalty . . . and he was ordered to acquaint the President and College with this instance of Royal Patronage” (Einstein, Divided Loyalties, p. 409, 412).
4. Thomas Willing (1731–1821), a prosperous Philadelphia banker who championed colonial rights while resisting the “radical elements.” A member of the Second Continental Congress, he voted against independence ( DAB ). On 23 July JA wrote to AA that “this Province [Pennsylvania] has suffered by the Timidity of two over grown Fortunes,” a reference to the wealth of Willing and John Dickinson Adams Family Correspondence , 1:252–253).
5. Rev. William Smith (1727–1803), the first provost of the College, Academy, and Charitable School of Philadelphia. In June 1775 he preached the widely published Sermon on the Present Situation of American Affairs (T. R. Adams, American Independence , No. 196). He was against independence, and because of his resulting unpopularity, he spent most of the war on Barbados but returned after the peace to resume his activities with the college, probably his chief interest. His desire for “lawn sleeves,” that is, a bishop's place, was never fulfilled ( DAB ).
6. Israel Pemberton (1715–1779), widely known as the “king of the Quakers,” although actively involved in politics, opposed any violent means for securing American rights. At the First Continental Congress he was a spokesman for Friends who met with the Massachusetts delegation and called for that colony to grant religious liberty. Refusing to support the Revolution or the constitution of Pennsylvania, he was arrested in 1777 ( DAB ; Isaac Sharpless, Political Leaders of Provincial Pennsylvania, N.Y., 1919, p. 212–213).
7. The Declaration of the Causes and Necessity for Taking Up Arms was adopted by the congress on 6 July ( JCC , 2:127–157).