William Jackson 209
William Jackson, best known as the secretary of the 1787 Constitutional Convention, was born in England in 1759, and after being orphaned at an early age was raised in Charleston, South Carolina. There, at the outbreak of the Revolution, he obtained a commission and ultimately served as an aide to Gen. Benjamin Lincoln with the rank of major. Taken prisoner at the fall of Charleston in the spring
of 1780 and exchanged later in the year, he served as Col. John Laurens' secretary on the latter's European mission to obtain a loan and military supplies. The two men reached Paris in mid-March 1781 and by late April, his mission apparently a success, John Laurens prepared to return to America. Jackson, however, remained behind to serve as Laurens' agent in the Netherlands to expedite the departure of the frigate South Carolina
with a cargo of military supplies (
Jackson reached Amsterdam in early May and found himself faced with a more arduous task than he expected. Alexander Gillon's previous efforts to outfit the South Carolina for sea, as well as a misunderstanding between Benjamin Franklin and John Laurens over the funds available to purchase the supplies that the frigate was to carry, presented formidable obstacles. Negotiations with Dutch merchants and Benjamin Franklin delayed the South Carolina's sailing until August.
John Adams first met William Jackson when the South Carolinian arrived in Amsterdam. Adams offered what little assistance he could give, but there is scant documentation in the Adams Papers
of what passed between the two men during Jackson's time in the Netherlands. Nevertheless, Adams was so impressed with Jackson's probity that he entrusted his son Charles to Jackson's care when the South Carolina
sailed in August. Eleven-year-old Charles, homesick and lonely since his brother John Quincy Adams departed for St. Petersburg with Francis Dana in July, was returning home. Additional letters exchanged by the two men appear in the
Adams Family Correspondence
, all dealing with the ill-fated voyage of the South Carolina
and the welfare of Charles Adams (4:219–220
This miniature of Jackson was taken from life ca. 1795 by an unidentified artist and later retouched by John Henry Brown.
Courtesy of Independence National Historical Park.