A website from the Massachusetts Historical Society; founded 1791.

Browsing: Adams Family Correspondence, Volume 3

This foot note contained in document ADMS-04-03-02-0269
1. A purported confidential letter (“Private No. 15”) addressed by Sir Henry Clinton at Savannah to Lord George Germain, 30 Jan. 1780. It recited in great detail the difficulties under which the British labored in holding New York City against threats of combined American and French land and naval forces, painted the gloomiest prospects for Clinton's southern campaign, where “a train of Incidents peculiar, and beyond human Foresight have set in, against the Arms of my royal master,” and held out no hope of an American collapse as a result of the current monetary crisis. Whatever its actual origin, this letter reached Paris with assurances that it had been captured at sea and published in Philadelphia in April with the authority of Congress. Both JA and Franklin gave it credence and circulated copies for publication in European journals. But it was very soon exposed as a forgery—“a mere Jeu d'Esprit,” JA later heard, and conceded, “written by an Officer in the [Continental] Army, upon the North river,” and yet a most ingenious and plausible piece of fictionizing, quite in character with Clinton. Since Lincoln had surrendered Charleston to Clinton on 12 May, this was one instance of JA 's activities as a propagandist that seriously backfired, and he was much embarrassed by it.
See JA to Arthur Lee, 25 May (Adams Papers; JA, Works , 7:178–179); Edmund Jenings to JA , 27 May (Adams Papers); JA to Jenings, 30 May, enclosing a copy of the spurious letter, to be communicated to “the English Papers” (Adams Papers); C. W. F. Dumas to JA , without date (Adams Papers, under date of May–June 1780 [ante 30 May 1780] ); William Lee to JA , 31 May, 8 July { 358 } (both in Adams Papers, the latter printed in JA, Works , 7:215–216); Franklin to Dumas, 5 June (Franklin, Writings, ed. Smyth, 8:82–83); JA to Dumas, 6 June (MHi:Hoar Autograph Coll.; Wharton, ed., Dipl. Corr. Amer. Rev. , 3:771– 772); Dumas to JA , 6 June (Adams Papers); JA to Jenings, 4 July (Adams Papers); JA to William Lee, 20 July ( LbC , Adams Papers; JA, Works , 7: 231). A French text of the forgery will be found in the so-called Gazette de Leide (Nouvelles extraordinaires de divers endroits), No. 43 (30 May), suppl., and No. 44 (2 June), suppl.