1. The author of this letter remains unidentified but may be the same person who wrote to JA on 7 April 1781
, signing himself “Boston” (vol. 11:250–252). In content and tone this letter is similar to anonymous letters sent to Benjamin Franklin on 31 Jan. and 8 May 1782 (Franklin, Papers
, 36:499–501; 37:289–291) and to Edward Bridgen on 3 May for transmission to Henry Laurens. At some point JA learned of the letters to Franklin, for there are copies of both in the Adams Papers
; JA received the letter to Bridgen as an enclosure in Edmund Jenings' letter of 6 June
, below. For a discussion of the 31 Jan. letter to Franklin, see JA's letter of 14 Jan. to the president of Congress, note 1
The four letters criticize JA's efforts in the Netherlands and seem calculated to drive a wedge between him and his colleagues Benjamin Franklin and Henry Laurens. While the letters failed to achieve that objective, they did ignite a prolonged and bitter dispute between Henry Laurens and Edmund Jenings. And one of the principal reasons was that this letter of 20 May and those to Franklin of 31 Jan. and 8 May were all postmarked “Bruxelles,” where Edmund Jenings lived, leading Laurens to conclude that Jenings was the author. An analysis of the handwriting, however, indicates that Jenings did not write the letters, for which the originals still exist for those of 31 Jan. and 8 and 20 May. In fact, there were two writers: the first wrote the letter of 31 Jan. and the second the letters of 8 and 20 May and probably, owing to its content, that of 3 May as well.
The principal difference between this letter and those to Franklin and Bridgen is the author's effort to disguise his identity. This is clear from the writer's use of the pronouns thy, thee, and thou, but the letter also differs
in its awkward sentence structure and repeated misspellings. It may be inferred from this, particularly if the author also wrote to JA on 7 April 1781 and signed himself “Boston,” that JA had met the writer, probably in Amsterdam. This inference is supported by JA's letter of 7 June 1782
to Edmund Jenings, below.