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Browsing: Adams Family Correspondence, Volume 1


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Docno: ADMS-04-01-02-0166

Author: Adams, Abigail
Recipient: Warren, Mercy Otis
Date: 1775-07-24

Abigail Adams to Mercy Otis Warren

[salute] My Dear Mrs. Warren

I have been hoping every day since I received your obliging favour to get time to thank you for it,2 but many avocations some from company some from family affairs have prevented. I have not wrote only to my counterpart since; from whom I have received two Letters since you left me. The last was 7 of july, and wrote in better spirits than any I have received since his absence, and gave me better spirits for two reasons, the first because he appeard easier and the second because he tells me he hopes it will not be more than a Month before he shall return.
I know my pleasure will communicate some degree to my friend from the benevolent sympathy of her Heart. I was much [obliged] 3 to your Worthy Friend for calling and Breakfasting with me, tho deprived of that pleasure a few days before, oweing to my having been up all the Night before with my Sister Adams who about sunrise was { 255 } deliverd of a fine Daughter. Your apprehensions with regard to my Health are a testimony of your regard. As the disorder does not increase upon me I do not apprehend any danger from it. Tis true I enjoy a good flow of spirits for the most part. I sometimes wonder at myself, and fear least a degree of stupidity or insensibility should possess my mind in these calamitous times or I could not feel so tranquil amidst such scenes, and yet I cannot charge myself with an unfealing Heart. I pitty, commisirate and as far as my ability reaches feel ready and desirous to releave my fellow creatures under their distresses. But I am not naturally (tis no virtue acquired in me) of that rastless anxious disposition.
You apprehend more than their really was in a Letter which I could not consistant with my regard to my dearest Friend communicate. I only wish I had been near enough to have shared a solitary hour with him.
You will be sensible no doubt from a communication of the last paquet which your Friend received, that they have to combat not only other provinces but their own—a doubly difficult task when those who ought to aid, become stumbling blocks—but how hard is it to devest the Humane mind of all private ambition, and to sacrifice ourselves and all we possess to the publick Emolement.
1. Month omitted by AA ; supplied at a much later period by JQA .
2. Dated at Plymouth, 17 July (Adams Papers). It reports Mrs. Warren's return home after a few days' stay with AA , thanks her, inquires about her health, &c.
3. Word omitted in MS .

Docno: ADMS-04-01-02-0167

Author: Adams, John
Recipient: Adams, Abigail
Date: 1775-07-24

John Adams to Abigail Adams

[salute] My Dear,

IT is now almost three Months since I left you, in every Part of which my Anxiety about you and the Children, as well as our Country, has been extreme.
The Business I have had upon my Mind has been as great and important as can be intrusted to [One] 2 Man, and the Difficulty and Intricacy of it is prodigious. When 50 or 60 Men have a Constitution to form for a great Empire, at the same Time that they have a Country of fifteen hundred Miles extent to fortify, Millions to arm and train, a Naval Power to begin, an extensive Commerce to regulate, numerous Tribes of Indians to negotiate with, a standing Army of Twenty seven { 256 } Thousand Men to raise, pay, victual and officer, I really shall pity those 50 or 60 Men.3
I must see you e'er long.——Rice, has wrote me a very good Letter, and so has Thaxter,4 for which I thank them both.——Love to the Children.
[signed] J. A.
I wish I had given you a compleat History from the Beginning to the End of the Journey, of the Behaviour of my Compatriots.——No Mortal Tale could equal it.——I will tell you in Future, but you shall keep it secret.——The Fidgets, the Whims, the Caprice, the Vanity, the Superstition, the Irritability of some of us, is enough to——
Addressed To Mrs Abigail Adams Braintrie,5 to the Care of Col. Warren, favor d by Mr. Hichborne.
RC not found. Printed from (Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter), 17 Aug. 1775, p. 2, col. 1. Since, as explained in note 1 below, the newspaper text appears to be perhaps the best now available, the letter is given here precisely as first printed. Concerning extant MS texts see note 1 also.
1. This is one of the two letters JA wrote from Philadelphia this day that fell into British hands when the bearer, Benjamin Hichborn of Boston, was captured at Conanicut Ferry near Newport, R.I., and foolishly failed to throw away a number of letters he was carrying. The other intercepted JA letter was addressed to James Warren; it alluded at its outset to John Dickinson (though it did not name him) as “A certain great Fortune and piddling Genius” who had “given a silly Cast to our whole Doings”; and it led to the historic quarrel between JA and Dickinson. (Texts of the letter to Warren are in JA, Works , 1:179–180, and Warren-Adams Letters , 1:88–89.) Brought to Boston on 6 Aug., JA 's letters were published in Margaret Draper's Massachusetts Gazette; MS copies were sent to London by Gage, Graves, and others; British papers printed and reprinted them; and for some months—until events caught up with his sentiments— JA was notorious on both sides of the Atlantic as the arch-advocate of American military resistance and independence from Great Britain.
An editorial note summarizing this incident and its effects, with references to sources and discussions, is in JA's Diary and Autobiography , 2:174–175. JA 's later recollections of the affair are in same, 3:318–319. A fuller account must be deferred until the letter to Warren, which was the more controversial of the two, is printed in Series III of the present edition. By that time, one may at least hope, the missing originals may have come to light.
In the meantime it should be pointed out that although about two dozen MS texts of the intercepted letters are present (mostly as photoduplicates) or recorded in the Adams Papers Editorial Files, the best of these are no better than contemporary copies, all with demonstrable textual defects. So far as is known, the original letters remained in Vice-Admiral Samuel Graves' hands (he transmitted only copies to Gage and to the Admiralty), though it is possible that the originals were sent to the printer, and 18th-century printing offices were graveyards for MSS no matter how important. The editors attach little weight to the fact that in the American Clipper (a serial sale catalogue of the now defunct American Autograph Shop, Merion Station, Penna.) for Oct. 1938, item 7 purports to be the “A.L.S.” of the present letter, offered for sale at $127.50. The text as there printed strongly suggests that this item is simply another early MS copy.
The most authoritative of the con• { 257 } temporary MS copies of the letter to AA known to the editors are the following: (1) P.R.O.: C.O.5, vol. 122:15i, originally enclosure No. 8, according to its endorsement, in Graves to Philip Stephens, secretary to the Lords of the Admiralty, 17 Aug. 1775. (2) P.R.O.: C.O.5, vol. 92:248, enclosure No. 1 in Gage to Dartmouth, 20 Aug. 1775 (covering letter printed in Gage, Corr. , 1:412–413). (3) MiU-C: Gage Papers, English Series, FC of an enclosure in Gage to Dartmouth, 20 Aug. 1775; endorsement on FC of covering letter states that this packet was “Sent by Mrs. Gage” and a “Duplicate by Lt. [Belkmoon?].” (4) Brit. Mus.: Add. MSS., Haldimand Papers, vol. 21687:225–226; endorsed. (5) William Salt Library, Stafford, England: Dartmouth Papers; endorsed: “Copy of a Letter from J.A. (John Adams) to Mrs. Abigail Adams. Philadelphia, 24th. July, 1775.”
The only text in the Adams Papers claiming any textual authority is a curious one. It is a 19th-century Tr , apparently made for JQA when he was working on his father's papers in 1829–1830, which was originally an abbreviated and otherwise defective text but which was then carefully corrected in the same or another unidentified hand, so that it is virtually identical with the text in Massachusetts Gazette. Attached to Tr is a single leaf from an earlier (i.e. contemporary) copy containing on one side the postscript and address of JA 's letter to AA , and on the other side the following undated and unsigned message which looks altogether like an original note of transmittal:
“Hon. sir, If Col. Hatch is with you please to let him see this which has been corrected by one in the hands of Judge [Peter] Oliver.
“Mrs. Adams is daughter of a clergyman at Weymouth, and Thaxter is a clerk to her husband.”
The writer and recipient of this message are unknown but they were certainly loyalists. So was Nathaniel Hatch (1723–1784), Harvard 1742, of Boston and Dorchester, a colonel of militia, judge of the Suffolk Court of Common Pleas, and mandamus councilor (Sibley-Shipton, Harvard Graduates , 11:150–152; JA, Diary and Autobiography , 1:311; 2:1, 94). This MS is, then, a fragment of one of the numerous contemporary copies of JA 's letter to AA that circulated among the Massachusetts loyalists.
The contemporary copies listed above do not vary markedly from one another except in scribal details, and a comparison of all of them with the text printed in Massachusetts Gazette leads to the tentative conclusion that on the whole the newspaper text is at least as faithful to the original as any MS now known, if not more so. It looks, in fact, as if the printer had used either the original or a more accurate copy than any now available, and that he simulated in type JA 's writing in small matters of form with unusual care. The editors have so concluded in spite of the fact that still another letter captured on Hichborn's person is known to have been doctored when printed in the same issue of the Massachusetts Gazette (see Allen French, “The First George Washington Scandal,” MHS, Procs. , 65 [1932–1936]:460–474), and also despite JA 's own later allegation that his letter to Warren had been “made... worse [when printed], than it was in the Original” ( Diary and Autobiography , 3:319).
2. This word is not in the newspaper text but is found in all five of the contemporary MS copies listed above except that which was forwarded by Graves to the Admiralty (No. 1). The editors think it probable that the word was in JA 's original; if so, this is the only significant textual error in the newspaper printing.
3. It was this sentence of course, with its references to forming a “Constitution” and establishing a “Naval Power,” that particularly shocked loyalist and British readers of JA 's letter. See, for example, Gage to Dartmouth, 20 Aug. (Gage, Corr. , 1:412–413); Burgoyne to Germain, 20 Aug. (E. B. de Fonblanque, Political and Military Episodes ... from the Life and Correspondence of ... John Burgoyne, London, 1876, p. 194–195); Nicholas Cresswell, Journal, 1774–1777, N.Y., 1928, p. 147–148; Isaac Smith Jr.'s letter to his father from London cited in note 5 under AA 's letter to JA of 2–10 March 1776, below; { 258 } and the extremely interesting discussion by Ezra Stiles in his Literary Diary, 1:650–652.
4. All of the contemporary copies listed above except No. 1, that enclosed by Graves to the Admiralty, spell this name “Thaiter.” The copy in the Haldimand Papers, No. 4, has a marginal note keyed to the names Rice and “Thaiter” which reads: “two of his Apprentices.”
5. Evidently a plain typographical error by the printer; all the contemporary MS copies listed above spell the word as JA spelled it: “Braintree.”