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Browsing: Adams Family Correspondence, Volume 4


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Docno: ADMS-04-04-02-0066

Author: Thaxter, John
Recipient: Adams, Abigail
Date: 1781-04-01

John Thaxter to Abigail Adams

[salute] Madam

I have been duly honoured with your two favours of the 18th. of Novr. and 8th. of December.1 I am much obliged by the particular Account You have given of the Rise, Progress and fatal Issue of the fond Attachment of Mr. C. to Miss P.2 I confess with great Candour it contains many Circumstances hitherto unknown to me. I have indeed, Madam, an unavoidable and involuntary Share in the dreadful Catastrophe of this unhappy Man. The Story in itself is affecting—but the polish and Ornaments of your Pen together with those Observations which your nice Sensibility has suggested and which are so judiciously interspersed have rendered it peculiarly interesting. I have weeped his Fate as a Brother—nor is the unhappy Lady less an Object of my tenderest Commiseration. Would to God I had never seen the unfortunate Pair! It has been a Source of constant Misery to me, but this last and fatal Event has been painful and afflicting to an extreme degree. I do not however reproach myself. I have felt Stings and Arrows, but not those of Guilt or Remorse, tho' equally poignant. I am fully confident that I stand justified and acquitted of the least Shadow or particle of Criminality—I may have been innocently accessary.——There are undoubtedly bounds set to the Sacrifices which one may and ought to make to promote the Happiness of another—how far the Obligation may extend in a Circumstance similar to her's or mine, is a Question that involves so many Considerations and interests so much the Passion of Self Love and the social feelings, that it is of difficult Determination. Philosophy has very little to do in general in governing the decision. It is a most unhappy Dilemma—so strong is the desire of promoting our personal Felicity, so essential a Spring is it of our Actions, so fixed are we in deriving it from Objects where our Hopes centre, that, however disposed We may be to advance { 96 } each other's Happiness, yet in Cases of Competition between personal and relative, the former turns the Scale but too commonly. In an Object so essential as the Choice of a Companion for life, it is proper that it should.——You observe I may be disappointed in my fair American—it is very possible and I think upon the whole very probable. I wish her to observe in that Case the same degree of Generosity, which I hope I may say without Vanity I have shewn in a similar one, and that the Issue of my Affection may not be so melancholy as that of the Gentleman who makes the Subject of your excellent Letter. I am as little capable as ambitious of female Conquests. I wish to merit the Esteem of all the fair, and boast the particular Affection of but one. I may be unhappy—may I be innocently so.
As to the fair Maroni, the Vestal Nun, it is long since I have seen or heard from her. The best Answer I can give is in adopting the Words of Your Quotation, stripping it of its Interrogations and substituting an Affirmation, viz. that her “Passions are all sublimated, and the Love of God substituted to that of Man,” &c. &c. I am not sufficiently acquainted with her history to determine absolutely her Motives for entering that gloomy Abode. If I was to hazard a Conjecture, I should attribute her Motive to an enthusiastic Zeal rather than to “disappointed Love.” It is a silent Retreat for “hopeless Passion,” where Sighs, Tears and Woes to the unfeeling speechless Walls are rais'd and shed, but rais'd and shed in vain.
Accept, Madam, my most grateful Acknowledgments for your kind Attention to what is most dear to me, that is my Reputation, which those have attempted to asperse, whose Approbation would be its greatest Blot. There are some Persons in that Town, whose Element is Malice and Envy, who cannot bear to see a Character contrasted with their own. I despise their Calumny—I have little merited it. I feel the most sovereign Contempt for her who has said She could call me her own, or any other of the same Stamp there or in this Country.—God forbid that I should become a Slave to Wretches of that Cast.
The English are in open War with this Republick—have taken Statia, St. Martins and Saba,3 but yet the Dutch have not a Ship of War or even a Privateer as yet gone out to revenge these Insults. This Irresolution and Inactivity is unaccountable—But my Pen must stop.
My Duty, Respects, and Compliments, if you please, where they are respectively due. My Love to your amiable Daughter, am very sorry She is not to be persuaded to favour me with some of her in• { 97 } genious epistolary Productions. As to my fair American She is so curious about, I must refer her with the other curious young Ladies to her Aunt Cranch to whom I have written. I am with every Sentiment of Respect & Esteem Madam your most obliged & obedient Servt.,
[signed] J.T.
1. That of 18 Nov. has not been found; that of 8 Dec. is printed above.
2. Nathaniel Cranch and Elizabeth Palmer; see Richard Cranch to JA , 26 April 1780, in vol. 3 above, and note 5 there.
3. Three small and more or less adjacent islands in the Lesser Antilles, St. Eustatius, St. Martin, and Saba, all Dutch possessions except St. Martin, which was divided with France. St. Eustatius, a free port, had served as an important depot for the transshipment of supplies from Europe to America throughout the war. In the winter of 1780–1781 its harbor and warehouses were crammed with ships and goods vital to the American war effort and to the welfare of Dutch merchants and capitalists. Even before the British declaration of war on the Dutch in December 1780, secret orders had been prepared for Admiral Rodney and his fleet in the West Indies to attack St. Eustatius in case of war, and on 3 Feb. 1781 Rodney fell upon the virtually unfortified island and received its absolute surrender. When the news of this devastating loss reached the Netherlands in March, it had a profound effect, dampening what little popular enthusiasm remained for war with England and cutting off all prospects of a loan to the United States. See the classic study by J. Franklin Jameson. “St. Eustatius in the American Revolution,” AHR , 8:683–708 (July 1903); and, for the calamitous effect of the loss on the Dutch business community, see the letters of Jean de Neufville & Son to JA in March and April, esp. 21, 27 March (Adams Papers).
Much of the enormous booty which was taken and which Rodney had counted on to make himself rich, was before long retaken by a French fleet that intercepted a British convoy off the Scilly Islands; see JA to AA , 16 May, below. Nor was this the final irony that sprang from the capture of St. Eustatius. Jameson pointed out, as did contemporary critics and later naval historians, that Rodney's lingering for more than three months at St. Eustatius had disastrous consequences for Great Britain in the war. While Rodney gathered his treasure, “De Grasse, watched only by Hood, had slipped around the shoulder of Martinique and joined the other French ships in the roadstead of Fort Royal. Yorktown itself might never have happened if this juncture of the French had not been effected, and in all probability it would not have been effected if Rodney, with his whole fleet, had been where Hood wished him to be, to windward of Martinique” (Jameson, p. 706–707).
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