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Browsing: Diary of John Adams, Volume 1

Docno: ADMS-01-01-02-0013-0005-0001

Author: Adams, John
Date: 1769-12-23

1769. Decr. 23. Saturday Night.

At my Office reading Sidney. I have been musing this evening upon a Report of the Case of the 4. Sailors, who were tryed last June, before the Special Court of Admiralty, for killing Lt. Panton. A Publication only of the Record, I mean the Articles, Plea to the Jurisdiction, Testimonies of Witnesses, &c. would be of great Utility. The Arguments which were used, are scarcely worth publishing. Those which might be used, would be well worth the Perusal of the Public. A great Variety of useful Learning might be brought into an History of that Case—and the great Curiosity of the World after the Case, would make it sell. I have half a Mind to undertake it.
The great Questions, concerning the Right of Juries in the Colonies, upon a Comparison of the 3 Statutes, and concerning the Right of impressing Seamen for his Majestys Service, whether with or without Warrants from the Lords of the Admiralty upon orders of the K[ing] in Council, are very important. Such a Pamphlet might suggest alterations in the Statutes, and might possibly procure us for the future the Benefit of Juries in such Cases. And the World ought to know, at least the American part of it, more than it does, of the true foundation of Impresses, if they have any.1
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1. This project was unfortunately not carried out, though the materials for it in JA ’s papers were (and still are) ample and important. Early in May 1769 Michael Corbet (whose name is variously spelled in the records) and three other sailors on the Pitt Packet of Marblehead resisted impressment when Lt. Henry Gibson Panton of the British frigate Rose boarded their vessel off Marblehead. From the forepeak they warned Panton that if he stepped toward them he was a dead man. Panton took a pinch of snuff and started for them with several armed companions. The next moment a harpoon severed Panton’s jugular vein. A special court of admiralty was promptly held to try the case. Otis and JA , counsel for the sailors, moved first to obtain a jury trial but were thwarted by Hutchinson’s influence with his fellow judges, among whom were Governors Bernard and Wentworth and Commodore Hood. The most telling point in JA ’s argument was his citation of the statute 6 Anne, ch. 37, sect. 9, which prohibited impressments in America. The verdict was that the sailors had killed Panton in self-defense. JA ’s brief is printed in an appendix to his Works , 2:526–534. His record of the testimony and of the argument of the crown lawyer, Samuel Fitch, are appended to a long article by BA on “The Convention of 1800 with France,” MHS, Procs. 44 (1910–1911) 1429–452. (The MSS are in the Adams Papers, Microfilms, Reel No. 184). Since the issues involved were so often of concern to JA in later life, he frequently discussed the case, and as usual with varying details. See especially his letters to JQA , 8 Jan. 1808 (printed by BA in the article cited above, p. 422–428); to Jedidiah Morse, 20 Jan. 1816 ( Works , 10:204–210); and to William Tudor, 30 Dec. 1816 (same, 2:224, note). Hutchinson’s account, with his explanation of the conduct of the trial, is in his Massachusetts Bay, ed. Mayo, 3:166–167. The chronology of the case is well set forth in the “Journal of the Times” as reprinted by Oliver M. Dickerson in Boston under Military Rule, 1768–1769, Boston, 1936, p. 94–95, 104, 110.

Docno: ADMS-01-01-02-0014-0001-0001

Author: Adams, John
Date: 1770-01-16

1770 January 16.

At my Office all Day.
Last Evening at Dr. Peckers with the Clubb.—Otis is in Confusion yet. He looses himself. He rambles and wanders like a Ship without an Helm. Attempted to tell a Story which took up almost all the Evening. The Story may at any Time be told in 3 minutes with all the Graces it is capable of, but he took an Hour. I fear he is not in his perfect Mind. The Nervous, Concise, and pithy were his Character, till lately. Now the verbose, roundabout and rambling, and long winded. He once said He hoped he should never see T.H. in Heaven. Dan. Waldo took offence at it, and made a serious Affair of it, said Otis very often bordered upon Prophaneness, if he was not strictly profane. Otis said, if he did see H. there he hoped it would be behind the Door.—In my fathers House are many Mansions, some more and some less honourable.
In one Word, Otis will spoil the Clubb. He talkes so much and takes up so much of our Time, and fills it with Trash, Obsceneness, Profaneness, Nonsense and Distraction, that We have no [time] 1 left for rational Amusements or Enquiries.
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He mentioned his Wife—said she was a good Wife, too good for him—but she was a tory, an high Tory. She gave him such Curtain Lectures, &c.2
In short, I never saw such an Object of Admiration, Reverence, Contempt and Compassion all at once as this. I fear, I tremble, I mourn for the Man, and for his Country. Many others mourne over him with Tears in their Eyes.
1. Word omitted by the diarist.
2. On Ruth (Cunningham) Otis, see Tudor, James Otis , p. 19–21.