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Browsing: Early Diary of John Adams, Volume 1


Docno: ADMS-02-01-02-0004-0002-0001

Author: Adams, John
DateRange: 1753-06 - 1754-01

29 [June 1753–January 1754? ].1

Sat out from Boston, home where having tarried 7, or 8 Days I set out on a journey together with Mr. Adams to Piscataqua, to which I went By way of Litchfeild, going firstly from Boston over Charlston ferry through Charlestown, Mistick, Menotomy, Lexington, Bedford, Bilerica, Chensford, Dracut to which I passed from Chensford over the river. From Dracut I proceeded to Nottingham, Londonderry, Hamstead, Kingston, Kensington, Hampton, Greenland, Newington where having tarried about a fortnight and vizitted Portsmouth, I returned home and at the appointed time return’d to Colledge where I have been ever since, save that I went home once for a fortnight.2
1. As initially dated by the diarist, this is a second entry for 29 [June 1753], but being actually a collective entry for all the rest of the year, it was of course set down much later than the date left at the head. The latest possible date for its composition would seem to be 2 Jan. 1754, the beginning of the winter vacation mentioned in the next entry in the Diary Fragment. It could, however, have been written as early as 28 Dec. 1753. The chronology appears to be as follows: JA returned to Cambridge at the end of the six-week summer vacation on 29 Aug., remaining there during the rest of this first quarter and during all of the second, i.e. until 13 December. From the Steward’s records it is possible to pinpoint the two-week absence of which JA speaks in the present entry (twenty-one days each half-year were allowed without penalty) as having been taken at the beginning of the third quarter, namely 14–28 Dec., for the assessments against him for commons and sizings during this quarter were only £o 10s. 5¼d. as compared, for example, with £2 16s. o¾ d. during the second quarter (MH-Ar:Steward’s Quarterbill Books).
This collective entry is the first in the Diary Fragment showing the characteristics of JA ’s “experimental” handwriting, described and discussed in the Introduction and illustrated by a facsimile page in the present volume. These characteristics persist in the later entries in 1754 and then disappear from the Fragment.
2. Nearly seventy years after he wrote this matter-of-fact and tantalizingly brief entry recording what may have been his first trip of any extent away from home, JA furnished from memory a much more detailed and colorful account of it. This was in one of a series of reminiscences of their undergraduate days at Harvard exchanged in letters between JA and his only surviving classmate, David Sewall of York, Maine, running from Nov. 1821 through Jan. 1822 that are of the highest interest despite the fallibility of old men’s memories. In his letter of 14 Dec. 1821 Sewall enclosed a diverting narrative of a journey from Cambridge to Portsmouth that he had taken in June 1754 (while he was still an undergraduate) in company with the venerable and eccentric Harvard tutor Henry Flynt (Adams Papers; the enclosure, { 50 } filed separately under 1754, was communicated by CFA and printed in MHS, Procs. , 1st ser., 16 [1878]: 5–11). In replying, JA wrote:
“Your journey has brought to my recollection one of my own made two or three years [actually one year] before yours. I went with a young preacher Ebenezer Adams the son of that uncle [i.e. JA ’s uncle, Rev. Joseph Adams] up through Chelmsford, to London Derry and a place beyond it called Litchfield if I remember right and from thence down through Kensington to Newington and Portsmouth. Either going or returning we visited Parson Whipple whose lady persecuted me as much as she did afterwards father F[lynt]. The lady had a fine figure and a fair face. At dinner I was very bashful and silent. After dinner Parson W. invited us into another [room] where he took a pipe himself and offered us pipes. I was an old smoaker and readily took one. The [word torn away] lady very soon came into the room, lifted up her hands and cried out in a masculine voice, I am astonished to see that pretty little boy with a pipe in his mouth smoking that nasty poisoned tobacco. I cant bear the sight. I was as bashful and timorous as a girl, but I resented so much being called a little boy at 15 or 16 years of age and as stout as her husband, that I determined not to be frightened out of my pipe so I continued to puff away. You may well suppose that I bore no very good will to that lady till I afterward became acquainted with the character of Miss Hannah Whipple who afterwards married Dr. Bracket and gave two thousand dollars to the botanical garden [in] Cambridge. The excellences of that daughter very early atoned for all the severity of the mother and I have long since esteemed her an amiable and intelligent woman though sometimes a little too free with her guests. I recollect nothing more worth recording in my tour except that we called at Parson Bridges at Chelmsford and Parson Fogs at Kensington where we had much conversation respecting Mr. Wibert afterwards my minister then much celebrated for the elegance of his style.” (24 Dec. 1821, FC in an amanuensis’ hand, written on blank pages of Sewall’s letter to JA , 14 Dec. 1821, Adams Papers.)
From JA ’s two accounts the itinerary of his vacation trip can be pretty satisfactorily reconstructed. He had left Cambridge on 29 June, “tarried” about a week at home in Braintree, then set out from Boston at the end of the first week in July with his cousin, Rev. Ebenezer Adams (1726–1767), Harvard 1747, to visit JA ’s uncle and Ebenezer’s father, Rev. Joseph Adams (1689–1783), Harvard 1710, the veteran minister of Newington, N.H., a village on the south side of the Piscataqua River immediately above Portsmouth. They crossed the Charles River basin by ferry to Charlestown and the Mystic River to “Mistick” (Medford), and went on through “Menotomy” (later West Cambridge and now Arlington), Lexington, Bedford, and Billerica to Chelmsford. Crossing the Merrimack to Dracut in the extreme northeastern corner of Middlesex co., they followed the river through the New Hampshire villages of Nottingham West and Litchfield, where they turned northeast and passed through Londonderry, Hampstead, Kingston, Hampton Falls, and Greenland to Newington, spent a fortnight there, and visited the little maritime metropolis of Portsmouth.
The return journey was by the same or a very similar route, for the only precise date in the trip as a whole that can be established is that of their visit, in returning, with “Parson” Ebenezer Bridge (1716–1792), Harvard 1736, at Chelmsford. Bridge recorded in his Diary on 27 July: “Mr. Ebz. Adams a Preacher and Mr. Adams a Student at Har. Col. visited and dined with me” ( MS , MH). The other stops mentioned in JA ’s letter to Sewall could have been made “Either going or returning.” At Kensington, they called on Rev. Jeremiah Fogg (1712–1789), Harvard 1730, where conversation about Rev. Anthony Wibird (1729–1800) was natural because JA ’s cousin Ebenezer and Wibird were classmates and both preaching at Amesbury about this time. The Little tiff over JA ’s smoking occurred at Hampton Falls in the home of Rev. Joseph Whipple (1701–1757), Harvard 1720, whose { 51 } wife, the former Elizabeth Cutts, was old enough to be JA ’s mother, which helps explain what JA thought was high-handedness on her part toward him. He was mistaken, however (as Sewall pointed out in a later letter), in supposing that Hannah Whipple, who married Dr. (and Judge) Joshua Brackett in 1760 and became a benefactress of botanical study at Harvard, was the daughter of Parson Whipple and his wife. Hannah Whipple came from Kittery, Maine. (See Sewall to JA , 18 Jan. 1822, Adams Papers.)
Sketches of all the men concerned are included in Sibley-Shipton, Harvard Graduates : of Ebenezer Adams at 12:103; Joseph Adams, 5:502–506; Brackett, 13:197–201; Bridge, 10:17–27; Fogg, 8:710–714; Sewall, 13:638–645; Whipple, 6:415–417; Wibird, 12:226–230. On the two Adamses see also Adams Genealogy.

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

Author: Adams, John
Date: 1754-02

[February 1754.]

This winter, we had a vacation.1
In the winter of 1754 we had no snow at all save a smattering or two, But perpetuall rains and warm weather thro’ought the whole.2
1. In the academic year 1752–1753 there had been no winter vacation at the College. This was because during 1752 the number of instructional days had been greatly diminished, in the spring by the closure necessitated by a smallpox epidemic, in the fall by the loss of eleven days (3–13 Sept.) through the Act of Parliament in 1751 (24 Geo. 2, c. 23) providing for a change from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar in 1752. From 22 April all college exercises, including commencement, had therefore been suspended, not to be resumed until 14 (i.e. 3, old style) September.
Moreover, the permanence of the vacation on the College calendar was in some doubt. A winter vacation of five weeks beginning the first Wednesday in January had been authorized in 1749 and renewed for a further trial period of three years in 1751. Upon the expiration of that period the Overseers refused to accept the Corporation’s vote for a further extension of five years and approved a continuance only “for the year current.” In 1754 the vacation period was from 2 Jan. to 6 February. (MH-AR: Corporation Records, College Book No. 7; Overseer’s Records 1744–1768; Meetings of 1 Oct. 1751, 4 May, 3 Oct. 1752, 1 Oct. 1754).
2. JA ’s recollection of the weather during recent months is confirmed in a general way by the daily meteorological observations in Professor John Winthrop’s Meteorological Journal, 1742–1759 ( MS , MH-Ar). He records snow on two days in January and one day in February, none heavy, and “a little” snow on three days in February. There were rains on nine days in January and seven days in February. The Fahrenheit thermometer reached a high of 54° in January, 52.5° in February. The low was 3° in January, 12° in February. The mean morning and afternoon readings, 29°–38°, were somewhat higher than in immediately preceding years.

Docno: ADMS-02-01-02-0005-0002-0001

Author: Adams, John
Date: 1754-03

March [1754].

Beg[inning] [of March] Had a small flurry of snow.1
1. There was snow in Cambridge on 2 March and “a little” on 7 March (John Winthrop, Meteorological Journal, MH-Ar). Other considerations rather favor the 2d over the 7th of March as the precise date of this entry in the Diary Fragment.

Docno: ADMS-02-01-02-0005-0002-0002

Author: Adams, John
Date: 1754-03-08

March 8th.1

A Clowdy morning. I am now reading my lord Orrerys letters to { 52 } his son Concerning Dr. Swift and his writings, which for softness and delicacy of style, accuracy and serenity of sentiment, are absolutely inimitable.2 Reading also the last volume of Monsieur Rollin’s Belles Lettres which are worth their weight in gold.—for his excellent reflections on every remarkable event that occurs in history he informs his readers of the true source {Folio: 5} of every action and instructs them in the method of forming themselves upon the models of virtue to be met with in History.3
1. The first day of the fourth quarter of the academic year 1753–1754 (MH-Ar: Steward’s Records, Quarterbill Books).
2. Remarks on the Life and Writings of Dr. Jonathan Swift ... in a Series of Letters from John Earl of Orrery to His Son, the Honourable Hamilton Boyle, London, 1751, was the work of John Boyle, 5th Earl of Orrery (1717–1762), a friend of Swift, Pope, and Johnson and the author of miscellaneous literary works ( DNB ). “ [A]s the first attempt at an account of Swift,” it “attracted much attention” (same); but modern estimates of its authority and style fall far short of JA ’s enthusiasm for Orrery’s book.
3. The faulty punctuation of this passage on Rollin follows that of the MS precisely.
Charles Rollin (1661–1741), rector of the University of Paris, was the author and compiler of numerous historical and pedagogical works that, in translation, were extraordinarily popular in England and America for many years and notably so in the Adams family. See Adams Family Correspondence , 1:142–143, where the known Adams copies of Rollin’s works are listed. See also JA ’s commendation of Rollin’s Method of Teaching and Studying the Belles Lettres in a letter to AA , 7 July 1776, and a facsimile of the titlepage of that work (same, 2:40–41, and facing p. 263).