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Browsing: Papers of John Adams, Volume 8


Search for a response to this letter.

Docno: ADMS-06-08-02-0105

Author: Adams, John
Recipient: Massachusetts Council
Date: 1779-09-13

To the Massachusetts Council

[salute] May it please your Honours

While I resided at Paris, I had an opportunity of procuring from London, exact Information, concerning the British Whale Fishery on the Coast of Brazil, which I beg Leave to communicate to your Honours, that if any Advantage can be made of it, the Opportunity may not be lost.1
The English, the last Year and the Year before, carried on, this Fishery to very great Advantage, off of the River Plate, in South America in the Latitude Thirty five South and from thence to Forty, just on the Edge of Soundings, off and on, about the Longitude Sixty five, from London. They had Seventeen Vessells in this Fishery, which all Sailed from London, in the Months of September and October. All the Officers and Men, are Americans.
The Names of the Captains are Aaron Sheffield of Newport,[] Goldsmith and Richard Holmes from Long Island, John Chadwick, Francis May, Reuben May, John Meader, Jonathan Meader, Elisha Clark, Benjamin Clark, William Ray, Paul Pease, Bunker Fitch, Reu• { 146 } ben Fitch, Zebbeda Coffin, and another Coffin,[] Delano, Andrew Swain, William Ray, all of Nantuckett, John Lock, Cape Cod. Four or five of these Vessells went to Greenland. The Fleet Sails to Greenland, yearly, the last of February, or the Beginning of March.
There was published, the Year before last, in the English Newspapers, and the Same Imposture was repeated last Year, and no doubt will be renewed this, a Letter from the Lords of the Admiralty to Mr. Dennis De Berdt in Colman Street, informing him, that a Convoy should be appointed to the Brazil Fleet. But this, I had certain Information, was a Forgery calculated merely to deceive American Privateers, and that no Convoy was appointed, or did go with that Fleet, either last Year, or the Year before.
For the Destruction or Captivity of a Fishery so entirely defenceless, for not one of the Vessells has any Arms, a single Frigate or Privateer of Twenty four, or even of Twenty Guns, would be sufficient. The Beginning of December, would be the best Time to proceed from hence, because the Frigate would then find, the Whaling Vessells nearly loaded. The Cargoes of these Vessells, consisting of Bone and Oyl, will be very valuable, and at least four hundred and fifty of the best kind of Seamen, would be taken out of the Hands of the English, and might be gained into the American service to act against the Ennemy. Most of the Officers and Men wish well to this Country, and would gladly be in its service, if they could be delivered, from that they are engaged in. Whenever an English Man of War, or Privateer, has taken an American Vessell, they have given to the Whalemen among the Crew, by order of Government, their Choice, either to go on Board a Man of War, and fight against their Country or go into the Whale Fishery; such Numbers have chosen the latter as have made up the Crews of these seventeen Vessells.
I thought it my Duty to communicate this Intelligence to your Honours, that if So profitable a Branch of Commerce, and so valuable a Nursery of Seamen, can be taken from the English it may be done. This state has a peculiar Right and Interest to undertake the Enterprise, as almost the whole Fleet, belongs to it.
I have the Honour to be, with the highest Consideration, your Honours most obedient & most humble servant
[signed] John Adams2
Read and sent down
[signed] John Avery D Secy.
Read—and the House being first enjoined secresy on the subject matter thereof—Orderd That the Honbl. General Warren, and Mr. { 147 } [Caleb] Davis of Boston, with such as the Honble. Board shall join be a Committee to consider the same—and report what is proper to be done thereon.
Sent up for Concurrence
[signed] John Hancock Spkr.
Read and Concurred and Moses Gill Eqr. is joined.
[signed] John Avery D Secy.
RC (M-Ar: vol. 210, p. 216–218A); docketed: “Letter from Honbl. John Adams & Report thereon” and “Resolve on a Letter from Honbl John Adams Letter to transmit the same to the Honble Congress October 6th. 1779.” LbC (Adams Papers).
1. JA copied the following four paragraphs virtually verbatim, even retaining the blank spaces for Goldsmith and Delano in place of their first names, from his Letterbook copy of Benjamin Franklin's and his letter to Sartine of 30 Oct. 1778 (above), which in turn follows the text of JA 's Diary entry of 8 Oct. ( Diary and Autobiography , 2:319–320).
2. A note in JA 's hand at the bottom of the Letterbook copy reads: “on the 19 Oct. 1779 wrote the same to Congress, concerning this Fishery.” See PCC, No. 84, I, f. 97. JA 's letter, with “an extract from the proceedings of the general court,” arrived in the congress on 1 Nov. It was read but not referred to a committee for action ( JCC , 15:1231). Apart from changes made necessary by its being sent to the congress, the letter was little altered. JA omitted the statement that he procured his information from London on whaling off Brazil and that it was “exact.” In concluding, he mentioned his unsuccessful effort with his colleagues in Paris to persuade the French to take action. He also mentioned his appeal to the Massachusetts Council but noted, correctly as it turned out, that after the disastrous Penobscot Expedition, the state was unlikely to act.
3. A mistake for the 14th.

Docno: ADMS-06-08-02-0106-0001

Author: Lovell, James
Recipient: Adams, John
Date: 1779-09-14

From James Lovell

[salute] Dear Sir

Your favor of Aug. 4 came yesterday to hand with the Pamphlets.1 If the Chevalier does not take his Bias at Bethlehem or Easton where he is to be documented 2 or 3 days,2 I shall continue in the hopes which your good Judgement has inspired.
We have indeed had a stormy Time; and some Villains, I guess wanted to get hold of the Helm and the main Stays at a critical Moment.
We are going to tell S[pain] she may have the Fl[orid]as before she asks, and we shall be too bashful even to tell her we wish to get at the hundred of thousands of Acres of Virginia freely in Boats by that River on whose Banks they lay.3
The dull letter4 you mention has been received, and I believe wished never to have been written, by the poor Drudges in the Secretary's Office who are called upon for Copies by every lazy Member, and I assure you that is more than the sanctified Number 13.5
{ 148 }
It would have been better for W H D if he had been of the Class; but he did, as does another whose broken Constitution is at this minute wishing pen and ink banished from his Sight for a Month.6
I have sent the Journals to your Family and shall continue the Numbers as they come out. By way of small politics; I send the Copy of a rough Copy in part of Something I sent you when we were stumbling in the dark about Ultimata.7
RC (Adams Papers); with three enclosures. The enclosures were filmed under the date of 13 June and appear immediately after the recipient's copy of James Lovell's letter to JA of that date (Adams Papers, Microfilms, Reel No. 350). The first enclosure, designated “No. 1” and docketed “Mr Lovel June 13. 1779 'Je crains M. A. L. et ses entours.' Vergennes,” is not identical to the recipient's copy of 13 June (above), and the annotation pertaining to matters common to both documents is not repeated here. As a result, the two versions should be compared. The second enclosure, designated “No. 2” and docketed “Izard,” was copied from the committee's report of 24 March (PCC, No. 25, I, f. 101; JCC , 13:363–368). The passage is written on the verso of a piece of paper cut from the address page of a letter by George Washington, probably to the president of the congress, and bears the words “His Ex” and “Go. Was,” the first portion of Washington's signature endorsing the letter. The third enclosure, designated “No. 3,” labeled “Copy,” and docketed “Izard,” comprises less than two pages of Izard's full letter of this date, which is approximately seven and one-half pages long (PCC, No. 89, I, f. 90–97; Wharton, ed., Dipl. Corr. Amer. Rev. , 2:710–714).
1. No letter of 4 Aug. from JA to Lovell has been found.
2. Bethlehem and Easton, Penna., were on a common route to Philadelphia from New England, and Lovell may have feared that Gérard would meet La Luzerne there and, in the process of documenting or instructing him, would communicate his bias for Deane. In fact, Gérard and La Luzerne met at Bristol, Penna.
3. The instructions to the American Peace Commissioner adopted on 14 Aug. provided as one of the ultimata that the western boundary of the United States would be the Mississippi River, thus taking in the vast claims by Virginia and other states. Such an ultimatum had also appeared in the draft committee report of 23 Feb. on the objects to be pursued in any peace negotiations. There an additional ultimatum had provided “that free commerce be allowed to the subjects of the United States with some port or ports below the southern boundary of the said states.” The draft document also provided that if Britain ceded Florida to the United States it could be receded to Spain “for an adequate compensation” ( JCC , 14:956–960; 13:239–244).
The instructions of 14 Aug. mentioned neither a port on the Mississippi nor the ultimate disposition of Florida. Instead, those questions were dealt with in instructions to the American minister charged with negotiating a treaty with Spain, which were being considered when Lovell wrote. Adopted on 29 Sept., the instructions provided that Spain, should it accede to the Franco-American alliance, would not be precluded from obtaining Florida and, indeed, that if Florida were conquered, the United States would guarantee Spain's possession, “provided always, that the United States shall enjoy the free navigation of the River Mississippi into and from the sea.” In addition, the minister was directed to “endeavour to obtain some convenient port or ports” on the Mississippi below the southern border: the 31st parallel (same, 15:1118–1120). Lovell, however, still thought that acquiring port rights should be an ultimatum in a Spanish treaty. Without a port or ports to which the produce of the western lands could be taken for shipment and through which they could be supplied, the acquisition of those lands in a peace treaty was of doubtful value.
The instructions of 29 Sept., intended to allay Spanish fears regarding American intentions toward Spanish possessions in North America, came to nothing. The United States, in Art. 8 of the peace treaty of 1783, gained the same right that Britain had acquired in Art. 7 of the definitive Anglo-French peace treaty ending the Seven Years' War: to navigate the Mississippi from its source to the sea. But Spain's acquisition of the Floridas in 1783 gave it control of both banks of the Mississippi below the 31st parallel, and thus a strong legal position for denying free passage to the sea. Not until Pinckney's treaty of 1795 did Spain agree to permit American vessels to navigate the Mississippi through its territory and make the concession meaningful by allowing American citizens to land goods at New Orleans or some other place within its territory (Miller, ed., Treaties , 2:155, 321–322, 337; Samuel Flagg Bemis, Pinckney's Treaty, Baltimore, 1926, p. 1–4, 42, 51–55)
4. JA to the president of the congress, 4 Aug. (above).
5. The reference is to the demand for more copies than one for each state of JA 's long letter of 4 Aug. on political conditions in the various European states (above).
6. William Henry Drayton, delegate from S.C., had died on 4 Sept. (Samuel Holten's Diary, Burnett, ed., Letters , 4:401). Lovell means that it would have been better for Drayton if he had not written so much (i.e. been lazy), “but he did, as does another” (i.e. Lovell). Lovell had also been ill, but recovered to live a long life.
7. That is, Lovell copied his letter to JA of 13 June (above), which JA did not receive until his return to Europe in 1780.