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Browsing: Diary of John Adams, Volume 3


Docno: ADMS-01-03-02-0005-0001-0002

Author: Adams, John
Date: 1786-03-29

Wednesday [29 March.]

Dined at Mr. Blakes.1 Mr. Middleton and Wife, Mr. Alexander and Mrs. Williams, Mr. Jefferson.2 Coll. Smith3 and my Family.
1. William Blake (1739–1803), a wealthy and well-connected South Carolina planter, lived much of his life in England but contrived to save most of his property in America; his wife was the former Anne Izard (S.C. Hist. and Geneal. Mag., 2:231–232 [July 1901]; 9:81–82 [April 1908]; 34:199 [Oct.1933]).
2. The joint commission to negotiate commercial treaties held by JA and Jefferson (Franklin having returned to Philadelphia) was due to expire on 12 May of this year. Much of the Commissioners' correspondence between London and Paris during the past ten months had dealt with arrangements for the complicated negotiations with Morocco and Algiers which they were authorized to depute to Thomas Barclay and John Lamb respectively, who were exasperatingly deliberate in their movements. See the documents prepared for these agents by JA and Jefferson in Sept.–Oct. 1785, which are printed in Jefferson, Papers, ed. Boyd, 8:610–624. The advent of an envoy from Tripoli in London, one Abdrahaman, gave JA an opportunity to discover whether that piratical power would offer terms that the United States would or could accept; and on 17 Feb. 1786 he sent Jefferson a famous and inimitable account of his first discussion with “the Tripoline Ambassador,” during which JA smoked a pipe which reached to the floor and exchanged “in aweful pomp ... Wiff for Wiff” with his host (LbC, Adams Papers; same, 9:285–288). A further interview prompted JA to urge his colleague to come at once to London, not only in order to try to conclude a treaty with Tripoli but to finish { 183 } a negotiation begun in November with the Chevalier de Pinto, the minister from Portugal in London (to Jefferson, 21 Feb., LbC, Adams Papers; same, p. 295). They were also to make one last effort to interest the British government in a commercial treaty with the United States. On 13 March JA announced in a note to Carmarthen the arrival of Jefferson and requested an interview on behalf of both Commissioners (LbC, Adams Papers; same, p. 327). This first and sole visit of Jefferson to London lasted until 26 April. In respect to treaty-making it accomplished nothing. See the Commissioners' reports to Jay of 28 March and 25 April and the documents (mainly from the Adams Papers) relative to the commercial treaty with Portugal, which was signed by the American ministers on 25 April but which the Portuguese government allowed to lapse unratified (same, p. 357–359, 406–409, 410–433); also Jefferson's account of his English sojourn in his Autobiography (Jefferson, Writings, ed. Ford, 1:88–90).
3. William Stephens Smith (1755–1816), JA's secretary of legation and soon to be his son-in-law; he is designated in the present work as WSS. He was the son of John Smith, a merchant in New York City, was graduated from Princeton in 1774, studied law briefly, and served as an officer in the Continental Army, beginning in Aug. 1776, throughout the war, under the command or on the staff, successively, of Sullivan, Lee, Lafayette, and Washington. The best summary and appraisal of his service to June 1782 is in a certificate from Washington himself, stating that WSS in all his “several Military Stations” had “behaved with great fidelity, bravery, and good conduct” (Washington, Writings, ed. Fitzpatrick, 24:377). His last assignment was overseeing the British evacuation of New York City, and he left the army in Dec. 1783 with the rank of lieutenant colonel. Appointed by Congress secretary to the legation in London, he arrived just ahead of the Adamses and quickly overcame their doubts about him on the score of his being “a Knight of Cincinnatus” (JA to Gerry, 28 April 1785, and to Lafayette, 3 June 1785, letterbook copies, Adams Papers). Before long he also made a deep impression on AA2, and on 11 June 1786 they were married; see note on entry of 1 July, below. WSS's dispatches as secretary of legation, 1785–1787, are in PCC, No. 92; they have more autobiographical than historical value. In 1788 the Smiths returned to America and settled in New York City. WSS held a succession of civil and military appointments but in 1806 virtually wrecked his career by complicity in the scheme of his old friend Francisco de Miranda to liberate Venezuela from Spanish rule. (He furnished a vessel for the expedition, and his son William Steuben Smith, to the infinite distress of JA, who profoundly disapproved of the whole enterprise, was captured by the Spanish authorities.) Having won an acquittal in a federal court on charges of violating the neutrality of the United States, but having also lost his post as surveyor of the Port of New York, WSS retired to “Smith's Valley,” Lebanon, Hamilton co., N.Y., emerging only to serve a term in Congress 1813–1815, before his death. According to JQA, he left his worldly affairs “in inextricable confusion” (JQA, Diary, 4 May 1819). A memoir of WSS was prepared by his daughter Caroline Amelia (Smith) de Windt and published, together with some of his correspondence, in AA2's Jour. and Corr., 1841–1842; the memoir, which is highly filial, is at 1:99–117. Katharine Metcalf Roof's Colonel William Smith and Lady, published in 1929, is based on both printed and MS sources (including some family papers which cannot currently be traced), but is excessively romantic and chatty in tone and is not documented. An earlier and briefer account is still useful, especially respecting WSS's family: Marcius D. Raymond, “Colonel William Stephens Smith,” N.Y. Geneal. and Biog. Record, 25:153–161 (Oct. 1894). In 1795 WSS purchased an estate on the East River, built an elegant seat there which he called Mount Vernon, and planned a great stone stable which still survives at 421 East 61st Street, almost under the Queensboro Bridge in New York City. The history of the estate and the buildings on it has been related and illustrated by Joseph Warren Greene in “Mount Vernon on the East River and Colonel William Stephens { 184 } Smith,” NYHS Quart., 10:115–130 (Jan. 1927). Because he had greatly overreached himself financially, WSS was obliged to sell this property in 1796, and in 1826 the mansion was destroyed by fire. But the stone stable, after many vicissitudes, was acquired in 1924 by the Colonial Dames of America, which uses it as a national headquarters under the name of the Abigail Adams Smith House; see a pamphlet by Katharine Metcalf Roof, The Story of the Abigail Adams Smith Mansion and the Mount Vernon Estate, issued by the Colonial Dames of America in 1949.
Cite web page as: Founding Families: Digital Editions of the Papers of the Winthrops and the Adamses, ed.C. James Taylor. Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society, 2014.
http://www.masshist.org/apde2/