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Browsing: Adams Family Correspondence, Volume 4


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Docno: ADMS-04-04-02-0188

Author: Smith, Isaac Sr.
Recipient: Adams, John
Date: 1782-01-23

Isaac Smith Sr. to John Adams

In Haveing an Opportunity by Via Bilbao, I have the pleasure of communicating to you the Arrival of your son Charles, after a passage of 45 days from Bilbao.1—The ship Robinhood that Charles Storer &c. went in is Arrived from Gottenburgh, in 45 days likewize a Brig att Providence from france by which we here the News of the Capture of Cornwallis had reacht there.
The Congress has past an Act prohibiting any british goods of any kind being imported after the first March, and in case the Owner cannot prove them (not to be british) they are forfeited, let them come from any ports whatever, or by any Neutral power whatever— which is a pitty was not done sooner.
As there is a person in Town that has considerable of goods from his father in London.2—I hope the recapture of St. Eustatius will put some New life into the Dutch. The British frigates have done more damage to Our trade the last season than any time since the War. That confounded Penobscot is a handy resort.—Your family and { 280 } friends are well. Itts very happy the Cicero Arrived as she did as the next day came On a very bad snow storm and has continued two days, which has prevented Charles from coming to Town.
As to News we have had nothing from Genl. Green for some Months. A reinforcement is gone from York to Carolinia.

[salute] I am Sr. Yr. [humble?] servant,

[signed] Isaac Smith
1. Richard Cranch in the following letter to JA says “51 Days” from Bilbao to Beverly, the Cicero's home port, where she arrived on 21 Jan. (Gardner W. Allen, Massachusetts Privateers of the Revolution, MHS, Colls., 77 [1927]: 99). Smith would appear to be nearer the mark, if the narrative of John Trumbull, a fellow passenger of CA, is trustworthy—though that narrative is a little confusing about dates (see below). For the events leading up to the Cicero's departure from Bilbao, see William Jackson to JA, 26 Oct. 1781, above, and Trumbull's account as quoted in note 2 there; also JA to Jackson, 1 Dec. 1781, note 1. Trumbull states that the passengers who had left the South Carolina in La Coruña and made their difficult way to Bilbao “were detained” in that port “until the 10th of December,” and then continues (Autobiography, ed. Sizer, 1953, p. 79–81):
“At the entrance of the river of Bilboa is a bar, on which the water is so shallow, that a ship of the Cicero's size can pass over, only at spring tides. When we dropped down from Porto Galette, we found the wind at the mouth of the river, blowing fresh from the north-ward, which caused such a heavy surf upon the bar, that it was impossible to take the ship over. We were obliged to wait until the wind lulled, and then the pilot insisted that he could not take her over safely, until the next spring tide. Several of the passengers thought it was folly to remain on board, consuming the ship's stores, and proposed to the captain that we would go back to Bilboa for a few days. He acceded, promising to send up a boat for us, whenever he might have a prospect of getting to sea. We went, and amused ourselves among the friends we had made; on the third or fourth day, we were walking with some ladies in the Alameda, a public walk which ran upon the bank of the river, when we espied a boat coming up with sails and oars, which we recognized as being from below. One of her men sprang on shore, and ran to us, with the information that the Cicero, and other vessels, had got over the bar that morning at eight o'clock, and were standing out to sea, with a fair wind-that Capt. Hill desired us to make all possible haste to get on board—that he would stand off and on for a few hours, but not long, as he could not justify it to his owners. We, of course, made all possible haste, but the distance from town was eight or nine miles, and when we got down, it was near three o'clock, and the ship was out of sight. We obtained a spy-glass, ran to the top of the house, and could thence discern a ship in the offing, apparently standing in. We persuaded ourselves that it must be the Cicero, and bid for a boat and crew to put us on board. The pilots made great difficulty—the sea was very rough—the ship was too far out—perhaps it was not the Cicero— they thought it was not; all this was said to work up the price. On the other hand, we were desperate; among us we could not muster twenty guineas to carry us through the winter, and the bargain was at last made, at a price which nearly emptied all our pockets, and before sunset we got on board the Cicero, in the Bay of Biscay, two or three leagues from land. The mountains of Asturia were already covered with snow, but the wind was fair, and we went on our way rejoicing.
“No accident befel, until the last day of our passage. We saw the land of America, (the Blue Hills of Milton, near Boston,) in the afternoon of a beautiful day in January; at six o'clock, P.M., we laid the ship's head to the { 281 } eastward, and stood off under easy sail until midnight, when we hove about, and stood in to the westward, under the same sail, expecting to find ourselves at sunrise, at about the same distance from the land, and all was joy and merriment on board, at the near approach of home. One honest old tar was happily on the lookout, and at three o'clock sung out from the forecastle, 'breakers! breakers! close under our bow, and right ahead!' He was just in time; the crew, though merry, were obedient, and flew upon deck in time to escape the danger. We found we were close upon the rocks of Cape Ann. We must have been drifted by a very strong current, for our course had been judicious, and could never have brought the ship there. Before noon, we were safe in the port of Beverly, where we found eleven other ships, all larger and finer vessels than the Cicero—all belonging to the same owners, the brothers Cabot—laid up for the winter. Yet such are the vicissitudes of war and the elements, that before the close of the year they were all lost by capture or wreck, and the house of Cabot had not a single ship afloat upon the ocean. In the evening, after we got into port, a snow storm came on, with a heavy gale from the eastward. The roads were so completely blocked up with snow, that they were impassable, and we did not get up to Boston until the third day; but, per tot discrimina rerum, I was at last safe on American land, and most truly thankful.”
Unfortunately it is not clear whether Trumbull's single specifically mentioned date of 10 Dec. is intended to be that of the Cicero's actual departure or the date after which he spent three or four days in the city before hearing of the ship's sudden sailing and having to overtake her in the bay. From 10 Dec. to 21 Jan. would be 43 days for the Atlantic voyage.
2. Thus in MS, but it would appear that this fragmentary sentence is really the concluding part of the sentence ending the preceding paragraph.
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/