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Browsing: Diary of John Adams, Volume 2


Docno: ADMS-01-02-02-0008-0002-0010

Author: Adams, John
Date: 1778-03-14

Saturday. March 14.

I have omitted inserting the Occurrences of this Week, on Account of the Hurry and Confusion, We have been in. Tuesday We spied a Sail, and gave her Chase. We soon came up with her, but as We had bore directly down upon her, she had not seen our broadside, and knew not her [i.e. our] Force. She was a Letter of Mark with 14 Guns, 8 Nines and 6 sixes. She fired upon Us, and one of her shot went thro our Mizen Yard. I happened to be upon the Quarter deck, and in the Direction from the Ship to the Yard so that the Ball went directly over my Head. We, upon this, turned our broadside which the instant she saw she struck. Captn. Tucker very prudently, ordered his officers not to fire.
The Prize is the Ship Martha, Captn. McIntosh from London to New York, loaded with a Cargo of great Value. The Captn. told me that Seventy thousand Pounds sterling was insured upon her at Lloyds, and that She was worth 80 thousands.1
The Captain is very much of a Gentleman. There are two Gentle• { 286 } men with him Passengers, the one Mr. R. Gault, the other Mr. Wallace of N. York. Two young Jews were on board.
That and the next day was spent in dispatching the Prize, under the Command of the 3d Lt. Mr. Welch to Boston.2
After that We fell in Chase of another Vessell, and overtaking her, found her to be a french Snow, from Bourdeaux to Miquelon.
We then saw another Vessell, chased and came up with her which proved to be a French Brig from Marseilles to Nantes. This last cost Us very dear. Mr. Barrons our 1st. Lt. attempting to fire a Gun, as a signal to the Brig, the Gun burst, and tore the right Leg of this excellent Officer, in Pieces, so that the Dr. was obliged to amputate it, just below the Knee.
I was present at this affecting Scaene and held Mr. Barron in my Arms while the Doctor put on the Turnequett and cutt off the Limb.
Mr. Barrons bore it with great Fortitude and Magnanimity—thought he should die, and frequently intreated me, to take Care of his Family. He had an helpless Family he said, and begged that I would take Care of his Children. I promised him, that by the first Letters I should write to America, I would earnestly recommend his Children to the Care of the Public, as well as of Individuals. I cannot but think the Fall of this Officer, a great Loss to the united States....3 His Prudence, his Moderation, his Attention, his Zeal, were Qualities much wanted in our Navy. He is by Birth a Virginian.4
1. See also the entry in Tucker's Log, 11 March, which is, however, not very informative, being largely given over to a list of the prisoners taken in the Martha (printed in Sheppard, Tucker, p. 273–275). JA elaborates a little on the incident in his Autobiography under date of 10 March.
Various romanticized versions of JA's part in the action were widely circulated after his death. CFA cites one of these in a note on this passage (JA, Works, 3:109), taken from Peleg Sprague's Eulogy on John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, Hallowell, Maine, 1826. Samuel Tucker was still living at this time; Sprague's fanciful narrative came to Tucker's attention, and he put the matter straight in a letter to James Hovey of Bristol, Maine, 22 Aug. 1826, which has come to rest in the Adams Papers:
“About the 20th of March I fell in with a very large Ship—armed but not a cruiser, but however she soon appeared in a posture of engageing, my Ship in readiness and men at their quarters, it became my duty to give Mr. Adams such information as was necessary. He followed me on deck, where we expostulated a few minutes on the subject of taking the Ship, finally after listening a minute or two, to my entreaties he took me by the hand, with a god bless you, and descended the gangway ladder into the cockpit, I stept aft and came alongside the Ship I hailed, his answer was a broadside and immediately struck his coulours, before I could, to a good advantage discharge a broadside into him, being very near and in such a position the smoke blew over my ship, and looking round on the Quarter deck and observing the Damage I had received from his fire, I discovered Mr. Adams Among my marines accoutred as one of them, and in the act of defence. I then went unto him and Said my dear Sir, how came you here, and with a smile { 287 } he replied; I ought to do my Share of fighting. This was Sufficient for me to judge of the bravery of my venerable and patriotic Adams and the foregoing is all that ever I related on that Subject to anyone and quite enough to convince them of the bravery of Such a Man, please to have this inserted in the Bath Maine Gazette, and in Compliance Youll Much oblige Yours with Respect,
[signed] []Samuel Tucker
“N.B. You may Shew this to any American Republican or whomsoever you please.”
2. Tucker's orders to Hezekiah Welch, 11 March 1778, are printed in Sheppard, Tucker, p. 83.
3. Suspension points in MS.
4. Lt. Barron died eleven or twelve days later; see entry of 27 March, below, and Jennison, “Journal,” PMHB, 15:103 (April 1891). There is evidence that JA kept his pledge to write on behalf of Barron's family: In Congress, 27 Nov. 1778, “A letter from Hon. J. Adams, Esq. respecting the late Lieutenant Barron's family, was read: Ordered, That it be referred to the Marine Committee” (JCC, 12:1165). No trace of this letter has so far been found, either in the Papers of the Continental Congress or in the pension application filed in 1837 by his only daughter and surviving heir, Ann Mortimer Barron of Norfolk, Va. (DNA:RG 15, R 1065). The pension claim was rejected, but Congress had already (30 June 1834) granted Ann Barron the half pay of a first lieutenant of a frigate for seven years (letters from General Reference Branch, National Archives, to the editors, 13 Jan., 16 May 1959). There is also evidence that JA endeavored to do something in behalf of Barron's orphaned children during his brief return to Massachusetts in 1779; see William Vernon Sr. to AA, 4 Feb. 1780 (Adams Papers). But in his Autobiography JA expressed regret that he had not done more.
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/