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Browsing: Adams Family Correspondence, Volume 4


This note contained in document ADMS-04-04-02-0135
5. No earlier communication from John Boylston to JA has been found. There can be no certainty whether the Boylston arms which Boylston “formerly sent” was in the form of a seal or on paper. However, by 1782 JA did have in his possession a seal bearing the Boylston arms and perhaps a drawing or engraving as well. Following American recognition by the States General in April 1782, JA as minister plenipotentiary had occasion to frame a form of passport for issuance. He chose to imitate closely the one devised by Franklin in Passy in 1780, substituting for the coat of arms Franklin had used to give the document an official character, the coat of arms of the Boylston family (the woodblock of the coat of arms he had made is in MHi and is illustrated in Boston Athenaeum, Catalogue of JQA's Books, facing p. 136; the passport utilizing it is reproduced in the present volume). In November of the same year in affixing his signature to the Preliminary Treaty with Great Britain, JA used a seal in cornelian and gold of the Boylston arms, thenceforward known in the family as the Treaty Seal (the seal, now a part of the family memorabilia at the Adams National Historic Site, Quincy, was given by JA to JQA and by JQA in trust to CFA on the baptism of JQA2; the seal is illustrated in Catalogue of JQA's Books, facing p. 135).
AA had used a seal of the Boylston arms, presumably left in her care in Braintree, on the cover of her letter to JA aboard the Sensible, 14 Nov. 1779; see vol. 3:234, note. This tends to support HA2's assertion that the seal had come to JA from his mother, Susanna Boylston (Boston Athenaeum, Catalogue of JQA's Books, p. 136). However, it seems unlikely that AA would have sent the seal to JA in Europe in the interim, and no instances are presently known of JA's employment of a Boylston seal in Europe before the use in 1782 described above. One possible explanation is that the Boylston seal that JA affixed to the Preliminary Treaty may have been the “Boylston Arms” sent to him by John Boylston, who was unmarried and in 1781 over seventy years of age. There would then have been two seals of the Boylston arms in the possession of the Adams family, but only one remains.
Between 1783 and 1785, JA, in devising a seal to commemorate his signing of the treaties, adapted the Boylston seal by having the three roundels, earlier blank, replaced with roundels bearing respectively a lion, a fleur-de-lis, and a lion. Later Adamses incorporated the Boylston arms, as adapted, in a variety of ways in their seals and bookplates (Boston Athenaeum, Catalogue of JQA's Books, p. 136–148; see also JQA, Diary, 26 Oct. 1827, 3 Sept. 1836, 4 Nov. 1841; JQA to CFA, 28 Feb. 1831, 27 Oct. 1833 [ Adams Papers ]). When a bookplate for Ward Nicholas Boylston's benefactions to the Boston Medical Library was devised, the coat of arms used was in the form as adapted by JA.
In the Boylston arms the shield consists of six silver (white) crosses crosslet fitché, arranged 3, 2, 1, on a red field, above which, in chief, on a field of gold or yellow are three black roundels or pellets. The crest above shows a lion, passant guardant, holding in his dexter paw an angled cross crosslet fitché of the type on the shield (Charles K. Bolton, Bolton's American Armory, Boston, 1927, p. 1, 20.
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/