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Browsing: Diary of John Adams, Volume 1


This note contained in document ADMS-01-01-02-0013-0005-0001
1. This project was unfortunately not carried out, though the materials for it in JA’s papers were (and still are) ample and important. Early in May 1769 Michael Corbet (whose name is variously spelled in the records) and three other sailors on the Pitt Packet of Marblehead resisted impressment when Lt. Henry Gibson Panton of the British frigate Rose boarded their vessel off Marblehead. From the forepeak they warned Panton that if he stepped toward them he was a dead man. Panton took a pinch of snuff and started for them with several armed companions. The next moment a harpoon severed Panton’s jugular vein. A special court of admiralty was promptly held to try the case. Otis and JA, counsel for the sailors, moved first to obtain a jury trial but were thwarted by Hutchinson’s influence with his fellow judges, among whom were Governors Bernard and Wentworth and Commodore Hood. The most telling point in JA’s argument was his citation of the statute 6 Anne, ch. 37, sect. 9, which prohibited impressments in America. The verdict was that the sailors had killed Panton in self-defense. JA’s brief is printed in an appendix to his Works, 2:526–534. His record of the testimony and of the argument of the crown lawyer, Samuel Fitch, are appended to a long article by BA on “The Convention of 1800 with France,” MHS, Procs. 44 (1910–1911) 1429–452. (The MSS are in the Adams Papers, Microfilms, Reel No. 184). Since the issues involved were so often of concern to JA in later life, he frequently discussed the case, and as usual with varying details. See especially his letters to JQA, 8 Jan. 1808 (printed by BA in the article cited above, p. 422–428); to Jedidiah Morse, 20 Jan. 1816 (Works, 10:204–210); and to William Tudor, 30 Dec. 1816 (same, 2:224, note). Hutchinson’s account, with his explanation of the conduct of the trial, is in his Massachusetts Bay, ed. Mayo, 3:166–167. The chronology of the case is well set forth in the “Journal of the Times” as reprinted by Oliver M. Dickerson in Boston under Military Rule, 1768–1769, Boston, 1936, p. 94–95, 104, 110.
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/