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Browsing: Papers of John Adams, Volume 3

This note contained in document ADMS-06-03-02-0052
1. This letter, a letter of JA to AA of the same date (Adams Family Correspondence, 1:255–256), and a letter of Benjamin Harrison to George Washington, 21–24 July, were all three printed in sequence in the Massachusetts Gazette. They were seized by the British when Benjamin Hichborn, the bearer, was captured on Narragansett Bay en route to Massachusetts. Hichborn had begged JA to give him letters to carry back home because as one who had apprenticed under a tory lawyer, he felt the need to prove his loyalty to the American cause (Allen French, “The First George Washington Scandal,” MHS, Procs., 65 [1932–1936]: 461–467). Copies of JA's letters were forwarded to England by Adm. Graves, Gen. Gage, and others. Authentic contemporary copies known to the editors in British collections are these: (1) P.R.O.: C.O. 5, vol. 122: 15h, originally enclosure No. 7, according to its endorsement, in Adm. Graves to Stephen Stephens, secretary to the Lords of the Admiralty, 17 Aug.; (2) same, vol. 92:250, enclosure No. 2 in Gage to Dartmouth, 20 Aug. (covering letter printed in Gage, Corr., 1:412–413); (3) MiU-C: Gage Papers, English Series, FC of an enclosure in Gage to Dartmouth, 20 Aug., endorsement on FC of the covering letter states that this packet was “Sent by Mrs. Gage” and a “Duplicate by Lt. Bilkinson”; (4) BM: Add. MSS, Haldimand Papers, 21687:225r-226v, endorsement gives John Adams as writer; (5) William Salt Library, Stafford, England: Dartmouth Papers, endorsement leaves blank the name of the writer. Many other copies, both British and American, are recorded or exist as reproductions in the Adams Papers files. The purveyor of one copy attributed the letter to Samuel rather than John Adams, despite his knowledge that others did not agree with him (T. Bruce to Thomas Bruce Brudenwell, Lord Bruce, 12 Aug., TxDaHi: Jake L. Hamon Coll.).
With the oblique reference to John Dickinson as a “piddling Genius,” this letter brought to a head the conflict between him and JA over whether conciliatory or more vigorous measures should be pursued in the congress. The expression of JA's impatience and frustration was not new, for he had relieved his feelings in earlier letters to Warren and AA (to Warren, 6, 11, and 23 July, above, and to AA, 23 July, Adams Family Correspondence, 1:252–253). Certainly at the time the letter was written, JA did not view it as exceptionally important, but its publication identified him as a leader among those pressing for strong resistance to Great Britain.
Copies of the letters arrived in England on or about 17 Sept. and were immediately printed in Lloyd's Evening Post and British Chronicle, 18–20 Sept., and then in other newspapers as well (M. W. Willard, ed., Letters on the American Revolution: 1774–1776, Boston, 1925, p. 187–189). Their immediate impact was probably limited, for the king had already, on 23 Aug., proclaimed that the colonies were in { 91 } { 92 } rebellion, and the Olive Branch Petition had been submitted to Lord Dartmouth on 1 Sept., in whose hands it died (Merrill Jensen, ed., English Historical Documents: American Colonial Documents to 1776, N.Y., 1955, 9:850–851; French, First Year, p. 548–550). Thus the letters at first probably confirmed ministerial views already held.
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, 2017.