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Browsing: Papers of John Adams, Volume 7

This note contained in document ADMS-06-07-02-0247
1. The accounts to which williams refers comprised two groups: the first settled through 30 May 1778; the second through 10 Sept. 1778. What is apparently a duplicate of the first group, for it does not contain Lee's endorsement, is in the Lee Papers (ViU). The second group has not been found, but see Williams to the Commissioners, 22 Sept. 1778 (above). The fate of the specific set of accounts on which Lee entered his endorsements and returned to the Commissioners' archive at Passy is unknown.
As is indicated on the second endorsement copied by Williams in this letter, Lee apparently examined the accounts and made his entries in Oct. 1778. According to Lee, he returned the accounts to Passy, presumably to the Commissioners' papers that were in JA's custody (Lee to Franklin, 16 March, PCC, No. 83, I, f. 341–342). There they lay until Franklin received Arthur Lee's letter of 22 Jan. (above) concerning the Williams-Montieu accounts and was moved, on the same day, to write to JA (above) to ask { 389 } for the “public papers” in his possession. In a letter to Arthur Lee on 27 March, Franklin explained both his request for the papers and the reason that the accounts had gone so long unnoticed: “It was not till lately that, being pressed by M. Monthieu for a settlement of his accounts, and finding that they had a reference to Mr. Williams, I got those from Mr. Adams. They were put up in a paper case, which covered the note you had made upon them, and that case was fastened with wax. This prevented the notes being before seen either by myself or by Mr. Adams, among whose papers you had left those accounts” (Wharton, ed., Dipl. Corr. Amer. Rev., 3:101).
JA delivered the papers to William Temple Franklin, who probably undertook the examination, for it was he who informed Jonathan Williams, in a letter not found, of Arthur Lee's endorsements (Williams to Temple Franklin, 28 Jan., Cal. Franklin Papers, A.P.S., 4:14). JA was as displeased with the endorsements and Lee's apparent effort to conceal them as were Benjamin Franklin and Jonathan Williams. In his letter to Lee of 27 March, Franklin wrote: “Mr. Adams spoke in strong terms of your having no right to enter notes upon papers without our consent or knowledge, and talked of making a counter entry, in which he would have shown that your assertion of our having 'given an order for the payment of all Mr. Williams' demands' was not conformable to truth nor the express terms of the order (that of 10 July to Ferdinand Grand, vol. 6:277–278), but his attention being taken up with what related to his departure, was probably the cause of his omitting to make the entry” (Wharton, ed., Dipl. Corr. Amer. Rev., 3:101–102).
So far as Lee was concerned, the present letter may have been the last straw. (Williams sent him a copy on 8 March [ViU: Lee Papers, with an attached note by Hezekiah Ford; Cal. Franklin Papers, A.P.S., 4:283]). Although Lee had written the congress in the past, criticizing Williams' dubious accounting practices, on 23 April he composed a 46-page “Memorial” (PCC, No. 83, II, f. 176–222), which was later published as Observations on Certain Commercial Transactions in France (Phila., 1780; Evans, No. 16819). There Lee, using portions of his correspondence with Williams and Franklin, sought to support his charges of wrongdoing, including those in the two endorsements, and to refute Williams' defense. In doing so, he bitterly attacked Benjamin Franklin's acquiescence in his nephew's activities.
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, 2018.