A website from the Massachusetts Historical Society; founded 1791.

Browsing: Adams Family Correspondence, Volume 1

Docno: ADMS-04-01-02-0167

Author: Adams, John
Recipient: Adams, Abigail
Date: 1775-07-24

John Adams to Abigail Adams

[salute] My Dear,

IT is now almost three Months since I left you, in every Part of which my Anxiety about you and the Children, as well as our Country, has been extreme.
The Business I have had upon my Mind has been as great and important as can be intrusted to [One]2 Man, and the Difficulty and Intricacy of it is prodigious. When 50 or 60 Men have a Constitution to form for a great Empire, at the same Time that they have a Country of fifteen hundred Miles extent to fortify, Millions to arm and train, a Naval Power to begin, an extensive Commerce to regulate, numerous Tribes of Indians to negotiate with, a standing Army of Twenty seven { 256 } Thousand Men to raise, pay, victual and officer, I really shall pity those 50 or 60 Men.3
I must see you e'er long.——Rice, has wrote me a very good Letter, and so has Thaxter,4 for which I thank them both.——Love to the Children.
[signed] J. A.
I wish I had given you a compleat History from the Beginning to the End of the Journey, of the Behaviour of my Compatriots.——No Mortal Tale could equal it.——I will tell you in Future, but you shall keep it secret.——The Fidgets, the Whims, the Caprice, the Vanity, the Superstition, the Irritability of some of us, is enough to——
Addressed To Mrs Abigail Adams Braintrie,5 to the Care of Col. Warren, favor d by Mr. Hichborne.
RC not found. Printed from (Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter), 17 Aug. 1775, p. 2, col. 1. Since, as explained in note 1 below, the newspaper text appears to be perhaps the best now available, the letter is given here precisely as first printed. Concerning extant MS texts see note 1 also.
1. This is one of the two letters JA wrote from Philadelphia this day that fell into British hands when the bearer, Benjamin Hichborn of Boston, was captured at Conanicut Ferry near Newport, R.I., and foolishly failed to throw away a number of letters he was carrying. The other intercepted JA letter was addressed to James Warren; it alluded at its outset to John Dickinson (though it did not name him) as “A certain great Fortune and piddling Genius” who had “given a silly Cast to our whole Doings”; and it led to the historic quarrel between JA and Dickinson. (Texts of the letter to Warren are in JA, Works, 1:179–180, and Warren-Adams Letters, 1:88–89.) Brought to Boston on 6 Aug., JA's letters were published in Margaret Draper's Massachusetts Gazette; MS copies were sent to London by Gage, Graves, and others; British papers printed and reprinted them; and for some months—until events caught up with his sentiments—JA was notorious on both sides of the Atlantic as the arch-advocate of American military resistance and independence from Great Britain.
An editorial note summarizing this incident and its effects, with references to sources and discussions, is in JA's Diary and Autobiography, 2:174–175. JA's later recollections of the affair are in same, 3:318–319. A fuller account must be deferred until the letter to Warren, which was the more controversial of the two, is printed in Series III of the present edition. By that time, one may at least hope, the missing originals may have come to light.
In the meantime it should be pointed out that although about two dozen MS texts of the intercepted letters are present (mostly as photoduplicates) or recorded in the Adams Papers Editorial Files, the best of these are no better than contemporary copies, all with demonstrable textual defects. So far as is known, the original letters remained in Vice-Admiral Samuel Graves' hands (he transmitted only copies to Gage and to the Admiralty), though it is possible that the originals were sent to the printer, and 18th-century printing offices were graveyards for MSS no matter how important. The editors attach little weight to the fact that in the American Clipper (a serial sale catalogue of the now defunct American Autograph Shop, Merion Station, Penna.) for Oct. 1938, item 7 purports to be the “A.L.S.” of the present letter, offered for sale at $127.50. The text as there printed strongly suggests that this item is simply another early MS copy.
The most authoritative of the con• { 257 } temporary MS copies of the letter to AA known to the editors are the following: (1) P.R.O.: C.O.5, vol. 122:15i, originally enclosure No. 8, according to its endorsement, in Graves to Philip Stephens, secretary to the Lords of the Admiralty, 17 Aug. 1775. (2) P.R.O.: C.O.5, vol. 92:248, enclosure No. 1 in Gage to Dartmouth, 20 Aug. 1775 (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. 1775; endorsement on FC of covering letter states that this packet was “Sent by Mrs. Gage” and a “Duplicate by Lt. [Belkmoon?].” (4) Brit. Mus.: Add. MSS., Haldimand Papers, vol. 21687:225–226; endorsed. (5) William Salt Library, Stafford, England: Dartmouth Papers; endorsed: “Copy of a Letter from J.A. (John Adams) to Mrs. Abigail Adams. Philadelphia, 24th. July, 1775.”
The only text in the Adams Papers claiming any textual authority is a curious one. It is a 19th-century Tr, apparently made for JQA when he was working on his father's papers in 1829–1830, which was originally an abbreviated and otherwise defective text but which was then carefully corrected in the same or another unidentified hand, so that it is virtually identical with the text in Massachusetts Gazette. Attached to Tr is a single leaf from an earlier (i.e. contemporary) copy containing on one side the postscript and address of JA's letter to AA, and on the other side the following undated and unsigned message which looks altogether like an original note of transmittal:
“Hon. sir, If Col. Hatch is with you please to let him see this which has been corrected by one in the hands of Judge [Peter] Oliver.
“Mrs. Adams is daughter of a clergyman at Weymouth, and Thaxter is a clerk to her husband.”
The writer and recipient of this message are unknown but they were certainly loyalists. So was Nathaniel Hatch (1723–1784), Harvard 1742, of Boston and Dorchester, a colonel of militia, judge of the Suffolk Court of Common Pleas, and mandamus councilor (Sibley-Shipton, Harvard Graduates, 11:150–152; JA, Diary and Autobiography, 1:311; 2:1, 94). This MS is, then, a fragment of one of the numerous contemporary copies of JA's letter to AA that circulated among the Massachusetts loyalists.
The contemporary copies listed above do not vary markedly from one another except in scribal details, and a comparison of all of them with the text printed in Massachusetts Gazette leads to the tentative conclusion that on the whole the newspaper text is at least as faithful to the original as any MS now known, if not more so. It looks, in fact, as if the printer had used either the original or a more accurate copy than any now available, and that he simulated in type JA's writing in small matters of form with unusual care. The editors have so concluded in spite of the fact that still another letter captured on Hichborn's person is known to have been doctored when printed in the same issue of the Massachusetts Gazette (see Allen French, “The First George Washington Scandal,” MHS, Procs., 65 [1932–1936]:460–474), and also despite JA's own later allegation that his letter to Warren had been “made... worse [when printed], than it was in the Original” (Diary and Autobiography, 3:319).
2. This word is not in the newspaper text but is found in all five of the contemporary MS copies listed above except that which was forwarded by Graves to the Admiralty (No. 1). The editors think it probable that the word was in JA's original; if so, this is the only significant textual error in the newspaper printing.
3. It was this sentence of course, with its references to forming a “Constitution” and establishing a “Naval Power,” that particularly shocked loyalist and British readers of JA's letter. See, for example, Gage to Dartmouth, 20 Aug. (Gage, Corr., 1:412–413); Burgoyne to Germain, 20 Aug. (E. B. de Fonblanque, Political and Military Episodes ... from the Life and Correspondence of ... John Burgoyne, London, 1876, p. 194–195); Nicholas Cresswell, Journal, 1774–1777, N.Y., 1928, p. 147–148; Isaac Smith Jr.'s letter to his father from London cited in note 5 under AA's letter to JA of 2–10 March 1776, below; { 258 } and the extremely interesting discussion by Ezra Stiles in his Literary Diary, 1:650–652.
4. All of the contemporary copies listed above except No. 1, that enclosed by Graves to the Admiralty, spell this name “Thaiter.” The copy in the Haldimand Papers, No. 4, has a marginal note keyed to the names Rice and “Thaiter” which reads: “two of his Apprentices.”
5. Evidently a plain typographical error by the printer; all the contemporary MS copies listed above spell the word as JA spelled it: “Braintree.”

Docno: ADMS-04-01-02-0168

Author: Cranch, Richard
Recipient: Adams, John
Date: 1775-07-24

Richard Cranch to John Adams

[salute] Dear Bror:

Sister Adams informs me that you complain that your Friends this way neglect writing to you. I believe a share of the Blame belongs to me, and shall now endeavour to make some amends.
We have lately had several little Expeditions from this quarter against the Enemy, a particular account of which, as near as I can collect it from those who were present, I shall give you.—On the 11th. Inst. in the evening, about 400 Men (partly from the Camp at Roxbury, and partly of the Guards on our Shore) went off from Germantown in 47 Whale Boats, in order to sweep Long Island then surrounded with Men of War. Landed on the Island at 10 o Clock at Night, parted into two grand Divisions and march'd to the House. Majr. Tuppham [Tupper] commanded, and Capt. Shaw who lately liv'd on Deer Island, conducted him to the House. Shaw burst in a Window and enter'd and Tuppham after him; the Men in the mean time being properly station'd. They expected to have catch'd some Tories there, but found none of any Note. Our People came on so secretely that they were not known to be on the Island untill they enter'd the House; they demanded of the Man who was in the House “what People were on the Island?” and were answer'd that a number were in the Barn who had been sent from Boston to cut the Hay and make it. Upon which our People enter'd the Barn and seiz'd them all Prisoners before they knew they were in danger. Among the Prisoners in the House was a Lady, perhaps une Fille de joie, who pretended to be on the point of Marriage with a Capt. of one of the Transports. 15 Prisoners, about 30 Cattle, a Horse, and about 100 Sheep were brought off that Night undiscover'd. Next morning about 10 Whale Boats went on again in broad Day, from Dorchester to Burn the Barns and Hay on the Island (suppos'd to be about 70 Ton). These Boats were discover'd immediately by the Men of War which surrounded the Island, and Barges and Cutters were sent to cutt them off. Our People, however, burnt the House and Barns and gott off without a Man being Kill'd or wounded in the Boats or on the Island tho' a most heavy fire was Kept up from the Men of War from above and below { 259 } the Island, whose Shot both ways swep't across the Island where our Men were, and tho' our Boats were pursue'd by the Barges and Tenders continually firing on them so near that they were sure of taking a number of our Boats as they tho't, yet we escap'd. Capt. Gould of Weymouth, who was most expos'd, was told by the Officer of the Man of War to “yield for he was his Prisoner,” Gould answer'd “not yet” and discharg'd his Musquet full at him, and encouraging his Men to pull up, he escap'd with the Skin of his Teeth. When some of our foremost Men were landed at the Head of the Moon, they fir'd briskly on the Enemy's Barges, and kept them off so as to secure the landing of the hindermost which were so hotly pursued. In this engagement one of our Men (Mr. Clarke of Stoughton) was Kill'd.
Another Expedition has been from hence to Nantaskett and the Light House. Not many Days ago a small Man of War drew up close to the Houses at Nantaskett within the Gutt, and afterwards paraded it by coming up as far as Pig Rocks by Hoffs Neck, and then lying off Hingham Cove [ . . . ], and then returning to Nantaskett again. These movements made our People conclude that the Man of War was sent to secure to Gage's Army, the Grain then ready to cutt on the lands at Nantaskett; especially as the Barge had seized Mr. Milton of Nantaskett and his Cart and Oxen and carried him and his Oxen to the Admiral, where the Oxen were kept but the Man after much examination releas'd. Under this perswasion, last Tuesday Night our men from Germantown and the neighbouring shore to the amount of about 400, Guards, Mowers &c. pass'd over to Hingham in Boats, and from thence by land to Nantaskett, having engag'd a number of Carts to come over the long Beach. They with great expedition mow'd and sent off the Grain to the amount of 70 Cart Load, and having done that, on Thursday morning a Company commanded by Majr. Vose of Milton, went over to the Light House, took down and bro't off the Lamps, brought off 1 Barrell of Gun Powder, sever all Tierces of Oil, a quantity of old Cordage, Severall Boats &c. and then Burnt the Light House, (but not the Dwelling House) then returning to Nantaskett they found that the Burning of the L: House had alarm'd the Men of War, and that their Barges and Cutters were sent down to attack our People, which they accordingly did, 7 of their Barges being lash'd together for that Purpose. A Hot Fire ensu'd for near an Hour but none of our Men were Kill'd and only two wounded. Our People try'd to draw them on Shore by seeming to run from them, but to no purpose, the men-of-War's-men seem'd evidently afraid to come near them; and at last put off so as to be out of the reach of our Musquetts.1 When Mr. Milton was carried on board the Admiral, he examin'd { 260 } him very strictly about the Whale Boats that lately appear'd in the Harbour, what their Number was? where they were kept? whether he could Pilot his People to them &c.? To all which he made such answers as gave the great Man no Satisfaction, especially when he told him that he understood that our People kept the Whale Boats drawn up into the Woods.

[salute] I fear you will be tir'd with the length of this Scrawl unless reliev'd by believing it to be design'd for your amusement, by your most affectionate Bror.,

[signed] R:C
PS Please to give my best Regards to Mr. S: Adams and tell him that I saw his Wife and Daughter at Dedham last Thursday, and heard from his Son, they are all well. Your Family and all the Circle of our Friends are as well as usual.
I have heard lately from Mr. Paine's Family who were then well; please to give my kind Regards to him.
A few Days ago Mr. Jno. Roulstone Watch Maker and his Family procur'd a Pass to come out of Boston, who is the only one that I have heard of that has had a Pass since the Battle of Charlestown. He landed at Ruggles's (now Bent's) and came to see me, he says it is Sickly among the Inhabitants, and more so among the Troops: That the Inhabitants are treated with great Rigour, 3 Men were committed to Jail for only going up into a Steeple to look out; That he was threaten'd for daring too look out from the top of his own House. That a Provost Major terrifies like the Holy Office, no one knowing who is the Victim 'till too late to escape if that was Possible. Poor Mr. Jas. Lovell, Mr. Leech, and Mr. Hunt the Publisher are in Jail. Jno. Cotton Dep: Secy: is Dead.
RC (Adams Papers); docketed in an unidentified hand.
1. The raid on Nantasket occurred on the 18th; that on the Brewsters on the 20th. The Boston lighthouse was (and still is) located on Little Brewster, formerly often called Beacon Island. The British took prompt steps to repair the light, and on 31 July another raiding party under Capt. Benjamin Tupper wrecked it again and captured a detachment of marines. See AA to JA, 31 July–2 Aug., below; also William Tudor to JA, 31 July, and James Warren to JA, 31 July–2 Aug., both in Adams Papers, the latter printed in Warren-Adams Letters, 1:95–99.
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.