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Browsing: Adams Family Correspondence, Volume 5


Docno: ADMS-04-05-02-0013

Author: Adams, Abigail
Recipient: Adams, John
Date: 1782-10-25

Abigail Adams to John Adams

[salute] My Dearest Friend

The family are all retired to rest, the Busy scenes of the day are over, a day which I wished to have devoted in a particular manner to my dearest Friend, but company falling in prevented nor could I claim a moment untill this silent watch of the Night.
Look—(is there a dearer Name than Friend; think of it for me;) { 22 } Look to the date of this Letter—and tell me, what are the thoughts which arise in your mind? Do you not recollect that Eighteen years have run their anual Circuit, since we pledged our mutual Faith to each other, and the Hymeneal torch was Lighted at the Alter of Love. Yet, yet it Burns with unabating fervour, old ocean has not Quenched it, nor old Time smootherd it, in the Bosom of Portia. It cheers her in the Lonely Hour, it comforts her even in the gloom which sometimes possessess her mind.
It is my Friend from the Remembrance of the joys I have lost that the arrow of affliction is pointed. I recollect the untitled Man to whom I gave my Heart, and in the agony of recollection when time and distance present themse[l]ves together, wish he had never been any other. Who shall give me back Time? Who shall compensate to me those years I cannot recall? How dearly have I paid for a titled Husband; should I wish you less wise, that I might enjoy more happiness? I cannot find that in my Heart. Yet providence has wisely placed the real Blessings of Life within the reach of moderate abilities, and he who is wiser than his Neighbour sees so much more to pitty and Lament, that I doubt whether the balance of happiness is in his Scale.
I feel a disposition to Quarrel with a race of Beings who have cut me of, in the midst of my days from the only Society I delighted in. Yet No Man liveth for himself,1 says an authority I will not dispute. Let me draw satisfaction from this Source and instead of murmuring and repineing at my Lot consider it in a more pleasing view. Let me suppose that the same Gracious Being who first smiled upon our union and Blessed us in each other, endowed <him> my Friend with powers and talents for the Benifit of Mankind and gave him a willing mind, to improve them for the service of his Country.
You have obtaind honour and Reputation at Home and abroad. O may not an inglorious Peace wither the Laurels you have won.
I wrote you per Capt. Grinnel.2 The Fire Brand is in great haste to return, and I fear will not give me time to say half I wish. I want you to say many more things to me than you do, but you write so wise so like a minister of state. I know your Embarassments. Thus again I pay for titles. Life takes its complexion from inferiour things; it is little attentions and assiduities that sweeten the Bitter draught and smooth the Rugged Road.
I have repeatedly expresst my desire to make a part of your Family. “But will you come and see me”3 cannot be taken in that serious { 23 } Light I should chuse to consider an invitation from those I Love. I do not doubt but that you would be glad to see me; but I know you are apprehensive of dangers and fatigues. I know your Situation may be unsetled—and it may be more permanant than I wish it. Only think how the word 3 and 4 and 5 years absence sounds!! It sinks into my Heart with a Weight I cannot express. Do you look like the Minature you sent? I cannot think so. But you have a better likeness I am told.4 Is that designd for me? Gracious Heaven restore to me the original and I care not who has the shadow.
We are hoping for the fall of Gibralter, because we imagine that will facilitate a peace—and who is not weary of the war? The appointment of Dr. F. to the Sweedish Court is considerd as a curious step, especially at his own Instance.5 Tis probable others will write you more particularly (the French Fleet still remain with us, and the British cruizers insult them, more American vessels have been captured since they have lain here than for a year before).6 The Generall Green is taken and carried into Halifax, by which I suppose I have lost some Small Bundles or packages. Beals told me that you gave him 7 small packages which he deliverd Capt. Bacon for me.7 The prisoners have all arrived except Savil who is yet in France. I mentiond to you before; that some of them had been with me, and offerd to repay the money with which you supplied them.8 I could only tell them that I had never received a line from you concerning the Matter, that I chose first to hear from you: I would not receive a farthing unless I had your express direction and your Hand writing to prove that what you had done was from your private purse—which I was confident was the case; or you would have been as ready to have relieved others if you had any publick fund for that purpose as those which belonged to this Town. I found a story prevailing that what you had done, was at the publick expence; this took its rise either from Ignorance or ingratitude—but it fully determined me to receive your direction. The persons who have been with me are the two Clarks, the two Bealses and Jobe Feild. I have a cousin9 in England for whom his good Mother is greatly distresst, she wishes me to write to you concerning him, if you should find by way of C. S[tore]r that he is needy and should supply him with 5, 6 or 10 Guineys, they will be repaid to me upon your noticeing it. I have been Virmont Mad I suppose you will say. I own I have straitned myself in concequence of it—but I expect they will be fine Farms for my children or Grand children or great Grand children. If you send me { 24 } any thing per the return of the Fire Brand, pray Let an attest come that <nothing is British> every thing is unBritish. I believe I will inclose a small invoice of proper articles.10

[salute] Adieu my dear Friend. Ever Ever Yours

[signed] Portia
RC (Adams Papers); endorsed: “Portia Oct. 25 ansd. Jan. 29. 1783.”
1. See Romans 14:7.
2. AA to JA, 8 Oct., above.
3. Quoting JA to AA, 1 April, vol. 4:303.
4. On 24 July 1780, AA had requested a miniature (vol. 3:382), which is apparently the one to which AA refers here, but neither this likeness nor the “better” one has been found. The only surviving portraits of JA made in this period are the two engravings done from life by Reinier Vinkeles in 1782. See Oliver, Portaits of JA and AA, p. 14–18, 209–210.
5. On 25 June, Benjamin Franklin informed Congress that the Swedish ambassador to France had asked him whether his powers would permit him to negotiate a treaty with Sweden. Remembering the broad powers originally granted to himself and the other commissioners, Franklin asserted that he could act; but to Congress he suggested that he be specifically empowered for that purpose and given instructions. He also reported that the Swedish king was an admirer of his and would take particular pleasure in treating with him (Wharton, ed., Dipl. Corr. Amer. Rev., 5:512). On 28 Sept. Congress agreed upon the text of a treaty to be offered to Sweden, commissioned Franklin to conclude it, and issued him his instructions (JCC, 23:610–624).
JA eventually learned the contents of Franklin's letter of 25 June, and in response to an enquiry from William Lee, he wrote that he believed that Franklin knew that Francis Dana had a commission to treat with neutral powers that superseded the powers originally granted to the three commissioners to France; therefore he should have told the Swedish ambassador that only Dana had the power to negotiate with Sweden. JA went on to say: “But the feelings, if not the rights of every American Minister in Europe have been wantonly sacrificed to Dr. F.'s vanity” (JA to William Lee, 15 March 1783, LbC, Adams Papers). Dana, however, had his doubts about the extent of his own powers to deal with neutral nations (to JA, 16 March 1783, same).
6. Closing parenthesis supplied.
7. Bacon commanded the brig General Greene, which had suffered severe storm damage on its passage from Amsterdam to Philadelphia; it was heading for Boston for repairs when it encountered British warships (Independent Ledger, 14 Oct.).
8. See vol. 4:257, and note 3, 372; and JA to AA, 16 April 1783 (1st letter), below.
9. Isaac Smith Jr.; see AA's 1777 letter to him (vol. 2:362–364). CFA omitted the text from this sentence to the end of the paragraph in AA, Letters, 1840, and in JA-AA, Familiar Letters.
10. If AA did enclose an invoice, it has not been found.

Docno: ADMS-04-05-02-0014

Author: Adams, Abigail
Recipient: Thaxter, John
Date: 1782-10-26

Abigail Adams to John Thaxter

No, the Fire Brand shall not sail again without a Letter to my Friend. Why what a Hurry. I meant to have written him a long Letter—but here before a Body could think twice she is loaded and ready to sail. I could not write by Capt. Grinnel for reasons which I gave you.1 This vessel will sail before I can advertize your Friends. I have the pleasure however to assure you that they were well last week; when your Mamma and sister Celia made me a visit. They took from hence a stiff dutch figure. Why if that is your present likeness
{ 25 } { 26 }
I do not wonder you wish to come to America to be New formed. There are some Traits tis true but is it the fashion to have such prominent cheek Bones? I felt affronted with any who supposed a likeness, tho all agreed that it was an ugly one.2 You cannot conceive how it struck the Fair American.3 She protests against going to Holland. No Flatterers there she thinks. She is certain they know nothing of the graces, or they could not so have deformed the countanance of the Handsome Charles.4 The features of both the portraitures are hard and cours. Tell him his Friends do not like it—and do him an other message if you please. If you return, and he succeeds You, I expect him to supply your place in every respect—one of which is to become my correspondent. I meant to have written him a few lines by way of requests, but fear I shall not have time.
His good Pappa obliged me by reading some of his Letters. I like his Manner of Letter writing, he pleases me exactly—he writes to the Moment—and has the happy art of giving even trivial matters an agreable air and dress, he is Sentimental without a too formal gravity, and his observations upon Men and Manners do honour to his judgment. If I had no other test of his worth, the affectionate regard he expresses for his Sister would prove his merrit.
Do you not want to give a look at our Fire side. I will tell you how it is occupied—rather different from what it commonly is, for there is a Card table before it, and A Mr. Robbins5 (the present preceptor of my Sons) is holding a hand at whist with Miss A. Miss Betsy Otis, the daughter of Mr. Allen Otis6 and Master Billy Cranch are partners—a sweet delicate Lovely Lilly and rose Beauty is this amiable Girl.
What do you think of my crosing the Atlantick? I have serious thoughts of it. If my best Friend asks it, I certainly shall but I rather wish for peace that he may return to me. I love the peacefull Rural Retirement and the pleasures of domestick Life. You know sir that ever since you made a part of our Family I have lived in one continued sacrifice of private happiness. I have felt anxious some times least the long seperation should Estrange the affections of my Children from their parent, and this was a powerfull inducement with me; for my two sons to accompany their Father. Charles was a carefull observer of his Fathers sentiments many of which he has treasurd up. He is calld here the Man in minature. His manners are pleasing and agreable. My Elder son I very seldom hear from, he is with a Gentleman of whom I have a high opinion. I hope he will be attentive to his precepts and instructions. You know his disposition, he is not { 27 } so manageable as either of the others. Great activity and vivacity run away with him. Yet properly guided they promise great things. But our highest expectations are sometimes cut of, and that in a mortifying manner.
Mr. Laurence, poor old Gentleman his Grey hairs will come with sorrow to the Grave. Will he support the loss of his son with the fortitude of Cato when Marcius fell coverd with wounds in defence of his Country? Thus fell the Brave Col. Laurence, Lamented by all who knew him.7 Freedom mourns over his urn, and Honour decks the sod which covers his ashes with unfadeing Laurels.
I think there is nothing New in the political world. Our Eyes seem to be turned towards Europe as the Theater of great actions. We are tierd of the war, and wish for an honorable peace. Taxation is exceeding heavy, and those who will pay them may, but those who will not—are not always made to do it. Tis said by Pope that that goverment which is best administerd, is best.8 I mean not to discuss this point, but this we feel, that a good goverment ill administerd is injurious to every member of the community. I have been informd that some counties have paid no tax for two years.
This I know I have been obliged to pay every thing I could get. I cannot see how the Merchants who have met with exceeding heavy losses this year by Captures and the Farmer whose produce has been cut of in a most uncommon manner, Can answer the publick demands. But enough of this, you would hear it from all Quarters if you was here.
Present my Regards to your Friend: and Master Charles'es to Madam Chabinal9 and Daughters whom he often speaks of with great affection. Miss A. desires you would write to her. She thinks you a Letter in her debt. Be assurd you are at all times affecti[onately] Rememberd by Your Friend
[signed] Portia
RC (MB); addressed in an unidentified hand: “Mr. John Thaxter at the Hague”; endorsed: “Mrs. Adams 26th. Octr. 1782. R. 29th Jany. 1783. A. 30th.”
1. AA is probably referring to her admission, in her letter to JA of 8 Oct., above, sent by Capt. Grinnell, of writing in haste. Her remark, above, about not letting the Fire Brand sail “again” without a letter to Thaxter may refer to her letter of 17 June to Thaxter by that vessel (vol. 4:329–331).
2. This portrait of Thaxter was probably done earlier in the year (see Descriptive List of Illustrations, above). For AA's criticism of an earlier miniature of Thaxter, see vol. 4:348–349.
3. AA had teased Thaxter since Dec. 1780 about this unidentified, and perhaps imaginary girl, to whom she fancied he was particularly attracted. AA at one point thought that her name was Eliza, and that she did not live in Braintree, but Thaxter denied being especially interested in any Eliza (vol. 4:28, 123 and note 2). AA's present reference would fit her own daughter, but other references make AA2 an unlikely choice. Thaxter, in replying { 28 } to this letter on 30 Jan. 1783, below, professed to be thoroughly mystified about the “Fair American's” identity. In letters written in 1781, however, he expressed no doubt or concern about this (vol. 4:97, 140, 187). Thaxter would marry Elizabeth Duncan of Haverhill in 1787, but the editors have found no evidence that he knew her before going to Europe in 1779 (see JQA, Diary, vols. 1 and 2).
4. This likeness of Charles Storer, to which Thaxter refers in his 30 Jan. 1783 letter to AA, below, has not been positively identified. It might be the painting that appears after p. 232 of MHS, Procs., 55 (1921–1922), and is described on p. 233, but that miniature could be later (1789?), and the likeness appears to be of a man older than twenty-one (see Descriptive List of Illustrations, above).
5. Chandler Robbins Jr.; see vol. 4:390, note 1.
6. Samuel Allyne Otis, younger brother of James Otis Jr., and of Mercy Otis Warren.
7. Henry Laurens' son John was killed in a late, minor battle of the War for Independence in South Carolina on 27 August. AA's allusion is probably to Joseph Addison's play Cato (1713), in which Marcus, one of the sons of Cato the Younger, dies while resisting his father's traitorous ally, Syphax. In act IV, scene iv of Addison's play, Cato views his son Marcus's body, and says:

Welcome, my Son! Here lay him down my Friends,

Full in my Sight, that I may view at Leisure

The bloody Corse, and count those glorious Wounds.

—How beautiful is Death, when earn'd by Virtue!

Who would not be that Youth? What a Pity is it

That we can die but once to serve our Country!

Young Marcus's death before that of his father is a post-classical invention. Marcus Porcius Cato the Younger, the Stoic defender of the Roman republic who committed suicide at Utica in Africa in 46 b.c., rather than submit to the dictator Julius Caesar, did have two sons, but neither is recorded as dying before his father. Cato's eldest son, Marcus, did die heroically four years later at Philippi, while resisting the forces of Caesar's successor, Mark Antony. By the mid-eighteenth century, however, the dominant image of Cato in the English-speaking world was no longer based on the more authoritative accounts of Plutarch and other classical authors, but on Addison's celebrated play, which occupied a central place in the thinking of both English Whigs and American patriots. Plutarch, Cato the Younger; Bernard Bailyn, The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution, Cambridge, 1967, p. 43–44.
8. Essay on Man, epistle 3, lines 303–304: “For forms of government let fools contest;/Whate'er is best administer'd is best.”
9. On Madame Chabanel, see vol.4:148, note 1, and JQA, Diary, 1:76–89 passim.
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/