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Browsing: Diary of John Adams, Volume 1

Docno: ADMS-01-01-02-0013-0004-0001

Author: Adams, John
Date: 1769-11

November 1769.

Saturday after attending Court in the Morning, I dined by particular Invitation at Mr. Winthrops the Clerk of the Superior Court with all the Bar, Messrs. Dana, Kent, Otis, Fitch, Reed, S. Quincy, B. Gridley, Cazneau,1 Blowers.
Otis, B. Gridley, Kent, and S. Quincy, were the principal Talkers. Otis talked the most, B. Gridley next, Kent the next and S. Quincy, next. The rest of the Company said very little.
B. Gridley told us a Story of his Uncle Jeremiah the late Head of the Bar. “When I was a school Boy, at Master Lovells, Mr. Gridley my Uncle used to make me call at his Office, sometimes, to repeat my Lesson to him. I called there one Day for that Purpose.—Well, Ben! What have you to say, Ben? says he.—I am come to say my Lesson sir to you, says I.—Ay? Ben? what Book have you there? under your Arm?— Virgil sir.—Ay! Ben? Is that the Poet, Virgil?—Yes sir.—Well Ben, take it and read to me Ben. Read in the Beginning of the Aeneids Ben.— Yes sir.—So I opened my Book and began.
Arma, Virumque Cāno, Trojae, qui primus ab oris.
Arma, Virumque cāno! Ben! you Blockhead!—does John Lovell teach you to read so—read again.—So I began, again.
Arma Virumque cāno.—Cāno you Villain, canō—and gave me a tremendous Box on the Ear.—Arma Virumque canō, you Blockhead, is the true Reading.
Thinks I, what is this—I have Blockheading and boxing enough at Master Lovells, I wont have it repeated hear, and in a great Passion I threw the Virgil at his Head, hit him in the Face, and bruised his Lip, and ran away.
Ben! Ben! You Blockhead! You Villain, you Rascall, Ben!—
However away I went, and went home.
That evening, Uncle Jeremy came to our House, and sat down with my father.
Brother, I have something to say to you about that young Rogue of { 346 } a son of yours, that Ben. He came to my Office, and I bid him read a Line in Virgil and he read it wrong and I box’d him, and he threw his Virgil in my face, and wounded me, he bruised me in my Lip—here is the Mark of it! You must lick him, you must thresh him Brother!
I was all this Time a listening, and heard my father justify me.—Ben did right says he—you had no Right to box him, you was not his Master and if he read wrong you should have taught him how to read right—not have boxed him.
Ay? Then I find you justify the Rogue.—Yes says father I think he did right.—Ay then you wont thresh him for it will you?—No I think he ought not to be threshed, I think you ought not to have box’d him.
What, justify the young Villain, in throwing his Book at me, and wounding me in this Manner?
About 2 or 3 Evenings Afterwards, Uncle Jeremy was at Clubb with Jo. Green, and John Lovell and others, and began, with great solemnity and sobriety—Jo.? What shall I do, two or three days ago, I was guilty of a bad Action and I dont know how to repair it. I boxed a little boy a Nephew of mine very unrighteously, and he is so little, so mere a Child that I cant ask his Pardon—and so in solemn Sadness told the whole Story to the Clubb.”2
Whether there is any Truth in any Part of this Story or not I cant say. But if it is mere fiction, there are certainly strong Marks of Ingenuity, in the Invention. The Pride, Obstinacy, and Sauciness of Ben, are remembered in Ben, in the Circumstance of throwing the Virgil. The same Temper in his father is preserved in the Circumstance of his justifying it. The Suddenness, and Imperiousness of Jeremiah, in the Boxing, and his real Integrity, Candor, Benevolence, and good Nature in repenting of it at Clubb, and wishing to make Reparation.
B. Gridley, after this, gave us another Story of Coll. Byfield, and his marrying a Sailor which occasioned a great Laugh.
Upon the whole this same Ben. Gridley discovered a Capacity, a Genius—real Sentiment, Fancy, Wit, Humour, Judgment, and Observation. Yet he seems to be totally lost to the World. He has no Business of any Kind, lays abed till 10 ’O Clock, drinks, laughs and frolicks, but, neither studies, nor practices, in his Profession.
Otis spent almost all the Afternoon in telling 2 stories, one of Gridleys offending the Suffolk Inferior Court, in the Dispute about introducing Demurrers, and of his making the Amende Honorable, making Concessions, &c. before that contemptible Tribunal—and another about a Conversation between Pratt, Kent and him. Kents asking { 347 } the Question, what is the chief End of Man? and Pratts Answer to provide food &c. for other Animals, Cabbage Lice among the rest.
Before Dinner Kent proposed his Project of an Act of Parliament against Devils, like to that against Witches.
Otis catched at it, and proposed the Draught of a Bill.—Be it enacted &c—that whereas many of the subjects of this Realm, have heretofore time out of Mind believed in certain imaginary Beings called Devils, therefore be it enacted, that no one shall mention the Devil, hereafter, &c, on Pain of high Treason, &c.
Thus are Mens Brains eternally at work according to the Proclamation of K[ing] James.
I dont think the World can furnish a more curious Collection of Characters than those that made up this Company—Otis, Kent, Dana, Gridley, Fitch, Winthrop, &c.
1. Andrew Cazneau of Boston; admitted attorney in the Superior Court, 1765, and barrister, 1767; afterward a loyalist (Superior Court of Judicature, Minute Books 82, 85; Jones, Loyalists of Mass., p. 78–79).
2. The dialogue in young Gridley’s anecdote was punctuated by JA more erratically than was usual even for him, and in the interest of clarity the punctuation has been slightly regularized by the editors.

Docno: ADMS-01-01-02-0013-0005-0001

Author: Adams, John
Date: 1769-12-23

1769. Decr. 23. Saturday Night.

At my Office reading Sidney. I have been musing this evening upon a Report of the Case of the 4. Sailors, who were tryed last June, before the Special Court of Admiralty, for killing Lt. Panton. A Publication only of the Record, I mean the Articles, Plea to the Jurisdiction, Testimonies of Witnesses, &c. would be of great Utility. The Arguments which were used, are scarcely worth publishing. Those which might be used, would be well worth the Perusal of the Public. A great Variety of useful Learning might be brought into an History of that Case—and the great Curiosity of the World after the Case, would make it sell. I have half a Mind to undertake it.
The great Questions, concerning the Right of Juries in the Colonies, upon a Comparison of the 3 Statutes, and concerning the Right of impressing Seamen for his Majestys Service, whether with or without Warrants from the Lords of the Admiralty upon orders of the K[ing] in Council, are very important. Such a Pamphlet might suggest alterations in the Statutes, and might possibly procure us for the future the Benefit of Juries in such Cases. And the World ought to know, at least the American part of it, more than it does, of the true foundation of Impresses, if they have any.1
{ 348 }
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, 2018.