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Browsing: Papers of John Adams, Volume 4

Docno: ADMS-06-04-02-0066

Author: Gordon, William
Recipient: Adams, John
Date: 1776-05-01

From William Gordon

[salute] My Dear Sir

It is almost too late to congratulate you upon our regaining Boston; but I may give you joy of our not having as yet relost it. We ought by this time to have had the harbour fortified so strongly, that a fleet could not have ventured in to have insulted the town, without paying dear for it: but there has been strange not-doings. You will ask me, who is to blame? Should I answer without reserve, I would say the Assembly in not exerting themselves more vigorously for the defence of the capital. (Inter nos their capitals want to be informed and set right.) I would add General Ward for suffering matters of importance to be so disregarded and in sleeping so over them; I would further mention, the inhabitants in complaining, being uneasy, and yet not calling a town meeting and agreeing to turn out and work. In truth we have been for too long time past amazingly disordered; however as in other cases, every culprit pleads not guilty, and like old Adam shifts the blame from himself to another. We are however at last doing better. Was upon Dorchester hills yesterday, and met with two twelve pounders on each, carried there the latter end of last week, besides an howitzer on that next to the neck, which had been there for some considerable time. Fort hill goes on sure, and begins to make a respectable figure. Went from the hills to Dorchester Point where the Committee have been directing the erection of a fort. Was much pleased with it. The work is as neat and good as any of the regulars. Yesterday they were carting on the timber for the platforms which will be soon laid; and in a few days I apprehend the fort will be so far perfected as to be capable of defending the entrance of the harbour. Shirley's battery is to undergo an immediate repair. I flatter myself that by the latter end of the next week, if the enemy do not pop in upon us before, we shall be capable of setting them at defiance.
All the above is foreign to what has occasioned my putting pen to paper, and interrupting your labours for the publick. Tis of the greatest { 160 } { 161 } consequence that the continental currency be kept up. Tis however a fact that it is depreciating, and that milled dollars are reckoned several per cent better. The reason of this I suppose lies not in any want of confidence in the Congress; but the quantity that has been emitted by making it plenty has produced this effect. This depreciation will occasion an advance upon all articles and thereby add greatly to the expence of the war. Will it not therefore be expedient to borrow for the present year upon interest, to receive the bills in payment and then to make a fresh emission to the amount of what is paid in: hereby the circulating bills will be prevented increasing for the notes with interest will be hoarded up; or an emission of bills bearing interest, if that is thought best, will be subject to the same fate. The interest may be paid (or be made payable) a year hence, by that time the complexion of our affairs will be settled. Crown lands, unlocated, quit rents to the king, or his woods may be a collateral security. By the by before I for get it, there are many fine noble large masts in Kennebec river designed for the British navy, would the French King buy them tho' at a low price and fetch them away, it might answer a very good purpose, by proving a bone of contention. Your time is too precious to be needlessly spent in reading long letters of little consequence. I shall therefore not interrupt you longer, than to assure you of my best wishes for your prosperity both temporal and spiritual, to request a kind remembrance to those honourable gentlemen of the Congress with whom I have the happiness of being acquainted (our own delegates especially) and to declare myself an independent Whig as was my namesake.1
[signed] William Gordon
Understand that our Assembly are going to make the continental bills a legal tender, by an act of the general Court;2 should not other colonies do the like and the bills depreciate we shall as a Colony suffer greatly.
A number of the inhabitants have engaged to work two days in the week for six weeks in fortifying. I propose signing the paper to encourage by example.
Tracy's vessel is arrived at Kennebec immediately from Bourdeaux with 21,000 lb. of powder 12,000 lb. of sulphur and 16 pieces of large cannon.
RC (Adams Papers); addressed: “To The Honle. John Adams Esqr Philadelphia Free”; docketed: “Mr Gordon May 1. 1776 ansd. June 23d.”
1. Thomas Gordon, coauthor with John Trenchard of the essays collected under the title the Independent Whig (Caroline Robbins, The Eighteenth-Century Com• { 162 } monwealthman, Cambridge, 1959, p. 115).
2. The General Court had already acted on 13 April (Mass., Province Laws, 5:472–473).

Docno: ADMS-06-04-02-0067

Author: Stearns, William
Recipient: Adams, John
Date: 1776-05-01

From William Stearns

[salute] Sir

The Necessity of the present address must be my apology for making it. I am engaged as Counsel for certain Heirs at Law to a Large real Estate, and to assist them in the settlement of it. A part of it indeed falls to them as heirs by Will. About this the Contest is settled. But there is one half of the real Estate which Said heirs think was wrested from them by a Deed made by their ancestor, or rather fraudulently obtained of him when in Extremis, in which Said Half is pretended to be conveyed to an utter Stranger. This Deed was Executed, as is Said, when the Supposed grantor was, if not insane, yet So weak and Low (being born down by old age and the pains resulting from a Disease which Soon proved fatal) that he was entirely <insensible> inattentive to the transaction. Now the Heirs are desirous of avoiding this Deed—and have applied to me for advice. I am but a Noviciate in the practice of the Law and therefore dare not be positive in deciding the case. And <I apply to> accordingly Should take it as a singular favor if you would give your Opinion of the Case agreable to the following Statement. The Deed expresses no Valuable consideration—neither Money Marriage, nor Service—<nor any> but only “for and in consideration of Love and good will”—and this to a Stranger. Nor is there any warranty and it does not appear that any Service can be averred, as there is no evidence, either written or parole, that the grantor ever pretended this was the ground of the gift. Now, Sir, the Question is, whether this deed is sufficient in Law to pass Land to this Stranger, who Claims under it, and to bar the Said heirs? Whether it can Operate as a Covenant to Stand Seized to Uses—or as a release—or as anything at all? If the english Books are to have Any authority in Colonial Courts in time to come, I should not much hesitate. I find but one Case which Seems to militate with my opinion; and that is in 2 Wilson,1 page 22 (If I mistake not) Simpson's Case. I have not as yet digested that Case and if I had, am not certain what force it has in application to the principal Case. If it is against us, it Seems not to Quadrate with numerous other determinations. But however this may be, I shall be under indispensible obligations to you, if you will give your opinion of the whole matter, as above represented, and whether it will be advisable to bring Ejectment, for the recovery of the lands in { 163 } Question and be so kind as to transmit your Sentiments in a letter as Soon as possible.
I am sensible that you are employ'd in matters of infinitely greater importance than this, but I conceive that you will not need to bestow more than half an hours attention to it. The calamities and distresses of this once happy Colony have been Such Since I entred on the Study of the Law, that I have been able to treasure up but little knowledge of the Theory and less of the Practice. And now there is little or no Encouragement to persevere. Our house of Representatives are truly patriotic as it Respects the Common Cause and it seems to be a token for good that they are So resolutely bent in opposition to British Tyranny and Barbarity. But at the Same time, I can't help thinking they discover too much parsimony in regard of the Support of the Learned professions. It seems to be a Darling point with many in the country, to depress literature. The Said professions are looked on with Jealous Eyes! And especially so is that of the Law, and therefore it seems to be determined that the fees of attorneys shall be cut down (omnibus consideratis) at least one half—so to discourage persons from entering into the profession. I have heard it reported that one Dr. J. T——r,2 a member of the Council, should say that the Ministers and the Lawyers had almost ruined the Colony. I remonstrate against these Sentiments. I enquire of Such Sticklery, if Such Sentiments had heretofore prevailed, where had been their Adams's, and their Hawleys and their other illustrious and Learned Patriots? Where had been those truly Jurisperiti, by whose wise Counsels (under Providence) America has hitherto been Saved from destruction?
The truth is this—I wish for your return. You have broke the Ice—you have opened a plain path for future Political marches. It now remains for you (being personally present with us) to regulate our Colonial internal Police. We want the Masters Hand! I was always taught to believe that “Wisdom and knowledge must be the Stability of our times.” But these none will endeavour to obtain when that endeavour inevitably has for its Concomitants Calamity and Distress! No one will betake himself to Study, when he finds that and Beggary necessarily connected. But you are infinitely better acquainted with these things, than my information can make you.
I hope we Shall be able to keep essentially free from Mistakes; and this I am morally certain, te juvante,3 we shall do.
With regard to the matter of Law before mentioned, I should be very glad to have your opinion as soon as possible, as my clients are between Hawk and Buzzard, not knowing how to proceed.
{ 164 }
By complying with this request you will very much oblige one who has spent all his patrimony in Literary pursuits and much more and has now (under the present aspects) no prospect of retrieving his fortune, and no Encouragement to continue his resolutions of Serving mankind in a public capacity unless you can direct him and give him Some ground of hope, and so encourage him to persevere. I write in perfect Confidence, and in full reliance on your Honor's Candor and Benevolence, and am with the greatest respect and Esteem, your Honors most obedient humble Servant.
[signed] William Stearns4
P.S. No public advantage will be taken of your private opinion as to the matter here requested. I would set the matter fair with regard to our honorable Council. A large Majority of them are averse to curtailing fees as above mentioned. But it is tho't the house will worry them out, or wait till after Election, when a more pliant Board are expected.
This, Sub rosâ!
RC (Adams Papers); addressed: “To The Honble. John Adams, Esqr. att Congress Philadelphia Worcester Free Hartford Free Wm Ellery”; docketed: “Wm. Stearns May 1. 1776.”
1. Probably George Wilson, who brought out editions of several English law reporters (Charles C. Soule, The Lawyer's Reference Manual of Law Books and Citations, Boston, 1883, p. 296).
2. Dr. John Taylor, member of the Council from “the Territory lying between the River Sagadahock and Nova-Scotia” (Mass., House Jour., 1775–1776, 1st sess., p. 6).
3. With your help.
4. William Stearns (1749–1783) became a lawyer after trying the ministry and studying medicine. Admitted to the bar in 1776, he ultimately had a successful practice. He was an active whig and held several local offices. No evidence has been found that JA replied to his plea for help (Sibley–Shipton, Harvard Graduates, 17:436438; Addresses before the Members of the Bar, of Worcester County . . . with Appendix and List of Members of the Bar, Worcester, 1879, p. 246).
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.