A website from the Massachusetts Historical Society; founded 1791.

Browsing: Papers of John Adams, Volume 12

Docno: ADMS-06-12-02-0072

Author: Adams, John
Recipient: Hanson, John
Recipient: President of Congress
Date: 1781-12-04

To the President of Congress


[salute] Sir

I have recieved those Instructions, with which I was honoured by Congress on the sixteenth of August, and communicated them forthwith to the French Ambassador to their High Mightinesses, and to the American Ministers at Versailles and Madrid.1 The Duke de la Vauguyon was of opinion, that they were very well considered, and very well timed, to counteract another Trait of British Policy, in agreeing to the Mediation of Russia, for a seperate Peace with Holland. The British Ministry mean only to aid the Stocks and lull the Dutch.
There is no longer any talk of a Congress at Vienna. The late News of General Washington’s Triumphs in Virginia, and of the friendly and effectual Aid of the Comtes De Rochambeau and de Grasse have made a great Impression here, and all over Europe.
I shall punctually observe my Instructions, and consult in perfect { 111 } Confidence with the Duke de la Vauguion, in the Execution of my late Commission. A quadruple Alliance for the duration of the War, would probably soon bring it to a Conclusion. But the Dutch are so indolent, so divided, so animated with Party Spirit, and above all so entirely in the Power of their Chief, that it is very certain, that they will take the Proposition ad referendum immediately and then deliberate upon it a long time. This Nation is not blind: it is bound and cannot get loose. There is great Reason to fear, that they will be held inactive until they are wholly ruined. Cornwallis’s fate however has somewhat emboldened them, and I have recieved unexpected Visits of Congratulation from several Persons of Note, and there are Appearances of a growing Interest in favor of an Alliance with France and America. If I were now to make the proposition, I think it would have a great effect. I must however wait for the approbation of the Duke, and he perhaps for Instructions from Versailles, and indeed a little delay will perhaps do no harm, but give Opportunity to prepare the Way. The general Cry at this time in Pamphlets and public Papers is for an immediate Connection with France and America.
The Consent of Zealand is expected immediately to the Loan of five Millions for his most Christian Majesty. My Loan rests as it was at a few thousand Guilders, which by the Advice of Mr. Franklin I reserve for the relief of our Countrymen who escape from Prison in England in distress. I have ordered an hundred pounds for President Laurens in the Tower, at the earnest solicitations of his Daughter who is in France and of some of his Friends in England: but for further supplies have referred them to Dr Franklin.2
I sometime since had an Intimation that the British Ministry were endeavouring to form secret Contracts with traiterous Americans to supply Masts for the Royal Navy. According to my Information, the British Navigation in all parts of the World is at present distressed for Masts, especially those of the largest size. Congress will take such measures as to their Wisdom shall appear proper, to prevent Americans from this wicked and infamous Commerce. I wrote to Mr. Franklin upon the subject, who communicated my Letter as I requested at Court, and his Excellency supposes that the Comte de Vergennes will write to Congress or to the Chevalier de la Luzerne upon the subject.3
The Continental Goods left here by Commodore Gillon are detained for freight and damages and very unjustly as I concieve. I am doing all in my power to obtain possession of them, and send them { 112 } to America, or dispose of them here at as little loss as possible, according to the desire and advice of Dr. Franklin. It is not necessary to trouble Congress to read a Volume of Letters upon the subject of these Goods. All that can be done by me has been and shall be done to save the public Interest. This piece of business has been managed as ill as any that has ever been done for Congress in Europe, whether it is owing to misfortune, want of skill, or any thing more disagreable.
The Court of Russia does not at present appear to be acting that noble part, which their former Conduct gave Cause to expect. Mr. Dana is at Petersbourg: but he prudently avoids writing. If he sees no prospect of Advantage in staying there, he will be very silent I believe, and not stay very long.

[salute] I have the honor to be, with the greatest Respect Sir, your most obedient and most humble Servant.

[signed] John Adams
RC in John Thaxter’s hand (PCC, No. 84, III, f. 422–425); endorsed: “Letter 4 Decr 1781 J Adams Read 15. March 1782.”
1. See JA’s letters of 24 and 25 Nov. to La Vauguyon, both above.
2. On 26 March 1782, Congress referred this paragraph and the paragraph concerning the goods left by Alexander Gillon in the Netherlands, below, to the superintendent of finance and the remainder of the letter to the secretary for foreign affairs (JCC, 22:150–151).
3. See John Thaxter’s letter to Franklin, 30 Aug. (vol. 11:472–473), and Franklin to JA, 5 Oct., above.

Docno: ADMS-06-12-02-0073

Author: Neufville, Jean de, & Fils (business)
Recipient: Adams, John
Date: 1781-12-05

From Jean de Neufville & Fils

[salute] Sir

We recieved a Letter which your Excellency did Us the honor of writing us the day before yesterday, observing therein that your Excellency has no Authority to interfere in the direction of the Continental Goods, which Mr. Gillon contracted to convoy to America, but such as You derived from the desire of Dr. Franklin, to take the best Care of them in your power, and that You therefore hold yourself obliged to observe his Excellency’s desire in the business.
We further note the Advice of Dr. Franklin, and inclose a Copy of the Letter which his Excellency wrote us upon the subject,1 as we wish to avoid every misinterpretation of our Conduct.
Before however we enter into the particulars of your Excellency’s Letter, we beg leave to express our surprise at a paragraph in the Doctor’s Letter to us, intending to refuse payment of the Bills. But after an Accident happens to those Goods (as it is one) since we { 113 } had shipped them on board the So. Carolina Frigate, and according to our Orders, can we be made the Sufferers for it? Can we be refused the due payment of them? even if there was not so formal an Engagement as accepted Bills. Give Us leave to say the honor of Congress is concerned therein, and the public faith would be violated: that of America We hope will never be thus sported with; and therefore as we have wrote to his Excellency B. Franklin at your Excellency’s particular desire,2 we beg leave to claim your Excellency’s protection in this matter, we are not ashamed to say for our own sake (tho’ that may be thought of little Importance) but chiefly for the honor of Congress and of every one who has had any Concerns in the shipment of those Goods. So may we now be admitted to enter on some further observations on your Excellency’s favor assuring your Excellency, that tho’ this is quite a new affair since what has befel those Goods has been after they had been regularly shipped, we shall nevertheless be happy to serve your Excellency and his Excellency B. Franklin as much as in our power, and agreable to both your directions.
We must observe that we had only orders to send the Continental Goods on board the So. Carolina Frigate, and that whatever was done with them afterwards, was done by Come. Gillon and Major Jackson, and with which we have had nothing to do, nor even well known the Contents of the Contract which was passed between Colo. Laurens and the Commodore.
When Come. Gillon applied to us for hiring Vessels, we have assisted him to the best of our power, as we had done in every other respect, but the particulars of the Charter Parties were agreed upon between him and Messs. Van Arp, themselves without our direct knowledge; and it was only at the desire of the latter Gentlemen that our L. D. N.3 carried the Charter Parties with him to the Texell under a sealed Cover to the notary of that place. We can if required produce proofs of what we advance—and as to our Shares in those Ships, we can merely say that we paid 12000 Guilders on account of our half of the one, and 8000 on account of a quarter part of the other, but know no more yet than your Excellency what the final Cost thereof will be, and as we only took those shares to promote and assist the business, we should be very glad of course if they had been accepted when we offered them sundry times to your Excellency and Major Jackson at prime Cost—so we consider ourselves merely in this business as having been employed in preference to others, though as having been employed by Congress, and become { 114 } the Shipper of the Goods in their behalf as we have shipped them conformably to the orders we recieved in the new Case. We had already the honor to observe to your Excellency, that in the management of the Ships we had absolutely the Majority against Us (as being considered by our Co owners as not impartial those of the Liberty might claim the same decision that might pass in favor of the concerned of the Aurora) and could therefore have no effect, as we already observed—however as we said before setting aside our shares in these Ships, which we have already had the honor to offer to your Excellency, we are ready to act by Law against the concerned in the Ships should it be required, tho’ we wish it may be settled agreable to your Excellency’s desire.
We have in Consequence desired Messs. van Arp the Ships Husbands to call a meeting of the Owners to lay the matter before them, and will inform your Excellency of the result.4
For our part we find with your Excellency the proposals of his Excellency Dr. Franklin very reasonable, and wish that the other Owners of the Vessels may be of the same opinion, leaving further to them to answer why the Captains did not obey Commodore Gillon’s signals to come out (as well as any other matters concerning said Vessels) tho’ both your Excellencys had they remembered that as the Charter Parties were not signed would have known they could not have come out at any rate: but this being an Observation of ours, we do not pretend to anticipate any Arguments that may be laid before the Arbitrators on either side, for on our part we repeat, that we are decidedly resolved in this Case to sacrifice our own Interest to that of Congress.
We are very happy to find these Goods will not be wanted in America so much as we imagined, otherwise it would not have been difficult to have found Opportunities here, to send them as safe and cheap at least, and even better than they generally go from France—the knowledge of which made us always desirous to form a direct Intercourse of Commerce between the two Countries. We beg excuse for this last observation, but your Excellency’s knows our sentiments and how much they are devoted to the Scope of your Embassy.
As to the further proposal of your Excellency to purchase these Goods, we can only observe that being nothing but Commissioners, we cannot but be surprised at the proposal (altho’ we thank your Excellency for it) as we can have no Opportunities of disposing of such large Cargoes in the Course of our Correspondence—otherwise { 115 } we should have no objection to take them back, without any wish that Congress in that Case should suffer any loss, being devotedly that Honorable Body’s and your Excellency’s most obedient and most humble Servant.
[signed] John de Neufville & Son
Copy in John Thaxter’s hand (PPAmP:Franklin Papers); endorsed: “Neufville 5 Decr. 1781.” JA enclosed this copy with his letter of [8 Dec.] to Benjamin Franklin, below.
1. See Franklin, Papers, 36:117.
2. This is probably the Neufvilles’ letter to Franklin of 12 Nov., which they say in their letter of 7 Dec. to Franklin was written “at the particular desire of His Excellency John Adams.” In those letters, and in another of 10 Dec., the firm took much the same line as in their letters to JA (Franklin, Papers, 36:49–50, 212–216, 236–237).
3. Leendert de Neufville.
4. For a summary of the information conveyed in the Neufvilles’ letter of 8 Dec. (not found), see JA’s reply of the 10th, below.
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.