Diary of John Adams, volume 3

1782 November 25. Monday. JA 1782 November 25. Monday. Adams, John
1782 November 25. Monday.

Dr. F., Mr. J. and myself at 11. met at Mr. Oswalds Lodgings.1

Mr. Stratchey told Us, he had been to London and waited personally on every one of the Kings Cabinet Council, and had communicated the last Propositions to them. They every one of them, unanimously condemned that respecting the Tories, so that that unhappy Affair stuck as he foresaw and foretold that it would.

The Affair of the Fishery too was somewhat altered. They could not admit Us to dry, on the Shores of Nova Scotia, nor to fish within three Leagues of the Coast, nor within fifteen Leagues of the Coast of Cape Breton.

The Boundary they did not approve. They thought it too extended, too vast a Country, but they would not make a difficulty.

That if these Terms were not admitted, the whole Affair must be thrown into Parliament, where every Man would be for insisting on Restitution, to the Refugees.

He talked about excepting a few by Name of the most obnoxious of the Refugees.

I could not help observing that the Ideas respecting the Fishery 73appeared to me to come piping hot from Versailles. I quoted to them the Words of our Treaty with France, in which the indefinite and exclusive Right, to the Fishery on the Western Side of Newfoundland, was secured against Us, According to the true Construction of the Treaties of Utrecht and Paris. I shewed them the 12 and 13 Articles of the Treaty of Utrecht, by which the French were admitted to Fish from Cape Bona Vista to Cape Rich.2

I related to them the manner in which the Cod and Haddock come into the Rivers, Harbours, Creeks, and up to the very Wharfs on all the northern Coast of America, in the Spring in the month of April, so that you have nothing to do, but step into a Boat, and bring in a parcel of Fish in a few Hours. But that in May, they begin to withdraw. We have a saying at Boston that when the Blossoms fall the Haddock begin to crawl, i.e. to move out into deep Water, so that in Summer you must go out some distance to fish. At Newfoundland it was the same. The fish in March or April, were inshore, in all the Creeks, Bays, and Harbours, i.e. within 3 Leagues of the Coasts or Shores of Newfoundland and Nova Scotia. That neither French nor English could go from Europe and arrive early enough for the first Fare. That our Vessells could, being so much nearer, an Advantage which God and Nature had put into our hands. But that this Advantage of ours, had ever been an Advantage to England, because our fish had been sold in Spain and Portugal for Gold and Silver, and that Gold and Silver sent to London for Manufactures. That this would be the Course again. That France foresaw it, and wished to deprive England of it, by perswading her, to deprive Us of it. That it would be a Master Stroke of Policy, if She could succeed, but England must be compleatly the Dupe, before She could succeed.

There were 3 Lights in which it might be viewed. 1. as a Nursery of Seamen. 2 as a Source of Profit. 3. as a Source of Contention. As a Nursery of Seamen, did England consider Us as worse Ennemies than France. Had She rather France should have the Seamen than America. The French Marine was nearer and more menacing than ours. As a Source of Profit, had England rather France should supply the Marketts of Lisbon and Cadiz, with Fish and take the Gold And Silver than We. France would never spend any of that Money in London, We should spend it all very nearly. As a Source of Contention, how could We restrain our Fishermen, the boldest Men alive, from fishing in prohibited Places. How could our Men see the French admitted to fish and themselves excluded by the English; it would then be a Cause of Disputes, and such Seeds France might wish to sow.


—That I wished for 2 hours Conversation on the Subject with one of the Kings Council, if I did not convince him he was undesignedly betraying the Interest of his Sovereign, I was mistaken. Stratchey said perhaps I would put down some Observations in Writing upon it. I said, with all my heart, provided I had the Approbation of my Colleagues. But I could do nothing of the Kind, without submitting it, to their Judgments, and that whatever I had said or should say, upon the Subject however strongly I might express myself, was always to be understood with Submission to my Colleagues. I shewed them Capt. Coffins Letter and gave them his Character. His Words are,

“Our Fishermen from Boston, Salem, Newbury, Marblehead, Cape Ann, Cape Cod and Nantucket, have frequently gone out on the Fisheries, to the Streights of Bell Isle, North Part of Newfoundland, and the banks adjacent thereto, there to continue the whole Season, and have made Use of the North Part of Newfoundland, the Bradore Labrador Coast in the Streights of Bell Isle, to cure their Fish, which they have taken in and about those Coasts. I have known several Instances of Vessells going there to load in the Fall of the Year, with the Fish taken and cured at those Places for Spain, Portugal and &c. I was once concerned in a Voyage of that kind myself and speak from my own Knowledge.

“From Cape Sable, to the Isle of Sable and so on to the Banks of Newfoundland, are a Chain of Banks, extending all along the Coast, and almost adjoining each other, and are those Banks where our Fishermen go for the first Fare, in the early Part of the Season. Their second Fare is on the Banks of Newfoundland, where they continue to Fish till prevented by the tempestuous and boisterous Winds, which prevail in the Fall of the Year on that Coast. Their third and last Fare is generally made near the Coast of Cape Sables or Banks adjoining thereto, where they are not only relieved from those boisterous Gales, but have an Asylum to fly to in Case of Emergency, as that Coast is lined, from the head of Cape Sable to Hallifax, with most excellent Harbours.

“The Sea Cow Fishery was before the present War, carried on to Great Advantage, particularly from Nantucket and Cape Cod, in and about the River St. Laurence, at the Islands of St. Johns and Anticoste, Bay of Shalers Chaleurs and the Magdalene Islands, which were the most noted of all for that Fishery. This Oil has the Preference to all other except Sperma Coeti.”3

Mr. Jay desired to know, whether Mr. Oswald had now Power to conclude and sign with Us?


Stratchey said he had absolutely.

Mr. Jay desired to know if the Propositions now delivered Us were their Ultimatum. Stratchey seemed loth to answer, but at last said No.

—We agreed these were good Signs of Sincerity.

Bancroft came in this Evening and said, it was reported that a Courier had arrived from Mr. Rayneval in London, and that after it, the C. de Vergennes told the King, that he had the Peace in his Pocket. That he was now Master of the Peace.


At this conference the Commissioners of both powers took up the “third set” of provisional articles, formulated by the British ministry and brought to Paris by Strachey. A copy of these in JA's hand is in Lb/JA/21 (Adams Papers, Microfilms, Reel No. 109); a printed text is in Wharton, ed., Dipl. Corr. Amer. Rev. , 6:74–77. A summary of Oswald's new instructions brought by Strachey is in Thomas Townshend to the King, 19 Nov. ( Correspondence of King George the Third ..., ed. Sir John Fortescue, London, 1927–1928, 6:156–157).


JA means Point Riche, but there was much dispute about its location (and consequently about control over the western coast of Newfoundland) for nearly two centuries after the Treaty of Utrecht, 1713. See entry of 26 Nov., below; also Ralph G. Lounsbury, The British Fishery at Newfoundland, 1634–1763, New Haven, 1934, p. 240 and passim, especially the map following the index.


Quoted (with omissions and insignificant alterations) from Alexander Coffin to Charles Storer, Amsterdam, 12 Nov. 1782 (Adams Papers); see also entry of 30 Nov., below. The “Sea Cow” is the walrus.

Nov. 26. Tuesday. JA Nov. 26. Tuesday. Adams, John
Nov. 26. Tuesday.

Breakfasted at Mr. Jays, with Dr. Franklin, in Consultation upon the Propositions made to Us Yesterday by Mr. Oswald. We agreed unanimously, to answer him, that We could not consent to the Article, respecting the Refugees as it now stands. Dr. F. read a Letter upon the Subject which he had prepared to Mr. Oswald, upon the Subject of the Tories, which We had agreed with him that he should read as containing his private Sentiments.1—We had a vast deal of Conversation upon the Subject. My Colleagues opened themselves, and made many Observations concerning the Conduct, Crimes and Demerits of those People.

Before Dinner Mr. Fitsherbert came in, whom I had never seen before. A Gentleman of about 33, seems pretty discreet and judicious, and did not discover those Airs of Vanity which are imputed to him.

He came in Consequence of the desire, which I expressed Yesterday of knowing the State of the Negotiation between him and the C. de Vergennes, respecting the Fishery. He told Us that the C. was for fixing the Boundaries, where each Nation should fish. He must confess he thought the Idea plausible, for that there had been great dissentions between the Fishermen of the two nations. That the french 76Marine Office had an whole Appartment full of Complaints and Representations of disputes. That the French pretended that Cape Ray was the Point Riche.

I asked him if the French demanded of him an exclusive Right 2 to fish and dry between Cape Bona Vista and the Point riche. He said they had not expressly, and he intended to follow the Words of the Treaty of Utrecht and Paris without stirring the Point.

I shewed him an Extract of a Letter from the Earl of Egremont to the Duke of Bedford, March 1. 1763, in which it is said that by the 13 Article of the Treaty of Utrecht, a Liberty was left to the French to fish, and to dry their fish on Shore; and for that Purpose to erect the Necessary Stages and Buildings, but with an express Stipulation de ne pas sejourner dans la dite Isle, au dela du tems necessaire pour pêcher et sêcher le Poisson.—That it is a received Law among the Fishermen, that whoever arrives first, shall have the Choice of the Stations. That the Duke de Nivernois insisted, that by the Treaty of Utrecht the French had an exclusive Right to the Fishery from Cape Bona Vista to Point Riche. That the King gave to his Grace the D. of Bedford express Instructions to come to an Ecclaircissement upon the Point with the French Ministry, and to refuse the Exclusive Construction of the Treaty of Utrech &c.

I also shew him a Letter, from Sir Stanier Porteen, Lord Weymouths Secretary, to Ld. Weymouth, inclosing an Extract of Ld. Egremonts Letter to the Duke of Bedford, by which it appears that the Duke of Nivernois insisted.

“That the French had an exclusive right to the Fishery from Cape Bona Vista to Point Riche, and that they had, on ceding the Island of Newfoundland to G. Britain by the 13 Article of the Treaty of Utrecht, expressly reserved to themselves such an exclusive Right, which they had constantly been in Possession of, till they were entirely driven from North America in the last War.”

For these Papers I am obliged to Mr. Izard.3 Mr. Fitsherbert said it was the same Thing now Word for Word: but he should endeavour to have the Treaty conformable to those of Utrecht and Paris. But he said We had given it up, by admitting the Word “exclusive” into our Treaty.—I said perhaps not, for the whole was to be conformable to the true Construction of the Treaties of Utrecht and Paris, and that if the English did not now admit the exclusive Construction they could not contend for it vs. Us. We had only contracted not to disturb them, &c.

I said it was the Opinion of all the Fishermen in America that England could not prevent our Catching a fish without preventing them-77selves from getting a Dollar. That the 1st. Fare was our only Advantage. That neither the English nor French could have it. It must be lost if We had it not.

He said, he did not think much of the Fishery as a Source of Profit, but as a Nursery of Seamen. I told him the English could not catch a fish the more, or make a Sailor the more, for restraining Us. Even the French would rival them in the Markets of Spain and Portugal. It was our Fish which they ought to call their own, because We should spend the Profit with them. That the southern States had Staple Commodities, but N. England had no other Remittance but the Fishery. No other Way to pay for their Cloathing. That it entered into our Distilleries and West India Trade as well as our European Trade, in such a manner that it could not be taken out or diminished, without tearing and rending. That if it should be left to its natural Course We could hire or purchase Spots of Ground on which to erect Stages, and Buildings, but if We were straightened by Treaty, that Treaty would be given in Instructions to Governors and Commodores whose duty it would be to execute it. That it would be very difficult to restrain our Fishermen, they would be frequently transgressing, and making disputes and Troubles.

He said his principal Object was to avoid sowing Seeds of future Wars.—I said it was equally my Object, and that I was perswaded, that if the Germ of a War was left any where, there was the greatest danger of its being left in the Article respecting the Fishery.

The rest of the Day, was spent in endless Discussions about the Tories. Dr. F. is very staunch against the Tories, more decided a great deal on this Point than Mr. Jay or my self.4


Article V in the “third set” of provisional articles read: “It is agreed that restitution shall be made of all estates, rights, and properties in America which have been confiscated” (Wharton, ed., Dipl. Corr. Amer. Rev. , 6:76). Franklin's famous letter to Oswald, 26 Nov., proposing to balance American losses against loyalist losses, is in Franklin's Writings, ed. Smyth, 8:621–627. See, further, 29 Nov. below, and note 1 there.


MS: “Rich.”


Copies of the letters quoted are in Adams Papers under the assigned date of Nov. 1782. They are printed in the Autobiography, below, following the record of Congress' instructions to JA for negotiating a commercial treaty with Great Britain, 16 Oct. 1779: Sir Stanier Porten to Lord Weymouth, no date, and Earl of Egremont to the Duke of Bedford, 1 March 1763 .


“Tuesday Novemr. 26h. Dined at Mr. Adams's. Mr. Strachey who is arrived from England insists much on the Affair of the Refugees. It seems however to be inadmissible and unless he has Instructions to get over this the Negotiations will probably break off” (Matthew Ridley, Diary, MHi).