Diary of John Adams, volume 4

[1779 December 13. Monday.] JA [1779 December 13. Monday.] Adams, John
1779 December 13. Monday.

1779 December 13. Monday. The great Inconvenience of this Harbour is, the Entrance is so narrow, there is no possibility of going out, but when the Wind is in one Point, that is the South East…. I was surprized to find so important a Place as this is to the Spanish Naval Power, surrounded by Heights which might easily be possessed by an Enemy, and which entirely overlooked and commanded the Town, the Ships, the Arsenals and Docks.


The Three French Ships of the Line here were the Triomphant of Eighty Guns, M. Le Comte De Sade Chef D'Escadre or General, M. Le Chevalier de Grasse Preville, the Capitaine de Pavilion.

The Souverain of Seventy four Guns, M. Le Chevalier De Glandevesse Captain

The Jason of Sixty four Guns, M. de La Marthonie, Commander.

We dined one day with the Comte De Sade on Board the Triomphant, with all the principal Officers of the Fleet in all the Luxury of the French Navy.

A very fine Turkey was brought upon Table, among every Thing else that Land, Sea or Air could furnish.1 One of the Captains, as soon as he saw it, observed that he never saw one of those Birds on a Table but it excited in him a deep regret for the Abolition of that order of Ecclesiasticks the Jesuits to whom We were he said, indebted for so many Excellent Things, and among the Rest for Turkeys. These Birds he said were never seen or known in Europe till the Jesuits imported them from India. This occasioned much Conversation and some Controversy: but the majority of the Officers appeared to join in this regrett. The Jesuits were represented as the greatest Masters of Science and Litterature: as practising the best System of Education, and as having made the greatest improvements, the happiest Inventions and the greatest discoveries for the Comfort of Life and the Amelioration of Man and Society. Till this time I had thought that although millions of Jesuits, Pharisees and Machiavilians still existed in the World, yet that the Word Jesuit as well as that of Pharisee and Machiavilian, had become so odious in Courts and unpopular with Nations that neither was ever advocated in good Company. I now found my Error, and I afterwards perceived that even the Philosophers were the principal Friends left to the Jesuits.

The French Names Dindon and Poulet D'Inde, indicate that the Fowl was imported from India: But the English Name Turkey and Turkey fowl, seems to imply that the Bird was brought from the Levant. But if I am not mistaken, the English pretend that Sir Walter Raleigh first imported this Luxury from America. These important Questions of Natural History I shall leave to the Investigation and Discussion of those who have nothing else to do, nor any thing of more Taste and Consequence to contemplate.

I was highly entertained however with this Conversation and not a 198little delighted to find that I could so well understand a Conversation so rapid and lively in French.

As the Count De Sade placed me next to himself at Table, his chief and indeed his whole Conversation was with me. He was very inquisitive about every Thing in America, but the Subject which most engaged his Attention was the Commerce and especially the Naval Power of America. This Subject I always found most prevalent in the Minds of all the Naval Gentlemen both of France and Spain. The Count said that no Nation in Europe had such Advantages for Naval Power as America. We had Timber of the best Kinds in the World, our Oaks and Cedars especially the Live Oaks and Red Caedars, which America Possessed in such Abundance, were an Advantage that no Nation ever enjoyed before in such Perfection. That We had inexhaustible Mines of Iron Oar and all the Skill and Apparatus necessary to prepare it, work it and refine it. That our Soil produced Flax and Hemp of good quality, and our Agriculturalists knew how to raise it and preserve it. We have a Maxim among Us in the Marine, said the Count, That with Wood, Hemp and Iron, a Nation may do what it will. And you may do what you will, and you will do what you will. For No Nation has, and No Nation that ever existed ever had such Advantages for raising a formidable Navy in a short time as you have. For to all the Materials you add all the Skill and Art. You have already learned of the English, all the Skill in Naval Architecture and all the Art and Enterprise of Navigation, which was ever possessed by the most commercial and most maritime People that ever existed. In fine his Conversation was in the same Strain with that of Monsieur De Thevenot Thevenard at L'Orient, in the Spring of the same Year, but more in detail. As the Count de Sade understood no English and my organs were not very flexible to the French, my part of the Conversation could not be very fluent. I made him however to understand, that I thought our People had so much Employment at home upon their Lands, which would be more comfortable and less hazardous if not more profitable that it would be a long time before they would turn their Attention to a Naval military Power. I must however now confess that I did not then believe that French, Spanish, Dutch and English Emissaries, would obtain so much influence in America as to cast a mist before the Eyes of the People and prevent them from seeing their own Interest and feeling their own Power for seven and twenty Years, to such a degree as to suffer their own Coasts and harbours to be insulted and their Commerce plundered even in the West Indies by Pirates, which a few Frigates might send to their own place. The199Count presented to me The Chevalier De Grasse, as his Captaine De Pavilion and as the Brother of the Count de Grasse, the Commander in America,2 and as a Gentleman of large and independent Fortune, who had no Occasion to go to Sea but chose to expose himself to the rough Life of a Sea Officer, from pure Zeal for the Kings Service.


The following conversation, including that on the important subject of American naval prospects, was recorded in the Autobiography wholly from memory. Compare, or rather contrast, JA's Diary entry of this date.


This is with little doubt a mistake of JA's memory; see Diary entry of this date and note.

[1779 December 14. Tuesday.] JA [1779 December 14. Tuesday.] Adams, John
1779 December 14. Tuesday.

1779 December 14. Tuesday. Walked once more to the Barracks and dry Docks. The Stones with which these Works were constructed, were far inferiour to our Quincy North Common Granite. They were not better than the South Common Stone. We went into the magnificent Church of St. Julien, where We saw Numbers of Devotees upon their Knees, some before the Altar and some before one Statue or Picture and some before another. This kind of Devotion was much more fashionable in Spain than in France.

We had lodged en la Calle de La Madalena, junto coca, en casa de Pepala Botoneca, i.e. in the Street of the Magdalen near the head, in the House of Pepala Botoneca.

I spent several Evenings with the French Consul Monsieur Detournelle, whom I found a well bred and well informed Man. He was well read, and had been conversant with the Writers on the Law of Nations, particularly in the Titles of those Laws relative to Ambassadors and Consuls. He quoted several Writers on the Rights and Duties of Ambassadors and Consuls and some on Ettiquette and the Formalities and Ceremonies required of those Offices. He told me that the Office of French Consuls was regulated by an ordinance of the King, but that some Nations had entered into particular Stipulations with the King. That the Consuls of different Nations were differently treated by the same Nation. That as Consul of France he had always claimed the Priviledges of the most favoured Nation. That he carefully enquired what Priviledges were enjoyed by the Consuls of England, Germany and Italy and demanded the highest Priviledges of the Gentis amicissimae.

The Chief Magistrate of the Town of Ferrol, is The Corregidor. For the Province or Kingdom of Gallicia, there is a Souvereign Court of Justice, which has both civil and criminal Jurisdiction. In all criminal Cases it is without Appeal, but in some civil Cases an Appeal lies to the Council at Madrid. There is no time allowed in criminal Cases for an Application for Pardon, for they execute forthwith. Hanging is the Capital Punishment. They burn sometimes but it is after death. There was lately a Sentence for Parricide. The Law required that the Crimi-200nal should be headed up in a hogshead, with an Adder, a Toad, a Dog and a Cat and cast into the Sea. But I was much pleased to hear that Spanish humanity had suggested and Spanish Ingenuity invented a Device to avoid some part of the Cruelty and horror of this punishment. They had painted those Animals on the Cask, and the dead body was put into it, without any living Animals to attend it to its watery Grave. The ancient Laws of the Visigoths are still in Use, and these, with the Institutes, Codes, Novelles &c. of Justinian, the Cannon Law and the Ordinances of the King, constitute the Laws of the Kingdom of Gallicia.

The Bread, the Colliflowers, the Cabbages, Apples, Pears, Beef, Pork and Poultry were good. The Fish of several Sorts were good, excellent Eels, Sardines, and other Species, and the Oysters were tolerable, but not equal to ours in America.

I had not seen a Chariot, Coach, Phaeton, Chaise or Sulky, since I had been in the Place, very few Horses and those very small and miserably poor; Mules and Asses were numerous but small. There was no Hay in the Country: The Horses, Mules &c. eat Wheat Straw.

There had been no frost. The Verdure in the Gardens and Fields was fresh. The Weather was so warm that the Inhabitants had no Fires, nor Fire Places, but in their Kitchens. We were told We should have no colder Weather before May which is the coldest Month in the Year. We found however, when We travelled in the Month of January in the Mountains, Frost and Snow and Ice enough. But at this time and in this Neighbourhood of the Sea, Men, Women and Children were seen in the Streets, with naked Legs and feet, standing on the cold Stones in the mud, by the hour together. The Inhabitants of both Sexes have black hair and dark Complexions, with fine black Eyes. Men and Women had long hair ramilied down to their Waists and sometimes down to their Knees.

Though there was little Appearance of Commerce or Industry, except about the Kings Docks and Yards and Works, yet the Town had some Symptoms of Growth and Prosperity. Many new Houses were building of a Stone which comes from the rocky Mountains round about, of which there are many. There were few goods in the Shops, little Show in their Marketts, or on their Exchange. There was a pleasant Walk a little out of Town, between the Exchange and the Barracks.

There were but two Taverns in the Town. Captain Chavagne and his Officers lodged at one, at six Livres each a day. The other was kept by a Native of America, who spoke English and French as well as 201Spanish, and was an obliging Man. Here We could have lodged at a dollar a day each: but where We were We were obliged to give an hundred and twenty nine dollars for six days besides a multitude of other Expences, and besides being kept constantly unhappy by an uneasy Landlady.

Finding that I must reside some Weeks in Spain, either waiting for the Frigate or travelling through the Kingdom, I determined to look a little into the Language. For which purpose I went to a Bookseller and purchased Sobrino's Dictionary in three Volumes in Quarto, The Grammatica Castillana an excellent Spanish Grammar in their own Tongue, and a Lattin Grammar in Spanish. My Friend Captain De Grasse made me a present of a very handsome Grammar of the Spanish Tongue by Sobrino….1 By the help of these Books, the Children as well as the Gentlemen of our little Company were soon employed in learning the Language. To one who understood the Latin it seemed to be easy and some of Us flatter'd ourselves, that in a Month We might be able to read it, and understand the Spaniards as well as be understood by them. But experience taught Us our Error and that a Language is very difficult to acquire especially by Persons in middle Life.

Mr. Linde an Irish Gentleman, and Master of a Mathematical Accademy here, as well as Mr. De Tournelle, says, that the Spanish Nation in general have been of Opinion that the Revolution in America is a bad example to the Spanish Colonies, and dangerous to the Interests of Spain, as the United States if they should become ambitious and be seized with the Spirit of Conquest, might aim at Mexico and Peru. The Consul mentioned the Opinion of Raynalle, that it was not for the Interest of the Powers of Europe, that America should be independent.

To the Irish Gentleman I observed, that Americans hated War: that Agriculture and Commerce were their Objects, and it would be their Interest, as much as that of the Dutch to keep peace with all the World, untill their Country should be filled with People, which could not be for Centuries. That War and the Spirit of Conquest were the most diametrically opposite to their Interests, as they would divert their Attention, Wealth, Industry, Activity, from a certain Source of Prosperity and even Grandeur and Glory, to an uncertain one; nay to one, that it was certain never could be to their Advantage. That the Government of Spain over her Colonies had always been such, that she never could attempt to introduce such fundamental Innovations, as those by which England had provoked and compelled Us to revolt. And the Spanish 202Constitution was such, as could extinguish the first Sparks of discontent, and quell the first risings of the People. That it was amazing to me, that a Writer so well informed as Raynalle, could ever give an Opinion that it was not for the Interest of the Powers of Europe, that America should be independent, when it was so easy to demonstrate, that it was for the Interest of every one of them except England. That they could loose nothing by it, but certainly every one of them would gain something, and many of them a great deal.

Wee can see but a little Way into Futurity….If, in 1807, We look back for seven and twenty Years, and consider what would have been the Consequence to Mexico and Peru and all South America, and all the French and Spanish West India Islands, had the United States remained subject to Great Britain, Mr. Linde and the Consul and the whole Spanish Nation might be convinced, that they owe much to the American Revolution. The English love War as much as We abhor it, and if they had now the American Cities for Places of Arms, the American Harbours for Shelter, American Provisions for Supplies and American Seamen and Soldiers for Reinforcements, by what tenure would France and Spain hold their American Dominions?


For two of the works mentioned here see Diary entry of this date and note.