Adams Family Correspondence, volume 2


Guide to Editorial Apparatus

Descriptive List of Illustrations Descriptive List of Illustrations

[Note: for permissions reasons, not all illustrations from the letterpress volumes are available in this digital edition.]

Descriptive List of Illustrations
Trade Card of John Adams' Philadelphia Stationer facing 102[unavailable]

William Trickett's trade card is pasted inside the front board of the second of a pair of letterbooks John Adams bought in Philadelphia at the end of May or beginning of June 1776. On 2 June he wrote his wife: “In all the Correspondencies I have maintained, during a Course of twenty Years at least that I have been a Writer of Letters, I never kept a single Copy.” This “Negligence” had been a great inconvenience to him “on many Occasions,” but he had come to a new resolution: “I have now purchased a Folio Book, in the first Page of which, excepting one blank Leaff, I am writing this Letter, and intend to write all my Letters to you in it from this Time forward” (p. 3–4, below). The bookbinder and stationer who supplied these letterbooks (which still survive in good condition) had announced himself “from London” as early as June 1774 in the Philadelphia newspapers; on 13 December 1775 his advertisement in the Pennsylvania Journal informed the public that he “Makes and sells all sorts of Merchants Account Books, bound in leather or vellum, with or without Russia bands, and ruled to any pattern.” Located near the intersection of Front and Market streets “Facing Black-horse Alley,” his shop was advantageously situated next door to the well-known Philadelphia printer William Bradford. From 1777 until 1780, when he died, Trickett occasionally supplied the Continental Congress and the Supreme Executive Council of Pennsylvania with stationery.

From an original in the Adams Papers.

“Yesterday the Greatest Question Was Decided” facing 102[unavailable]

Two cards of admission—one issued to ex-President John Adams in 1821 and the other to Secretary of State John Quincy Adams in 1824—for the annual “collation” at Faneuil Hall in observance of the Fourth of July. Both cards bear the same quotation from John Adams, perhaps the best-known words he ever wrote or uttered, but in a misdated and garbled form that became scriptural. The quotation consists of passages run together from two separate letters he wrote to Mrs. Adams from Philadelphia on 3 July 1776, the day after Congress actually voted independence. But well before 1800 the “Great Anniversary Festival” had been fixed in the public mind as the Fourth, the day on which the Declaration (rather than the vote) of Independence had been adopted. Adams' stirring letters, which had made their way into print in the 1790's, were therefore redated in subsequent printings to suit a popular preference. The texts of the letters as originally written are printed at p. 27–33, viiibelow, where there is also a fuller account of the early garbling and of unavailing efforts to correct it.

From originals in the Adams Papers.

The Billopp House, Staten Island following 102[unavailable]

The Billopp House or “Manor of Bentley” in Tottenville at the southern extremity of Staten Island on a slope overlooking Raritan Bay opposite Perth Amboy, N.J., was built about 1668 and was the site of the dramatic but fruitless conference between Admiral Lord Howe and a committee from Congress on 11 September 1776 intended (by Howe) to accommodate the dispute between Great Britain and America. Still standing in 1963 and known as the Conference House, it was owned during the Revolution by Col. Christopher Billopp, who had been a member of the New York Assembly and voted there against sending delegates to the first Continental Congress; later he was named in the New York Act of Attainder, had his property confiscated by the state, and was forced to flee to New Brunswick, where he died in 1827 (Harold D. Eberlein, Manor Houses and Historic Homes of Long Island and Staten Island, Philadelphia and London, 1928, p. 295–303). Benjamin Franklin, who was accompanied by John Adams and Edward Rutledge as the other members of the committee on the trip from Philadelphia to Staten Island, suggested to Lord Howe in a letter of 8 September that the meeting be held “either at the house on Staten Island opposite to Amboy, or at the governor's house in Amboy” (Writings of Benjamin Franklin, ed. Albert Henry Smyth, New York and London, 1905–1907, 6:463). The trip to and from Staten Island and the interview, lasting four hours, were graphically described by John Adams in his Diary and Autobiography, ed. L. H. Butterfield and others, Cambridge, 1961, 3:414–431, and in his letter of 14 September 1776 to Mrs. Adams, printed in the present volume, p. 124–125. This engraving of the Billopp House appeared in one of a series of articles on “Historic Houses of America” in Appletons' Journal, from the hand of the popular antiquarian and wood-engraver Benson J. Lossing (“The Bently or Billopp Manor-House, Staten Island,” 11:161–163 [7 February 1874]).

Courtesy of the Boston Athenaeum.

The Howes' Reconciliation Broadside following 102[unavailable]

The Howe brothers, “Commissioners for restoring Peace to His majesty's Colonies and Plantations in North-America,” printed and distributed this broadside or “DECLARATION,” dated 19 September 1776 (Charles Evans and others, comps., American Bibliography, Chicago and Worcester, 1903–1959, No. 14782), following the unsuccessful conference at Staten Island between Lord Howe and the committee from the Continental Congress. “Henry Strachey,” whose name appears at the foot of the text, was the secretary to the British commission and wrote an account of ixit. For further information see John Adams' letter to Mrs. Adams, 14 September 1776, and the references given there, p. 124–125, below.

Courtesy of the Massachusetts Historical Society.

The “Choice of Hercules,” Proposed by John Adams for the Great Seal following 102[unavailable]

John Adams was appointed to a committee on 4 July 1776 with Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson “to prepare Devices for a Great Seal for the confederated States”; he suggested an allegorical emblem which in the end he admitted “is too complicated a Group for a Seal or Medal, and it is not original” (letter to Abigail Adams, 14 August 1776, p. 96–98, below). This engraving by Simon Gribelin of the “Choice” or “Judgment of Hercules” appears on an internal titlepage in the third volume of the John Baskerville edition of Anthony Ashley Cooper, 3d Earl of Shaftesbury's Characteristicks of Men, Manners, Opinions, Times, 5th edition, Birmingham, 1773, a work owned by John Adams and still among his books in the Boston Public Library (Catalogue of the John Adams Library in the Public Library of the City of Boston, Boston 1917, p. 62). Shaftesbury published a short treatise on esthetics wholly based on the Judgment of Hercules theme in the first edition of the Characteristicks in 1714; for a titlepage decoration he commissioned Paulo de Matthaeis in 1712 to paint the “Judgment” and had it engraved by Gribelin the following year. The original fable is attributed by Xenophon in his Memoirs of Socrates, book II, chapter 1, to one Prodicus, a sophist and rhetorician of Ceos, who was admired by Xenophon and quoted by Socrates. Prodicus narrates a debate, or rather a succession of appeals to the young Hercules, by female impersonations of Virtue and Vice or Sensuality (or, to use Shaftesbury's terms, Virtue and Pleasure). Vice speaks first and points out the flowery path of self-indulgence; Virtue follows and adjures Hercules to ascend the rugged, uphill way of duty to others and honor to himself. The burden of Shaftesbury's treatise is that a successful treatment of such a theme, for either moral or esthetic purposes, must be natural, simple, and intelligible, and the artist must accordingly avoid the emblematic, cluttered, and exotic in both representation and style.

Gribelin's engraving, executed according to these principles, had a profound effect on Adams' attitude toward the fine arts, which to him typified luxury and therefore the threat of moral and social decadence. From Paris he wrote his wife in April 1780: “There is every Thing here that can inform the Understanding, or refine the Taste, and indeed one would think that could purify the Heart. Yet it must be remembered there is every thing here too, which can seduce, betray, deceive, deprave, corrupt and debauch it. Hercules marches here in full View of the Steeps of Virtue on one hand, and the flowery Paths of Pleasure on the other, and there are few who make the Choice of Hercules. That my Children may follow his Example, is my earnest Prayer: but I sometimes tremble, when I xhear the syren songs of sloth, least they should be captivated with her bewitching Charms and her soft, insinuating Musick” (Adams Papers).

Courtesy of Mr. E. Harold Hugo, Meriden, Connecticut, and of the Boston Public Library.

John Adams' Plan for a Military Establishment in 1776 following 102[unavailable]

Broadside, without imprint, published in September 1776 (Evans 15167). While the Continental Army was being driven with heavy losses from Long Island and New York City, the Continental Board of War, over which John Adams had presided since its organization in June, was endeavoring to provide Washington with an ample and permanent body of troops. On 22 September Adams wrote his wife: “We have at last agreed upon a Plan, for forming a regular Army. We have offered 20 dollars, and 100 Acres of Land to every Man, who will inlist, during the War,” by which he meant for the duration of the war (p. 131–132, below). The Board's report to Congress on 9 September, probably drafted by Adams and strongly advocated by him on the floor, was debated, amended, and adopted in stages during the following days, and on the 20th ordered to be published in the form here seen. Adams later cited this plan for “eighty-eight Battalions . . . to serve during the present War” as a standing refutation of Alexander Hamilton's politically inspired and damaging charge in the Presidential campaign of 1800 that Adams had always opposed a strong military establishment for the United States; see his Diary and Autobiography , 3:434–435.

Courtesy of the Massachusetts Historical Society.

Isaac Smith Sr. in 1769, by John Singleton Copley facing 103[unavailable]

Isaac Smith (1719–1787), younger brother of Rev. William Smith of Weymouth, carried on in Boston and Salem the mercantile vocation of the Smiths of Charlestown, Massachusetts, forebears of Abigail (Smith) Adams. Isaac Smith's extensive correspondence with John Adams, his nephew by marriage, most often deals with commercial matters and especially the difficulties of conducting trade during both the war and the disordered economic and political conditions that followed. Adams, who loved and greatly respected his uncle, once remarked that Smith “had been more largely concerned in the Cod Fishery than any Man excepting Mr. Hooper and Mr. Lee of Marblehead” ( Diary and Autobiography , 4:5); and there can be no question that the interest of such friends and connections as Smith stiffened Adams' stand on American rights in the North Atlantic fisheries during the long and arduous negotiations for peace with Great Britain.

This portrait of a typical Boston whig merchant is unusually well-documented because many of the papers of Smith and his descendants are preserved in the Massachusetts Historical Society. In the collection known as the Smith-Carter Papers there is a bill in John Singleton Copley's hand for this painting and its companion piece of Mrs. Elizabeth (Storer) Smith which reads: “1769 Mr. xiIsaac Smith to J. S. Copley Dr. / To painting his and his Ladys portrait in half Length at 14 Guineas—£39. .4. .0 / To two carved Gold frames for Do.—18. .0. .0 / [Total:] £57. . 4. .0 / Recd. the contents in full per John Singleton Copley.” The portrait of Smith, which measures 49 1/4″ x 39 1/2″, was inherited by Isaac Smith Jr., then passed successively to a nephew of his, Thomas Carter Smith, to William Smith Carter, and to Theodore Parkman Carter. In 1843 Thomas Carter Smith paid George Howorth $50 “To restoring 2 portraits by Copley,” which were identified on the receipt as “Grandfather & Grandmother Smith” (20 June 1843, Smith-Carter Papers). Both portraits were bequeathed to Yale University in 1943.

Courtesy of Yale University Art Gallery, Maitland F. Griggs Collection.

Dr. Cotton Tufts in 1804, by Benjamin Greenleaf facing 103[unavailable]

Cotton Tufts (1732–1815) of Weymouth, a Harvard graduate, a distinguished physician, and from time to time local manager of the Adamses' property and business interests, was an uncle of Abigail Adams on her maternal side and a first cousin on her paternal side. During John Adams' courtship of Abigail Smith, the lovers confidently committed the letters they exchanged to the hands of “Dr. Trusty.” Thanks to the survival of later correspondence between Mrs. Adams and Dr. Tufts, we know a good deal not otherwise recorded about farming and building operations at the Adams homestead (the “Old House”) in Quincy, which Tufts himself had negotiated the Adamses' purchase of in 1787 while they were still in London.

The present portrait was painted in 1804 by the youthful New England limner Benjamin Greenleaf (1786–1864), of Haverhill; his use of Chippendale furniture for props and the short curled wig, with everything painted in the flat style of the primitive painter, indicates not only a cultural lag on the part of the artist but perhaps also how basically 18th-century in outlook and habit was the subject, whose very name is a kind of essence of early New England. Tufts had been one of the founders of the Massachusetts Medical Society and served as its first president, 1787–1795, and so it was highly appropriate that the only known portrait of him should have been presented to the Boston Medical Library, still the headquarters of the Society, by Dr. William T. Brigham in 1878, on the occasion of the dedication of the Library's new building at 19 Boylston Place.

Courtesy of the Boston Medical Library.

James Lovell's Map of the “Seat of War” in the Fall of 1777 facing 262[unavailable]

James Lovell, a fellow Massachusetts delegate to the Continental Congress with John Adams, enclosed this manuscript copy of a map to Abigail Adams in his letter of 29 August 1777 from Philadelphia with the following explanation: “It is probable that Genl. Howe xiiwill waste the fall of this year between Chesapeak Bay and Delaware River. I send you a copied sketch of part of the country to which the Gazettes will frequently refer” (p. 333, below). Lovell's letter containing this thoughtful gift gave its recipient a terrible fright before she opened it; see her letters of 17 September to her husband and to Lovell (p. 343–344, below). Although Lovell's printed or manuscript source has not been identified, he perhaps made his copy from the “excellent Chart of the Schuylkill, Chester River, the Brandywine, and this whole Country, among the Pensilvania Files” that John Adams mentioned having seen on 15 September 1777 ( Diary and Autobiography , 2:262). In any event Mrs. Adams must have found it useful, as the editors of The Adams Papers have, in tracing the movements of the opposing armies in the country lying between Philadelphia, Delaware Bay, Baltimore, York, and Lancaster.

From Lovell's manuscript copy in the Adams Papers.

“The Loss of Your Company . . . I Consider as a Loss of So Much Solid Happiness” following 262[unavailable]

This page reproduced from a letter addressed on 8 July 1777 by John Adams in Congress at Philadelphia to his wife, then expecting her sixth child at Braintree, exhibits not only his hand but his inmost feelings. He had been away from home almost continuously for three years, and, because of the constant military crisis, he saw no hope of an early return. He thought himself entitled to sympathy, but he would ask for it from no one but his wife. For the full text of his letter see p. 276–277, below. For what was occurring in Braintree at almost the moment he wrote, see the following illustration.

From the original in the Adams Papers.

“I Keep up Some Spirits Yet, Tho I would have you Prepaird for any Event that may Happen” following 262[unavailable]

In this hitherto unpublished note, dated 9 July 1777 but without salutation or signature, Abigail Adams reported to her husband the probable loss of a child she was carrying. Two days later she was delivered of a daughter, who according to the mother “appeard to be a very fine Babe” and whom the parents had agreed to name Elizabeth, but she was stillborn. For the texts of the letters reporting this event and its effect on John Adams, see p. 278–280, 282–283, 287–288, 292, and 298–299, below.

From the original in the Adams Papers.

Some Books the Adamses Read during the Revolution facing 263[unavailable]

Mottin de La Balme's Essais sur l'équitation. “We shall have all the Sages and Heroes of France here before long,” John Adams wryly observed to his wife at the beginning of a letter from Congress, 18 June 1777 (p. 267–268, below). Among other French soldiers of fortune whose arrival he reported was Capitaine Augustin Mottin xiiide La Balme, “a great Writer upon Horsemanship and Cavalry.” This officer had thoughtfully brought along with him a supply of his own books, and he presented copies of two of them to Adams, who La Balme knew was president of the Continental Board of War and who was at this time, whether or not La Balme knew it, an active collector of books on military science. The books presented were Essais sur l'équitation . . . , Amsterdam and Paris, 1773, the titlepage of which is reproduced here, and Elémens de tactique pour la cavalerie . . . , Paris, 1776. Both remain among John Adams' books in the Boston Public Library, along with other treatises attesting their owner's eagerness to become a military expert even though he never achieved his ambition to command troops in the field. La Balme, as things turned out, proved merely troublesome to Washington, did not last long as inspector of Continental cavalry, and wandered off to the Ohio country, where he was killed by Little Turtle's Indians in 1780.

Smollett's History of England. History being so obviously in the making all around them during the campaigns of the Revolution, everyone in the Adams family read historical books with avidity. On 2 June 1777 John Quincy Adams, then going on ten, wrote his father: “I have Set myself a Stent, and determine to read the 3d volume [of Tobias Smollett's History of England] Half out” by the end of the week; on the 8th he reported he had “almost” done so by spending several hours a day at his book instead of idling away his time on “Trifles and play” (p. 254–255, 261, below).

Charles Rollin's Method of Teaching and Studying the Belles Lettres. Three days after Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence, John Adams sent his wife a long letter discussing the education of their children and particularly the best means of their acquiring a fluent and effective literary style. “There is a Book,” he wrote, “which I wish you owned, I mean Rollins Belles Letters, in which the Variations of Style” — the epistolary, the oratorical, the historical, &c. — “are explained” (7 July 1776, p. 39–41, below). This three-volume work was procured (though precisely when is not known) in a copy of the sixth edition, London, 1769, and joined numerous other books by the very popular French writer Charles Rollin (1661–1741), concerning whom see Mrs. Adams' letter to her husband, 19 August 1774 (vol. 1:142–143).

Dodsley's Preceptor. In 1748 the London printer-publisher Robert Dodsley issued The Preceptor, with a very long subtitle and a list of the contents on the titlepage (here illustrated), aiming to furnish in two stout volumes and numerous engraved plates “A General Course of Education” embodying “THE FIRST PRINCIPLES OF POLITE LEARNING” in all fields, from “Reading, Speaking, and Writing Letters” through “Arithmetic,” “Geography,” “Chronology and History,” “Drawing,” “Logic,” “Natural History,” “Ethics,” and “Trade and Commerce,” to “Human Life and Manners.” Dr. Samuel Johnson wrote the preface, and various sections were prepared by good authorities under Dodsley's xiveditorship. The volumes contain both expository essays and illustrative readings in the subjects dealt with, and the work as a whole forms a remarkable compendium of human knowledge at the time that deserved and obtained wide circulation and long use in schools and homes. The present edition, it will be noted, is the fifth, published in 1769. John Adams discovered The Preceptor when he was in college, and in a diary entry of 5 June 1771 he put down a reminder to himself: “I hope I shall not forget to purchase these Preceptors, and to make my Sons transcribe this Treatise on Logick entirely with their own Hands, in fair Characters, as soon as they can write, in order to imprint it on their Memories. Nor would it hurt my Daughter to do the same” ( Diary and Autobiography , 2:24–25). In his letter to Mrs. Adams about their children's education, 7 July 1776, Adams recommended their reading particular letters of Pliny the Younger and John Gay, to be found in The Preceptor, as models of epistolary style, which should always be “simple, natural, easy, and familiar” (p. 39–41, below). In the set of The Preceptor now among the Adams books in the Boston Public Library, the first volume is a replacement copy, but on a flyleaf in the second volume appears the inscription “Abigail Adams 1772” in the round formal hand John Adams used for special occasions. This must indicate that he promptly carried out the intent of his diary entry in 1771 and then gave the books to his wife because she was the principal instructress of their young children.

Courtesy of the Boston Public Library.