Adams Family Correspondence, volume 7

Abigail Adams to Thomas Jefferson, 23 July 1786 AA Jefferson, Thomas


Abigail Adams to Thomas Jefferson, 23 July 1786 Adams, Abigail Jefferson, Thomas
Abigail Adams to Thomas Jefferson
Dear Sir London july 23. 1786

Mr Trumble will have the honour of delivering this to you,1 the knowledge you have of him, and his own merit will ensure him a favourable reception. He has requested a Letter from me, and I would not refuse him, as it gives me an opportunity of paying my respects to a Gentleman for whom I entertain the highest esteem, and whose Portrait2 dignifies a part of this room, tho it is but a poor substitue for those pleasures which we enjoy'd some months past.


We console ourselves however by the reflection which tends to mollify our Grief for our departed Friends; that they are gone to a better Country, and to a Society more congenial to the benevolence of their minds.3

I supposed sir that Col Smith was your constant correspondent, and that his attention, left me nothing to inform you of.4 This Country produced nothing agreeable and our own appears to be taking a Nap, as severals vessels have lately arrived without a Scrip, from any creature. By one of the papers we learn that col Humphries was safely arrived.

Perhaps neither of the Gentleman may think to acquaint you, that the Lords of the admiralty have orderd home Captain Stanhopes ship, and calld upon him for a justification of his conduct to Govenour Bowdoin. That having received what he offerd as such, they voted it not only unsatisfactory, but his conduct highly reprehensible. As such they have represented it to his Majesty, and Captain Stanhope will not be permitted to return to that station again. Thus far we must give them credit.5

I suppose you must have heard the report respecting col Smith—that he has taken my daughter from me, a contrivance between him and the Bishop of St Asaph. It is true he tenderd me a Son as an equivilent and it was no bad offer, but I had three Sons before, and but one Daughter.6 Now I have been thinking of an exchange with you sir, suppose you give me Miss Jefferson, and in some future day take a Son in lieu of her. I am for Strengthening the federal Union.

Will you be so good as to let Petite apply to my shoe maker for 4 pr of silk Shoes for me. I would have them made with Straps, 3 pr of summer-Silk and one pr blew Sattin. Col Trumble will deliver you a Guiney for them. Whenever I can be of service to you here, pray do not hessitate to commission me, be assured you confer a favour upon your Humble Servant

A Adams

RC (DLC: Jefferson Papers.) Dft (Adams Papers). Some loss of text where the seal was removed.


Col. John Trumbull delivered this letter on 1 Aug. (Jefferson, Papers , 10:162).


During his spring visit to London, Jefferson sat for American artist Mather Brown, paying the latter £10 on 25 April for his work. On 12 May, JA paid Brown six guineas for a portrait of Jefferson. Only the portrait received by JA, which remained in the possession of the Adams family until 1999, when it was bequeathed to the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, has survived. Brown did not ship his portrait of Jefferson to the sitter until the fall of 1788. Although Jefferson acknowledged its safe arrival in Paris, no record of its whereabouts is known since that time.


Scholars have long debated whether JA received Brown's first portrait of Jefferson or a replica. Because he paid a lesser amount, it has been argued that JA was given a copy. Conversely, Col. John Trumbull's correspondence with Jefferson implies that Brown was still working on a portrait of Jefferson in the spring of 1788, two years after JA had possession of one. Also, Trumbull reported from London on 23 May 1788, at which point JA and AA had already sailed for the United States with their portrait in hand, “I believe what He Brown means to send you of yourself to be the copy, and that Mr. Adams thus the original.” Adams family tradition is that their portrait is the original.

Brown also painted two portraits of JA. The first in 1785, when AA and AA2 also sat for the artist; the second in 1788, commissioned by Jefferson, who as early as 22 Oct. 1786 desired WSS to persuade JA to sit again for Brown so that he might have a portrait of his colleague done from life and not a copy. The 1785 portrait of JA is believed to have been lost. Jefferson's 1788 portrait of JA was sold after his death and ultimately bequeathed to the Boston Athenaeum in 1908 (Dorinda Evans, Mather Brown, Early American Artist in England, Middletown, Conn., 1982, p. 53–54, 62–65; Andrew Oliver, Portraits of John and Abigail Adams, Cambridge, 1967, p. 46–53; Smithsonian Institution, National Portrait Gallery). For Brown's portraits of AA and AA2, see vol. 6:xiii–xiv.


These first two paragraphs do not appear in the Dft; rather, the Dft opens with the following:

“As it appears to be doubly as long since I had the honour of a line from you, as the time you have stated to have received one from me, I am at a loss to know whether we shall understand the language of each other, nothing but the space being wholly lost to me, could justify my omitting to inform mr Jefferson how much we regreeted the loss of his company. But we reflect upon it with that consideration which tends to molify our grief for the loss of departed Friends, that they are gone to a better Country, and to a society more congenial to the benevolence of their minds.”


For WSS's correspondence with Jefferson, since the latter's departure from London in April, see Jefferson, Papers , vols. 9 and 10.


For the Aug. 1785 confrontation in Boston between Capt. Henry Stanhope of the H.M.S. Mercury and two American seamen formerly impressed into service under his command and Stanhope's subsequent complaints to Gov. James Bowdoin, see vol. 6:435–440 , 496, 497.


The Dft concludes at this point with the following:

“Now suppose Sir you should give me Miss Jefferson, at least till I return to America. Some future day, perhaps I might tender you a son in exchange for her. I am lonely in concequence of this, Theft I had almost said. I should think myself very happy to have miss Jefferson come and Spend the Summer and winter with me. Next Spring I hope to return to America.”