Adams Family Correspondence, volume 7

Abigail Adams to John Quincy Adams, 22 November 1786 AA JQA


Abigail Adams to John Quincy Adams, 22 November 1786 Adams, Abigail Adams, John Quincy
Abigail Adams to John Quincy Adams
My dear Son London November 22 1786

It is a long time since I received a line from you, or any other of my Friends, nor have we learnt with certainty whether your Brother Tommy was admitted Colledge. By captain Folger I wrote to you, and hope it went Safe to your hand, as the Letter containd Something more than words. As I know you will not wish to Spend any time Idle it may not be too early to consult you respecting the preceptor you wish to be placed with. Law I take for granted is the Study you mean to persue. Mr Lowel of Boston and mr Parsons of Newbury port, are both of them Gentleman Eminent in their profession, and I have made inquiry of mr Cutting who you know was with mr Lowel respecting the Situation of his office and the method persued in it. Mr Cutting has the highest opinion of mr Lowels abilities, and a great esteem for his private character, as every person acquainted with him must have. But he adds that mr Lowel has a natural Indolence about him, which prevents a pupils deriving all that information and advantage from him, which a more active Character would afford,1 and in addition to this, a city is not the best calculated for study. Mr Parsons character is equally high as a Lawyer, and he has, as I have been informd an insatiable thirst for knowledge, and is never better pleasd than when he can meet with a Youth of Similar taste and inclinations. I own from the Character of both Gentlemen, and other circumstances, I am led to incline to mr Parsons. But you who are upon the spot, with the information and advice of your Friends, may be best able to judge upon the Subject. I know your Father means to leave it to your choice. You will inform yourself upon the Subject, and the Terms &c and communicate to us. Your Father will then write to the Gentleman.2

We are Still left in the Dark respecting our continuance here. Few decisive measures appear to be taken by Congress upon any Subject, indeed I fear they are so much embarressd as not to know what to do. I hope according to Parson Moodys doctrine, they will not do, they know not what, which has some times been the case.3 The Treaty between France and England is ratified between the high contracting parties, it must come before Parliament and receive a Sanction there; whether it will meet with much opposition there; time only will determine. What is termd opposition here, is a very feeble party, who have not purses and concequently not power to 395carry any points of importance. It is rather Novel for this Nation to Court and cringe to a Country which they have ever affected to Hate and despise, but the Edicts of the King of France totally prohibiting British Manufactories, Effected what mr Crawford could not, by three years residence, and I dare Say the united States might have accomplishd the Same, if they would all have adopted the Massachusetts Navigation act, and abided by it.

It is a subject of much regreet to every Friend of America, and no small mortification to those in publick Character, to see the proceedings of some Counties and Towns, uneasy and wrestless under a Government in which they enjoy perfect freedom, they are taking effectual methods to create themselves a Tyrant e'er long. By wishing to abolish the Senate they are destroying that balance of power by which alone their Liberties are secured to them. The Printers in this Country Eagerly Seaize every paragraph of this kind and publish it, which they would not do, if they did not conceive they could injure America by it. They have given us in this days papers the proceedings of the County convention of Hampshire, which are a disgrace to our annals.4 I have been thinking whether it might not be of use to our Country to have some Such Societys formed as there are in this Country, call'd debating Societies, in which a precident presides. The Question is publishd two Days or more before hand, admission is easy, only 6 pence a person, and any person who pleases may enter and speak to the Subject. And these Societies are the resort of all the Young Gentleman who wish to form themselves for publick Speaking; whether for the Law, divinity, or the House of commons. And sometimes Questions are discussed here in a masterly manner. A perfect Stranger has an equal freedom of Speach, with the best known, order and decency must be observed, but no questions are askd, who you are, or from whence you came. I will give you from this Days paper the Question for tomorrow Evening.

“Which of the three publick Characters in the present Situation of this Country, is most qualified by his abilities and integrity to fill the office of Prime Minister, Lord North, mr Fox or mr Pitt.”5

This is a question of no small importance and delicacy. I think with judicious management Societies of this kind might be establishd at least in the different universities, and many benifical concequences result from them.

Your Father is much engaged in a work that may prove of no Small utility to our Country. It is an investigation into the different Forms of Government, both ancient and modern, Monarchical Aris-396tocratical Democratical and Republican, pointing out their happiness or misery in proportion to their different balances. It appears to be a subject in which America is greatly interested, and upon which her future happiness depends. When compleated, he means only to publish a few for the present and those only for himself and Friends, but he is So much Swallowed up in the persuit of his Subject that you must not wonder if you do not receive a line from him. I think he enjoys better Health this fall than I have known him to have for Several years.

RC (Adams Papers); endorsed: “Mrs: Adams Novr: 22. 1786.”; docketed “My Mother. 22. Novr: 1786.”


John Lowell trained numerous students over the years, but as Harrison Gray Otis noted, “He then rarely came to the office,—only for a few minutes at a time, then hurrying up to the court in session, to rush into the argument of some important cause. . . . His consultations with clients were principally at his own house in Roxbury, and in short interviews. He generally amused himself in his garden until it was time to hurry in to court,—where he never arrived too early” ( Sibley's Harvard Graduates , 14:654).


No such letter from JA to Theophilus Parsons regarding JQA's study of the law has been found.


Samuel Moody (1675/6–1747), Harvard 1697, served as the chaplain to the garrison and minister of the First Church at York, Mass. (now Maine), for nearly fifty years. Something of a folklore character in Massachusetts, Moody was known for his ability to quote apt scripture. In one instance, where members of his church were having difficulty making decisions, he advised them to adjourn and pray for guidance. The following Sunday, he preached on the text “Neither know we what to do: but our eyes are upon thee” (2 Chronicles, 20:12). After introducing the text, he claimed for his own doctrine, “When a person or people are in such a situation that they know not what to do, they should not do they know not what; but their eyes should be unto the Lord for direction” ( Sibley's Harvard Graduates , 4:356–364; Charles C. P. Moody, Biographical Sketches of the Moody Family, Boston, 1847, p. 70). See also JA's description of Moody at vol. 1:115–116.


The Hampshire County Convention met 22 Aug. at Hatfield with fifty towns represented. Seventeen of the twenty-one articles the convention adopted were grievances, some of which could only be resolved by a new state constitution (Leonard L. Richards, Shays's Rebellion: The American Revolution's Final Battle, Phila., 2002, p. 8).


Debating societies were both common and popular in late eighteenth-century London, covering an array of topics but most especially politics, religion, and philosophy. The one AA describes here took place on 23 Nov. at Coachmakers Hall (London Morning Herald, 23 Nov.; Donna T. Andrew, comp., London Debating Societies, 1776–1799, London, 1994, p. 191.)

Mary Smith Cranch to Abigail Adams, 26 November 1786 Cranch, Mary Smith AA


Mary Smith Cranch to Abigail Adams, 26 November 1786 Cranch, Mary Smith Adams, Abigail
Mary Smith Cranch to Abigail Adams
My dear sister Braintree November 26th 1786

Come home my Sister, that Braintree may have some of its old inhabitants residing in it. Could you look in upon it, you would sigh over some of its desirted mansions. General Palmers Family mov'd last week to charlestown. They came here in a violent Snow-Storm; they had sent away all their Provision and had nothing to eat. The 397next day they Set off in much better Spirits than I expected. The salt Works is his Hobby Horse yet. I hope something will be found at for him to do that may support the Family.1 Cousins Polly and Betsy are greatly oblig'd for their Gowns. You desir'd me to give them skirts but as they had skirts, and no Gowns I knew you would had you been here added two yards more to have made them what would have been so much more necessary for them. I hope I have not done wrong.

Mr Alleyn has been gone ever since the spring to the West Indies. Able is not yet married. Mrs Quincy and Miss Nancy are gone out of Town the greatest part of their time and uncle Quincy has not been off his Farm since December. Betsy was at Haverhill all last Fall and winter and Lucy all the summer. She return'd in october vacancy. It is in the vacancys only that we have any gallants in Braintree, except for married Ladies and not for all those your sister is an exception.2 The Double Sleigh begins to run.3 Its owner has not shewn his Face in our House nor meeting House since May. Matters remain just as they did in Boston. He continues to Board in the Family and all the Town to fix the —— upon him, and, laugh att the tame Husband. Not one of the Generals Family but himself and he only when business obliges him to; will go to the House.

A mr woodard has mov'd into the House which mr T. bought for him of mr Glover. I hear they are a pritty Family I design to visit them. I Shall stand a chance to meet mr T. there. I find he has domesticated himself already.

I Sent you a Short Letter by capt Barnard I had not time to do more. I find he has Sail'd.4 I wrote you that I had been making a visit to Sister Smith a wedding visit at Medford, and spent a night or two at cambridge. I went into cousin Toms chamber for the first time, it is a very good one and look'd very nice. He loves to have every thing in its place, and takes very good care of his cloaths and conducts well in every respect, So far as I can learn. Cousin JQA is chosen one of the Theses collectors which does him honour. The Governeurs of the College speak well of them all. There is like to be a great disturbance in cambridge at, the seting of the court of common Pleas this week. There is an express come to the Governour to inform him that one Shays one of the Heads of the Incindiarys, (It is a many headed Beast) is determin'd to come with eighteen hundred men to stop the court. There will be force Sent to oppose them I suppose, and I wish there may not be Blood shed. Are we not hastning fast to monarchy? to Anarchy I am sure we are, unless the 398People discover a better Spirit soon. We are concern'd for our children I assure you. The college company are wishing to be allow'd to march out in defence of Government but they will not be permited.5 Mr cranch will go tomorrow and take care of them of our children I mean.

Teusday 28th

And a colder day I never knew in January. I hope it will cool the courage of the Insurgants. I am anxious to hear Mr Cranch went to cambridge yesterday he is too aprehensive to be happy.

wednesday 29th

Tis extreem cold yet and no news from cambridge. I have just heard that our Braintree captains have been round to order all the Militia to be ready to march at a minutes warning. How hostile the appearence! I hope'd to have seen peace in my day for the future, but from the present cloud which hangs over our affairs nothing can be expected but Storms and Tempests.

Six o'clock. About a quarter after four this afternoon We had a very sensible Shock of an earthquake.6 I was in my chamber standing at a trunk, when my Chest of draws began to shake and the Brasses to rattle violently. It lasted but a few seconds and was not attended with any noise that I can learn. I was not a little alarm'd being almost alone made me feel more So.

thursday 30th

I have just receiv'd a Letter from mr cranch informing me that the Insurgents came no further than concord from thence, they Sent a Man to Bristol county to collect all the discontented there and to ingage them to meet those at concord. Chaise Shays was to come with his Gang from another Quarter, but the man from concord meeting with no success in Bristol county and upon his return not finding chaise arriv'd advis'd the Party to return. “That the Govr had call'd a counsel of war,” at which he was invited. There were present Genls Lincoln and Prescott, Coll Hitchbourn 4 Counsilors and several other Gentlemen. That measurs were propounded and discuss'd with great prudence and wisdom, but that he was not at Liberty to mention the result. The Insurgents at concord were about Sixty. They expected chaise would have brought three Thousand.

399 Satturday Decem. 2d

The Secreet is out, at least part of it. A Party of Light Horse all vollentiers went from Boston on wednesday morning in pursuit of the Insurgents. They had warrants to take up a number of their leaders and a sad company they were. The Light Horse consisted of Lawyers Physicians and merchants and were Joind by a number of Gentleman from the country as they pass'd thro it. They were commanded by Colln. Hitchbourn and were in number about three Hundred. They went as far as Groton and return'd a Friday morning with three of the Leaders of the mob, Shaddock Parker and Page. Shaddock defended himself with his sword till he had like to have kill'd a mr Reed who Seiz'd him first and who was himself Tar'd and Feather'd in former times but is now for Submiting to the Powers that Be. As Shaddocks arm was lifted to give a wound that might have been fatal to Reed, Doctor Rand Struck him upon the knee with his Broad Sword, and brought him to the ground.7 The others were taken without Sheding Blood. Cousin Willm. Smith was of the Party who went out. Another Party went out after another Set of them, but return without doing any thing. They did not think themselves strong enough to oppose such numbers as were collecting.

December 3d

I was very sorry I could not get a Letter aboard Davis, but I could not get one into Town Soon enough. Mr Cranch and the Doctor will write I hope. They can give you a better account of Publick matters than I. You may remember that in one of my Letters I mentiond our receiving Letters from mr Perkins who was at Kentucky. We receiv'd another Pacquit Last June in which he inform'd us that he was in very good Business but must stay a few years Longer, before he could think of returning, he must make a fortune. He went for that purpose and altho the hope of Settling among his Friends was almost the only thing that made Life desirable to him yet without sufficient to Set him above want he never would return. We had just sent answers away when mr cranch receiv'd a Letter from a Friend of his with an account of his Death. You my Sister who knew his worth: the goodness of his Heart, and how dear he had render'd himself to us, by his kindness and attention to this Family will easily judge how much we must be shock'd. The tender heart of my Eliza receiv'd a deeper wound than you would have supposed from what I told you before you went away. Tis no easey matter to withhold our 400affections from those who tenderly Love us. Mr Perkin's dy'd the 22d of August of a dessorder upon his Lungs. His Illness was thought to be but slight till the evening before he dy'd. He was then taken with violent nervous complaints which depriv'd him of his senses till he expir'd.

I think I told you in a former Letter of the Death of Prentis Cushing. His Parents are full of grief, they were very fond of him. He sustain'd an exellent character. We have this to comfort us, under our affliction in the loss of both. Mr Perkinss' Friend writes that he was universally belov'd and esteem'd while living and that his Death was greatly lamented. In almost every Letter I send I have to acquaint you with the Death of some of our Friends or acquaintance. I know you must rejoice with trembling whenever you receive a Letter from any of us till you have read it. It is thus that I am affected whenever I hear a vessel is arriv'd from England.

Your mother Hall Still lives as injoys a comfortable Share of health. She desires to be remember'd to all her children. Your Brothers Family are well he spent sunday evening with us. Your Neighbours are well but most Sincerely wish for your return they often come to inquire about you. Abdy and Phebe do very well and live very comfortably. She has her health better than She use'd to do. She washes for some of the Neighbours. She does So for me. She complains that she cannot get work enough to do. “He is always Puddering about but does not bring much to pass.” Mrs H. Hunt sends her love and says if it was not for your kindness she could not afford herself a piece of meat all winter. She has taken Becca Field to live with her for company and the poor Girl has had a very bad sore on her neck which has been open'd. She has been confin'd with it above a month. The neighbours have been kind to her or she must have suffer'd greatly. She could not lay in her Bed. I went to see her and carry them a few comforts, but was surpriz'd to see how the poor creature was fallen away: She has not been able to swallow a bit of Bread for three Weeks.


This is the Seventh Snow Storm we have had and a dreadful one it is. The Banks are already even with the Fences, neither man nor Beast can turn out. The cold is also Severe—how many poor creatures may be in distress upon our coast. The Season has been so dry that I expect we Shall be loaded with Snow this winter. You never 401knew such distress for water as there is in this town, almost all the wells are dry, and the Brooks very low.8


I have just heard of a Ships being cast upon point Shirley and that all the crew but one Perish'd. I fear I shall hear of more.9 Much damage has been done in Boston by the high Tide.

Mrs Russel has a fine Boy I hear, and is very well. The affairs of our milton Freinds are I fear greatly imbarrass'd. Winslow is confin'd in Hartford.—He was oblig'd to find Bondsman when mr Codman took him, as he could not discharge the debt, he deliverd himself up. I am griev'd for the General and his Lady. I have not taken up your debt from them. I could never find any thing, that it would do to take it in.

If the vessel does not sail soon you Shall hear again from your affectionate Sister Mary Cranch

Cushing is not yet arriv'd by him I hope to hear from you.

RC (Adams Papers); endorsed: “Novbr. 26 1786 Mrs Cranch” and “Mrs. Cranch december 3. 1786.”


The Adamses had begun to express fears concerning Gen. Joseph Palmer's economic well-being as early as three years before (vol. 5:139, 140). For more on his salt works, see vol. 6:13.


Possibly a reference to Richard Cranch's now living full-time in Braintree; in the past he had frequently traveled on business.


For Royall Tyler's earlier difficulties with a sleigh, see vol. 6:94 .


Mary Smith Cranch to AA, 28 Sept., above. Barnard sailed for London around 17 Nov. (Boston Gazette, 20 Nov.).


The first military company of Harvard students, the Marti-Mercurian Band, had been formed in 1769 or 1770, overturning a seventeenth-century ban on students' participation in military companies. While the company drilled occasionally (usually followed by liberal consumption of rum), it never saw service and was disbanded around 1787 (Samuel Eliot Morison, Three Centuries of Harvard 1636–1936, Cambridge, 1936, p. 28, 141). For JQA's description of and reactions to the possible attack, see his Diary , 2:133–136 (entry for 27 Nov. and subsequent).


On 2 Dec., the Massachusetts Centinel reported, “Wednesday afternoon 29 Nov., about four o'clock, a small shock of an Earthquake was sensibly felt in this town.” A later report indicated that the quake was strongest in the area of Oliver's dock, and west from there to Newton (Massachusetts Centinel, 6 Dec.).


Sampson Reed of Boston led a company of twelve men in arresting Capt. Job Shattuck. Shattuck was wounded by a sword in the process, but Reed was apparently unharmed (Jacob Whittemore Reed, History of the Reed Family in Europe and America, Boston, 1861, p. 182; Lemuel Shattuck, Memorials of the Descendants of William Shattuck, Boston, 1855, p. 126).


The Boston newspapers reported that the snowstorm of 4–5 Dec. was

“as severe a snow-storm as has been experienced here for several years past.—The wind, at east, and north-east, blew exceeding heavy, and drove in the tide with such violence on Tuesday, as over-flowed the pier several inches, which entering the stores on the lower part thereof, did much damage to the Sugars, salt, &c. therein. . . . The shipping in the harbour, we are happy to find, received but little injury: yet our apprehensions for the vessels which were daily expected to arrive, and which 402were supposed to have been on the coast when the storm began, are great.”

On 9 Dec., another snowstorm hit the Boston area, adding to the accumulated totals, “so that with what fell the preceeding part of the Week, makes it nearly 4 Feet deep upon a Level; consequently travelling is very precarious” (Boston Independent Chronicle, 7 Dec.; Boston Gazette, 11 Dec.). See also JQA, Diary , 2:136–139 (entry for 4 Dec. and subsequent), and JQA to AA2, 14 Jan. 1787 , below.


Due to the storm, the brig Lucretia, Capt. Powell, ran up on Point Shirley on the morning of 5 Dec. while trying to reach Boston Harbor. Of the eleven people on the boat, five made it to shore but could not reach shelter from the storm and thus died. Powell and five others stayed on board and subsequently reached safety (Boston Gazette, 11 Dec.).