Papers of John Adams, volume 3

From Edward Dilly

John Adams' Service in the Continental Congress

From James Warren, 7 May 1775 Warren, James JA From James Warren, 7 May 1775 Warren, James Adams, John
From James Warren
Watertown May 7th: 1775 My Dear Sir

After I had Executed my Commission at Providence,1 I Returned Home set Mrs. Warren down in her own Habitation, made the best provision I could for the security of our Family, and some of our Effects which we considered to be not very safe at Plymouth, and Immediately hastened to this place in order to contribute my mite to the publick Service in this Exigence of affairs. Here I have been near a week every day resolving to write to you without beginning to Execute such a resolution till now. And Indeed every thing seems to be in such Confusion that I hardly know where to begin, and perhaps I shall be at as great a Loss to know where to End. I find our own Body Extreamly weakened by the several detachments (to use the stile of the Times) made from it.2 When I see the seats of many of my Friends on whom I used to place my principal dependance empty, and feel the want of them as I do, at a Time when they are more wanted than ever, I am almost discouraged: however as I was Born to Struggle with difficulties, shall Endeavour to answer the End of my Creation as well as I Can. The Congress since I have been here has generally been full, Unanimous, and Spirited, ready and willing to do every thing in their power and frequently animated by the most agreable News from the other Colonies. The principal objects of our attention, have been the regulation and officering of the army, and arming the men and devising ways and means to support the Enormous Expence Incured under our present Situation,3 and these I dare say you can easily Conceive to be attended with many difficulties under the present Circumstances of our Government in which recommendations are to supply the place of Laws, and destitute of Coercive power Exposed to the Caprice of the People, and depending entirely on their virtue for Success.4

We have Voted to Issue Notes for 100,000£ and to request your aid in giving them a Currency.5 The Committee of Ways and means to sit again. We are Embarrassd in officering our army by the Establishment of minute men, I wish it had never taken place, and the necessity of haveing our Field officers appointed is every day seen and 4 Indeed in my opinion that should have been the first thing done. As to the army itself it is in such a shifting, fluctuating state as not to be capable of a perfect regulation. They are continually going and Comeing. However they seem to me to want a more Experienced direction. I could for myself wish to see your Friends Washington and Lee at the Head of it and yet dare not propose it tho' I have it in Contemplation. I hope that matter will be Considered with more propriety in your Body than ours. If you Establish a Continental army of which this will be only a part, you will place the direction as you please.6 It is difficult to say what numbers our army Consists of. If a return could be had one day it would by no means answer for the next. They have been so reduced at some times that I have trembled at the consequences that might take place. Our new Levies are coming in and by that means I hope they will be in a more permanent state. I believe there are about 6,000 in Camp at present. They are Employed at Cambridge in heaving up Entrenchments, somewhere about Phip' Farm. I have not seen them. The Extream want of the Exercise of a fixt settled Government is sufficiently felt here at this time, and has produced the assignment of a Time to take that matter under Consideration. Next Tuesday is the time.7 What will be done I know not. I am Inclined to think they will Vote to assume a Government, but who is to form this Constitution, who is to rigg the Ship I cant tell. It appears to me a Business of such a nature, so Important, and in which an Error once Committed, will probably be as lasting as the Constitution itself, that I am afraid to meddle, it is sufficient for such a Genius as mine to know the places and use of the several ropes after the Ship is rigged. However we have a Chance. Success is the Criterion that generally determines the Judgement. If we should either by accident or by the force of our great abilities Build up a Grand Constitution with the same ease we could a Bird Cage, we shall be equally Clever fellows. If I dont Tire your patience now you shall have more of this in my next.

The Infatuation of the Inhabitants of Boston has reduced us and themselves to the precise state I have Expected it would do. We have been obliged for their sakes to pass some votes that we did not well relish.8 We have admitted the refugees to send out for their Effects, tho I dont Expect any advantage from it. In short I voted for it more to gratifie my friend Warren than from any other motive. There is no Guard against the Generals Treachery. He will find some pretenses for the base arts practiced to abuse that People, and will finally keep a large number of them there. When he lets them out at all it is very 5slowly. When the Tories, and Tory Effects are in, and his Reinforcement arrives I presume no more of them will come out. They are to be pitied tho' this is the Effects of their own folly. The misery they are already reduced to in the Town is great, and may be seen described in the Joy of the Countenances of those who get out. By the way I have Just heard that Edes has stole out. I wish his partner was with him.9 I called on Mrs. Adams as I came along. Found her and Family well. Your being out of health when you left us gives me some Uneasiness. Shall be glad to hear that you are well and happy. I shall make no apology for this Letter. Not because I think it stands in need of none, but because I know your Friendship will Cover, and Excuse a Multitude of Faults. My regards to all my Friends perticularly Hancock and Adams I have no time to write to either of them. I am with great Sincerity Your Friend &c,

Jas. Warren

I think they go on Charmingly and Swimmingly at York.10

Inclosed are a Letter from Mrs. Adams, and an Extract of a Letter from your Friend Hutchinson found among a Curious Collection of Letters now in the hands of our Friends.11 I am well assured of the authenticity of it, and send this particular Extract more because it seems to be especially Calculated to be used where you are than because it shows a greater degree of wickedness than many others.

RC (Adams Papers); docketed: “Warren May 7 1775.”


On 10 April, Warren was chosen as an additional member of a committee composed of Col. Timothy Walker and Dr. Richard Perkins to go to Rhode Island to seek cooperation in the defense of New England (Mass. Provincial Congress, Jours. , p. 136–137). The committee probably returned about 26 April, when a reference is made in the Journals to information “just now received from Rhode Island by Doct. Perkins” (same, p. 156).


A large number of committees and individuals were sent on missions outside the congress. The largest of these “detachments” was the Committee of Safety, which was meeting at Cambridge, the site of the main army.


There was no standing army nor even an established procedure for creating an army on extended service. Although the Lexington battle brought large numbers of men into the field, they were unorganized and soon began to disperse. To counter this dispersal and to seize the opportunity to create a large army from men already present, the Committee of Safety on 21 April voted to establish an army of 8,000 men. On 23 April the Provincial Congress enlarged the number to be immediately raised to 13,600 and set the total strength for defense of the colony at 30,000. None of these measures had a lasting effect, for as the war went on and enthusiasm diminished, the problem of getting and keeping men intensified (same, p. 520, 148). See also Jonathan Smith, “How Massachusetts Raised Her Troops in the Revolution,” MHS, Procs. , 55 (1921–1922):345–370.


Royal government ceased to function effectively in Massachusetts in 1774. The courts were closed, and the Provincial Congress as an extralegal body depended solely upon its recommendations to the towns. On 5 May the con-6gress formally repudiated Gov. Gage, sweeping away the last vestige of traditional authority. The congress then sought advice from the Continental Congress on how legal government could be reconstituted (Mass. Provincial Congress, Jours. , p. 192–193, 229–231). It was a continual source of wonderment in Massachusetts that men could conduct their affairs so peaceably with the dissolution of traditional forms, but it was a question how long men could go on without a formal legal structure.


The expense of supporting an army was far more than Massachusetts could pay from current funds. On 25 April the treasurer reported that of £20,000 in taxes due in 1773, only £5,000 had been collected. Recognizing the hardships facing the province, legislators defeated a resolution to identify the delinquent towns (same, p. 151). As a result, on 3 May the Provincial Congress directed the receiver general to borrow £100,000 and issue securities at 6 percent annual interest payable on 1 June 1777. The Continental Congress was asked to recommend the acceptance of these bills by other colonies, just as Massachusetts had agreed to accept those of Rhode Island and Connecticut (same, p. 185–189, 530).


There was nothing original about Warren's suggestion that the army be taken over by the Continental Congress; the idea was on many minds, and, indeed, the Provincial Congress made such a formal request on 16 May (same, p. 231). Even his suggestion of Washington and Charles Lee was not unique, although he made it early. Elbridge Gerry mentioned their names in a letter to the Massachusetts delegates on 4 June, in which he noted that Warren agreed with him (James T. Austin, The Life of Elbridge Gerry, Boston, 1828, 1:79). Washington was much discussed for commander well before the nomination was made, although apparently not so early as the first week in May (Freeman, Washington , 3:432–433). JA's role in the selection of Washington is described in his Autobiography in a passage often cited ( Diary and Autobiography , 3:321–323). When JA was a member of the First Continental Congress, he had come to know Lee fairly well, but according to his autobiographical account, JA opposed Lee for second in command because such a choice would humiliate Artemas Ward, commander in Massachusetts. Thus, Lee was ranked after Ward.


That is, 9 May, but the matter was postponed until 12 May, action not being completed until the 16th, when the letter to the Continental Congress was approved (Mass. Provincial Congress, Jours. , p. 208, 219, 229–231).


Gov. Gage permitted citizens to leave Boston on condition they took no firearms or ammunition among their possessions. In response, the Provincial Congress resolved to permit those wishing to live in Boston to do so on the same condition and even to send out for their effects later. The congress further resolved that those too poor to pay for their leaving and resettlement (estimated at 5,000) should be assisted by the towns among which they were apportioned, reimbursement to come from the provincial treasury (same, p. 172–173, 176–177, 184).


Benjamin Edes, partner with John Gill in publishing the Boston Gazette. Edes secretly brought out his press and type and set up an office in Watertown. Gill remained in Boston, where he was arrested on 4 Aug. for “printing treason,” but freed on 2 Oct. ( DAB ).


That is, New York, where the loyalists were being ousted.


The letter from AA probably was the one of 4 May, or possibly that of 7 May ( Adams Family Correspondence , 1:192–195). The extract from Hutchinson's letter has not been found, but it was made from the letterbooks seized from Hutchinson's house in Milton, which are now in the state archives (Mass. Provincial Congress, Jours. , p. 224–225, note). Some of Hutchinson's letters were printed in the newspapers of the day.