Papers of John Adams, volume 5

To Elbridge Gerry

John Adams' Service in the Continental Congress

From Oliver Wolcott, 1 January 1777 Wolcott, Oliver JA


From Oliver Wolcott, 1 January 1777 Wolcott, Oliver Adams, John
From Oliver Wolcott
sir Baltimore1 1 Janry 1777

Your Favour of the 30 Nov came to hand last Evening for which I most sincerely thank you. I wrote to you the 15: Nov. which I hope you have received.2 Your Observations of the Necessity of establishing a respectable Army are in my Judgment 57Very Proper. Congress have impowered Genl. Washington to raise 16 Battalions in Addition to those Already granted and 3,000 Cavalry. Also have given the General a Power for six Months to Conduct at his Discretion the Operations of the War, establish Magazines, call upon the Militia when Necessary, regulate every Department in the Army, Displace and Appoint any Officer below the Rank of Brigadier General &c. In a Word the Whole of the Military Department is put into his Hand for six Months.3 Upon this that the Preservation of the Civil Liberties of the People, at the present Time, depends upon the full Exertion of the Military Power. An Embargo for six Months is laid upon fatted Provisions.4 For other Matters of publick Intelligence referr you to the enclosed. I hope We may Obtain further advantages against the Enemy in the Jersys.5 The Express is this Moment going off. I have only to say, that We must have an Army, to carry on a War without one is a New Peice of Business. That they ought to be provided for in the best Manner, and that without Discipline they will not be serviceable. And that I think if We can once bring one into the Feild, that they will be much better provided for disciplined and governed than they have hitherto been, in a Word I beleive if We can get an Army it will be a good one—more happy themselves and more Beneficial to the Publick than any We have yet had.

Great Complaints are made that the Assemblys have Appointed great Numbers of Very insufficient Officers and have neglected the most Apparent Merit.

Your kindness for me particularly exacts my Gratitude, I wish I was less sensible of the Injury I have received.6 Any but those who have exercised Power to Answer sinister Purposes to my Injury I can easily forgive, but those Men I hope may deserve not only my Forgiveness but that of their Maker. I am at no Loss as to what they deserve. But God forbid that this Villany shall ever induce Me to relax my Endeavours to serve my Country as far as I am able. I saw the Baseness of those Men's Design and the Effect of my own Undertaking in a good Degree contrary to my own Opinion. I undertook and therefore ought to suffer. I am generally tho't to be pritty inflexible in my own Opinion. I certainly will study to be more so.

My Compliments to Mrs. Adams, and with Candor Accept this hasty Sketch from Sir your Most Obedient humble Servant Oliver Wolcott

RC (N); docketed in an unknown hand: “Col: Wolcotts Letter”; in another hand: “1 Jany 1777 S.” Enclosure not found.


On 12 Dec. the congress resolved to move to Baltimore because of the threatening military situation. The first meeting was held there on 20 Dec. ( JCC , 6:1027–1028).


Neither letter has been found.


These powers were voted on 27 Dec. (same, 6:1045–1046).


Anticipating shortages for the army of “bacon, salted beef, pork, soap, tallow and candles,” the congress on 30 Dec. 1776 prohibited the export of these articles from 6 Jan. until 1 Nov. 1777 (same, 6:1054).


On Christmas Day, Washington's forces captured 918 prisoners at Trenton (Freeman, Washington , 4:325).


As an Indian commissioner for the Northern Department, Wolcott had participated with Gen. Schuyler, Col. Turbutt Francis, and others in a conference in August 1775. At the end, and wholly unexpectedly, a sachem brought up the contested land claims between Pennsylvania and Connecticut along the Susquehanna River, declaring that the land had been sold to Gov. John Penn. When commissioners Schuyler, Wolcott, and two others, but not Francis, held an inquiry into this surprising departure from the purpose of the Indian conference, they found evidence that Francis, a Pennsylvania land claimant, had offered a bribe to have the speech made. It was decided that the matter should be reported to the congress; but although a letter was drafted and signed, it apparently was never presented. Out of delicacy as a Connecticut man and thus an interested party, Wolcott did not sign this letter. Francis did not find out about the investigation until months later, when Wolcott told him about it as a matter of honor. A misunderstanding followed, with Francis blaming his fellow commissioners for going into matters not of their concern and keeping their investigation secret. Acting the injured party, Francis demanded an investigation by the congress, which was never completed because Indian witnesses would not testify. Schuyler apparently resented Wolcott's having revealed the findings, but Wolcott felt that he had acted uprightly in every respect. Just why these animosities should have been festering in the fall of 1776 when Francis' effort at a congressional inquiry had failed as long ago as June is not clear. But Wolcott wrote in detail to Timothy Edwards about the whole affair on 29 Nov., and it seems that JA wrote in support of Wolcott on the 30th (Julian P. Boyd and Robert J. Taylor, eds., The Susquehannah Company Papers, 11 vols., Ithaca, 1962–1971, 6:348–349, 416–420; 7:11–12, 24–28).