Papers of John Adams, volume 6

From Stephen Sayre, 15 June 1778 Sayre, Stephen JA From Stephen Sayre, 15 June 1778 Sayre, Stephen Adams, John
From Stephen Sayre
Sir Copenhagen 15th June 1778

As my information is only from the public papers, I am left in uncertainty whether I am writing to Mr. John, or Mr. Samuel 208Adams. Some Letters have pass'd between the latter Gentleman and myself, on the subject of American Controversy. As I ask only for a short reply, on a matter of simple justice; I trust I shall not be disappointed, tho I am ignorant as to which of those great Characters I write.1

You cannot be a stranger to the circumstance of my having attended Mr. Lee to Berlin, at the public expence. I thought it somewhat hard, to be told at Berlin, which was done in clear and express terms, that I should be no longer consider'd in that service, or expect the least support from the Commissioners, whether I return'd to Paris with Mr. Lee, or not—at the same time I don't say they acted unjustly.

As a private Gentleman, having no expectation given me that the most humiliating attendance at Paris could give me any Employment, I chose to remain at Berlin, where I could live more at ease and at less expence. Having wrote to my friends in Congress from Paris, by all the Ships sent by the Commissioners from the month of April 1777, to September or October—I waited with impatience for Answers. Think then, how great must be my astonishment, to learn, that tho' the Commissioners had many Letters sent to their care for me, they have neither sent them, or given me any reasons why they with'old them. Surely this is a ground of complaint, and a conduct that sets all conjecture at difiance.

I am willing to suppose some strange accidents may have concur'd to disappoint me. I could wish, that urgent national business were an Apology for neglecting an individual, tho' intitled to some decent attention, from the highest Characters. I have a right to some reply, as a private man—my whole public conduct makes it a matter of indispensable justice.

Of you, Dear Sir, I request the high favour, to learn the Cause, and to state it to me with candour. If you suffer any arguments to dissuade you from a reply, which I may expect from your own feelings, you will thereby condemn me before I am heard.

Let me add one word of congratulation on the glory acquired by the United States of America, and that I am with great esteem and respect your obedient & very humble Servant

Stephen Sayre

RC (PPAmP: Franklin Papers); addressed: “To the honorable—Adams Esqr Member of the American Congress now at Paris”; docketed: “Mr. Stephen Sayres Letter. 15. June 1778 from Copenhagen.”; in an unknown hand: 209“Stephen Sayre Amsterdam”; passage in an unknown hand and apparently done considerably later than the other entries: “tous les françois aiment M. franklin ils admirent ses talents ils respectent ses vertus tous les americains partagent ces sentiments avec M. franklin.” The reference in the second docketing to “Amsterdam” is unclear because Sayre was apparently not in that city until mid–1779 (Sibley-Shipton, Harvard Graduates , 14:212).


Stephen Sayre, Princeton B.A. and Harvard M.A., had at various times been a merchant, London banker, pamphleteer, and Sheriff of London. In 1775 he had been imprisoned in the Tower of London on charges of high treason, against which he had been successfully defended by Arthur Lee, and was the self-described chief founder of the Society of Supporters of the Bill of Rights (same, 14:204–211). In this last capacity he had written to JA on 15 Oct. 1773 to notify him of his election to membership in the Society (vol. 1:353–354)

The present letter, apparently not acted on by either JA or the Commissioners, shows Sayre in another role: freelance diplomat. It reflects the split that had developed between him and Arthur Lee when he served as Lee's secretary during the ill-fated Berlin mission in 1777 to secure recognition for the United States. When the mission failed and Lee returned to Paris, Sayre claimed without authorization to be an official American agent in Berlin. Apparently this pose was maintained during the time Sayre spent in Copenhagen and Stockholm, from Dec. 1777 through early 1779, attempting to promote, according to his later statements, a league of armed neutrals. By mid–1779 the Commissioners, particularly Franklin, had disavowed his activities and referred him to the congress for the compensation he sought (Sibley-Shipton, Harvard Graduates , 14:210–212; DAB ).

Abraham Whipple to the Commissioners, 15 June 1778 Whipple, Abraham First Joint Commission at Paris JA Abraham Whipple to the Commissioners, 15 June 1778 Whipple, Abraham First Joint Commission at Paris Adams, John
Abraham Whipple to the Commissioners
Gentlemen On board Ship Providence Paimbeuf June 15t. 1778

Had the honour of Recieving your Letter1 per Capt. Jones, beg leave to mention there are no Orders relative to my Prisoners, which should be glad to Recieve. Am Repairing my Masts and will make the Old Ones serve, New Ones being very expensive. Shall be as frugal as possible. Capt. Jones acquaints me you have some Cloathing and Arms for the United States it is in my Power to Carry considerable, if I know timely the Quantity and Largeness of Bales; that I may stow the Ship Accordingly. The Ship will be graved and in readiness to take in in twelve Days. My Midshipmen are Arrived having made their escape to St. Maloes. The Prize Brigantine is safe at the Isle of Rea.2 I have Ordered her round here, and shall deliver her to Charge of Mr. Schweighaser on Arrival at Nantes. Have the Honour to be Your most Obedt. very Humble Servt.

Abraham Whipple

NB My Masts are now on shore a Repairing with all possible Expedition.


RC (PPAmP: Franklin Papers); docketed: “Captn. Ab. Whipples Letter. Paimbeuf 15 June 1778.”


That of 6 June (calendared above).


Presumably the He de Ré, located off La Rochelle in the Bay of Biscay southeast of Paimboeuf. The brigantine captured by the Providence had been recaptured by the British and was in turn recaptured by a French vessel (Allen, Naval Hist. of the Amer. Revolution , 1:356). The returned midshipmen may have been members of the prize crew put aboard the brigantine by Whipple, who had managed to escape from the British ship that made the initial recapture.