Papers of John Adams, volume 9

Bidé de Chavagnes to John Adams: A Translation

To Francis Bowens

From James Lovell, 4 May 1780 Lovell, James JA


From James Lovell, 4 May 1780 Lovell, James Adams, John
From James Lovell
Dear Sir May 4 1780

The Bearer Mr. Mease is Brother to the late Cloathier General and is intimately connected with an Irish Gentleman here for whom I have great Regard as a zealous Republican and Friend to America.1 It is more on Account of that Connection with my Friend than of any personal Acquaintance that I have been led to introduce Mr. Mease to your Civilities. His Care of sundry Pacquets for you would indeed alone have been sufficient to merit your Attention.

I chiefly rely on them and his Conversation to what ought to be the Task of the Committee of foreign Affairs if that Committee was 271 image not a mere Shadow without a Quorum a Secretary or Clerk. I send regularly to Mrs. Adams the News Papers and Journals for you that she may not be without some Informations of that kind herself during your Absence. She sends them to the Navy Board, doubtless with the Addition of Something still more agreable to you individually considered.

This Testimony of my affectionate Remembrance of You will reach your Hand at all Events as I mean it to be useful to Mr. Mease whatever may be his Lot as to a safe Passage.

If you receive any Thing from me in Cyphers it will be upon the same Mode as that which I have communicated to Doctr. Franklin and which will serve great Numbers with equal safety. It is the Alphabet squared as on the other Side and the key Letters are the two first of the Surname of the Family where you and I spent the Evening together before we sat out from your House on our Way to Baltimore.2

Your affectionate humble Servant James Lovell

All your Letters from Spain came safely. Give my Love to your Family, to Mr. Dana in particular and tell him I imagine all his came safely too though no Body at Philada. knows any thing about them.

1 a b c
2 b c d
3 c d e
4 d e f
5 e
6 f
7 g
8 h
9 i
10 j
11 k
12 l
13 m
14 n
15 o
16 p
17 q
18 r
19 s
20 t
21 u
22 v
23 w
24 x
25 y
26 z
27 &

Make use of any of the perpendicular columns according to your key Letters. You may reply to me by the use of any new ones. For Instance you may refer to the 2 3 4 &c. Letters of a Word 1st. 2d. 3d. 4th. &c. in a Paragraph of any one of your Letters of such an such a date known to have been received by me, or you may say “reverse the Letters you have chosen,” or “add one more to those you have used,” or by any such like Direction you may give me the Key of your Answer.

I will give you a Specimen as follows. You submitted your Accounts with a Confession of your arithmetical Antipathies in that particular Line, and a Supposition of Errors. The Chamber of Accounts reported specially, not being in Capacity to judge of the Propriety of the Charges. Their Report was committed and the Result was from Mr. Forbes Mr. 272Mathews and Mr. Houston such as I imagine you yourself would have determined, on a like Committee! to you.3

“That they do not find any Vote or Proceeding of Congress, nor are they informed of any general or received Custom on which the Charge of Monies for the education of the son of the Accomptant can be admitted; and though the same is inconsiderable, they are of Opinion it ought to be rejected, that a precedent be not established.

That they are of opinion the Charge for books ought to be admitted on the ground of a practice which has obtained in different Nations respecting their public ministers and which is mentioned by Mr. Adams in the Explanations attending his Vouchers.

That they find the several Charges in the said accounts conformable to the strictest principles of Oeconomy, and that, as far as Mr. Adams has been intrusted with public money the same has been carefully and frugally expended.”

Congress agreed to the said Report.

Bal. due 2511.12. 6.4

You ought to use Cyphers in your public Letters but you should communicate your Key to Mr. Thompson to serve in my Absence.5

RC (Adams Papers); endorsed: “Mr Lovel. 4 May ansd. 24 June 1780 a Cypher. My Accounts &c.”


This was Robert Mease, brother of James Mease, the clothier general from early 1777 until his resignation in Sept. 1778 (vol. 5:374; JCC , 12:937). The “Irish Gentleman” was Dr. Hugh Shiell. According to Elbridge Gerry's letter of 5 May (Adams Papers), Mease was involved in the plan of Shiell and others to bring their property to America from Ireland.


Lovell's cipher consisted of an alphabetical square composed of 27 columns and 27 numbered rows, the 27th character being the ampersand. To encipher a letter one would take letters from a key word, and read down the corresponding columns to the desired letter and substitute the number of the row for the letter. In JA's case, since he and Lovell had stayed with the Richard Cranch family on their way to Baltimore in 1777, the letters were “C” and “R” from the key word “CRANCH.” According to Lovell's instructions, JA would first read down the “C” column to encipher the first letter of a passage and then read down the “R” column to encipher the second letter. He would then alternate between the “C” and the “R” columns until the encipherment of the passage was completed. Each new passage would begin with the “C” column. To decipher a passage the process was reversed.

Lovell's cipher was not in itself complex, but his explanation did much to make it so. Had he been satisfied to explain the system just as it was sent to JA, it seems likely that JA would have understood the process. By indicating variations in the system, such as using different letters from the key word; the possibility of devising a new key word; and failing to note that numbers higher than 27 were blinds; Lovell managed only to confuse, a confusion magnified by Lovell's own tendency to make errors when he used the cipher. In any event, JA's replies of 24 June (below) indicated that neither he nor Franklin, who had also received a copy of the cipher in a letter of this same date ( Cal. Franklin Papers, A.P.S. , 2:245), could understand Lovell's system. The reproduction of JA's flawed key to the cipher and a more detailed explanation of the Lovell cipher are in Adams Family Correspondence , 4:viii, 188, 393–399. The first extant letter to JA in which Lovell used his cipher was that of 14 Dec. (below).

273 3.

JA submitted his accounts to the Board of Treasury under a covering letter of 19 Sept. 1779 (vol. 8:154). The committee that considered the accounts reported on 15 Dec. 1779 and its report was adopted on 15 April 1780 ( JCC , 15:1363–1364; 16:368–369). Except for minor differences, Lovell quotes the report exactly.


This figure was inserted by Lovell, it was not in the report. It is derived from subtracting the expenditure of 1,861 livres 1s for JQA's education from 4,372 livres 13s 6d, the balance due JA before the deduction. For the audit of JA's accounts, see Lovell's letter to AA of 14 May ( Adams Family Correspondence , 3:343–346). AA ultimately received the money in September (same, 3:415–416).


This sentence was written in the left margin.