Papers of John Adams, volume 10

To the President of Congress, No. 17

From Thomas Digges

To the President of Congress, No. 18, 27 October 1780 JA Huntington, Samuel President of Congress


To the President of Congress, No. 18, 27 October 1780 Adams, John Huntington, Samuel President of Congress
To the President of Congress, No. 18
Sir Amsterdam October 27 1780

It seems to be now certain, that Some of Mr. Laurens Papers were taken with him. There have been Sent to his most Serene Highness 307the Prince of orange, Copies of Letters from Mr. De Neufville, Mr. Gillon, Mr. Stockton and Col. Derrick,1 and a Copy of the Plan of a Treaty projected between the City of Amsterdam and Mr. W. Lee.

The Prince was much affected, at the Sight of those Papers, and laid them before their noble and grand Mightinesses, the States of Holland and Westfriesland. One Gentleman2 at least was present, who was concerned in the Transaction with Mr. Lee, who handsomely avowed the Measure. The Regency of Amsterdam, have Since given in Writing an unanimous Avowal of it, and of their determination to support it. The Letters of Mr. De Neufville and Mr. Gillon are Said to be decent and well guarded. So that upon the whole, it Seems to be rather a fortunate Event that these Papers, have been publickly produced.3 I wish I could Say the Same of Mr. Laurens's Captivity but I cannot. The Rigour of his Imprisonment, and the severity of their Behaviour towards him, are not at all abated.

I have the Honour to be &c.

LbC (Adams Papers). There is no copy of this letter in the PCC, nor any indication in the JCC that it was ever received.


The last two were Samuel Witham Stockton, who had served as William Lee's secretary (vol. 6:150), and Jacob Gerard Dircks, a Dutch volunteer in the Continental Army (Schulte Nordholt, Dutch Republic and Amer. Independence , p. 33).


Presumably Engelbert van Berckel; see note 3.


The papers seized from Henry Laurens were sent to Sir Joseph Yorke, who laid them before William V on 16 October. Chief among the documents was the treaty signed by William Lee and Jean de Neufville at Aix-laChappelle on 4 Sept. 1778 (vol. 7:5–6, 64–65; Wharton, ed., Dipl. Corr. Amer. Rev. , 2:789–798). Since Lee had no powers from Congress to negotiate and Neufville acted only as Amsterdam's agent, the treaty had no official standing. From the British point of view, however, it was a perfect pretext for war if the Dutch did not immediately comply with British demands. William V, agreeing with the British and outraged that Amsterdam would take such a provocative step, demanded an explanation from Egbert de Vrij Temminck, Burgomaster of Amsterdam. When Temminck failed to reply to the Prince's satisfaction, William V submitted the documents to both the Provincial States of Holland and the States General on 20 Oct. (Schulte Nordholt, Dutch Republic and Amer. Independence , p. 148–150; Edler, Dutch Republic and the American Revolution , p. 152–155).

A printed copy of the documents, in English and Dutch, submitted to the States General entitled Papieren Zyn Hoogheid ter Vergadering van hun Ed. Groot Mog. op den 20 October 1780 overgegeeven is in the Adams Papers, but see also the first volume of John Almon's Remembrancer for 1781 (p. 37–48), which purports to include all of the documents that Yorke was ordered to submit, including letters of 8 April and 6 Sept. 1778 from Joan Derk van der Capellen tot den Pol to Henry Laurens. Included in the Dutch publication was the text of the draft treaty and letters, clearly indicating Amsterdam's role in the negotiation, from Jean de Neufville to Samuel Stockton of 28 July 1779; Samuel Stockton to John Witherspoon of 14 April 1779; Jacob Gerard Dircks to Henry Laurens of 13 Dec. 1779; and Alexander Gillon to John Rutledge of 1 March 1780. JA was mentioned in Stockton's letter of 14 April 1779, which noted that JA was to carry the letter on his return to America in 1779; and in Gillon's letter of 1 March 1780, which referred to his unsuccessful effort in Feb. 1780 to elicit JA's help in obtaining ships for the South Carolina navy (vol. 8:321–327, 343–344).

Amsterdam responded to the demands for an explanation on 25 October. The city admit-308ted its role in the negotiation of the Lee-Neufville treaty, but argued that it was only a proposal, intended to prepare the way for the Netherlands to form a commercial relationship with the United States when and if it became independent. This was essentially the same position taken by Engelbert van Berckel, the principal advocate for the treaty among the Amsterdam leadership, in his letter to the Commissioners of 23 Sept. 1778 (vol. 7:65–66). A printed copy of Amsterdam's reply, entitled Missive van Heeren Burgemeesteren en Regeerders der Stad Amsterdam, . . ., together with an English translation in the hand of Herman Le Roy, is in the Adams Papers.

Both the Papieren and the Missive were filmed at 20 Oct. 1780, Adams Papers, Microfilms, Reel No. 353. The position taken by Amsterdam was clearly unsatisfactory to Great Britain as is evident from the memorial presented to the States General by Sir Joseph Yorke on 10 Nov. (to the president of Congress, 16 Nov., No. 20, below).

Although JA, in this letter and others in November and December, indicates that the disclosure of the Lee-Neufville treaty by the submission and later publication of the documents was “a fortunate Event,” his judgment was more muted in 1809, when he published this letter in the Boston Patriot. There he wrote that “although Mr. Vanberkel, with all that honor, integrity and fortitude which marked his character through the whole course of his life, frankly avowed the measure [the Lee-Neufville treaty], and although the regency of Amsterdam resolved to support it, yet it is certain, the discovery of it spread an universal consternation throughout the seven Provinces. I do not remember to have found one person who pretended to see the wisdom of it, though no man doubted the purity of the design. . . . I have always believed that the regency was importuned into this measure by Mr. De Neufville, who was then a very busy and a very popular man upon the Exchange of Amsterdam” (JA, Corr. in the Boston Patriot , p. 261–262).