Papers of John Adams, volume 11

From John Bondfield

To Edmund Jenings

From James Lovell, 2 January 1781 Lovell, James JA


From James Lovell, 2 January 1781 Lovell, James Adams, John
From James Lovell
Dear Sir Janry. 2d. 1780 i.e. 1781

Your Favor of Sepr. 20th.1 reached me at Christmas. I inclose you a Resolve but am not able to give you a Copy of what I officially wrote to cover it by Col. Palfrey and by Way of Boston.2 You will oblige me by returning a Copy of that Letter which ought to appear in the Books of the Committee for foreign Affairs, those Books being soon I hope to be placed in some regularly established Office.3

Col. Laurens being on his Way to France via Boston will be able if he sees you to communicate more in one Evening than I could in many Sheets.4 I can only say that we are bankrupt with a mutinous army,5 the latter owing very much to the delay of cloathing.6 I hope you will remark that so long ago as Oct. 26. 1779 the Powers you now have were voted to Mr. Laurens, and would have been earlier, but from fear of embarrassing those whose Friendship we wished for.7

You will hear from your Family minutely I presume by Col. J Laurens.8

Affectionately yours JL

RC (Adams Papers); endorsed: “Mr Lovel Jany. 2. 1781 Col. John Laurens.”


Vol. 10:164–165.


Lovell refers to Congress' resolution of 12 Dec. 1780 ( JCC , 18:1147; for the text see Lovell's letter of 6 Jan., below). The Committee for Foreign Affairs enclosed the resolution in a letter of 12 Dec., but see Lovell's letter of 14 Dec. (vol. 10:407–408, 411–413). The copy carried by William Palfrey, American consul to France, was not received because Palfrey was lost at sea; see John Bondfield's letter of 23 June, below, and Adams Family Correspondence , 4:22.


Congress established the office of secretary for foreign affairs on 10 Jan. but did not 10appoint the first secretary, Robert R. Livingston, until 10 Aug. ( JCC , 19:43–44; 21:851–852).


John Laurens, appointed in Dec. 1780 to raise a loan in France, sailed from Boston in February and reached France in early March (vol. 10:294; from Francis Dana, 14 March, below).


This is the first letter in this volume to contain encrypted passages based on the cipher that Lovell sent to JA with his letter of 4 May 1780 (vol. 9:271–272). For an explanation of the cipher and the difficulties that JA had with it, see note 2 to that letter and references there.


That Lovell's concerns about the army and its grievances had substance became clear on 3 Jan. when news reached Congress of the mutiny of the Pennsylvania Line on New Year's Day. The one artillery and ten infantry regiments of the Pennsylvania Line quartered at Morristown mutinied over lack of pay, clothing, and provisions, but most particularly over their terms of enlistment, which were for three years or the duration of the war. The troops interpreted this to mean “which ever came first” and thus their obligation to serve had lapsed on 31 Dec. 1780. A board of sergeants undertook negotiations, first with their commander, Gen. Anthony Wayne, and then with Joseph Reed, president of Pennsylvania, that resulted in an agreement on 10 Jan. that stipulated amnesty for the mutineers, the discharge of those whose service was legally up, the correction of arrearages in pay, and an adequate supply of clothing and provisions. The most detailed account of the incident is Carl Van Doren's Mutiny in January, N.Y., 1943; but see also the report of the congressional committee appointed to deal with the mutiny ( JCC , 19:79–83) and Lovell's letters of 6 and 8 Jan., both below. For a newspaper account of the mutiny and its outcome, see the Pennsylvania Gazette of 24 January.


These were Henry Laurens' powers to raise a loan in the Netherlands, which JA was authorized to exercise in Laurens' absence by virtue of Congress' resolution of 20 June 1780 ( JCC , 15:1210; vol. 9:452–453). Lovell's reference to “those whose Friendship we wished for” is unclear, but he may mean France.


The only family letter that can be identified positively as being carried by Laurens is AA's of 28 Jan. ( Adams Family Correspondence , 4:70–72).