Papers of John Adams, volume 14

Draft Articles on the Fisheries and Creditors

From William Gordon

Draft Articles on the Fisheries, 29 November 1782 Adams, John Franklin, Benjamin Jay, John
Draft Articles on the Fisheries
[29 November 1782]1

That the Subjects of his Britannic Majesty and the People of the Said United States, Shall continue to enjoy unmolested, the Right to take Fish of every kind on the gr all the Banks of Newfoundland, in the Gulph of St Lawrence, and all other Places, where the Inhabitants of both Countries used formerly at any Time heretofore, to fish; and also to dry and cure the Same, at the accustomed Places, whether belonging to his Said Majesty, or to the United States— And his britannic majesty and the Said united States will extend equal Priviledges and Hospitality to each others Fisherman as to his own.2

[29 November 1782]

That the People of the united States Shall continue to enjoy unmolested the Right to take Fish of every kind on the Grand Bank of And on all the other Banks of Newfoundland, also in the Gulph of St Laurence and at all other Places in the Sea, where the 99Inhabitants of both Countries used at any Time heretofore to fish. And also that the Inhabitants of the United States Shall have Liberty to take Fish of every kind, on Such Part of the Coast of Newfoundland as British Fishermen Shall Use, but not to dry or cure the Same on that Island, and also on the Coasts, Bays, and Creeks of all other of his Britannic Majestys Dominions in America. And that the American Fishermen Shall have Liberty to dry and cure Fish in any of the Unsettled Bays, Harbours and Creeks of Nova Scotia, Magdalene Islands and Labradore, so long as the Same Shall remain unsettled, but So soon as the Same, or either of them shall be Settled, it Shall not be lawfull for the Said Fishermen to dry or cure Fish at such Settlement without a previous Agreement for that purpose with the Inhabitants, Proprietors or Possessor of the Ground.3

MSS (Adams Papers); respectively endorsed: “Project / of an Article respecting / the Fisheries.” and “Project of an / Article respecting the / Fisheries.”


The two draft articles on the fisheries presented here were intended to be inserted into the treaty as Art. 3. According to JA's Diary entry for 29 Nov., they were the product of an entire day of discussions between the British and American negotiators “about the Fishery and Tories. I proposed a new Article concerning the Fishery. It was discussed and turned in every Light, and multitudes of Amendments proposed on each Side, and at last the Article drawn as it was finally agreed to” (JA, D&A , 3:79). The initial discussions likely centered on the article JA had drafted on the 28th, above, but for the progress of the negotiations and their conclusion, see notes 2 and 3, below.


This is likely the “new Article” proposed by JA on the 29th. From its language it would appear that a principal point of contention was precisely where the American fishermen could dry and cure their fish. In drafting the article, JA appears to have attempted to finesse that issue by introducing an element of ambiguity through the use of the words “at the accustomed Places.” When that solution proved unacceptable, JA proposed two other formulations, both written below the body of the article. The first read “on convenient Places to be assigned, on the Shores of Nova Scotia” and was likely unacceptable because with or without the canceled passage the article retained the original ambiguity. The second proposal, “in on the Shores of any of the unsettled Bays, Harbours, or Creeks of Nova Scotia,” was acceptable because it incorporated the language of the [4 Nov.] and 25 Nov. draft treaties as well as JA's draft of the 28th, all above.


As drafted, this article is virtually the same as that in the treaty signed on 30 Nov., below, lacking only the first three words: “It is agreed.”