Papers of John Adams, volume 16

Timothy Pickering to John Adams, 17 March 1784 Pickering, Timothy Adams, John
From Timothy Pickering
Dear Sir, New-York March 17. 1784.

I beg leave to trouble you with the inclosed letter to Miss Elizabeth White in London, the only sister of my wife. When her father, 92 captain Benjamin White of Boston, brought his family thither, he left his daughter Elizabeth, then a child of seven or eight years old, in London, with a friend of his, a schoolmaster, for her education. In a few years her mother died, and soon after her father also, leaving no estate for the support of their two children; & Elizabeth remained in London. In a y[ear] or two after, the late war broke out; & [my] wife has since been ignorant of her sister’s fate. Lately a letter from her, advised us of her residence, which enables us to address her. Last year a friend of ours sought for her in vain. We are solicitous to get her to us in America. Our hearts have bled for an orphan sister in such a city as London, and, for aught we could know, friendless and unprotected. We hope, indeed, that she has found at least one friend—if not among mankind—yet in her own prudence and industry.— A poor, forlorn girl, so situated, will excite your compassion, and apologize for the trouble I now request you to take, in forwarding the inclosed letter to her in London. It contains a bill of exchange for forty pounds sterling, to enable her to procure a passage, & necessaries for her voyage to America. I am anxious to have her receive the letter as early as possible, that she may take her passage in the ship Edward captain Cooper from this port, now on her way to London, from whence she will return with very little delay.1

I have the honour to be / with very great respect, / Dear sir, / Your most obedient servant

Timothy Pickering

RC (Adams Papers); internal address: “His Excellency John Adams Esquire.” Some loss of text where the seal was removed.


Timothy Pickering, a Massachusetts lawyer, served as both adjutant general and quartermaster general of the Continental Army and was later secretary of state under both George Washington and JA. In 1776 he married Rebecca White, daughter of Capt. Benjamin White of the Royal Navy. JA received Pickering’s letter on 4 May 1784, probably as an enclosure to Thomas Barclay’s letter of 26 April, below. On the same day he forwarded it to his friend Jonathan Jackson, then in London, for delivery. In doing so JA noted that “There is So much humanity and social Tenderness in The story as he tells it that there is no Man in London I believe will take more pleasure than you, in delivering The Letter with your own hand” (LbC, APM Reel 107). The letter had its desired effect for on 22 April 1785 Elizabeth White arrived at Philadelphia, where the Pickerings were then residing, to join her sister whom she had not seen since 1765 ( DAB ; Sibley’s Harvard Graduates , 15:453; Octavius Pickering and Charles W. Upham, The Life of Timothy Pickering, 4 vols., Boston, 1867–1873, 2:158).