Papers of John Adams, volume 16

Charles Thomson to the American Commissioners

To Matthew Clarkson

Thomas Cushing to John Adams, 16 August 1784 Cushing, Thomas Adams, John
From Thomas Cushing
Dear Sir. Boston August: 16th: 1784

I have just received your Favor of the 7th of May last; am oblidged to you for the Intelligence it contained—1 I Perceive you are somewhat uneasy about the Line between Massachusetts and Nova Scotia, The Provisional Articles make the River St Croix the Boundary, There are three Rivers of the same name that Empty themselves into the Bay of Passamaquaddy & although they are not very far 300 distant from each other It is very Important which shall be the Boundary, The United States say, It is the Eastermost River; (which will in that Case give them the Command of the Whole of the Bay before mentioned) The Brittons Contend that it is the Middle River, which goes by the name of Schoodick as well as St Croix & have Accordingly settled Upon the Eastern side of said River: Our General Assembly at their last Session appointed Benja Lincoln, Henry Knox and George Partridge Esqrs Agents to repair to the Eastern part of this State & there inform themselves what Encroachments have been made by the Brittains & finally report their Proceedings to the General Court; this measure was Adopted in consequence of a Resolution of Congress of the sixth of January last, recommending that Enquiry should made into this Matter,2 It is Probable the Commissioners had before them some particular Map; when the Article relative to this Boundary was Agreed upon, If so it may be in their Power to throw some light upon this Subject and perhaps determine precisely which of the Rivers, that enter the Bay of Passamaquaddy, was Intended as the Boundary—

You have doubtless been Informed that Congress the last year Sent Baron Stuben to the Governor of the Province of Quebec to Demand the delivery of all those Posts that fell within the Jurisdiction of the United States by the Definitive Treaty, & that The Governor Informed him that he had not received the Ratification of the Treaty but supposed that when that arrived the Evacuation of those Posts would be of Course,3 In May last Congress ordered an officer to Canada & repeated their Demand for the Delivery of the Posts aforesaid, but all the Answer that Could be obtained from the Governor, was, that although he had received the Definitive Treaty yet he had not received any directions from his Master relative to the Evacuation or Delivery of those Posts, & that it was impossible for him to say When he shoud, This Conduct of the Governor, togather with Sr John Johnston’s Inviting the Indians in those parts to hold a Conferrence with him at Niagara, and their Preparing to meet him there, affords some grounds of Suspicion that we shall have some difficulty in that Quarter—4

The General Assembly of this State at their last Session preferred a Petition to Congress representing, that as the State of New York had sett up a Claim to some part of the Lands to the Westward of Hudson’s River Which of Right belonged to this Commonwealth, and as it was highly necessary to have the said Claim brought to 301 an immediate decision, they therefore prayed that Commissioners might be appointed for Enquiring into and Determining upon the Same, in Consequence of Which Congress appointed the first Monday in December next for the Appearance of the respective States by their lawfull Agents, at the place at Which Congress Shall then Sit, to proceed in the premises, and The Court have since Appointed three Gentlemen Vizt The Honble Mr Dana Mr Lowell & Mr Sullivan to Collect the Evidence of the Title of this Commonwealth to the Lands above referred to & to prosecute the Suit to final determination— If I do not misremember you were one of a Committee some years ago to Examine into & State the Title of this Commonwealth to the Land aforesaid; If you can afford any Aid or assistance to these Gentlemen upon this Subject I doubt not you will chearfully do it and thereby make an addition to the many & various Services with Which you have already benefitted Your Country—5

With great Esteem I have the Honor to be, Sir / Your most obedient & humble Servant

Thomas Cushing

RC and enclosure (Adams Papers); internal address: “His Excellency John Adams Esqr”; endorsed: “Lt Gov. Cushing.”; docketed by CFA: “Aug 16. 1784.”; enclosure endorsed: “Lt. Govr. Cushing, Aug. 16. / ansd. Oct. 25. 1784.” For the enclosure, see note 2.


JA’s letter to Cushing of 7 May has not been found, perhaps because Cushing did not retain the RC, but also because at that time JA was being inconsistent in keeping LbC’s. From Cushing’s comments regarding the disputed Nova Scotia-Massachusetts boundary that immediately follow, it seems that JA’s letter was a reply to Cushing’s letter of 26 Nov. 1783 and specifically to the postscript in which the Lieutenant Governor wrote, “it is apprehended there will be some difficulty in Settling the Line between this State & Nova Scotia however hope the Definitive Treaty will be so explicit as to prevent all Dispute” (vol. 15:376–378). For JA’s comments on the difficulties in determining the boundary during the peace negotiations, see his reply of 25 Oct. 1784, below.


The enclosure Cushing sent with this letter was a copy of the Mass. General Court’s 7 July resolve creating the three-man commission. In addition to reporting their findings to the General Court, Benjamin Lincoln, Henry Knox, and George Partridge, should any incursions have occurred, were to make representations to the governor of Nova Scotia “and request him in a friendly manner, and as a proof of that disposition for peace and harmony which should subsist between neighboring States, to recall from off the said territory the said subjects of his Britannic Majesty” (Mass., Acts and Laws , 1784–1785, p. 242). For the congressional resolution that spurred Massachusetts to act, see JCC , 26:11.


For Gen. Friedrich von Steuben’s mission to Canada in mid-1783 and his unsuccessful negotiations with Gen. Frederic Haldimand, British commander in chief in Canada, see vol. 15:327.


Congress resolved on 12 May 1784 that Knox should open a correspondence with Haldimand to determine when “the posts within the territories of the United States, now occupied by British troops, shall be delivered up.” On 13 June, Knox ordered Lt. Col. William Hull to proceed to Quebec and deliver to Haldimand his letter of the same date requesting the information sought by Congress. Hull delivered the letter on 12 July 302 and on the following day Haldimand replied that despite having seen the definitive treaty, he had no orders regarding the evacuation of the posts and thus could not comply with Congress’ request ( JCC , 27:376; PCC, No. 167, f. 403–405, 419–420, 423–425, 427–428). Sir John Johnson was the British superintendent and inspector general for the Six Nations ( DAB ). For additional reports regarding the situation on the Canadian-American frontier and negotiations between Johnson and the Native Americans, see JA’s 25 Oct. letter to Cushing, and note 2, below.


For the effort to resolve the longstanding New York-Massachusetts boundary dispute, see Elbridge Gerry’s letter of 16 June, and note 5, above. For JA’s 1774 report on Massachusetts boundaries, now lost, see vol. 2:22–81.