Papers of John Adams, volume 16

James Erwin to John Adams, 17 January 1785 Erwin, James Adams, John
From James Erwin
Sr: Mogadr: South Barbary the 17 Jany. 1785

Tis with the utmost grief. I Acqt. you: the Accident which as befallen me. at my departure from Cadix. to Tereniffe. were I was bound to. but unfortunately taken by one of the Emperor of Moroccos Cruzers. and Carried into Tangier. were my Vessel lays. afterwards myself & people. with many fatigues obliged to proceed to Morocco. to the Emperor. with whom I spoke to. & notwithstanding Replied He was in peace with our Nation. still ordered us to this place.1 Suspended till an Embassador of the united States of America. appears. not doubting but Congress. will take the case in Concideration to prevent further misfortunes. being assured. will not end with me. if an American Embassador. does not come to Reconcile matters hopeing will be soon. in order to Release us from this place. Craveing most Earnestly. that you’ll interfere. thereon as I am 491 an American Subject. & fought for my Country & Liberty. and above all. to Caution. my brother Seamen that they may not become the same prey. & afterwards will be with much more difficulty to come to a Reconciliation. if I can be so happy as to merit yr. Answer on the Subject. will ever make me duty bound to you. and giveing me Leave to tender my Sincere Respects to you. I Remain with all Regard / Your Excelencies / Mt. Obt. Hble. Servt.

James Erwin

RC (Adams Papers); addressed: “To / His Excelency / John Adams / Ministr. Pliniy. of the united States / of America / Hague”; internal address: “To His Excelency / John Adams / Ministr. Pliniy: of the unitd. States of America”; endorsed: “James Erwin / Mogadore.”; and by AA: “James Erwin / janry. 1785.”


James Erwin, writing from the Moroccan port of Mogador (now Essaouira), approximately 350 miles southwest of Tangier, was the captain of the American brig Betsy. In Oct. 1784 it was captured by Moroccan forces at the direction of Sultan Sidi Muhammad ibn Abdallah. The seizure was intended, as Erwin indicates in his letter, to demonstrate the sultan’s frustration with the American failure to negotiate despite the overtures he had made to the United States indicating his interest in a Moroccan-American treaty. For the actions taken by Congress and the commissioners regarding relations with Morocco and the capture of the Betsy, see John Jay’s 11 March 1785 letter to the commissioners, and JA’s 20 March letter to Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, both below. For additional information on Sultan Sidi Muhammad ibn Abdallah, see Descriptive List of Illustrations, No. 10, above.