Papers of John Adams, volume 16

Wilhem & Jan Willink to John Adams, 25 November 1784 Wilhem & Jan Willink Adams, John
From Wilhem & Jan Willink
Sir. Amsterdam 25 Nov: 1784.

We apply to your Excellencÿ in behalf of an unfortunate young man, being a Citizen of Massechusetts New England called Sir Jonas Hartwell, who was gone to Spain to settle his affairs, and had received for his account from Boston the Brig remittance Cap: John Ashton loaded chiefly with a cargo of tobacco to the consignation by his absence of Mss. Widow Birmingham, at its arrival Mr. Hartwell came from Bordeaux to Bayonne, went to Bilbao on a business, and was taken by the Inquisitors and carried in to Logroño, all his effects were seised on by this tribunal & Mss. Birmingham compelled to deliver upon oath all his propertÿ, even that she remained creditor to a large sum, his crime should consist, in having been Roman Catholic, he recanted & became a Protestant, this was related to us bÿ Cap: Ashton, who very fortunately sett of, and is arrived here with his ship, we were so struck by this relation, that we directly thought it incumbent to our dutÿ to advice your Excellency thereof, because we could not conceive, how a free Citizen to the united States was liable to be taken as a Subject by His Roman Catholic Majesty’s inquisitors for the Cause of Religion, & this American having no person there, who can claim him, and therefore stranger to every bodÿ should be forced or to forsake his religion, or perhaps suffer death, convinced as we are of your good heart, we dare Confide, your Excellency shall not permit this hardship to one of your Countrÿmen and neighbours, & shall interest himself as He will think most adapted to his situation, we should rejoice, that we had been the cause of his deliverÿ, & that we had contributed to the benefit of one of the subjects to the united States.1

We hope to hear from your Excellencÿ on the subject & that he’ll permit us to remain constantely, / Sir. / Your most Ob: Humble / Servants.

Wilhem & Jan Willink2

RC (Adams Papers); internal address: “John Adams Esqr. / Paris.”


Jonas Hartwell, a Massachusetts merchant who had long resided in Spain and France, was arrested by the Inquisition at Bilbao, imprisoned, and stripped of his 437 property, including $30,000 from the sale of the cargo of tobacco, for speaking contemptuously of Catholicism. Friends of Hartwell alerted the American commissioners to his seizure, and on 15 Oct. Benjamin Franklin wrote to William Carmichael on behalf of JA, Thomas Jefferson, and himself to ask the American chargé d’affaires at Madrid to intercede with Spanish officials to gain Hartwell’s release and the restoration of his effects. Carmichael, who had already begun making inquiries into Hartwell’s situation, used Franklin’s letter as the basis of a memorandum that he addressed to José de Moñino y Redondo, Conde de Floridablanca, Spanish prime minister and foreign minister. Although Carmichael pressed the matter with Floridablanca for months, the Inquisition was not to be rushed. Hartwell died early in the spring of 1785 still in custody ( Dipl. Corr., 1783–1789 , 3:285–287, 294–295; Franklin, Writings , 9:275–276; Carmichael to Franklin, 4 April 1785, PPAmP:Franklin Papers).


JA replied on 11 Dec. 1784 (LbC, APM Reel 107), thanking the Willinks for the information about Hartwell and advising them that the commissioners had already acted on his behalf and expected his release soon. JA further remarked of Hartwell’s difficulties, “it is to be hoped that his Example will deter other Americans from rash Conversions, and then they will be in no Danger of the Indignation of the Inquisition for Supposed Apostacies.”

The American Commissioners to the Conde de Sousa Coutinho, 30 November 1784 American Commissioners Adams, John Franklin, Benjamin Jefferson, Thomas Sousa Coutinho, Vicente, conde de
The American Commissioners to the Conde de Sousa Coutinho
Sir Passy November 30th. 1784

We have received the Extract of the letter from Monsieur de Sa of the 24th Octr 1784 which your Excellency was pleased to send us by the hand of the Secretary of your legation.1

“That in consequence of our letter your Excellency might assure us that Her Most faithful Majesty will be very glad to have the best correspondence with the United States, and that we may explain to your Excellency the intentions of Congress, to be communicated to your Court who will listen to them with much attention.”

Conformably to the desires of Her most faithful Majesty expressed in this extract of the letter of Her Minister, we have the honour to enclose a2 draught of a project of a treaty of Amity and Commerce to be concluded between the two powers—3 if this project should be approved by Her Majesty & a full power should be sent to your Excellency to conclude, we are ready to sign such a treaty on the part of the United States— if your Court have any objections or alterations to propose we shall give them all the attention & consideration consistent with the views of our Constituents.

With great respect / We have the honour to be / Your Excellency’s / Most obedient & / Most humble Servants

John Adams B. Franklin T. Jefferson.

FC in David Humphreys’ hand (PCC, No. 116, f. 127–128); internal address: “His Excellency The Cte. de Souza / Ambaser. from Her Most. F.M. at the Court of / Versailles.—”


For the extract from Aires de Sá e Melo’s 24 Oct. letter to Sousa Coutinho, paraphrased in the next paragraph, see Benjamin Franklin’s 15 Nov. letter to JA, and note 1, above.


David Humphreys placed an asterisk at this point referring to his notation at the foot of the letter: “N.B The draught of the treaty was the same as that enclosed to the Baron Thulemeier—vide page.” For the draft sent to Thulemeier, see the Negotiation of the 10 September 1785 Prussian-American Treaty of Amity and Commerce, 10 Nov. 1784 – 14 March 1785, No. II, above. The draft treaty with Portugal, not found, presumably differed from that proposed to Prussia only regarding the country being addressed.


Sousa Coutinho replied on 22 Dec., acknowledging receipt of the commissioners’ letter with its enclosed draft treaty and indicating that he had sent it to his government (Jefferson, Papers , 7:580).