Papers of John Adams, volume 17

To Richard Price

The Marquis de Lafayette to the American Commissioners

From William Gordon, 8 April 1785 Gordon, William Adams, John
From William Gordon
My dear Sir Jamaica Plain Apr 8. 1785

I hope this will find you at Westminster. I congratulate You upon your late appointment; it was what I wished for, as what I thought would be agreeable to you, & for the good of our country. The treaty of commerce may be too far settled to admit of alteration: but if your correspondents have not urged you in the most pressing manner, to exert every nerve to obtain an importation of our whale oil on much easier terms than at present, they have failed greatly. The continuance of the present duty is next to a prohibition, & will 4occasion the whale-men to remove from Cape Cod &c &c to Nova Scotia.1 I know what I assert to be fact, having my information from a gentleman concerned in the business, whose Captains have declared as much, as to themselves. Exert yourself also to obtain the support of the British ministry in settling with the Algerines, that our vessels may go to the Mediterranean with safety. By the by, a story has been propagated that Palfry was taken by the Algerines, & is now labouring at the Oar.2 I am fearful there is no truth in it: but as it is possible, that the ship in which he was might be driven out of sight in the night, & not be lost as is imagined, & be afterward taken, I wish you out of regard to his family & respect to his memory, to make inquiry & to receive certain information from the British resident at Algiers, whether any such American vessel was taken, in 1781, if I mistake not the date.

The last Jany twelve month I sent You a letter, which was enclosed to my brother, & to be by him forwarded to Holland to Messrs De Neufville. He recd & sent it on. I have had no answer, how that happens I know not. You best know, whether there is any truth in my suspicion, that the free use I made of your liberal sentiments respecting the Tories to counter-act the narrow & pernicious politics of some individuals, has induced them to caution you against corresponding with me, especially in that free & open manner.3

Now for Massachusetts. The late Govr notified to the General Court his proposed resignation; thought by some Deeps to be a finesse for settling himself in the chair another twelve month. An answer was prepared. My friend informed me, that he did not like it, on account of its flattery; but learnt afterward that the complexion given it was meant to make it go down glib with the governors party, & thereby catch them. They were well pleased: but after agreeing to it, moved some addition, amounting really to a request that he would not resign for his bad health, & that they would dispense with his doing governmental duty. They could not carry it; the resignation took place. The Lt Govr Cushing was, let me say, with much officious effrontery recommended in the speech to the genl court for a successor. Mr Hancock used his influence to get him into the chair. Questions against Bowdoin were published in the Centinel of saturday. This gave the opposite party an opening for other questions in favour of him, & for publishing against Mr Hancock & Mr Cushing. Messrs Adams, Higginson, Davies, Lowell &c exerted themselves. The monday’s papers teemed with publications for Bowdoin & against the others. Hand bills were added. The 5election began. Hancock went to the Hall. If he expected shouts &c he was disappointed. Upon the close there were for Mr Bowdoin as Govr 574 for Mr Cushing about 340

for him as Lt Govr " 665 for many voted for him as Lt Govr to give him bread, who had no notion of him as chief magistrate.

Senators S. Adams 692. Tufts 901. Lowell 628. Deacon Phillips 739. Cranch 408. Heath 407.

Roxbury Bowdoin 48 Cushing Lt Govr 42.

Senators Phillips 49. Lowell 49. Heath 42. Tufts 47. Metcalf of Bellingham 33. Higginson 27. Cranch 5.

Dedham   Bowdoin 86 out of 97

Mystick   Do all

Cambridge  Do 20. Cushing 10. Dana 11.

Salem    Do most. By what can be gathered Mr Bowdoin is likely to be chosen by the people; & if so, he will serve, & the State be delivered out of the hand of Quacks.4 Tho’ it is now Your Excellency, I trust your good sense remains, & that You are for freedom among friends. Mrs Gordon unites in respects to Self Lady & family. Do not recollect any thing further that is material. I continue with real esteem / Your Excellencys sincere friend / & very humble servant

William Gordon

I have written currente calamo5 being in enormous haste.

Apr 9.

This comes by Col Norton one of our Senators, whom I take to be a worthy gentleman. He will inform you more about Mr Bowdoin, & what a winter we have had, & that we have now an immense quantity of snow upon the ground, more than for 44 years back.

RC (Adams Papers); addressed: “His Excellency / John Adams Esqr”; endorsed: “Dr Gordon / Ap. 8. 1785”; notation: “Favored by / Col Norton.”


For the alien duty on whale oil enacted in late 1783 and its effect on the Massachusetts whaling industry, including the possible emigration of its whalemen to Nova Scotia and elsewhere in the British Empire to avoid it, see vol. 16:14–16, as well as letters from Charles Storer of 23 Nov. 1785, and note 5; Joseph Palmer of 28 Nov., and note 2; and Nathaniel Barrett [ante 29] Nov., and note 4, all below. For JA’s representations to William Pitt on the subject, see his 25 Aug. letter to John Jay, below.


William Palfrey, appointed American consul in France on 4 Nov. 1780, sailed from Philadelphia on 21 Dec. aboard the privateer Shellelagh, which was lost at sea (vol. 11:199, 207, 387; AFC , 4:22). For JA’s comment on Palfrey’s rumored capture by the Barbary corsairs, see his 26 June 1785 reply to Gordon, below.


Gordon’s last letter was of 7 Jan. 1784 (vol. 15:443–447), to which JA replied on 27 April 1785, below. Gordon refers specifically to JA’s letter of 10 Sept. 1783 wherein he commented on the provisions pertaining to loyalists in the Anglo-American definitive peace treaty and hoped that “as much moderation may be shewn towards the Tories as 6possible” (same, p. 277–279). When AA and Samuel Adams learned that Gordon had circulated JA’s letter, they wrote, on 15 March and 16 April 1784, respectively, to warn JA to be more discreet in letters to Gordon (vol. 16:162–163; AFC , 5:307–309).


John Hancock informed the Mass. General Court of his intention to resign as governor due to ill health in a message of 29 Jan. 1785 and took formal leave in an address to the legislature on 18 February. In their response to Hancock’s initial message, the house and senate united to wish “most ardently” that Hancock’s health be restored so that “the publick may yet receive the benefit of such exertions for the good of your country.” In drafting their request for a copy of Hancock’s final address, however, the senate refused to join the house in expressing “a high sense of his services while at the head of government,” agreeing only “to thank him for the polite manner in which he resigned” (A Journal of the Honorable House of Representatives of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts [1784–1785], Boston, 1784, p. 237, 241–242, 292, 294, 303, 311–312, 348–350, Evans, No. 18600). For more on Hancock’s resignation, see vol. 16:500.

The leading candidates in the election to replace Hancock were Lt. Gov. Thomas Cushing, and James Bowdoin. In the bitter campaign that followed, Cushing, the acting governor, was belittled as a mere puppet of Hancock, while Bowdoin, Hancock’s perennial rival, was vilified as a British sympathizer. Two days before the vote, on 2 April, the Boston Massachusetts Centinel raised a series of questions suggesting that Bowdoin had shunned public service during more dangerous times—he had refused appointment to the first Continental Congress (vol. 2:99)— and therefore was undeserving of election as governor. On the day of the vote, other Boston newspapers, including the Boston Gazette, the American Herald, and the Independent Ledger, mounted a defense of Bowdoin with attacks on both Hancock and Cushing (Hall, Politics without Parties , p. 136–138).

The Boston vote took place at Faneuil Hall and the results were mostly as Gordon indicates, except that Cushing received 337 votes and Benjamin Lincoln got 23 votes. When none of the candidates received a majority statewide, the election was thrown into the Mass. General Court. On 26 May, the house, selecting from the top vote-getters, nominated Cushing and Bowdoin, favoring the former by a margin of 134 to 89. The senate had the final selection, however, and it named Bowdoin governor, preferring him by a margin of 18 to 10, and chose Cushing for lieutenant governor (same, p. 137–138; Boston Independent Chronicle, 8 April).


With the pen running.