Papers of John Adams, volume 17

From Tristram Dalton, 19 April 1785 Dalton, Tristram Adams, John
From Tristram Dalton
Dear Sir Boston April 19th. 1785

The enclosed letter, of the 11th Instant, was intended by a Coll Norton, whose unexpected departure deprived me of the favorable opportunity—

Since that date some transactions have taken place in this Town, which may be mispresented on the other Side of the water—and which I wish, when stated in a true light, would reflect more honour on the wisdom and temper of the Inhabitants—indeed, I suppose, they will, in England, be magnified into a national Affair—

In the enclosed I mentioned to you the just uneasinesses of the 30Citizens of this and of the other States in the Union, on Accot, of the unequal Trade carried on between G Britain, & themselves—

The arrival of several Ships from London in the week past; the American Vessell’s being only half freighted while the British were full— A Number of Factors with goods being passengers in the latter— All Accounts of the American Masters, of insults & illusage received in London—irritating—added to which a publishment of the NFLand Bill—an insult to common Sense—roused the Spirit of 1775— The North End, were up to the highest pitch—the disaffected joyned the Cry—in short a riot & mob were ready to commit any depredation, to the disgrace of all Governments— Friday last was the day of meeting—two Carriages were paraded to accomodate the British Factors, who were to be arrayed in the Robe of Riot, and their property threatned— At this Crisis, Gentlemen of Coolness, & Fortitude stepped in, and with difficulty obtained an adjournment of the Body to the next Day— in the enclosed Gazettee you have an Account of the further proceedings to which I beg leave to refer—1

These things ought not to be, and prove the necessity of a national regulation of Commerce— They certainly tend to divide our own Citizens, as also to render despicable our Government—

The Tradesmen who are not concerned in the Manufactures imported are cool—while those who are concerned say that the Merchs and Traders aim solely at their own emolument, as they wish to get rid of the Factors that they only may import the Manufactures themselves—those Tradesmen wanting a prohibition put upon all such imports— What is of more consequence; the People in the Country Towns, argue, with their usual Shrewdness, that both Merchants and Tradesmen think of nothing but their own interest, and that they are endeavoring to monopolize all trade and manufacturies, so as to oblige the purchaser to pay any price they may please to affix on Articles—whereby the benefits of a free commerce are destroyed—and their wealth sacrificed to the craving avarice of the Inhabitants of the Sea Port Towns—

The Inhabitants of this Place possessed a Spirit, which was necessary at the first Of the late Revolution, and which made them, at that period, of great consequence— They are not, however, at present, in Exercise of that proportion of national Wisdom, necessary for their well being— They esteem themselves too important on the great Scale— They have much merit— Experience may teach them a degree of temper better calculated for their prosperity—

Our late Governor You will see, notwithstanding his indisposition, 31was at the head of the Body, on Friday, and on Saturday— He avoids no opportunity to continue and to increase his popularity— He is to be one of the Representatives of this Town, the coming Year—and it is supposed looks to the Speaker’s Chair—

I enclose you another paper to show the Sentiments, of many people with us, on the Appointment of Mr Temple—2 Pray, my dear Sir, with what propriety can a Court appoint a Consul to another Court, with whom no Treaty of Commerce subsists?— Was it haste to reward perfidy, that induced To this Step?—

Please to excuse my detaining You so long—and to be assured that I am with the greatest respect and regard / Dear Sir / Your real Friend / & most hble Servant

Tristram Dalton

The Ship by which this is intended being delayed, I have, at the 28th April, an opportunity to give you, My Dear Sir, an account of the sequel of the proceedings of the Inhabitants of this place, relative to British Factors &c You will observe, by the Gazettee of the 18th. that the Selectmen were to approbate such, as were to be suffered to tarry—3 Not knowing how to execute so extraordinary an order, they called a Town Meeting, in the usual way requesting further instructions how to proceed— The Inhabitants met very generally—and wisely concluded it to be best not to act as a Town & dissolved the Meeting— The Body then proceeded to business—a full account of which you have in this days paper—also enclosed with the others beforementioned.4 I do not find that the Committee thus appointed have refused to approbate any Factor.— People’s Minds have settled—& It is probable these matters will remain quiet untill the General Court meets—when warm applications will be made to them on the Subject—

The several Gazettees referred to are in a packett sent to the Care of Messrs Lane Son & Fraser, Merchants London—to prevent a heavy postage—this being sent by Doctor Gordon to his Friend in London with a request that it may be forwarded to you by the first Opportunity—

I remain, ever, Yours devotedly

T Dalton

RC (Adams Papers); internal address: “His Excelly John Adams Esqr.” As Dalton indicates in the final paragraph, he enclosed “several Gazettees” in a separate packet, but they have not been found.


The Newfoundland Trade Bill, debated in Parliament in February, was intended to ease the difficulty of supplying Newfound land, which had limited agricultural resources, with food from Canadian or British sources. In 1784 severe shortages resulted in 32American ships carrying food being allowed to land and sell their cargoes in violation of the Navigation Acts. To prevent such future occurrences, but recognizing the ease with which the island could be supplied from the United States, trade between Newfoundland and American ports would be permitted so long as it was confined “to bread, flour, and live-stock” and “in none but British-built ships, actually belonging to British subjects” ( Parliamentary Hist. , 25:271–298; Ritcheson, Aftermath of Revolution , p. 192–194). For JA’s account of the debates over the bill, which he believed was an effort by the Pitt ministry “to feel the Pulse of the House, and to discover, what Sentiments were entertained, and what Principles would be declared,” regarding the Navigation Acts and trade between the United States and British North American colonies, see his 25 Oct. 1785 letter to John Jay, below.

The Newfoundland bill was announced in the Boston Independent Chronicle of 14 April. This was at the very time when merchants and ship owners were already concerned about the influx of British factors with ship-loads of merchandize and the lack of cargoes for American bottoms and brought the unrest to a head. Indeed, the mood to which Dalton refers is epitomized in the following from the Massachusetts Centinel of 13 April: “BOSTONIANS!— At length the Storm beats high! be it your care to see it aim’d aright! A Meeting is to be held on Friday next—— Though timid Whigs, and cringing Panders may cry no MOBS and RIOTS—every staunch Patriot must know that though the EXERTIONS of an insulted and injured PEOPLE, may now receive these epithets, they must be recorded in the annals of mankind, as the noble effects of genuine Patriotism!—— Be assured that the VOICE of the PEOPLE is the VOICE of GOD. LIBERTY.”

Dalton presumably enclosed several Boston papers, for all reported heavily on the protests. But one of them was almost certainly the Boston Gazette of 18 April, the only one to refer, as Dalton does in the eighth paragraph below, to John Hancock’s participation in the protest meetings on 15 and 16 April “notwithstanding his indisposition of health.” The meetings, which Hancock moderated, resulted in a series of resolutions proposing a petition to Congress to seek its rigorous regulation of British trade, but most importantly, pledging not to buy, sell, warehouse, or land the merchandise brought by the British factors and their vessels. The protesters’ position is best summed up by the preamble to their resolutions. There they declared that “WHEREAS no Commercial Treaty is at present established between these United States and Great-Britain; and whereas certain British merchants, factors and agents from England, are now residing in this town, who have received large quantities of English goods, and are in expectation of receiving further supplies, imported in British bottoms or otherways, greatly to the hindrance of freight in all American vessels; and as many more such persons are daily expected to arrive among us, which threatens an entire monopoly of all Brittish importations in the hands of such merchants, agents or factors, which we apprehend will operate to the prejudice of the interest of this country.”


The first mention of John Temple’s appointment is in the Boston Independent Chronicle of 14 April, but Dalton likely refers to the Massachusetts Centinel of 16 April. There, in an piece signed Horatio, Temple and his father-in-law, James Bowdoin, are mentioned, and then the author goes on to say that “a foreign Minister, from an Ambassador, down to a Charge d’affaires, is but a privileged spy, placed in a foreign country by his Sovereign. Here then we are to have the Father for Governor, and his Son the spy on our conduct.”


The measures adopted on 16 April were intended “to prevent as far as possible the evil tendency of such persons continuing among us (excepting those of them who shall be approbated by the Selectmen) and to discourage the sale of their merchandize.” Clearly, given the attitude of the people attending the public meetings, the willingness of the selectmen to “approbate” any of the British merchants, agents, and factors would be limited at best (Boston Gazette, 18 April).


Probably the 28 April Boston Independent Chronicle, which reported on a meeting of the “Artificers and Tradesmen of this Town” held on 21 April. There it was decided to present the participants’ grievances to the next General Court and to open a correspondence with the merchants and traders of the town so as to coordinate their efforts.