Papers of John Adams, volume 17

To John Jay

From Jonathan Jackson

From James Bowdoin, 10 August 1785 Bowdoin, James Adams, John
From James Bowdoin
Sir, Boston Augt. 10th. 1785

Your removal from the Hague to London, in the character of Plenipotentiary, gives a general & great pleasure. The abilities so successfully exerted in the Treaty of Peace, will, if any thing can, 324procure a happy issue to the negociations for settling a commercial Treaty with Great Britain.— Mr Higginson by this opportunity sends you a well written letter on the state & circumstances of our Trade.—1 May you succeed as happily in the latter Treaty as in the former.

In our transactions with foreigners, especially british, it is necessary they should be made sensible, we have a spirit of resentment; & that it will be shewn when occasions offer.

The british Frigate Mercury, commanded by Capt Stanhope, arrived here the 12th. of July. For his coming here no reason can be assigned, unless to seek an opportunity to affront the Government. There are circumstances, that indicate such a design: but the unequivocal & direct insult upon it will appear by several letters, which passed between him & me: a Copy of which with a Letter of mine to our delegates in Congress on the subject, was sent to them by the last Post. It is apprehended, that Congress will shew a proper spirit of resentment on this occasion; & that in that case, your Excellency will hear from them relative to it. In the mean time I have the honour to inclose to you a Copy of all those letters; which I mean for your private information, until Congress shall express their mind to you on the subject of th[em.]2

Enclosed is a Copy of a deposition of one Jesse Dunbar, which will shew the nature & occasion, of the affront given to Capt Stanhope; that it was the Act of a few individuals only, who could not restrain their resentment of the ill usage they had received from him; & that the Mob (of whom he complains) were the Persons, who interfered in his behalf & prevented those Men from hurting him—3 Their conduct however, is not to be justified, though a natural expression of a sense of injury.— Dunbar gave his Deposition on the assurance it would not be used to criminate himself or his Companions. Some use may be made of it to counteract Mr: Stanhope’s declarations.—

The enclosed Memoirs, taken from a Volume of our American Academy, now printing here, may afford you half an hour’s amusement.4

Wishing you every happiness, & success in your negociations, / I have the honour to be, / Dear sir, / Your most Obedt. hb̃le Servt.

James Bowdoin

I was just now told that Capt Stanhope, on the day of his going down with his Ship to Nantasket, wch. was the 3d. Instant pm, Sent 325word to some Company, whom he had invited on board his Ship, that he was ordered out of the harbour, & therefore could not See them.— What were his motives for this declaration I do not know: but I must inform you, it is wholly a falsehood.

RC and enclosures (Adams Papers); internal address: “His Excellency John Adams Esqr.” Some loss of text due to a torn manuscript.


Of 8 Aug., above.


The documents mentioned in this paragraph as enclosed for JA’s “private information” formed the basis for Congress’ resolution of 18 Aug., which was enclosed with John Jay’s letter of 6 Sept., below. That letter, and the enclosed resolution, led to JA’s representation to the Marquis of Carmarthen on 20 Oct. regarding the Stanhope Affair, for which see JA’s letters to John Jay of 15 Oct. and 21 Oct., and note 3, both below.


The enclosed deposition by Jesse Dunbar was not among the documents Bowdoin sent to Congress, nor was it part of JA’s representations to the British foreign minister. It explains in detail, however, the circumstances leading to Capt. Henry Edwin Stanhope’s epistolary exchange with Bowdoin and the governor’s submission of the documents concerning the affair to Congress. Dunbar’s testimony indicates that he had been captured during the Revolution and ultimately turned over to Stanhope, then commanding the Mercury, who flogged and imprisoned him for refusing to serve aboard his ship. Now living in Hingham, Mass., Dunbar learned that Stanhope was in Boston and went to town where he confronted and assaulted the British officer, who drew his sword and then had to be conducted to safety by concerned bystanders. For AA’s detailed account and opinion of the confrontation between Dunbar and Stanhope, which the latter termed an “assassination,” see her 19 Oct. letter to Thomas Jefferson, and notes 3 and 5, AFC , 6:437–438, 439–440.


Not found, but it was probably the American Academy of Arts and Sciences’ Memoirs . . . to the End of the Year M,DCC,LXXXIII, vol. 1, Boston, 1785, Evans, No. 18900. Bowdoin was president of the Academy.