Papers of John Adams, volume 17

From Richard Henry Lee

To John Jay

From James Sullivan, 24 October 1785 Sullivan, James Adams, John
From James Sullivan
Dear Sir Boston October 24th 1785

I beleive you will be tired of my correspondence not only from the length of my letters but from the Melancholly things I always tell you. Since I Sealed the enclosed1 I have heard something of the Province of main which I cannot but communicate to you as interesting and important. upon the 10th instant there was a convention held at Falmouth the president was Gorham the Judge of probate of the County of Cumberland. they met for the express purpose of determining whether it was expedient to procure for themselves a Seperate Government. the result was a requisition to all the Towns to send members on the first Wednesday in May January next to proceed upon the business.2 the refugees are flocking there and Such a conexion in commerce is carried on between them and Nova Scotia that no Trader who buys his Goods in Boston & pays the Duties upon them exclusive of those provided by the Navigation Act can live Vend them and those who have always against Congress begin to Suppose they can express themselves now with impunity and take liberties in their expressions with which I cannot now trouble you— you may imagine as much as you please.

our legislature has the matter under consideration but they appear to me to be in a temper of indecission. can you suppose that a number of Rascals who have ever been in opposition to us are now trying to Sap all our Systems by opening a correspondence with the Nova Scotians and Setting our Laws at Defiance.

I am Sir your friend & / Humble servant

James Sullivan

RC (Adams Papers); internal address: “Honble Mr Adams.”


Sullivan’s letter of 23 Oct., above.


In September Maine secessionists had circulated an open letter inviting inhabitants of York, Cumberland, and Lincoln counties to meet and discuss plans to form a separate government. Their grievances with Massachusetts included the expense of sending delegates to Boston, a pressing need for land reform, and opposition to the new navigation acts that hampered trade with Britain and Nova Scotia. After meeting at Falmouth (now Portland) on 5 Oct., a committee issued a second letter, calling for a Jan. 1786 convention to “consider the expediency of said counties being formed into a separate state . . . and . . . to pursue some regular and orderly method of carrying the same into effect.” Gov. James Bowdoin, in a 20 Oct. 1785 speech to the Mass. General Court, criticized the “thirty persons” at the Falmouth convention who were engaged in “a design against the Commonwealth, of very evil tendency,” for its “dismemberment.” In any event, the Jan. 1786 convention named only a committee on grievances and took no radical steps toward a formal separation from Massachusetts (Falmouth Gazette, 17 Sept., 17 Oct. 1785; Hall, Politics without Parties , p. 173–176; Mass., Acts and Laws , 1784–1785, p. 732–733). Tristram Dalton wrote to JA on 23 Jan. 1786 (Adams Papers) that the Maine secession movement “seems to Slacken, as it has not awakened like sentiments in any considerable Number.”