Papers of John Adams, volume 17

From Charles van Notten

From Nathaniel Barrett

615 From Joseph Palmer, 28 November 1785 Palmer, Joseph Adams, John
From Joseph Palmer
Dear Sir Germantown 28th Novr 1785.

Your very friendly Lettr of the 26th August ’84, wou’d not have lain so long unnoticed, had not my embarrassments continued.1 When I wrote you in the June preceding, I then hoped Soon to emerge out of that flood of diffeculties in which I had long been Struggling; but my hopes being disappointed, I cou’d not Suppose it consistant with honor, & the rule of right, to make any proposels to any of the gentlemen of Amsterdam, mention’d in Your favor of Augst’84; especially as I found that the want of a commercial Treaty with G B, had discouraged the Whalers & Manufacturers; & which discouragemt was promoted by Some of the inhabitants of Nantuckett, who presented a petition to Our Court, praying that they might be Seperated from, & independt of this State; in Order to be Seperated from, & independt of the United States; & this, as T Folger Esqr told me (who presented the petition) in order to make an exchange with G B, of Nantuckett for a Settlemt on Falkland Isles!2 However, this discouragemt has been, in Some measure, counteracted by our Frd Genl Warren & others, whose representations to the Marquis of Fayette, has operated (as you will see by the inclosed paper of the 15th Sept past)3 the opening a Market in France, for Oil; how extensive it will be, or how great the prospects of those concern’d on this Side the Water, I know not, but suppose it considerable: My circumstances have not permitted my concern therein, & therefore I express myself in this doubtful manner.

On your Mrs Adams’s leaving us, I no longer experienced Mr Tyler’s friendship, but rather the reverse; for ’tho’ what I said of him in June ’84 was true at that time, yet truth wou’d not permit my saying so much at this time:4 Thus much I tho’t it incumbent upon me to say, in order to acknowledge Mrs Adams’s friendship, & to give a proof of mine:— I do not wish greater happiness to myself & mine, than to You & Yours.

Whether I shall or shall not remain at this place, is very uncertain, but must soon be determined; I think it most probable that I shall continue here, & if I do, may have it in my power to encourage the Whalefishery: But my great object, is Salt-making, which is the most lucrative business of any, I have been acquainted with; the Sea always furnishes Stock gratis, and the Market will not be overstock’d in my day with this necessary Article. Tho’ ’tis so obviously of public 616Utility to encourage this Manufr, yet the Mercantile interest blinds the eyes of the Legislature, & occasions great opposition. I was never so left alone in any undertaking, as in this; but if I live, I shall establish the Manufacture, maugre all opposition, & ’tho’ ruin’d & friendless: And if my life Shou’d be Spared a few years longer (it can’t be many) & I can get into this business, under the common Smiles of providence, I Shall Soon repair the ruins of past years.5

Mr Jo Cranch has been Armorer, at Springfield,6 a few months past, & arrived here on Saturday Eveng, & brot me the inclosed Pamphlet; I Send it you for the Sake of the intelligence it contains: I cut off Some waste paper from it, which wou’d only enlarge the packett with useless lumber.

I have a Letter from Mr Perkins of Kentucky,7 which mentions the rapid growth of that Settlemt; 30 or 40 thousand, of all Ages. He also mentions the general face of the Country, as beautiful; rich in Soil, & healthy; plenty of Coal, Iron-Ore, Lead, & Salt Springs. It’s 700 Miles due West of Williamsburg, to the rapids of Ohio; near which are, as, I apprehend, their thickest Settlemts. He mourns the Stopage of our Navigation on the Mississippi by the Spaniard; & thinks they cou’d do much in Tobacco, if they had a free Navigation out to, & in from Sea. The nature of things will not long permit this Stopage, & it will disturb our peace, unless timeously Settled, as I hope it will. If the back-settlers on Virginia are, as Perkins says, 30 or 40 m̃; & there are Said to be nearly as many on the Western parts of N Carolina; & more above the Virginia North line, upon the various branches of the Ohio; & all those rapidly increasing; they will not long Suffer Such an interruption, for our Spirit of liberty, especially in our new Settlemts, inclines to licentiousness, & will not easily be kept within proper bounds.

When Congress shall be vested with proper powers for the regulation of Weights, Measures, Coinage, Imports & Exports &c, it will Shorten the business of our general Courts, so that it will be Sooner dispatch’d, & probably be better done; & we Shall soon be convinced of the propriety of the Measure, either by rejoiceing in the blessings of Such a power exerted by Congress; or Suffering the evils consequent on withholding it. I dread the consequences of withholding this power from Congress, more than I ever did the power of G B: I think that we Shall come to rights, but it will be thro’ much tribulation. Much may be done by Such a plenitude of power in Congress, which cannot be done by the Seperate States. 617Congress, in this case may, by imposts, well regulated, do much for the payment of our debts, & encouragemt of Manufrs &c; & by bounties they might give other, or further encouragemts, such as our Seperate Legislatures wou’d never agree upon. Besides, the Several States will eternally be doing little things, to gain advantages over their neighbors, which will tend to the destruction of the whole. We cannot do without a Head; but let us keep a proper check over the particular Members which form this Head, & then we may be safe. My dear friend will forgive my zeal for the public good, & accept of the Sincere friendship of one who sends the purest love to Mrs & Miss Adams, & whose friendship & love will continue as long as he can write

J: Palmer

RC (Adams Papers); internal address: “His Excellency / John Adams Esqr / London”; endorsed: “Gen. Palmer / 28. Nov. 1785.”


JA’s 26 Aug. 1784 letter was in reply to Palmer’s of 16 June (vol. 16:240–242, 306–308).


In early 1785 Nantucket inhabitants held two town meetings on the subject of independence and in May presented a petition to the Mass. General Court requesting that it be recognized as a neutral state and thereby avoid the British duty on whale oil (New-Hampshire Gazette, 28 Oct.; Obed Macy, History of Nantucket, Boston, 1835, p. 125–127). The General Court refused Nantucket’s request, but on 28 Nov. it adopted a bounty on whale oil in an effort to save the whale fishery, for which see Charles Storer’s 23 Nov. letter, and note 5, above; and Nathaniel Barrett’s of [ante 29] Nov., and note 4, below. Although William and Francis Rotch of Nantucket apparently based a whaling fleet in the Falkland Islands during the Revolution, no further evidence has been found suggesting that Timothy Folger made similar arrangements with the British in 1785–1786 (Eric Jay Dolin, Leviathan: The History of Whaling in America, N.Y., 2007, p. 153–156).


Not found.


Writing shortly before the departure of AA and AA2 for Europe, in a postscript dated 18 June 1784 to his letter of 16 June, Palmer had referred to Royall Tyler as “my very good friend,” probably owing to the financial support Tyler was giving to the Palmer family (vol. 16:241, 242). The souring of the relationship between Palmer and Tyler likely stemmed from Tyler’s relationship with Palmer’s daughter-in-law, Elizabeth Hunt Pal mer, the wife of Joseph Pearse Palmer, which in 1786 likely resulted in the birth of a daughter, Sophia, fathered by Tyler ( AFC , 7:344). By the date of this letter, however, news of AA2’s breaking off her engagement to Tyler in August 1785 had reached Massachusetts and the Adamses’ family and friends. In her 15 Aug. letter to Mary Smith Cranch announcing the breakup, AA wrote that “I hope none of her Friends will be so unwise as to solicit for him. The Palmers will be the most likely, but the die is cast” ( AFC , 6:277).


Palmer’s original saltworks were erected in the Germantown section of Braintree, Mass., with his brother-in-law Richard Cranch. Mary Smith Cranch reported to AA on 19 Aug. 1787 that his larger operations at Boston Neck were almost ready to open. The Boston saltworks were broken up by creditors and removed to Maine at the time of his death in 1788 ( AFC , 8:145; DAB ; Grandmother Tyler’s Book , p. 89–90).


Joseph Cranch was Richard Cranch’s nephew. The pamphlet brought by him and enclosed by Palmer has not been found.


Thomas Perkins (1756–1786), Harvard 1779, was originally from Bridgewater, Mass. Earlier in the 1780s he had settled in the portion of Virginia that became Kentucky and in 1785 was practicing law there. His 1 March 1785 letter to Elizabeth Cranch, summarized by Mary Smith Cranch in her 14 Aug. letter to AA, was published anonymously in the September Boston Magazine ( AFC , 4:309; 6:271–272, 275; 7:162–163).