Papers of John Adams, volume 17

To Thomas Jefferson, 4 September 1785 Adams, John Jefferson, Thomas
To Thomas Jefferson
Dear Sir Grosvenor Square Wesminster Septr. 4. 1785

I have received three Letter of the Tenor and Date of the within— I cannot find in any Gazetteer or geographical Dictionary any Such Place as Roscoff, and I can make nothing of the Story. I hope you have more Skill in Divination.1

I have no Letters from Congress, nor any Answer from the Ministry.

Pray what are the Sentiments in France upon the American Acts of Navigation? and what has been the Success of the French Whale Fishery? How many Ships have they Sent out this Year? The Britons have introduced into theirs a Spirit of Gambling, by giving a Bounty of 500£ to the Ship which has the greatest Success; 400£ to the next. This will make many Adventurers, and give a temporary Activity to the Business: But I rely upon it both the French and English Essays will fall through. My Reason for thinking so is, because the Business in itself is not profitable, and, excepting the four Vessells which may obtain the Bounties, the others upon an Average will be loosers. I know that my Countrymen in the best Times, with all their frugality, with all their Skill, and with their particular manner of conducting the Business could but barely live, and the Fishery was valuable to Us, only as a Remittance. The English are Sacrificing the Bread of thousands of their best Manufacturers to the interested Schemes of a very few Individuals and to a narrow Prejudice and a little Jealousy: but I dont believe the Delusion will be durable. Time will Shew, both them and the French, that it is better to buy our Oil and Candles and Fins, and pay for them in Buttons and Ribbons. if they dont, discover their Error We will lay on Duties upon Buttons and Ribbons, equal to the Alien Duties, and grant them out again in Bounties to our Whalemen.

We must not, my Friend, be the Bubbles of our own Liberal Sentiments. if We cannot obtain reciprocal Liberality, We must adopt reciprocal Prohibitions, Exclusions, Monopolies, and Imposts— our offers have been fair, more than fair. if they are rejected; We must not be the Dupes.—

With great Esteem, dear sir, yours

John Adams

RC and enclosure (DLC:Jefferson Papers); internal address: “His Excellency Thomas Jefferson.” LbC (Adams Papers); APM Reel 111. For the enclosure, see note 1.


Of the three letters referred to by JA, presumably all from Lister Asquith, only two have been found, both dated 19 Aug. at Roscoff, a French port on the English Channel approximately twenty miles northwest of Morlaix. The first is at its date in the Adams Papers, the second is with this letter in DLC: Jefferson Papers. JA’s bewilderment is owing to the fact that while the letters were similar in their appeals for assistance to prevent Asquith and his shipmates from being imprisoned, neither gave any details about the circumstances leading to such a situation.

Asquith was the owner of the American schooner William and Catherine, bound from Baltimore to Liverpool with a cargo of flour and tobacco. Weather prevented the vessel from making a port in England, and it was blown onto the French coast where, in considerable distress, it put into Ile de Batz, near Roscoff. There the Farmers General charged the vessel and its crew with seeking to smuggle tobacco into France in defiance of the Farmers General’s monopoly, seized the vessel, and imprisoned the crew. JA had no further involvement, and the crew was not freed until mid-1786, but see Asquith’s letter to Thomas Jefferson of [ca. 6 Sept. 1785] laying out the details of his case, and Jefferson’s 14 Nov. memorial to the Comte de Vergennes regarding the William and Catherine, Jefferson, Papers , 8:492–498; 9:31–38, 649–50.

To Wilhem & Jan Willink and Nicolaas & Jacob van Staphorst, 4 September 1785 Adams, John Willink, Wilhem & Jan (business) Staphorst, Nicolaas & Jacob van (business)
To Wilhem & Jan Willink and Nicolaas & Jacob van Staphorst
Gentlemen, Grosr: Square. 4th. Sepr: 1785.

I have recd. your letter of the 30th. of August, & will transmit your letter to the Treasury-board by Mr: Storer, who is to sail this week; but I must repeat my determination to give no Countenance to the speculations in Mr: Parker’s papers, untill you shall receive the orders of that Board.

I have recd. the inclosed letter fm. Mr: Lotter—1 I have found him so faithfull a servant that I shall certainly recommend him to the American Minister, whenever he arrives at the Hague—but I mean that all expence of every sort shall cease at the Hotel, untill the Minister arrives. I wish therefore that you wd. permit him to live in the Hotel, if he will stay without wages or any other expences, & take care of the Hotel for the rent of the part of it which he occupies; unless you have an oppo: to let it for a good rent, and think it adviseable to let it, which is not likely— It is my intention, however, to your direction, as I must throw the care of that business off my hands

I am, Gentlemen, / Yrs: &c: &c.

Will you be so good as to inform me whether Mr: A. M. Cerisier lives still in Amsterdam, & what is his address.2


LbC in Charles Storer’s hand (Adams Papers); internal address: “Messrs: Wm. & Jan Willinks, & / Nicho: & Jacob Van Staphorsts”; APM Reel 111.


This is Christian Lotter’s letter of 30 [Aug.], above, to which JA replied on this date (LbC, APM Reel 111), indicating that he was satisfied with Lotter’s service and had written to the consortium concerning Lotter’s continued residence at the legation. The consortium replied to this letter on 13 Sept. (Adams Papers) to say that it would try to adjust the situation regarding Lotter and the legation to everyone’s satisfaction, but see Lotter’s letter of that date, below, which the consortium enclosed with its letter. The consortium also reported receiving a bill from the firm of Richard & Charles Puller for clearing JA’s baggage at London.


In its 13 Sept. letter the consortium indicated that Antoine Marie Cerisier was living in Leyden, probably working for Jean Luzac, editor of the Gazette de Leyde (vol. 16:56).