Papers of John Adams, volume 17

From Richard Henry Lee, 24 October 1785 Lee, Richard Henry Adams, John
From Richard Henry Lee
Dear Sir New York October the 24th. 1785

Having yesterday written a long letter to you, I have now only to request your attention to the following business, which is of very great importance to those whom it concens; and who form a considerable portion of the Citizens of these States. The Representatives of those professing the Church of England system of religion, having been lately assembled at Philadelphia, where Lay & Clerical deputies from seven States were convened in General Convention 539for the purpose, among other things, of preserving and maintaining a succession of divines in their Church, in a manner which they judge consonant to the gospel, and no way interfering with the religious or civil rights of others—have sent an address to the Archbishops and Bishops of England proposing a plan for the consecration of American Bishops— It is imagined, that before anything is done in this business by the Bishops of England, that they will consult the King and Ministry; who, it is apprehended may now, as heretofore, suppose that any step of the kind being taken in England, might be considered here as an officious intermeddling with our affairs that would give offence on this side the water— Should this be the case, the Church of England Members in Congress have the greatest reliance on your liberal regard for the Religious rights of all men, that you will remove mistaken scruples from the mind of administration, by representing how perfectly consonant it is with our Revolution principles professed thro-out all the States, that every denomination of Christians has a right to pursue its own religious modes, interfering not with others. That instead of giving offence, it must give consent, by evidencing a friendly disposition to accommodate the people here who are members of the Church in question.1

In proof of this, Congress did lately shew their attention to the accommodation of this Class of Christians, by communicating to the different Executives your information from the Danish Minister of that Kings willingness to facilitate the business of ordination for our church— And the Assembly of Virginia hath incorporated this Scociety—Under which act of incorporation the Convention was held in that State that sent both Lay & Clerical deputies to the General Convention lately held in Philadelphia.

I have the honor to be, with sentiments of the truest esteem and regard, dear Sir Your most obedient and very humble servant

Richard Henry Lee.

RC (Adams Papers); endorsed: “R. H. Lee Oct: 24. 1785 / ansd. 4. Jan. 1786.” This letter was enclosed with John Jay’s third letter of 1 Nov., below. The LbC of JA’s 4 Jan. 1786 reply indicates that it was directed to both Jay and Lee, but the internal address to the RC of the 4 Jan. letter indicates that it was directed only to Jay (LbC, APM Reel 112; NNC:John Jay Papers).


From 27 Sept. to 7 Oct., delegates from Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Virginia, and South Carolina met in Philadelphia for the first general convention of the newly formed Protestant Episcopal Church in America. The delegates adopted an ecclesiastical constitution, made key changes to the liturgy, and put forth a proposed new Book of Common Prayer. Finally, they drafted a letter on 5 Oct. to 540the archbishops of Canterbury and York (Journal of a Convention of the Protestant Episcopal Church, Philadelphia, 1785, Evans, No. 19209). The delegates asked the archbishops to consecrate the American nominees for ordination and thereby avoid the obstacles Bishop Samuel Seabury had faced, for which see John Jay’s third letter of 1 Nov., in which he enclosed this letter from Lee, and note 3, below. The English prelates replied on 24 Feb. 1786 with cautious support for the reorganized American Church (Clara O. Loveland, The Critical Years: The Reconstitution of the Anglican Church in the United States of America: 1780–1789, Greenwich, Conn., 1956, p. 152–158, 175–177).

JA carried this letter, and Jay’s copy of the convention’s appeal, to his 3 Jan. 1786 meeting with John Moore, archbishop of Canterbury, both of which Moore “read attentively.” Moore told JA that “it was a great satisfaction to him to see that gentlemen of character and reputation interested themselves in it; for that the Episcopalians in the United States could not have the full and complete enjoyment of their religious liberties without it.” Privately, Moore supported the validity of American prelates ordained by Scottish non-juring bishops, and on 4 Feb. 1787, Moore presided over the consecration of two American nominees, William White and Samuel Provoost (to John Jay, 4 Jan. 1786, JA, Works , 8:361–362; DNB ).

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.”