Papers of John Adams, volume 17

From John Jay, 1 November 1785 Jay, John Adams, John
From John Jay
Dear Sir New York 1st: November 1785

My last to you was of the 14th: Ult: by the Ship Betsey Capt. Thomas Watson—since that time, I have had the Pleasure of receiving and laying before Congress your Dispatches of 6th, 8th, & 10th: August last.—

We concur so perfectly in Sentiment respecting public Affairs and what ought to be done, that I find no Occasion to enlarge on those Heads.—

In a late Report I have called the Attention of Congress to this serious Question Vizt. Whether the United States should withdraw their Attention from the Ocean and leave Foreigners to fetch and carry for them, or whether it is more their Interest to look forward to naval Strength and maritime Importance, and to take and persevere in the Measure proper to attain it?—1

The Diversity of Opinions on this point renders it necessary that it should be well considered and finally decided. The Eastern and 559Middle States are general for the latter System, and tho’ the others do not openly avow their preferring the former, yet they are evidently inclined to it. Hence it is that the most leading Men in Congress from that Quarter, do not only not promote Measures for vesting Congress with power to regulate Trade, but as the common Phrase is throw cold Water on all such Ideas.—

Having few or no Ships of their own, they are averse to such Duties on foreign ones as will greatly advance the Price of Freight; nor do they seem much disposed to sacrifice any present Profits for the Sake of their Neighbours who have Ships and wish to have more.—

We hear much of the Algerines having declared War against the United States—none of our Advices are official, but as the Intelligence comes directly from Nantes, Bordeaux and L’Orient there seems to be much Reason to fear it is true.—

The public Papers herewith sent, will inform you of our common occurrences; and I wish it was in my power to tell you what Congress mean to do respecting many Matters on which they are to decide. The Representation is at present slender and will I suspect continue so till the new Members come on.—

I have the Honor to be with great and sincere Esteem and Regard / Dear Sir / Your most obt. & very hble: Servt.

John Jay—

RC (Adams Papers); internal address: “The Honorable John Adams Esqr. / Minister Plenipotentiary of the / Ud. Ss. at the Court of London.”


Here Jay summarizes the eleventh paragraph of his 20 Oct. report to Congress that focused on reports, mentioned in the penultimate paragraph of this letter, that Algiers had declared war on the United States. That information stemmed largely from a 14 July letter from a M. de Soulanges informing French authorities of the Algerian action. John Paul Jones enclosed a copy of that letter with his 6 Aug. letter to Jay, who presented both documents to Congress on 13 Oct. ( JCC , 29:833–834; from Thomas Jefferson, 6 Aug., note 3, above). Jay recommended that the United States neither negotiate with nor pay tribute to Algiers. Instead Congress should subsidize armed ships for trade with Spain, Portugal, Madeira, the Canary Islands, and the Mediterranean; create a navy to protect American ships in such trade; and authorize a naval alliance with Portugal against Algiers ( JCC , 29:842–844).

From John Jay, 1 November 1785 Jay, John Adams, John
From John Jay
Dear Sir New York 1st: November 1785

I have the Honor of transmitting to you herewith enclosed an Act of Congress of the 13th: Ult: respecting british Claims and Encroachments on our Eastern Boundaries, and instructing and authorising you to take proper Measures for amicably settling the Disputes thence arising. You will also find herewith enclosed the 560several Papers & Documents referred to in that Act, and of which a List is hereto subjoined.—1

It also apears to me expedient to send you Copies of two Reports which I have made to Congress respecting these Matters, not for your Direction, but that you may thereby be fully informed of my Sentiments on this interesting Subject.—2

With great and sincere Regard I am / Dear Sir / Your most obt. & very hble: Servt.

John Jay—

List of Papers herewith enclosed.—

No. 1. Resolution of Congress 13th. Octor. 1785

No. 2. Copy of a Report of the Secretary for foreign Affairs 21st. April 1785.

No. 3. Copy of a Resolve of the Legislature of Massachusetts 6th: & 7th: July 1784.

No. 4. Copy of the Report of Genls. Lincoln & Knox 19th. October 1784.

No. 5. Copy of the Deposition of John Mitchel 9th. Octor. 1784.—

No. 6. Extract of a Letter from John Adams Esqr: to Govr. Cushing 25th: Octor. 1784.—

No. 7. Copy of a Letter from Govr. Hancock to Govr. Parr of 12th Novr and Govr. Parr’s answer of 7th. Decemr. 1784.—

No. 8. Copy of a Letter from Rufus Putnam Esqr: to the Committee of Massachusetts 24th. Decemr. 1784.—

No. 9. Copy of the deposition of Nathan Jones 17th March 1785.—

No. 10. Copy of a Letter from Govr. Carleton to Govr. Hancock 21st: June 1785.—

No. 11. Copy of a Report of the Secretary for for: Affairs 22d. Sepr. 1785.

No. 12. Copy of a Letter from James Avery Esqr: to the Governor of Massachusetts 23d. August 1785.—

No. 13. Copy of an Act of the Council of Massachusetts 9th. Sept. 1785

No. 14. Copy of a Letter from the Governor of Massachusetts to the Governor of New Brunswick 9th. Septemr. 1785.—

RC and enclosures (Adams Papers); internal address: “The Honorable John Adams Esqr. / Minister Plenipotentiary of the / Ud. Ss. at the Court of London.—”; endorsed: “[Se]cretary of States Letter / 1 Nov. 1785. / [Re]specting the Eastern Boundary.” Some loss of text due to a torn manuscript.


Congress’ resolution of 13 Oct. did more than require JA to make representations to the British government regarding the Massachusetts–Nova Scotia boundary dispute and enclose documents (all printed with this letter in Dipl. Corr., 1783–1789 , 2:431–454) 561to support his efforts. It empowered him, should his representations fail, to agree to the formation of an Anglo-American boundary commission to settle the dispute, and it vested him “with full powers on behalf of the United States of America” ( JCC , 28:287–290; 29:828–829).

The boundary question turned on precisely which river was the “St. Croix River” mentioned in Art. 2 of the Anglo-American definitive peace treaty (vol. 15:246–247). The enclosed documents, with the exception of the resolution and Jay’s two reports, stemmed directly from Massachusetts’ efforts to resolve that question in negotiations with the governments of Nova Scotia and then New Brunswick, following its creation in Aug. 1784, and two of them stand out. The first is the extract from JA’s 25 Oct. 1784 letter to Thomas Cushing wherein he indicated that the St. Croix River mentioned in the peace treaty was based solely on its designation as such in “Mitchell’s Map.” In a portion of the letter not included in the excerpt, JA indicated that “the line between Massachusetts and Nova Scotia gave me much Uneasiness at the Time . . . and Still continues to distress me” and noted that a number of rivers had been called at one time or another the St. Croix (vol. 16:347–348). The second is the deposition of John Mitchell, the surveyor who created the map primarily used in the negotiations. There he attested that the river on his map designated as the St. Croix was, in fact, based on the best information that he could obtain in 1764. It is not known when JA received this letter and its enclosures, but in his 2 June 1786 letter to James Bowdoin (LbC, APM Reel 113), he indicated that he had made representations to the British government regarding the boundary but presumed they would have little effect. JA was correct, and no settlement was reached during his tenure as minister. The issue was taken up again in the 1794 Jay Treaty and the 1814 Treaty of Ghent, but it was not finally settled until the Webster-Ashburton Treaty of 1842 (Miller, Treaties , 2:249, 577–578; 4:364–365).


Jay’s 21 April 1785 report provided the substance for Congress’ 13 Oct. resolution, for which see note 1. In Jay’s second report, of 22 Sept., he suggested that Massachusetts be advised to garrison the disputed territory, without provoking hostilities, to discourage further incursions. He also recommended that France be apprised of the dispute, since Art. 11 of the 1778 Franco-American Treaty of Alliance contained a mutual guarantee of possessions. With this in mind Jay indicated his opinion that proper measures to bring about a settlement should be formed and pursued in concert with France ( JCC , 29:753–754; Miller, Treaties , 2:39–40).