Papers of John Adams, volume 18

From John Trumbull

To Elizabeth Otis Brown

From John Adams to John Jay, 9 December 1785 Adams, John Jay, John
To John Jay
Grosvenor Square Westminster Dec. 9th: 1785 Dear Sir

I went to Court Yesterday Morning, if not in despair, with very faint hopes of ever receiving an Answer to any Letter or Memorial of mine to the British Ministry.— I went early, but found three of the foreign Ministers before me. The Rule is to admit them to his Lordship in the order in which they arrive. in my Turn I was Shewn into his Lordships Appartement received very politely as usual, and very much Surprized, to be accosted by him with “Mr Adams, I am about to write you officially: I have received a Letter from Lord Howe relative to your Communication concerning the Behaviour of a Captain of a Man of War at Boston. The Admiralty Letter is very long and I shall send you a Copy of it.— I am also to answer your Memorial concerning the Seamen. The ship is ordered and expected home from the East Indies and when she arrives the Man you applied for will be discharged. and orders are gone to Portsmouth to discharge the other, Sailor, whom you mentioned.”— This last, requires some Explanation as I have not mentioned it before to you. some time ago I received a Letter from a Man at Portsmouth, who called himself an American, and desiring me to apply for his discharge. but as I had no orders from Congress concerning him nor any other Information than his own Letter, I thought not safe to apply Officially in his behalf.— When I delivered my Memorial demanding the discharge of the Sailors in General, I Shewed this Mans Letter to his Lordship & left it with him. and it has had it seems a better fortune, than I expected.1

I replied to his Lordship that I was very happy to hear that I was soon to have an official answer, for that whenever We could come to communicate officially and freely, I hoped We might gradually remove all Difficulties. We fell then into some Conversation upon the other Points— But as nothing new was Said on either side, and I could learn nothing new from him, it would be fatiguing you to no Purpose to repeat it.— one Thing however his Lordship said in the 23 Course of Conversation, vizt “that he could not yet give me any Satisfaction upon any other Points because nothing was yet determined; Mr Pitt had all my Papers under Consideration, and had not yet determined any Thing.”

At length I presented to his Lordship the Memorial of the 30th. of November, Copy of which is here inclosed.—2 I dont expect an Answer, till next Summer.— But I thought it safest for the United States to have it presented, because without it some Excuses or Pretences might have been Sett upp, that the Evacuations had not been formally demanded.

With great Esteem, I have the Honour to be / Sir your most obedient & most humble / Servant

John Adams

RC (PCC, No. 84, VI, f. 13–16); internal address: “His Excellency John Jay / Secretary of state for / foreign Affairs.” LbC (Adams Papers); APM Reel 111. For the enclosure, see note 2.


At his 20 Oct. meeting with the Marquis of Carmarthen, JA presented the foreign minister with documents, including a congressional resolution, regarding the Stanhope Affair, a 1785 dispute at Boston between Massachusetts governor James Bowdoin and Capt. Henry Edwin Stanhope of the British frigate Mercury. He also delivered a memorial calling for the release of Richard Low, an American captured during the Revolution, who had been impressed into the British Navy and was currently on board the British ship of the line Defence in the East Indies. As he indicates at the end of this paragraph, JA also left a 20 July letter from John Lyddiard, who found himself on the ship of the line Powerful at Plymouth in the same situation as Low (vol. 17:261–262, 323–325, 514–515, 524, 532–533). In a letter to JA written later on 9 Dec., Carmarthen indicated that he had submitted the materials given him by JA to the Admiralty and enclosed the Admiralty’s response of 7 Dec. (Adams Papers). There the Admiralty reported that it was investigating the Stanhope Affair, having written to the commander of the American station at Halifax requesting that he obtain Stanhope’s explanation for his behavior, and it also indicated that it would expedite the release of Low and Lyddiard. For the outcome of the Stanhope Affair, see JA’s 15 July 1786 letter to Jay, and note 1, below. JA enclosed copies of Carmarthen’s 9 Dec. 1785 letter and the enclosed letter from the Admiralty with his to Jay of 12 Dec. (PCC, No. 84, VI, f. 17–30). There he wrote of the Admiralty’s letter: “Their Answer concerning the Sailors is more favourable than I expected, and that respecting Captain Stanhope is as much So.”


Not found, but likely another copy of JA’s [30 Nov.] memorial (vol. 17:624–625), which he had also enclosed with his 6 Dec. letter to Jay, for which see the descriptive note and note 2 to that letter, above. Despite JA’s pessimism concerning the memorial, William Pitt took it up with Carmarthen in a 16 Dec. letter (British Library, London: Egerton MSS. Leeds Papers). Pitt believed the demand in the memorial to be founded on the treaty but observed that “there are Articles to be performed on their Part which we must equally insist upon.— Particularly this seems to be an Opportunity for urging Satisfaction respecting the Debts due from America to our Merchants; And I should think the Answer to the Memorial ought to state that, and every other Point in which We have any Claim on them as necessary to go Hand in Hand with what they ask.” For the British response, which centered on the debt issue, see Carmarthen’s 28 Feb. 1786 letter, below.