Papers of John Adams, volume 18

To Elizabeth Otis Brown

From Rufus King

To John Adams from Thomas Jefferson, 10 December 1785 Jefferson, Thomas Adams, John
From Thomas Jefferson
Dear Sir Paris Dec. 10. 1785.

On the arrival of mr̃ Boylston I carried him to the Marquis de la Fayette, and received from him communications of his object.1 this was to get a remission of the duties on his cargo of oil, & he was willing to propose a future contract. I proposed however to the Marquis, when we were alone, that instead of wasting our efforts on individual applications, we had better take it up on general ground, and, whatever could be obtained, let it be common to all. he concurred with me. as the jealousy of office between ministers does not permit me to apply immediately to the one in whose department this was, the Marquis’s agency was used. the result was to put us on the footing of the Hanseatic towns, as to whale oil, & to reduce the duties to 11 lt — 5s for 520lb. French, which is very nearly two livres on the English hundredweight, or about a guinea & a half the ton. but the oil must be brought in American or French ships, & the indulgence is limited to one year. however as to this I expressed to Ct. de Vergennes my hopes that it would be continued, & should a doubt arise, I should propose at the proper time to claim it under the treaty 26 on the footing gentis amicissimi.2 after all, I beleive mr̃ Boylston has failed of selling to Sangrain, and, from what I learn, through a little too much hastiness of temper. perhaps they may yet come together or he may sell to somebody else.

When the general matter was thus arranged, a mr̃ Barrett arrived here from Boston with letters of recommendation from Govr. Bowdoin, Cushing & others.3 his errand was to get the whale business here put on a general bottom, instead of the particular one which had been settled you know the last year for a special company. we told him what was done. he thinks it will answer, and proposes to settle at L’Orient for conducting the sales of the oil & the returns. I hope therefore that this matter is tolerably well fixed as far as the consumption of this country goes. I know not as yet to what amount that is; but shall endeavor to find out how much they consume, and how much they furnish themselves. I propose to mr̃ Barrett that he should induce either his state or individuals to send us a sufficient number of boxes of the Spermaceti candle, to give one to every leading house in Paris, I mean to those who lead the ton: and at the same time to deposit a quantity for sale here & advertize them in the Petites affiches.4 I have written to mr̃ Carmichael to know on what footing the use & introduction of the whale oil is there, or can be placed.5

I have the honour to be with very sincere esteem Dear Sir / Your most obedient humb. servt.

Th: Jefferson

RC (Adams Papers); internal address: “Mr̃ Adams”; endorsed: “Mr Jefferson Decr. 10 / Ansd. 20. 1785.”; notation by CFA: “published in his Writings / Vol 1. p 371.” That is, Jefferson, Correspondence, ed. Randolph, 1:371–372. Note that this letter is written on a folio sheet folded in half, making four pages. Pages 1 and 2 contain this letter, while on page 3 is Jefferson’s 11 Dec. letter, for which see Jefferson, Papers , 9:91. That letter also appeared in Thomas Randolph’s edition, vol. 1:372–373.


Thomas Boylston wrote to JA from Paris on 9 Nov. (vol. 17:579–581). There he described his progress to date and indicated his intention, with the assistance of Jefferson and the Marquis de Lafayette, to submit proposals to the French government. Finding it inconvenient or impolitic to present them to Charles Alexandre de Calonne, Jefferson sent Boylston’s proposals to Lafayette on 13 Nov. for him to present to the minister. Lafayette’s efforts were successful, and the reduction in duties indicated by Jefferson was obtained. On 30 Nov., the Comte de Vergennes informed Jefferson that the reduction would be in force until 1 Jan. 1787 (Jefferson, Papers , 9:26, 29–31, 72–73). For JA’s confusion over the exact amount of the reduction owing to information received from Lafayette, see his letters of 13 and 20 Dec. 1785 to the marquis and Jefferson, respectively, and that from Jefferson of the 27th (all below).


That is, Jefferson would claim an extension based on the most favored nation clause in Art. 4 of the 1778 Franco-American Treaty of Amity and Commerce (Miller, Treaties , 2:6).


Nathaniel Barrett reached Paris on or about 6 Dec. 1785, the same day that 27 Jefferson received Barrett’s letters of recommendation of 23 and 25 Oct. from James Bowdoin and Thomas Cushing, respectively, for which see Jefferson, Papers , 8:662–663, 670–671. For JA’s 2 Dec. letter recommending Barrett to Jefferson, see same, 9:73.


Literally “small posters,” the product of a quasi-French bureaucratic agency publishing addresses and trade regulations.


Presumably Jefferson’s letter to William Carmichael of 4 Nov. (same, 9:15).