Papers of John Adams, volume 18

To John Woddrop

William Carmichael to the American Commissioners

To John Adams from John Jay, 3 February 1786 Jay, John Adams, John
From John Jay
Dear Sir New York 3d: February 1786

My last to You was written the 2d. Ult:— It acknowledged the Receipt of your Letters of 15. 17. 21. 25 & 27th: October last—no others have since arrived.1 All those as well the Letters which accompanied your Draft of a Treaty with Britain, together with my Reports in favor of them and of that Draft are …2 under the Consideration of Congress, and as yet have produced no Instructions to you on the Subjects of them—3 So much Time has elapsed since nine States were represented in Congress that many important Matters still lay undiscussed and undecided.—

I herewith enclose two Copies of a Report of Secy: Thomson of 2d. January which will afford you accurate Information of the Acts of the several Legislatures respecting the Requisitions of Congress.4 The Facts stated in it place the Necessity of more System and stronger fœderal Government in a strong Light— Send one Copy to Mr. Jefferson.—

I also enclose a Copy of my Report (to which Congress has agreed) on the Subject of certain Representations from Massachusetts which are mentioned in it— The Papers which ought to 141 accompany this Report are very voluminous and cannot possibly be copied in Time for this Packet— they shall be sent by the next, or by any good Opportunity that may sooner offer.—5

Three Vessels will sail from this Port for Canton the first fair Wind. vizt. The Ship Empress of China Capt. Green, the Ship Hope Capt. Mc.Gee—and the Brigantine Betsey Capt. Neal Mc.Henry— one is also ready to sail from Philadelphia vizt. the Ship Canton Captain Truxton.—6

Congress have appointed Samuel Shaw Esqr: formerly an Aid de Camp to Genl. Knox to be their Consul at Canton, and Mr. Thomas Randal of Philadelphia to be their Vice Consul there.—7

{I just learn that they applied to mr Van Berckel for letter to batavia, but he declined giveing them any, altho he granted that favour to captain Green the last Voyage—hence it seems that the dutch alfall Bgin to Be Jealous of our commerce with the east—}

{to avoid british laws8 a Mr Lee lately brought here from India a rich Cargo,—and returns in one of the Said Vessels—} others will probably do the like, if so, the Consequences may be important.—

Capt. Sears of this Town (whom you know) adventures largely in this new Commerce— he goes to Canton in the Hope.—9

The public Paper of this State has lately risen in Price, owing to the general Expectation that the Legislature are earnest in their Professions to restore public Credit— Appearances may be delusive, but there is Reason at present to expect that this Legislature will do more good than the last.—

Mr. Temple neither does nor says much that I can learn— he seems cautious.—

I have the Honor to be with the great Respect and Esteem / Dr. Sir / Your most obt. & hble: Servt.

John Jay—

PS— Mr. Wyngrove who seems to be a very good kind of Man is the Bearer of these Dispatches10

RC and enclosures with decoded text in WSS’s and AA2’s hands (Adams Papers); internal address: “The Hoñble John Adams Esquire / M. Ply. at the Court of London”; endorsed: “Mr Jays Letter Feb. 3. / 1785.”


Jay refers to his 2 Jan. letter, above. For the October 1785 letters and their fate, see note 3 to that letter.


Ellipsis in MS.


Jay refers to JA’s 29 July letter with which JA enclosed his letters to the Marquis of Carmarthen of 14 and 27 July, and perhaps also that of 29 July. In the first JA proposed a declaration clarifying the meaning of the 1783 Anglo-American armistice; with the second he enclosed a draft of such a declaration; and with the third he enclosed a draft Anglo-American commercial treaty (vol. 17: 223–236, 245–247, 270–274, 280–282, 283–284). Jay acknowledged receiving the 29 July 1785 letter in his of 14 Oct. and stated that it was 142 then before Congress; and Richard Henry Lee approved of the draft treaty in his 23 Oct. letter (same, 17:510, 534). But no mention has been found in the Journals of either the 29 July letter or Jay’s report on its enclosures.


The enclosed copies of a 4 Jan. 1786 report by Charles Thomson have not been found, but for that report, also sent to JA by Rufus King, see King’s 1 Feb. letter, and note 1, above.


With this letter in the Adams Papers is a copy of Jay’s 31 Jan. report concerning Massachusetts’ effort to obtain the restoration of or payment for property seized from Boston merchants at the evacuation of Boston in March 1776, for which see Samuel Austin’s 23 Dec. 1785 letter, and note 1, above. With Jay’s report are two other documents, designated Nos. 1 and 2, that may have been among the 22 documents that Jay enclosed with his 22 Feb. 1786 letter, the other twenty of which have not been found ( Dipl. Corr., 1783–1789 , 2:515–516). The two documents are copies of the 4 Nov. 1785 letter signed by James Bowdoin instructing the Massachusetts delegates to present the matter to Congress and the 22 Oct. petition to the General Court from the Boston merchants John Rowe, Samuel Austin, Samuel Partridge, and Samuel Dashwood. For those two documents, the text of Thomas Bulfinch’s petition to the General Court, and a list of the nineteen other documents enclosed with Jay’s 22 Feb. 1786 letter, see Dipl. Corr., 1783–1789 , 2:518–525.


Under the command of Capt. John Green (1736–1796), the Empress of China made a second voyage to Canton (now Guangzhou), departing New York City on 1 February. The Hope, Capt. James Magee (1750–1801), and the Betsey, Capt. Neal McHenry, set sail three days later from the same port. The Empress likely arrived in early August. The Canton, Capt. Thomas Truxtun, left Philadelphia in late Dec. 1785, and entered Canton harbor around 1 Sept. 1786. For the arrival of the Hope, see note 7. Carrying large quantities of ginseng, spices, and silks, three of the ships returned to America in May 1787, but no record of the Betsey’s voyage has been found (Smith, Empress of China , p. xvii, 236, 249; Ferguson, Truxtun , p. 66–67, 73, 77, 272, 273; New York Daily Advertiser, 2 Feb. 1786). On 2 Jan. 1786 Congress granted a sea letter to the Canton and did so for the Hope and Betsey on 26 and 31 Jan., respectively ( JCC , 30:1, 27–28, 30).


Samuel Shaw (1750–1794) and Thomas Randall (d. 1811) served together in Gen. Henry Knox’s artillery regiment during the Revolution, and they sailed as supercargoes on the Empress of China’s first voyage to Canton in 1784. Shaw was appointed first consul to China in Jan. 1786, and President George Washington renewed his commission six years later. Randall, formerly Truxtun’s partner in a Philadelphia mercantile firm, was appointed vice-consul; both diplomatic positions were unpaid. They sailed from New York City on the Hope and reached China on 15 Aug. 1786 ( ANB ; Smith, Empress of China , p. xvii, 6, 60, 234, 236; Ferguson, Truxtun , p. 73, 272).


AA2 took over the decoding from WSS at this point. For the encoded passages Jay used the nomenclator code that he sent to JA on 13 April 1785, for which see vol. 17:xiii, 23–24.


Col. Isaac Sears (1730–1786), a New York merchant and Son of Liberty who socialized with JA at the Continental Congress in 1774, sailed on the Hope in an effort to restore his lost fortune with profits from the sale of Chinese ginseng and other goods. Sears died of fever aboard ship and was buried on French Island in Canton harbor (vol. 4:169; JA, D&A , 2:111, 158; Ferguson, Truxtun , p. 73–74; ANB ).


John Wingrove, an English merchant and prospective consul, reached America in late 1785 with letters from JA recommending him as an experienced East Indian trader (vol. 17:413, 431). Wingrove proposed to Congress that it create an American East India Company, but his proposal was declined on 31 Jan. 1786. According to Rufus King’s letter of this date (Adams Papers), Congress believed that “commercial intercourse between the United States and India would be more prosperous if left unfettered in the hands of private adventurers, than if regulated by any system of a national complexion,” but the decision also reflected Congress’ determination not to appoint noncitizens to office (Smith, Letters of Delegates , 23:131–132; JCC , 30:35).