Papers of John Adams, volume 18

From Isaac Stephens

The American Commissioners to John Jay

To John Adams from Benjamin Vaughan, 20 April 1786 Vaughan, Benjamin Adams, John
From Benjamin Vaughan
Jeffries Square, April 20, 1786.

Mr B Vaughan presents his respectful compts. to Mr Adams, and having waited for the inclosed, wishes for the favor of an answer upon the subject of it.1

Dr. Gray makes a private party for Mr V:, and of course will be happy to see Mrs & Miss Adams, with Col Jefferson & Col smith.2

Mr V: is endeavoring to procure Mr Bolton’s permission to see the immense machinery at Blackfriars Bridge for grinding corn by means of the steam engine, as difficulties have been feared respecting some foreigners, which Mr V— does not apprehend occur in the present instance.3

RC and enclosure (Adams Papers).


Vaughan delayed this letter in order to enclose his brother William’s 21 April note to JA, AA, and AA2, inviting them to a 29 April excursion to “Tylney House,” better known as Wanstead House, Essex (Adams Papers). Of the Palladian estate, and other English country seats that the Adamses toured throughout the spring and summer, AA wrote that they were “Beautifull to the Eye, pleasing to the fancy, and improveing to the Imagination.” JQA and LCA would visit Tilney House on 26 July 1797, their wedding day ( AFC , 7:257, 259; 12:221).


Vaughan arranged several scientific and cultural outings around London for the Adamses and Thomas Jefferson. On 20 April 1786, they went to view Osterley Park, the Heston, Middlesex, seat of the late banker Robert Child (1739–1782), and Syon House (now Syon Park), the estate of Hugh Percy, 1st Duke of Northumberland (ca. 1712–1786). Of the luxurious scenery, JA wrote in his Diary that he found “the Verdure is charming, the Music of the Birds pleasant,” but that the “beauty, Convenience, and Utility of these Country Seats, are not enjoyed by the owners. They are mere Ostentations of Vanity” (JA, D&A , 3:191; DNB ). For Syon House, see Descriptive List of Illustrations, No. 3, above.

Four days later, Edward Whitaker Gray, botanist and curator at the British Museum, led them on a private tour of the museum. After 24 April, JA suspended the Diary record of his outings until 26 June (JA, D&A , 3:189–191; DNB ).


In mid-February, industrialists Matthew Boulton (1728–1809), a Birmingham entrepreneur, and James Watt (1736–1819), a Scottish engineer, had commenced steam-engine production to grind corn at Albion Mill, located on the south side of Blackfriars Bridge. JA and Jefferson likely saw it on 21 April. The mill quickly became a tourist attraction, but since Boulton and Watt initially lacked the wealth and clout to prosecute those seeking to pirate Watt’s patented steam-power technology, few visitors were permitted inside it (Jefferson, Papers , 9:401; DNB ).