Papers of John Adams, volume 18


From John Singleton Copley

From John Adams to Thomas Bulfinch, 13 October 1786 Adams, John Bulfinch, Thomas
To Thomas Bulfinch
Sir. Grosvr. square Octr. 13. 1786

The Day before yesterday, I received the Letter you did me the honour to write me in January last—1 I had indeed long before received from Congress the Papers relative to similiar Claims in Boston with Instructions to use them when I should see a Prospect of success, if, upon any favourable turn in the Minds of this Court and Nation, any such prospect should ever occur—

I have not yet presented any of these Claims at Court, because there is not even a Possibility of their being regarded— You will see by Lord Carmarthen’s answer to my Memorial and Resignation requisition respecting the Frontier Posts, that nothing is to be expected while Laws are in force in any of the United States impeding the recovery of old british Debts— That your claim and many others in Boston are bonâ fide Debts I doubt not. But Law of the Land and not negotiation, is the remedy—and therefore, I frankly own I do not think, that the Dignity or the faith of the United States ought ever to have been compromised in these Matters—

I am


LbC in WSS’s hand (Adams Papers); internal address: “Dr. Bulfinch—”; APM Reel 113.


Dr. Thomas Bulfinch (1728–1802), Harvard 1746, inoculated AA and the Adams children during the Boston smallpox epidemic of 1775–1776, and was the father of federalist architect Charles Bulfinch (1763–1844), Harvard 1781, then on a grand tour of Europe ( AFC , 2:16; 6:162–163, 231; 7:369; ANB ). The elder Bulfinch’s letter of [Jan. 1786] (Adams Papers) was part of an effort by a contingent of Boston merchants to obtain restitution for goods seized by Gen. William Howe prior to the British Army’s evacuation in March 1776, for which see Samuel Austin’s 23 Dec. 1785 letter, and note 1, above.

Bulfinch alleged that on 24 Dec. 1775, his apothecary shop was “broke open, & all the Drugs, Mednes— &c carried of, without any account being taken of them, although I in person requested of the General that an Accot might be taken of them. It is true the Gen1. then told me that I need not be uneasy for my property, for that whatever was taken, was for the Use of His Majesty’s forces, and I should certainly be paid for them; and this he said in the presence and hearing of one of his Aid de Camps.” After the British officers seized his medicine and equipment, Bulfinch wrote, they left the shop doors open “all that Night & several Nights after, exposing the Goods to any and every person, who had a Mind to steal or destroy them” (Adams Papers). See also JA’s reply to Austin of 25 May 1786, and note 2, above, regarding a similarly fruitless petition.