Papers of John Adams, volume 18

From Thomas Jefferson

To John Jay

488 To John Adams from Benjamin Hichborn, 24 October 1786 Hichborn, Benjamin Adams, John
From Benjamin Hichborn
Sir Boston 24th Octr: 1786

I have long intended to write you, but the fear of giving you more trouble than Information, has hitherto prevented me—1 the present critical Situation of public Affairs, & the probable issue of them, so different from what is conceived by most of our Polititians, have at length overcome every other Consideration & I have now taken my Pen to communicate a Sentiment which I must entreat of you, by every tie of honor & friendship, (let the Event, be what it may) that you, never will mention it as having come from me— after this grave Introduction I may venture to tell you that there is a first determination in the Minds of Men of the greatest Influence, to change the form of Government thro’ the Continent, & shoud the present convulsions in this State continue the Change will most assuredly take Place in a very short time— you may wonder at my Confidence, but depend upon the prediction,—what form of Government will succeed the present I will not pretend absolutely to determine, but that a great change will happen soon, unless, contrary to all appearances & the uniform bias of the human Mind, the most violent civil Commotions which ever made thier appearance, shoud suddenly subside without either hope or fear to produce the change— perhaps I am writing not a word of news to you, & I think it not improbable, at least I can say I hope so because I never wish to see the political wheel in motion unless you have some share in the direction of it, & I most ardently wish shoud any great Event take place I hope before it is compleated, that you will be on the Spot— you have friends & Confidants I Know, & perhaps some of them, have wrote you on the same subject; but I know some of your confidential Friends, have no Idea of the Subject—; shoud you incline to receive any furthe communications on this head, if you will honor me with a line by the Packet, I will without Reserve let you know every thing that I may possess, respecting it— you may observe Sir, that I use very little ceremony, & I think I Know your Character too well to suppose it necessary— I have always wished for an opportunity of demonstrating the esteem & Confidence I feel & if possible to afford you a Satisfaction proportionate to the accidental injury I occasioned your feelings in suffering your letters to fall into the Enemies hands— I had determine to write you about two years since to inform you of 489 what I dare say no one else woud, which was that in case you returned to America, you without the least doubt have been chosen Governor— I suppose we[re y]ou here at any time before our next Elect[ion] you woud have almost an unanimous vote— Bowdoin I beleive will not be chosen & unless you shoud be here I suppose Hancock will—2 I write in a hurry that is scarcely decent, but as I do not write to recommend myself I hope it will be the more readily excused The Vessel which carries this will sail in a few minutes— I beg leave to recommend my much esteemed Friend & Brother Mr Gardner (who is again in London with Mrs: Gardne)3 to your notice & shall acknowledge any civilities you may shew them as doubly done to myself— please to present my respects for Mrs: Adams & beleive me your undissembled / Friend

B Hichborn

NB I shoud not dare to write this but under cover to Mr. Gardner you may answer it if you please thro […] channel as letters to & from Persons in your Station are frequently […]—4

RC (Adams Papers); addressed: “His Excellency / John Adams Esq / Minister Plenipotentiary from America / at the Court of / London”; endorsed: “Col Hitchbourne / Octr. 24. 1786. ansd / Jan. 27. 1787.” Some loss of text where the seal was removed.


This is the first letter to JA from Boston lawyer Col. Benjamin Hichborn (1746–1817), Harvard 1768, since May 1776. This is likely owing to Hichborn’s mortification over his mid-1775 capture by the British while carrying letters by JA and others that were later published, the most important being that of 24 July 1775 to James Warren wherein JA called John Dickinson a “piddling Genius” (vols. 3:89–90, 92–93; 4:202–204; Sibley’s Harvard Graduates , 17:36–44). Hichborn refers to the captured letters later in this paragraph, but see JA’s comment on the incident in his 27 Jan. 1787 reply, below.


Hichborn’s comments on the likelihood that Shays’ Rebellion would spur an alteration in “the form of Government thro’ the Continent” and his observations on the upcoming gubernatorial election are interesting. So too is the role that he would play in late November when he led a cavalry raid to capture the insurgent leaders. That incident further radicalized the rebels but also compelled the commonwealth’s establishment to take decisive military action to end the insurrection. For the raid and the denouement of Shays’ Rebellion, see Hichborn’s 16 Jan. letter, and note 2, below.


Probably Samuel Gardner and his wife, Mary Underwood Gardner. Gardner, who provided a bond for a vessel owned by Hichborn in 1781, was the brother of Hichborn’s wife, Hannah Gardner Andrews Hichborn (Alfred Gooding, comp., “Records of the South Church of Portsmouth, N.H.,” NEHGR, 82:287 [July 1928]; Charles Henry Lincoln, comp., Naval Records of the American Revolution, 1775–1788, Washington, D.C. 1906, p. 436; James Spear Loring, The Hundred Boston Orators, Boston, 1852, p. 131–132; Boston, 21st Report , p. 364; Boston, 24th Report, p. 263, 272).


The second sentence of this postscript was written vertically in the left margin and marked for insertion here.