Adams Family Correspondence, volume 3

James Lovell to Abigail Adams

John Thaxter to John Adams

John Adams to Abigail Adams, 4 September 1780 JA AA John Adams to Abigail Adams, 4 September 1780 Adams, John Adams, Abigail
John Adams to Abigail Adams
My dear Portia Amsterdam septr. 4. 1780

I have ordered the Things you desired for yourself and Mr. Tufts by Captain Edward Davis in the Brig Dolphin. They are very dear, as you will see. I insured them at 25 per Cent.

The French and Spaniards have at length, made a Hall as the saying is of 40 or 50 ships at once from the English. A few more such strokes will answer a very good End.1 But not make Peace. This will never be while the English have one soldier in the United States.

We are all well—thank Nabby for her Letter,2 and tell Master T. that I should have been obliged to him for one.

We are all Impatience to hear from North America and the W. Indies. Proportional good News from thence would make Us very happy.


I have been here three or four Weeks, and have spent my time very agreably here. I am very much pleased with Holland. It is a singular Country. It is like no other. It is all the Effect of Industry, and the Work of Art.

The Frugality, Industry, Cleanliness, &c. here, deserve the Imitation of my Countrymen. The Fruit of these Virtues has been immense Wealth, and great Prosperity. They are not Ambitious, and therefore happy. They are very sociable, however, in their peculiar Fashion.

Adieu, yours forever.3

RC (Adams Papers).


This action took place off Cape St. Vincent, Portugal, on 9 August. Nearly sixty ships in a British convoy, mainly bound for the West Indies but including some East Indiamen as well, were intercepted by the combined French and Spanish fleet and were brought into Cadiz. See JA to Huntington, 4 Sept. (PCC, No. 84, II, printed in Wharton, ed., Dipl. Corr. Amer. Rev. , 4:45; Annual Register for 1781, p. 2–3).


Not found.


It is not now possible to tell whether this is the first letter JA wrote to AA from the Netherlands. The announcement “I have been here three or four Weeks” suggests that it may be; on the other hand, the letter appears much too brief and casual to cover so long a period and such important news. (Note that JA does not even mention here that the two boys have come with him from Paris—an oversight for which AA chided him in her answer of 13–24 Nov., vol. 4, below.) We also know that Captain Davis of the Dolphin, who sailed from a Dutch port early in September and arrived in Boston in mid-November, threw overboard most of his mail when chased by an American privateer flying British colors. Among that mail there must have been other JA letters, presumably including some to AA. See William Smith to AA, 20 Nov.; AA to JA, 13–24 Nov.; both in vol. 4 below.

At all events this was the first letter AA received from JA after his of 23 June, above. The Adams party had traveled by way of Brussels (where JA had satisfying talks with Edmund Jenings and William Lee) to Antwerp and Rotterdam, from there by canal boat (“trekschuit”) to Delft and The Hague (where JA met C. W. F. Dumas, who was to become his faithful man-of-all-work in the Netherlands), and then via Leyden and Haarlem to Amsterdam, where the Adamses arrived on 10 Aug. (JA, Diary and Autobiography , 2:442–445; JQA, Diary, 29 July10 Aug. 1780). In Amsterdam they stopped at the Hôtel des Armes d'Amsterdam but moved on the 12th to better family quarters in the house of “Madame La Veuve du Monsier Henry Schorn, op de Agterburgwall by de Hoogstraat” (JA, Corr. in the Boston Patriot , p. 343; JQA, Diary, 1112 Aug. 1780).

On 14 Aug. JA resumed his dispatches to Congress, writing President Huntington that day explaining his trip to the Netherlands and deploring Laurens' continued absence:

“He would not be publickly recieved, at least until the States i.e. the States General of the United Provinces shall take a decided part with the other Maritime Powers against England. This Case however may soon happen. But there is not in Europe a better Station to collect Intelligence from France, Spain, England, Germany, and all the Northern Parts; nor a better Situation from whence to circulate Intelligence, through all parts of Europe, than this. And it may be depended on, that our Cause has never suffered from any thing more, than from the failure of giving and recieving Intelligence. A Minister here from Congress would be considered as the Center of Communication between America and this and many other Parts of Europe; and I have since my Arrival here been more convinced 411than ever, that Congress might open a considerable Loan here, and be supplied from hence with Stores, and with Clothing, and at the same time be gradually extending the Commerce between this Country and America to the great Advantage of both” (PCC, No. 84, II; printed in Wharton, ed., Dipl. Corr. Amer. Rev. , 4:29–32; also in JA, Works , 7:244–246, from LbC, Adams Papers).

The two matters dealt with in the foregoing paragraph, together with his work as a publicist and propagandist of the American cause, principally occupied JA's attention in the coming months. After receiving in mid-September his “new Orders” to stand in for Laurens, he decided to stay and doubled his efforts; and after learning in October of Laurens' capture at sea he redoubled them. No brief summary of his intense and wide-ranging activities during the latter part of 1780 and the first half of 1781 can approach adequacy, which is the more unfortunate because the correspondence in the present volumes reflects them very spottily. His diary entries are equally spotty, and, to make matters worse, his Autobiography breaks off (in the middle of a sentence of a letter copy) in March 1780. To compensate for these gaps there is the fairly full documentation for this period selected by CFA for publication in JA's Works , 7:244–430, and the very valuable but extremely disorderly mass of documents and comment in what the editors of the Adams Papers have called JA's “second autobiography,” namely his Correspondence in the Boston Patriot —now, unfortunately, a rare book. Nearly four-fifths of that portion of his reminiscences that was issued in serial parts in 1809–1810 is devoted to these eleven months of “militia diplomacy” in Amsterdam and The Hague. Short of the manuscript files themselves, the Correspondence is thus the best single source for this chapter of JA's public life, and since JA did not keep copies of the letters he wrote to the Patriot at such white heat and in such profusion, important material is printed in the Correspondence that can be found nowhere else at all.