Adams Family Correspondence, volume 4

John Adams to John Quincy Adams

Mercy Otis Warren to Abigail Adams

John Quincy Adams to John Adams, 21 December 1780 JQA JA


John Quincy Adams to John Adams, 21 December 1780 Adams, John Quincy Adams, John
John Quincy Adams to John Adams
Honoured Sir Leyden December 21st 1780

Mr. Thaxter and brother Charles wrote both to you the day before yesterday and as I had no subject to write upon, I did not write But I can now give you an account of our journey.

We dined on Monday at Haerlem and arrived at Leyden at Six oclock. We lodged at the Cour de Hollande and saw Mr. Waterhouse that evening. The next day we went to hear a Medicinal lecture by Professor Horn, we saw several experiments there. In the afternoon we went to Hear a Law lecture by Professor Pessel. 1 Each lecture lasts an hour.

Yesterday Afternoon we moved from the Cour de Hollande to private lodgings in the same house in which Mr. Waterhouse boards our address is Mr. &c. by de Heer Welters, op de lange Burg, tegen over t Mantel Huis. Leyden.2

I was to day in company with the parson of the brownist Church Who seems to be a clever man, he is a scotch-man but does not pray for the king of England.3

I should be glad to have a pair of Scates they are of various prices from 3 Guilders to 3 Ducats those of a Ducat are as good as need to be but I should like to know whether you would chuse to have me give so much.

Mr. Waterhouse says that for riding I must have a pair leather breeches and a pair of boots. I should be glad if you would answer me upon that as soon as you receive this for there is a vacancy here 40which begins to morrow and in the vacancy is the best time to begin to learn to ride.

In the vacancy there will be no lectures at all but our Master will attend us all the while as much as when there is no vacancy.

I continue writing in Homer, the Greek Grammar and Greek testament every day.

I am your most dutiful Son, John Quincy Adams

RC (Adams Papers); addressed: “a Monsieur. Monsieur Adams. Chez Monsieur. Henry Schorn. Amsterdam”; endorsed: “John. Decr. 21,” to which CFA added “1780.”


Frederik Willem Pestel; see note 4 on (second) letter of JA to JQA, 23 Dec., below.


That is, at Mr. Welter's (more fully and correctly, F. Weller's or Willer's) in the street called Langebrug (Long Bridge) near the Mantle House. Recent efforts to identify the house have not succeeded, but it was not far from the main University building on the other side of the Rapenburg canal and still closer to the cathedral called the Pieterskerk (views of both buildings are reproduced in this volume) and to the Kloksteeg (Bell Lane), where Pastor John Robinson had ministered to his company of self-exiled English Separatists from 1609 to 1620 (and for some years afterward to those who did not leave for America); see the following note.


This passage shows JQA involved in at least a double confusion; and since JA and AA also, like many other Americans—historians and tourists alike—have been similarly confused, JQA's allusion to “the brownist Church” at Leyden requires clarification. By the term “brownist” JQA unquestionably meant the English Separatists, later commonly known as the Pilgrim Fathers; see the preceding note. But to call John Robinson's company Brownists was not accurate, for although the eccentric Robert Browne (1550?–1633?) is regarded as a precursor of New England Congregationalism, those Englishmen who followed Robinson first to Amsterdam in 1608 and in the following May to Leyden rejected much of Browne's teaching, and Robinson expressly rejected the term “Brownist” as applicable to his views. It was hardly to be expected, however, that 18th-century Americans, great as their reverence was for the Pilgrim Fathers, would be aware of such theological niceties.

A worse confusion, and one that still troubles modern American pilgrims to Leyden, concerns the place where Robinson's company worshiped. JQA implies that it was in a building then still standing. A year and a half later JA was to write: “I have been to that Church in Leyden where the Planters of Plymouth worshiped so many Years, and felt a kind of Veneration for the Bricks and Timbers” (to Samuel Adams, 15 June 1782, NN:Bancroft Coll.). During her only visit to the Netherlands, AA also, of course, paid her respects to the founders of Plymouth Colony: “ I would not omit to mention that I visited the Church at Leyden in which our forefathers worshipd when they fled from hierarchical tyranny and persecution. I felt a respect and veneration upon entering the Doors, like what the ancients paid to their Druids” (to Mary Smith Cranch, 12 Sept. 1786, MWA, printed repeatedly in CFA's editions of AA, Letters, 1840 et seq.). But the fact is, and was, that Robinson's company of Separatists had neither their own church building nor the use of any other in Leyden. If they had, it would have been a matter of public record, and no such record has been found by successive generations of diligent investigators. One of the first and most competent of these, the British scholar George Sumner, writing in 1842, concluded “that their religious assemblies were held in some hired hall, or in the house of Robinson, their pastor,” which was in 1611 described as “large” 41(George Sumner, “Memoirs of the Pilgrims at Leyden,” MHS, Colls. , sd ser., 9 [1846]:51–52). Sumner also identified the source of the Adamses' and others' confusion as Rev. Thomas Prince's famous Annals, first published in Boston, 1736, which in a footnote related that “when I was at Leyden in 1714, the most ancient people from their parents, told me, that the city had such a value for them the English Separatists, as to let them have one of their churches, in the Chancel whereof he Robinson lies buried, which the English still enjoy” (Thomas Prince, A Chronological History of New-England, in the Form of Annals ..., Boston, 1826, p. 238). This would make the cathedral church of St. Peter's (the great Pieterskerk, 1593) the Pilgrims' church, for here, as Sumner found from its records, Robinson was buried (although not in the chancel). What must have been pointed out by the Leydeners to Prince and later American visitors as the Pilgrim Church was the English (often and perhaps more correctly called the Scotch) Presbyterian or Reformed Church, which by coincidence had been founded at the same time that Robinson's congregation came to Leyden. With state approval and support, this church conducted public worship for almost two hundred years in a chapel allotted to it in a church on the grounds of the Cloister of the Veiled Nuns or Beguines (the Falyde Beguynhof). This church, as the Dutch scholar Plooij has pointed out, was “a part of the Dutch Reformed Church, organized as a separate congregation merely on account of the language used in its meetings.” It was “Presbyterian, nonepiscopal, and Non-conformist,” but was “a State Church” (D. Plooij, The Pilgrim Fathers from a Dutch Point of View, N.Y., 1932, p. 47). The building the city provided backed up on the garden plot of Robinson's house on the Kloksteeg and in modern times has been used as part of the University's library; eventually most of the Leyden Pilgrims who stayed behind, including Robinson's widow and children, joined this congregation (same, p. 48, 90–91, 103). Sumner, who located the records of this church in Leyden for the period 1609–1807, concluded that “it is this chapel which, from being shown to American travellers as the old church of the English, has, I believe, been sometimes supposed by them to have been the church of the Pilgrims” (MHS, Colls. , 3d ser., 9 [1846]:49; see also p. 63–69).

Clearly this is what happened in the case of the Adamses, and it is confirmed by the extensive researches of the Dexters; a diagram in their monograph, though it is in part conjectural, shows the close physical relationships among the Pieterskerk, John Robinson's house (long since gone) where the Pilgrims conducted their private religious meetings without state support or interference, the large lot behind it on which small houses for some of Robinson's people were built, and the Beguine Cloister abutting that lot (Henry Martyn Dexter and Morton Dexter, The England and Holland of the Pilgrims, Boston and N.Y., 1905, p. 500 ff.).

JA eventually corrected himself (and Benjamin Waterhouse) on the distinction between the followers of Browne and those of Robinson, in a letter to Water-house of 8 Jan. 1807 (MHi: Adams–Waterhouse Coll.; Ford, ed., Statesman and Friend , p. 39–40), but he persisted in believing that the church he had attended in Leyden was the church of the Pilgrims.

The Scottish “parson of the brownist Church” whom JQA met was named William Mitchell, according to the records printed by Sumner (MHS, Colls. , 3d ser., 9 [1846]:66).