Adams Family Correspondence, volume 4

233 John Quincy Adams to Abigail Adams, 23 October 1781 JQA AA


John Quincy Adams to Abigail Adams, 23 October 1781 Adams, John Quincy Adams, Abigail
John Quincy Adams to Abigail Adams
Honoured Mamma St. Petersbourg October 12 Old Style October 23 N.S. 1781

I am afraid you will think I was negligent in not writing more than I did by so good an opportunity as my brother Charles, but I hope you will excuse me as a journey of two thousand of our miles of which I had not the least thought a week before I set out was the only reason for it, so that I had not time to write before I left Holland, as all my time was employed in getting ready to go.

We left Amsterdam the 7th of July and arrived here the 16/27 of August: and I have not yet had an opportunity of writing, but as now a very good one presents itself1 I cannot let it slip without writing you, to tell you at least that I am well and that I have got to the end of my Journey without any accident, except having been overset once in the carriage, but luckily nobody was hurt.

Voltaire in his history of Russia gives the following description of this city, by which you will be able to form an opinion of the place where we are.

“The city of Petersbourg is situated upon the gulf of Cronstadt, in the midst of nine branches of rivers, by which it's different quarters are divided. The center of the town is occupied by a very strong castle upon an island formed by the great arm of the Neva. The rivers are branched out into seven canals which wash the walls of One of the imperial palaces, of the admiralty, of the dockyard for the gallies, and of several manufactories. The city is embellished by five and thirty large churches among which are five for foreigners; Roman Catholic's, Calvinists and Lutherans. These five temples are monuments of the spirit of toleration, and an example to other nations. There are five imperial palaces; the old one, called the Summer Palace, situate on the river Neva is bordered by a handsome stone ballustrade along the river side. The new Summer Palace, near the triumphal gate, is one of the most beautiful pieces of architecture in Europe. The admiralty, the school for the instruction of cadets, the imperial colleges, the academy of sciences, the exchange, the merchants warehouses, the dock-yard belonging to the gallies, are all magnificent structures. The town-house, or guild hall, the public dispensary, where the vessels are all made of porcelaine; the magazine belonging to the court, the foundery, the arsenal, the bridges, the market-place, the public squares, the caserns for the guards of horse and foot, contribute to the embellishment, as well as to the security 234of this metropolis. They reckon at St. Petersbourg at present no less than four hundred thousand souls. Round the town there are villa's or country-houses surprizingly magnificent: some of them have jet d'eaus or water-works, far superior to those of Versailles. There was nothing of all this in 1702, it being then an impassable morass.”2

I have not time to write any more at present, and must conclude by subscribing myself your most dutiful Son, John Q. Adams

RC and LbC (Adams Papers).


This letter was doubtless brought from St. Petersburg to Amsterdam, for posting there, by Stephen Sayre, who brought JQA's letter of this date to JA, following; see JA's reply to JQA, 15 Dec., below.


Copied and translated by JQA from the first chapter of Voltaire's Histoire de l'empire de Russie sous Pierre le grand. JQA's copy of this work, 2 vols., n.p., 1759–1763, remains among his books in MBAt and bears a few corrections and annotations apparently in his hand. According to notes on the front flyleaves, JQA paid 5 guilders and 2 stivers for the first volume and 3 guilders and 10 stivers for the second, on 13 July 1781. His diary records that on that day he traveled from Cologne to Coblentz, and so he either paid a German bookseller in Dutch currency or erred by a few days in recording the date of his purchase. At any rate, the book was acquired for study as JQA started on his journey to St. Petersburg. A notation in vol. 2 indicates that binding the volumes cost him “80 Copeks.” Though done in Russia, the bindings, in the French style of the period, are among the handsomest in JQA's library and are still in pristine condition.

John Quincy Adams to John Adams, 23 October 1781 JQA JA


John Quincy Adams to John Adams, 23 October 1781 Adams, John Quincy Adams, John
John Quincy Adams to John Adams
Honoured Sir St. Petersbourg October 12/23 1781

I wrote you just after I arrived here,1 and gave you a short sketch of my Journey from Amsterdam to this Place, and promised you in my next a description of this city, but I dont find any thing more than what Voltaire says of it in his history of Russia nor even quite so much, for according to his description, the city is situated upon the Gulf of Cronstadt in the midst of nine branches of rivers, which divide its different quarters. Seven of these nine branches of rivers are nothing more than creeks made into canals about as wide as the cingel at Amsterdam, the rest of his description is pretty exact.

I left at Amsterdam Littleton's Latin and English Dictionary which Dr. Waterhouse gave me;2 if I should stay here, I should be glad if you would send it to me by the first vessel that shall come here in the spring, as I can't get here any good dictionary either French and Latin or English and Latin. Indeed this is not a very good place for learning the Latin and Greek Languages, as there is no academy or school here, and but very few private teachers who demand at the 235rate of 90 pounds Sterling a year, for an hour and a half each day. Mr. Dana don't chuse to employ any at that extravagant price without your positive orders, but I hope I shall be able to go on alone.

The night before last it froze hard; and yesterday it snow'd a little for the first time. It snows at present; by this you see how soon the winter begins with us here, we dont find as yet that it is colder than it is sometimes in America at this time.

I am your dutiful Son, John Q. Adams

RC (Adams Papers); endorsed: “J. Q. Adams. Oct. 12. ansd. Decr. 15. 1781.” LbC (Adams Papers). JA's reply, 15 Dec., below, indicates that JQA's letter was brought from St. Petersburg to Amsterdam by Stephen Sayre.


Letter of 21 Aug. / 1 Sept., above.


Adam Littleton, Latin Dictionary, 6th edn., London, 1735, now among JQA's books in MBAt, bearing JQA's autograph and the date 1781 on a flyleaf.