Legal Papers of John Adams, volume 2

Editorial Note

Editorial Note

Adams’ Minutes of the Argument<a xmlns="" href="#LJA02d061n1" class="note" id="LJA02d061n1a">1</a>: Court of Vice Admiralty, Boston, June or July 1774 JA Adams’ Minutes of the Argument: Court of Vice Admiralty, Boston, June or July 1774 Adams, John
Adams' Minutes of the Argument1
Court of Vice Admiralty, Boston, June or July 1774

Leonard. Port Bill, Lex Talionis. Punishment of Boston the main Object.

There is an Exception where by the Act of God, there is an Impossibility of getting out.2 A Necessity.

She had no Right to Stay to repair and refit for a Voyage.

She might have gone out, if not in 6 Hours,3 yet in two or three days.

She was not in a worse situation than she had been.


She might have hired assistance.

The Part the Crown officers have acted is extreamly fair and legal.

The Admiral could not allow him to stay compleatly to refit. Tho he seemed to understand that he had leave to do so.

Mr. Gray4 tells us that the whole might have been had in a Week.

J. Hall thinks 7 or 8 days. Compasses were done in 4 days.

If she is not now fit for sea that is not an excuse.

He is shewing Specimens of his Indigo &c. and brings on shore some of his Wrought Plate. This comes within another Act.5

Plate—Goods, Wares or Merchandise.6

She was in the same Condition in which she came 500 Leagues.

Tudor. The Rules that govern other Acts, are to rule this.7

Ross Sail'd in April. Heard in his Passage that Boston Port was shut.8

Holrode describes their distress. Bound to N. York. Shut. And Middleton says, Distress. Mier, and Dodge.

John Hall. Mate of the Mercury9 describes her distress, no Masts, sails tattered.

James Hall. We have invalidated his Testimony.


Jack the Pilot. Distress enough.

It was Ross's Duty to come in here.

Q. Whether Ross used his utmost Endeavour to get out?

Hall says Ross did Use a reasonable Dilligence. Middleton &c. Mier says Ross hurried them.

In Town. Mr. Hutchinson. Very dilligent. Concernd about lying at Expence.

His Landlady. Anxious to get away.

Ruggles the Sail maker. Up at Gun firing hiring us.10 Worked on the Mast when the Weather would permit. Employd as Many Hands as could be employed.


In JA's hand. Adams Papers, Microfilms, Reel No. 185. For the dating, see notes 3, 5, above.


There is no such exception within the Port Act. 14 Geo. 3, c. 19 (1774). Leonard may here refer to a doctrine of statutory construction that excuses liability for actions forced by acts of God. See 4 Bacon, Abridgment 649. Or he may be incorporating by analogy an exception in cases of necessity to the provision of the Act of 1764 requiring foreign vessels to leave colonial waters on warning. 4 Geo. 3, c. 15, §33. See note 3 8 below.


Six hours was the grace period allowed to vessels after being warned to leave by naval or customs officers. 14 Geo. 3, c. 19, §3.


Perhaps John Gray, the proprietor of Gray's ropewalk.


Under 15 Car. 2, c. 7, §8 (1663), set out, No. 48, note 2 10 , unloading goods before entry was a cause of forfeiture. Ross had presumably made no entry, because the customs officers had moved to Plymouth with their records. Warren, “The Colonial Customs Service in Massachusetts in its relation to the American Revolution,” 46 MHS, Procs. 440, 471–472 (1913). In addition, if the goods were European in origin, they could be forfeited if they had not been shipped in Great Britain. See No. 52.


The Port Act forbade the loading of “any goods, wares, or merchandise whatsoever, to be transported or carried into any other country, province, or place whatsoever, or into any other part of the said province of the Massachuset's Bay, in New England,” or the unloading of goods, wares or merchandise “to be brought from any other country, province, or place, or any other part of the said province of Massachuset's Bay in New England,” under penalty of forfeiture of goods, vessel, and small craft used in the process. 14 Geo. 3, c. 19, §1.


The Act, 14 Geo. 3, c. 19, §6, provided that forfeitures were to be prosecuted “in like manner as other penalties and forfeitures inflicted by any act or acts of parliament relating to the trade or revenues of the British colonies or plantations in America, are directed to be prosecuted,” under 4 Geo. 3, c. 15, §§41–47 (1764) and 8 Geo. 3, c. 22 (1768). For authorities favoring strict construction of these Acts in favor of the claimant, see No. 51. In addition, there were provisions in some of the statutes for leniency toward unintentional violations. See, for example, 4 Geo. 3, c. 15, §22 (1764), excusing from liability goods improperly imported into England with no intent to defraud.


The Port Act was passed on 25 March 1774. News of it reached Boston on 11 May. Miller, Origins of the American Revolution 359–360.


One of the British warships on station off Boston to enforce the Act. See Rowe, Letters and Diary 273 (29 May 1774). Perhaps the Mercury had intercepted Ross' vessel and escorted her into port.


Illegible in MS. If the editors' reading is correct, the meaning may be “up at sunrise assembling a crew.”