Papers of John Adams, volume 4

To William Heath

To Charles Lee

To James Warren, 18 February 1776 JA Warren, James To James Warren, 18 February 1776 Adams, John Warren, James
To James Warren
My dear Sir Feby. 18. 1776

We have at last hit upon a Plan which promises fair for Success.

Dr. Franklin, and Mr. Chase of Maryland, and Mr. Charles Carroll of Carrollton, are chosen a Committee to go to Canada.1 I must confess I have very great Confidence, in the Abilities and Integrity, the Political Principles and good Disposition of this Committee.

Franklins Character you know. His masterly Acquaintance with the 27French Language, his extensive Correspondence in France, his great Experience in Life, his Wisdom, Prudence, Caution: his engaging Address: united to his unshaken Firmness in the present American system of Politicks and War, point him out as the fittest Character, for this momentous Undertaking.

Chase, is in younger Life, under forty: But deeply impressed with a sense of the Importance of securing Canada, very active, eloquent, Spirited, and capable.

Carroll's Name and Character, are equally unknown to you. I was introduced to him, about Eighteen Months ago in this City, and was much pleased with his Conversation.

He has a Fortune, as I am well informed, which is computed to be worth Two hundred Thousand Pounds Sterling. He is a Native of Maryland, and his Father is Still living. He had a liberal Education in France, and is well acquainted with the french Nation. He Speaks their Language as easily as ours, and what is perhaps of more Consequence, than all the rest, he was educated in the Roman Catholic Religion, and Still continues to worship his Maker according to the Rites of that Church. In the Cause of American Liberty, his Zeal Fortitude and Perseverance have been So conspicuous that he is Said to be marked out for peculiar Vengeance by the Friends of Administration: But he continues to hazard his all: his immense Fortune, the largest in America, and his Life. This Gentlemans Character, If I foresee aright, will hereafter make a greater Figure in America. His Abilities are very good, his Knowledge and Learning extensive, I have seen Writings of his which would convince you of this. You may perhaps hear before long more about them.

These three Gentlemen compose a Committee, which I think promises great Things.

But We have done more. We have impowered the Committee to take with them, another Gentleman of Maryland Mr. John Carroll,2 a Roman Catholic Priest, and a Jesuit, a Gentleman of learning and Abilities. This Gentleman will administer Baptism to the Canadian Children, and bestow Absolution upon Such as have been refused it by the toryfied Priests in Canada. The Anathema's of the Church So terrible to the Canadians, having had a disagreable Effect upon them.

In Addition to the whole General Lee is ordered into Canada,3 to take upon him the Command of the whole Expedition. His address, his Fluency in French, his Activity, his great Experience and Skill, We hope will Succeed.


I long to hear from N. England that the three Regiments are marched. It would damp me, very much to hear that our People continue to hesitate about Bounties, and Trifles.

The Unanimous Voice of the Continent is Canada must be ours Quebec must be taken.

I think the most prudent Measures, have now been adopted, and We must leave the Event. If We fail now, I shall be easy because I know of nothing more or better that We can do. I did not feel so well Satisfied, after the News of the Failure at Quebec.

It is true that We want Lee both at Cambridge and New York: But We cannot have him in three Armies at once, and Canada Seems to me, the most dangerous Post, and that there is the greatest Necessity for him there. Schuyler is to command in N. York, with Lord Sterling under him who is a very good officer.

The Importance of Canada, arises from this, and occasions our remarkable Unanimity at present in deciding the Affairs of it. In the Hands of our Enemies, it would enable them to influence all the Indians upon the Continent, and perhaps induce them to take up the Hatchet, and commit their Robberies and Murders upon the Frontiers of all the Southern Colonies as well as to pour down Regulars Canadians and Indians together upon the Borders of the Northern. I am, my dear Sir, unfeignedly your Friend,

RC (MHi:Warren-Adams Coll.); docketed: “Mr. J Adams Lettr Feby. 18. 1776.”


Charles Carroll (1737–1832), owner of a manor comprising 10,000 acres in Frederick co., Maryland, was an ardent patriot, a delegate to the congress from 1776 to 1778, and a signer of the Declaration of Independence ( DAB ). The appointment of Carroll, which had been suggested to JA by Samuel Chase in his letter of 12 Jan. (above), was an attempt to take advantage of his religion that in the end had no effect on the outcome of the mission.

The commissioners were appointed on 15 Feb.; for their instructions, see JA's Service in the Congress, 9 Feb. – 27 Aug., Nos. II and III (above). When the commissioners arrived at Montreal on 29 April, they found the American Army in disorder, crippled by lack of money, desertions, and the ravages of smallpox. Canadians were generally hostile, angered by the actions of the American forces (particularly those of Gen. Wooster) and suspicious of the attitude of the congress toward Catholicism in view of its statements about the Quebec Act and the recognition that it gave that religion. From the start it was apparent that the commission could do little. Franklin left Montreal on 11 May because of ill health, and Father John Carroll followed him the next day. Chase and Charles Carroll stayed on until 21 May and presented their pessimistic report to the congress in June ( JCC , 4:151–152; 5:435–436; Ellen Hart Smith, Charles Carroll of Carrollton, Cambridge, 1942, p. 137–152; Brantz Mayer, ed., Journal of Charles Carroll of Carrollton, Baltimore, 1845, repr. 1876; for the commissioners' letters to the congress, see PCC, No. 166, f. 17–56).


John Carroll (1735–1815), a cousin of Charles, later became the first Roman 29Catholic bishop in the United States. From the beginning he doubted that the mission would achieve its objectives and was confirmed in the belief by his cold reception among the local clergy ( DAB ). In sending Father Carroll to Canada, the congress had taken a daring step, but its resolution sought to avoid controversy by making no reference to a priest, stating only that Charles Carroll was to prevail upon “Mr. John Carroll” to go with the commissioners “to assist them in such matters as they shall think useful” ( JCC , 4:152). That JA was apprehensive about the appointment is clear from his warning to AA that “your Prudence will direct you to communicate the Circumstances of the Priest, the Jesuit and Romish Religion only to such Persons as can judge of the Measure upon large and generous Principles, and will not indiscreetly divulge it.” AA replied to JA that the sending of a priest was seen by those to whom she had shown his letter “as a master stroke of policy” (JA to AA, 18 Feb., and AA to JA, 2 March, Adams Family Correspondence , 1:349, 354).


Lee was ordered to proceed to Canada on 17 Feb., but on 28 Feb. that order was withdrawn. On 1 March he was named commander of the Southern Department and soon departed for Virginia ( JCC , 4:157, 175, 180–181).