Papers of John Adams, volume 7

Gabriel de Sartine to Benjamin Franklin: A Translation

From Ralph Izard

From James Warren, 7 October 1778 Warren, James JA


From James Warren, 7 October 1778 Warren, James Adams, John
From James Warren
My Dear Sir Boston Octr. 57th 17781

As I keep no Copies of the Letters I write to you, and have been so Careless as to keep no Memorandum of them I cant recollect either the Number or Contents. But this I am certain of, that they are both Numerous and Lengthy, and that I have not received a Single Line from you. This is equally a subject of Complaint among all your Friends, and I am to be satisfied while I dont find myself distinguished by any perticular Marks of Neglect. I dont write to the Embassador, or make any distinction between the Embassador and the Delegate. I write to my Freind and use no kind of Ceremony, I leave that to the great; and the numerous Courtiers about you, supposeing that my usual familiarity, Carelessness, and sincerity may at least please by way of variety. I know you wish to be minutely Informed of the true state of your Native Country, and I wish I could recollect on the short Notice I have of this opportunity every thing I Conceived would gratify your Curiosity. As I have but little time I must leave the great Movements of Congress, and the General State of America to the official Letters of Congress, and those perticular ones, you will receive from your Friends, at Philadelphia, the great Seat of Intelligence, and Confine myself pretty much to our own Affairs, and situation.

I dare say before this reaches you, you will be Informed of the Train of Misfortunes that have Attended Count d Estaing Squadron, and the Consequent ill success of the second Rhode Island Expedition,2 since which the Enemy have with their usual humanity destroyed the Town of Bedford, and plundered Marthas Vineyard as you will see by the Papers we shall Inclose you per this Opportunity.3 They have for some 111time past been Inactive and still, their Fleet principally at New York, which by the Addition of Byron's Squadron now all Arrived is formidable not less than 17 sail of the Line and a Number of Frigates, with a 60 gun ship and 2 Frigates Cruising on our Coast. Boston with the French Fleet now here has been supposed their principle Object, and I once did beleive they would Attempt that, and the destruction of the Sea Coasts of this State but the Season is now so far Advanced, I think they will not risque such an Expedition, besides the Count has by fortifying Georges Island and other parts of the Harbour made it Impregnable by Sea.4 I think no Squadron in Europe could force their way into this Harbour while the French Fleet remain here, and at this Season of the Year it would be Madnes to make an Attempt by Sea when in this Bay a Single Night may prove the destruction of the whole of them. I think an Attack by Land equally Improbable because if they make it from Rhode Island, and should be able to penetrate to this Town, and not be Able to Carry it their retreat and supplies would at least be very uncertain. The Conjectures of their future Operations are various, most People think the Enemy will leave the United States, and we are now Informed they have Embarked 12 Regiments at New York soon after the Arrival of a packet there from England. A few days will decide upon all our Uncertainties.

The French Officers and Seamen in this Squadron behave themselves Extreemly well, they are indeed the most peaceable quiet and orderly set of Men in their profession I ever saw. But there has Notwithstanding been several disagreable riots and Quarrels between them and the English Sailors5 here, I beleive set on by the Tories, who wish to blow up a Breeze between us and our new Allies.

I wish it was in my power to tell you that the Number and Influence of the Tories here were reduced, but I think they gain ground fast. This I Impute to the Coincideing of the Ambitious Veiws of a Certain Gentleman6 here, with the wicked and Timourous veiws of others. Things at present Appear to be in a strange way. We have no Constitution nor have we any probability of geting one. A Bill for Confiscateing the Tories Estates has had two readings in the House. I am told there is no probability of its succeeding on the third,7 so far from it that even some Members on the B —— Seat have without reserve Expressed their Sentiments that they should be suffered to return Tempora Mutantur.8 Our Bill Act prescribeing an Oath of Allegiance has had no Effect. Most of the Tories to whom it was tendered9 have swallowed it without difficulty. Few Towns have had resolution enough to Tender it, and where it has been Tendered and refused and 112the refusers Committed for Transportation, the Council have not had resolution enough to Carry it into Execution so that while they Complain that their Laws and resolutions are not Executed they themselves set the Example.

A Certain Assembly in this State would make a strange Appearance to you, who have been acquainted with vigorous Measures upon the most steady, and vigorous principles. Mr. John Pickering is now the Speaker of the House of Representatives. Mr. Nathel. Gorham who Mr. Adams Calls my Cousin, is Member for Lunenburge where he has resided since the destruction of Charlestown. Edward Bacon is Member for Barnstable &c. &c. The Boston Members I presume you know. I have before told you that I have no Share in the Conduct of Matters. I was left out by my Town. I have given you the Causes of it. When I quit the Navy Board I shall be a Simple honest Farmer, and shall have Nothing to do but humbly to look at the Conduct of public Men, and public Measures.

Mr. Paine has never Attended Congress since you left us. Mr. Dana is Just returned. Genl. Hancock went last June, after he had taken Care of the public here at Election. He returned very soon finding the Climate did not agree with him, he was not gone but about six weeks. It used to agree with him better than with any of you. Perhaps the air in the Presidents Seat is purer than it is in more humble Stations. After his return he went on the R. Island Expedition and there staid Just long enough to gain among the Multitude the popular Ecclat, and then left it so soon as to make the more discerning laugh.10 He is makeing great Entertainments and figureing11 away in a most magnificent manner. The Eyes of many People are open and see his views and Motives, and some of the Judicious think Nothing Necessary but to veer away rope.12 Last week this day was Assigned for the Choice of Delegates, this early Assignment was the policy of some Men to strike at Mr. some of the present delegates with more certain success, and perticularly at Mr. Adams.13 If the great Man fails he will be Mortified indeed. Yesterday the House voted him a Marquee with all its furniture and apparatus for to do them Justice they are very respectful, and ready to gratify him, but this Vote was Unanimously Non Concurred by the Council,14 and this is not the only mortification in that way.

The Boston, and other frigates have sent in a prize they took since they left France.15 Your Lady will write you by this Oppertunity.16 She was here Yesterday. Mrs. Warren is to dine with her tomorrow. You will please to make My Respectful Compliments to Your Associates & Beleive Me to be Your Assured Friend


RC (Adams Papers); docketed: “Warren ansd dec. 2.”; in another hand: “Oct 1st 1778.”


Although dated 7 Oct., portions of this letter were clearly written on the 8th, probably early in the day since Warren is aware of the actions of the Council, but not the House. See notes 4, 13, and 14 (below).


For the movement of Estaing's fleet to Newport and his ill-fated effort to meet the British fleet, see John Bondfield to the Commissioners, 8 Sept., note 1 (above). The operation, the first coordinated effort by the allies and commanded on the American side by Gen. John Sullivan, got off to a bad start because of the slowness with which the American army was assembled. This delayed the attack until 9 Aug., eleven days after the arrival of the French fleet and the very day on which Howe's fleet appeared. Even before the attack was to begin, relations between the French and American commanders were strained. It was at least partly for this reason that Estaing refused to reinforce the American army after his return from his foray against the British and instead sailed to Boston for refitting. His departure resulted in massive desertions among the militia and left Sullivan with no alternative but to retreat. He did so in good order from 28 to 30 Aug., just before the arrival of a large body of British reinforcements for the Newport garrison.

Because of the high hopes for the mission's success, especially among New Englanders, strong anti-French feelings were aroused, and were heightened by indiscreet remarks by Sullivan. Vigorous efforts by George Washington, John Hancock, and others, who recognized the absolute necessity of maintaining and preserving the Franco-American alliance, were required to restore calm (Ward, War of the Revolution , 2:588–594).


The attacks on New Bedford, then part of Dartmouth, of 5 Sept., and on Martha's Vineyard of 10–14 Sept., as well as on other towns of Massachusetts' southern coastline, are known collectively as Grey's Raid. The operation was led by Maj. Gen. Charles Grey, using troops originally sent to reinforce Newport, and was intended both to harass and to procure, particularly on Martha's Vineyard, supplies for the British army (Leonard Bolles Ellis, History of New Bedford, Syracuse, N.Y., 1892, p. 109–127; Charles Edward Banks, History of Martha's Vineyard, 3 vols., Boston, 1911, 1:367–383). See also detailed accounts in the Boston Gazette for 14 and 28 Sept. Warren's enclosed accounts have not been found.


The remainder of this letter was written with a different pen, and at least the end of the letter was written on 8 Oct.


Riots had occurred on 8, 26, 27 Sept. and 5 Oct. The first, which resulted in the death of one French officer and the wounding of another, was ostensibly the result of a bread shortage. The later riots indicate, however, that the disorders were more likely due to disappointment over the failure of the Newport expedition and, even more important, to the large influx of sailors and the low regard of the French and American sailors for each other. Warren here presents the official view that the riots were instigated by the tories and “English sailors,” the latter probably a reference to English deserters serving on American ships. The Massachusetts Council did take immediate action, for on the day following the first riot it issued a proclamation offering a reward of three hundred dollars for information about the perpetrators of the incident (Stinchcombe, Amer. Rev. and the French Alliance , p. 58–60; William M. Fowler, Baron of Beacon Hill, Boston, 1980, p. 239; Boston Gazette, 14 Sept.).


John Hancock. In this letter and in earlier ones to JA of 7 June (vol. 6:187–190) and to Samuel Adams of 30 Sept. ( Warren-Adams Letters , 2:47–50), Warren charges Hancock with leading a counterrevolution to undermine the whig principles and power of the “Adams faction” in order to promote his election as governor under whatever constitutional system Massachusetts might adopt. As perceived by Warren, it was for this reason that Hancock blocked both his reelection to the Massachusetts House and his appointment to the Council, went off to lead the militia in Rhode Island, and sought Samuel Adams' removal as a delegate to the congress. Hancock could also be seen as the force behind the rebirth of “toryism” because of his need for the support of mer-114chants and moderates in Boston (Stephen E. Patterson, Political Parties in Revolutionary Massachusetts, Madison, 1973, p. 197–202).


The bill, “An Act to Confiscate the Estates of Certain Notorious Conspirators Against the Government and Liberties of the Inhabitants of the Late Province, Now State, of Massachusetts Bay,” came up for its third reading on 7 Oct. and was passed by the House on the following day by a vote of 90 to 63. The Council, however, notified the House on 14 Oct. that it had referred the bill to a committee that would prepare a new draft to be presented at the beginning of the next session. The bill was not passed until 23 April 1779 (Mass., House Jour. , 1778–1779, 2d sess., p. 70, 71, 78; Mass., Province Laws , 5:966–967).


Since times have changed. The Boston members of the Massachusetts House, to whom Warren is apparently referring, were John Hancock, William Phillips, Caleb Davis, Ellis Gray, John Lowell, Joseph Barrell, and Thomas Dawes; the last two had been elected to replace Oliver Wendell and John Pitts, who had been named to the Executive Council (Boston Record Commissioners, 26th Report , p. 18, 24). In his letter to Samuel Adams of 30 Sept., noted above, Warren wrote that “even in the House a motion has been made and supported by several B—Members to Admit Treasurer Gray, Doctr. Gardner, Jemmy Anderson, etc.” These were Harrison Gray, Sylvester Gardiner, and James Anderson, all notorious tories who were named in the proscription act passed on 16 Oct. (Mass., Province Laws , 5:912–918). In a letter of 23 Oct., John Avery, on behalf of the General Court, sent 100 copies of the act to the Commissioners, and indicated that another 400 copies would be sent by four different ships (PPAmP: Franklin Papers).


The preceding five words were interlined for insertion here.


For John Hancock's role in the election, which resulted in Warren being denied office, and his departure from Boston for the Continental Congress, see Warren to JA, 7 June, and note 6 (vol. 6:187–190). Hancock took his seat on 19 June and received a leave of absence on 9 July. His short stay can be traced both to his disappointment at not being reelected president in place of Henry Laurens and to his desire for military glory in the proposed Newport expedition. Hancock returned to Boston and, as the senior major general on the Massachusetts establishment, received command of the 6,000-man militia force being sent to Rhode Island. He did not, however, arrive on the scene until 9 Aug., the day on which both Howe's fleet appeared off Newport and the Franco-American assault was to begin. When Estaing returned after his unsuccessful effort to meet the British fleet and announced his decision to go to Boston for refitting, Hancock soon decided on his own return and arrived there on the 26th, even before Sullivan had managed to withdraw his army to safety. Some thought that Hancock intended to convince Estaing to return to Newport, but more probably the rapid movement was the result of his desire to avoid being tied to a military failure ( JCC , 11:621, 677; Fowler, Baron of Beacon Hill, p. 230–234).


That is, playing a conspicuous or distinguished part or seeking admiration and respect. Warren may, however, be using the word in another sense: that is, appearing ridiculous ( OED ).


That is, to let out rope ( OED ).


On Wednesday, 30 Sept., the House set the election of delegates to the congress for Friday, 2 Oct., but on that day postponed the selection until Thursday, 8 Oct. On the 8th the House elected John Hancock, Samuel Adams, Elbridge Gerry, James Lovell, Francis Dana, Samuel Holten, and Timothy Edwards (Mass., House Jour. , 1778–1779, 2d sess., p. 60, 64, 71–72). With the exception of Edwards, who apparently never served, this was the same delegation that had previously represented Massachusetts. For a more detailed account of the effort to unseat Samuel Adams, see Warren's letter to Samuel Adams of 18 Aug. ( Warren-Adams Letters , 2:41–43; and also note 6).


A “Marquee and Appendages,” or large officer's field tent, was approved for Hancock by the House on 7 Oct. and rejected by the Council on the following day (Mass., House Jour. , 1778–1779, 2d sess., p. 69, 71).


This vessel arrived at Boston on 2 Oct. and was probably the brig Sally, which had been captured on 24 Aug. 115(Boston Gazette, 5 Oct.; Philip Chadwick Foster Smith, Captain Samuel Tucker, Salem, Mass., 1976, p. 54).


JA acknowledged a letter from AA of 10 Oct. (not found) in his of 20 Feb. 1779 ( Adams Family Correspondence , 3:174).