Papers of John Adams, volume 11

From Thomas Digges

From Francis Dana

From James Lovell, 6 January 1781 Lovell, James JA


From James Lovell, 6 January 1781 Lovell, James Adams, John
From James Lovell
Dear Sir Jan 6th. 1780 i.e. 1781

I hope the Papers which you will receive by this opportunity will give you personal Satisfaction as well as facilitate the Purposes of your Commissions. I have already sent several Copies of the Diary of Congress of Decr. 12th. 1780 as follows.

“Congress took into Consideration the Report of the Committee 21to whom was referred the Letter of June 26 from the honorable John Adams, whereupon Ordered That the said Letter be referred to the Committee of foreign Affairs, and that they be instructed to inform Mr. Adams of the Satisfaction which Congress receives from his industrious Attentions to the Interest and Honor of these United States abroad especially in the Transactions communicated to them by that Letter.”1

I have no Copy of what I wrote in the Name of the Committee which I am sorry for as I hope soon to have an Opportunity to discharge myself of all the Books and Papers, upon the Establishment of a proper Office.

I really am in a Disposition to wish that your Letter of July 27 had2 no being. I am so much pleased with the Motive of it apparent in the 5th Paragraph that I doubly am grrieved3 at the event.4

Infinite Pains are taken in France and here to prove that the unspeakable Disadvantages of the Delay in sending the Cloathing to America has been wholly owing to the Manner of the Departure of the Alliance. Mr. Lee advised Landais to take the Command of her as of a Ship given to him by Congress. Mr. Lee's bitter Enemies are compleatly satisfied with this Solution of our immense Injuries; but his Friends and all candid Examiners say what could the Alliance bring in Addition to the military Stores actually on board. Powder above water? What Cloathing was the Ariel about to bring when she was dismasted? I will add no more, except that there are ten thousand warm Execrations issuing dayly forth from the Mouths of the injured intended for the real Cause of their Sufferings.5

Janry. 7th.

This very noon two small Vessels arrive and bring us all the Comfort of Mr. Williams's Copies of Letters from March 3d. quite up to July 25. J. P. Jones writes to Mr. R. Morris in Novr. 17 that the lower Masts of the Ariel were then getting in and as Capt. Barry has the Alliance it is judged Congress mean to give him the Seventy four, but not a Lisp about the Cloathing.6

Good God!

Oh my dear Sir, develop Hearts, Principles, Connections. Ship Masters have declared that they were willing to take Part of the public Stores, others have declared that Vessels were offered on Charter. Who are the owners of the Vessels on which the Goods have at times been put or are finally to be put?

Affectionately JL

RC (Adams Papers); endorsed: “Mr Lovel. Jan. 6. 1781.” JA began deciphering the enciphered text, interlining the letters above Lovell's numbers. These passages are indicated in the notes.


Congress commended JA for his support of the revaluation of the Continental currency in his representations to Vergennes, see The Revaluation Crisis, 16 June – 1 July 1780, vol. 9:427–430, and references there. The letter of 26 June 1780 to which the resolution refers is that from JA to the president of Congress (vol. 9:477–479).


Immediately following this word is a canceled passage that cannot be read, but which probably consists of two words. These may be the words that Lovell encrypted, for the first five cipher numbers appear above the cancellation.


JA successfully deciphered Lovell's first enciphered passage, but attempted only the first four letters of the second. He began this passage by substituting letters from the opposite alphabet sequence than Lovell intended, thus rendering the decipherment useless.


The letter of 27 July 1780 from JA to the Comte de Vergennes led directly to Vergennes' of 29 July in which the foreign minister indicated his intention to have no further communication with JA (vol. 10:48–51, 56–58). Both letters were part of a correspondence begun earlier in July that centered on JA's desire to execute his mission to negotiate Anglo-American treaties of peace and commerce and his plea for the dispatch of additional French naval vessels to American waters. For the progress and implications of this acrimonious exchange, see The Dispute with the Comte de Vergennes, 13–29 July 1780, and references there (vol. 9:516–520). It was in the 6th paragraph of the 27 July letter that JA indicated his determination to communicate to Vergennes his views regarding matters effecting Franco-American relations “direct in person, or by Letter, to your Excellency, without the Intervention of any third person.” Lovell presumably was concerned that JA's statement gave ammunition to those who believed JA was too confrontational toward France and sought to usurp Benjamin Franklin's position as minister to France. For Congress' reaction to JA's correspondence with Vergennes, particularly with regard to the negotiation of an Anglo-American peace treaty, see the president of Congress to JA, 10 Jan., below.


This and the two paragraphs dated 7 Jan. center on Lovell's anxiety over the failure of the Army's much needed clothing to arrive from France, which was heightened by the Pennsylvania Line's mutiny on 1 January. He raises a number of issues, most notably Arthur Lee's complicity in Pierre Landais' seizure of the frigate Alliance from John Paul Jones, but also the diligence and competence of American agents in Europe, specifically Jonathan Williams. While Lovell would absolve Lee from blame for the Alliance's failure to carry the needed clothing, Williams' letter of 25 July 1780 to the Committee for Foreign Affairs (PCC, No. 90, f. 603–606) lays the blame squarely on the events surrounding Landais' seizure of command and thus by implication on Lee. Jonathan Williams' letters of 3, 7, 21 March, and 6 April 1780 to the Committee, which also arrived on 7 Jan., describe his unsuccessful effort to obtain any means possible to transport the clothing and include invoices for the goods in his possession (same, f. 587– 602). The sloop Ariel, which John Paul Jones received as compensation for the loss of the Alliance, sailed on 7 Oct., was dismasted and forced back into port, and finally departed for America on 18 Dec., but was too small to carry much cargo (Samuel Eliot Morison, John Paul Jones: A Sailor's Biography, Boston, 1959, p. 301–307). Jones' testimony regarding the dispatch of the clothing to America largely corroborates that of Williams ( JCC , 19:316– 320). For additional comments on the obstacles to sending goods to America, see John Bondfield's letters of 12 April and 2 May 1780 (vol. 9:127–129, 259–260).


Although no letter of 17 Nov. 1780 from John Paul Jones to Robert Morris has been found, a draft letter to Morris of 8 Nov. contains the same material Lovell mentioned here (Calendar of John Paul Jones Manuscripts in the Library of Congress, Washington, 1903). In Nov. 1779, John Barry had been appointed commander of the 74-gun ship of the line America then building at Portsmouth, N.H., but lack of funds produced construction delays that made it unlikely that the vessel soon would be ready. Therefore, when Pierre Landais was summarily dismissed as captain, Barry was available for appointment to the Alliance, a post he held for the remainder of the war. On 26 June 1781, Congress appointed John Paul Jones commander of the America, but he never took the vessel to sea, for in 1783 it was transferred to France as a replacement for the 23 Magnifique, which had been wrecked at the entrance to Boston Harbor (Marine Committee to John Barry, 6 Nov. 1779, Admiralty Board to John Barry, 5 Sept. 1780, PCC, Misc. Papers, Reel No. 6, f. 231, 272; Dict. Amer. Fighting Ships ; JCC , 20:698).