Papers of John Adams, volume 18

To John Adams from John Jeffries, 15 December 1786 Jeffries, John Adams, John
From John Jeffries
London Margt St Cavend Square 15 Decr 1786 May it please your Excellency

Encouraged by the high opinion I entertain of your personal character, and persuaded, that in the important publick one, which you now hold, you will be actuated as much for the justice & honour, as you are by your wishes to promote any other interests of America in general

Permit me Sir, to address you in that honourable publick character, & claim your Excellency’s attention to the following facts, in which I am myself much interested & in which I conceive both the justice & honour of that particular state which was honoured by your birth; & which you have on so many important trusts represented & interested yourself in, are more peculiarly concerned, suffe me likewise to assure your Excellency, that having been honored by my birth, education & many years residence in the capital of the same State, I feel myself really interested in the rising honour & future welfare of it, I wish as far as may be within my humble walk of life, to promote its happiness, & more especially to avoid being the medium of its imputed violation of justice & breech of publick faith & honor

The late Province, now State of Massachusetts are indebted to me for acknowledge professional services as Physician &c to the Provincial poor in the years 1774, & 1775 the Sum of £693.19.10 Lawful Money1

The numerous orders, vouchers & accounts which compose that debt, have been all examined, approved & reduced into three general Accounts, to that an acct which have been likewise approved & certified by the signatures of the then proper persons authorised to take cognizance, & approve & certify them accordingly

I sent authenticated & attested copies of those three general accounts to Boston, & have for several years before the conclusion of the late unhappy war in America & more especially since the ratification of peace, been continually soliciting by my Attorney & Agent, payment of this debt

After several years delays & referring it from time to time, I have been lately informed by my Attorney that my demands had been referred to a committee of the General Assembly at Boston, who had determined that I should be allowed £150, as full payment of my 521 demand, & that I should receive it in notes valued about 37 or 38£ & that I was to receive this as full satisfaction of my demand—

This I cannot consent to accept, I cannot but think the loss of the interest of the whole debt, for the 12 years it has now been acknowledgly due as much if not more than in justice to myself & Children I ought to consent to, or they can in honour expect from me—however that I am willing to submit to their consideration I had in the course of my discharging the duties of my office been obliged to Advance & pay upwards of £90 Sterlg for Meds needed for the publick use.

I presented my Accounts for payment or a refusal with the causes assigned & certified—not for examination, as that had already been done at the proper time, & by the persons solely qualified & authorised to do it

The Gent who have since taken up that business as examiners were not, nor could be in possession excepting the copies of the three general Accounts, above mentioned, (which had been already examined, approbated, & certified as such) of a single paper, or voucher necessary to give them information & to form their judgments

I have in my possession the three original general Accounts, approbated, & the vouchers & authorities from which they were formed & by which they were approbated, all which are subject to Your Excellency’s inspection if you should judge fit.

I would also crave leave to inform Your Excellency, of another circumstance respecting these Accounts, which although it should not be considered as a legal obligation, yet I cannot but think it a strong & unequivocal claim upon the honour of those concerned in it

At the period when the first of my Accounts became due, the new arrangements in the political & civil government were just introduced & taking place in that Province— as it was not designed to acknowledge the validity of the change by any deliberate act which implied it, and as my Accounts must, after they were approbated, have been presented to the Governor & Council for their warrant for payment, they at that time (altho examined & approbated) were for that reason suspended from being certified, & when eventually they were officially approbated & certified, it was with a stipulated enjunction, that I should not present them to the Govr & the Mandamus Council for payment, as that act would be considered as impliedly acknowledging their power in that appointment, to this injunction, although I at that time greatly needed the payment, I 522 assented, & although, after that I was not only offered, but urged by the Secretary of the Province, to present them, with assurances that the Governor & Council would immediately order payment, I inviolably kept my engagements made to the Gent. who had passed, approbated, and certified my Accounts, that I would not offer them, or suffer them to be acted on by the Mandamus council, without their consent

As it is wholly owing to this enjunction imposed on me, & my faithful observance of it, that I have been now so many years kept out of this debt, I am now obliged to solicit it, I cannot but think it, considering my conduct in the affair, a very undeserved hardship, in addition to the original injustice of it

I would now respectfully crave your Excellencys opinion, advice & assistance in the business, & cannot but ardently wish you to believe, that at the same time that I acknowledge myself induced to it by motives of private interest, I likewise feel myself interested in the future honour of that Province State B-i … (illegible),2 of which I was once a happy member, and that I earnestly wish to avoid being obliged to detail the circumstances of this business, to the honourable the Commissioners of Claims of the American Loyalists, before whom I expect shortly to be summoned, & thereby, however reluctantly, furnish them any information of facts which might operate, or even be construed to the prejudice of the justice or honour of America in general, & state of Massachusetts in particular

Permit me to add that I have urgent & important need of speedy payment, but that notwithstanding such urgency, I would cheerfully adjust & assent to such mode of payment, as may be most for the convenience & honour of those concerned in it.

I have the honour to be with great respect for Your Excellency’s important publick character, & repeated obligations to your private one, / Your Excellency’s / Much obliged / & most obedient humble Servant

J. Jeffries

Tr in the hand of Jeffries’ great-grandson, Walter Lloyd Jeffries (MHi:Jeffries Family Papers); internal address: “To His Excellency J. Adams Esqr / Minister Plenipoteniary from the / United States of America to the / Court of Great Britain / London.” At the head of the transcript is a notation by W. L. Jeffries: “(Following is a rough draft of a letter to John Adams / US Minister at London WLJ).” The RC of this letter, not found, was enclosed with JA’s 19 Feb. 1787 letter to James Bowdoin, for which see note 1.


For Dr. John Jeffries, a loyalist who fled Boston in 1776, served as a British Army doctor, and became interested in ballooning, see vol. 17:240; AFC , 7:474. In 1780 Jeffries went 523 to London where he practiced medicine and served as the Adamses’ family physician during their residence there. In a 25 Feb. 1787 letter to Mary Smith Cranch, AA described him as “really an amiable benevolent Man tho formerly he took a different side in politicks” ( AFC , 7:472).

JA reviewed Jeffries’ claim but explained in his 18 Feb. 1787 reply that the issue was “so entirely out of my Sphere” that he could only forward it to Massachusetts governor James Bowdoin, which he did with his 19 Feb. letter (both LbC’s, APM Reel 113). To Bowdoin JA wrote that “I Know not indeed that there is any propriety in my meddling in the Business — and I wish it may not be thought still more out of Character to trouble you with it. But Dr. Jeffries abstracted from his former Character, is a benevolent & Worthy Man & without knowing or pretending to form any Judgements of the merits of his Claim, I wish In general that Justice may be done him.” Bowdoin received JA’s letter and its enclosure on or about 30 April 1787, the date on which he sent them to the General Court accompanied by an address in which he stated that “you will do in this business, Gentlemen, what shall appear to you just and right” (Mass., Acts and Laws , 1786–1787, p. 984–985). There is no indication that the General Court took any action on Jeffries’ claim.

Jeffries, who returned to Massachusetts in 1790 and resumed his practice of medicine in Boston, did not seek further restitution from Massachusetts for his confiscated Boston estate, which he valued at £6,000, but he did receive £500 from the American Loyalist Claims Commission as compensation. From Britain, he also received £320 for his wartime medical services and an annual pension of £100, which he collected until his death in 1819 ( Sibley’s Harvard Graduates , 15:425–427).


In the manuscript.

To John Adams from James Sullivan, 16 December 1786 Sullivan, James Adams, John
From James Sullivan
My Dear Sir Hartford December 16th 1786

I have neglected writing to you perhaps more than I Should have done had I not supposed that your Numerous correspondents had become a burden to you. indeed our Country has afforded but little lately to write upon.1

I have been here seventeen days on a mission to settle by a way of Compromise with the State of N York a Controversy between our Commonwealth and them respecting the Western Territory the business was concluded yesterday excepting the Sending of the parchment which is now engrossing and will be compleated today.2

N York cedes to the Commonwealth a tract of Territory bounded begining on Pensylvania Line Eighty Two miles from the N E Corner of that State thence running due north to Lake ontario and into the Lake to the British dominions then by the British Dominions through the Waters of Niagara and Lake Erie to a meridian passing through the Northwest corner of Pensylvania, then on the Line of that state to the beginning New York having one mile on the East Side of the Straight of Niagra and Parrell thereto, which includes the Forts. Masstts. has also 240,000 acres in the Forkes of the Susquehannah. N York has the Jurisdiction of the Whole. not to lay any Tax on the Land while ungranted by this Commonwealth: nor to tax 524 their Grantees till fifteen years after the Date of their Grants— All Grants to be recorded in the secretaries office of the Commonwealth, and we to march any armies necessary to Treaties with the Indians &c the Waters of the Two Lakes to be navigable by the Citizens of both States in common. The Tract Ceded to us exclusive of Waters is Six millions of acres or near seven. we were in fact glad to be excused from holding the Jurisdiction because the Country is too remote to be Governed by us and if we Colonized they would soon unite with the Wyoming people & revolt.3

we make a poor hand indeed of Governing the state as it is now. Insurgents are every day attacking and Stopping our Courts of Justice. some of the ring leaders have been lately taken by Coupe D main4 but the Government has neither learning ability energy or honesty the Legislature is parlementem indoctum compleatly the whole Tribe of Lawyers is excused from seats, and they have Scarcely a man who has Courage and ability to pen a useful act. the year has been spent in attempts to destroy the Men of the black robe and to lessen the numbers and expence of Lawsuits, to which purpose a variety of acts have been passed which make us the ridicule of the whole union.5 while the Doctors are only encreasing the malady they wish to cure; our G. has no Legal Ideas he wishes to do well but the path not being plain he is affraid to act and yet dares not to refuse. Laws are made altering the nature of private Contracts and rendering property totally insecure. this, while it disaffects all who have Supported the Government does by no means conciliate the affections of the Insurgents who have for their object being released from all Debts and Taxes without paying either.

The Fœderal Government is Still weaker and we dare not try to compel a compliance with the requistions of Congress in any of the States. our old Whigs are all now talking very Seriously of a change of System. they consider these seperate sovereignties as insupportable and quite incompatible with a general Government. Congress are raising a small Trove which I consider as the beginning of a Standing army and am sorry to say that all our fine Spun ideas of Democratical Governments being founded in the Virtue of the people are vanished & that we find the americans like other people obliged by force only to yield obedience to the Laws. our Constitution with regard to the Militia has nearly ruined us. in N Hampshire where the officers are appointed by the president of the State they have quelled their rebellions with ease and dispatch.

As you frequently see that great and good man Doctor Price pray 525 remember me to him. I Shall soon write him. and make my Compliments agreeable to your Lady and Famaly.

I am Sir with the Most unfeigned Friendship your Most obedient Humble Servant

James Sullivan

RC (Adams Papers); internal address: “His Excellency Mr Adams.”


Sullivan’s last letter to JA was of 24 Oct. 1785 (vol. 17:540–541).


For the origins of the longstanding Massachusetts—New York boundary dispute, the various efforts to resolve it, and the role that JA played in it, see vol. 2:22–81, and indexes to vols. 16 and 17.

On 30 Nov. 1786, the commissioners from Massachusetts (Rufus King, John Lowell, Sullivan, and Theophilus Parsons) met with those from New York State (Melancton Smith, Egbert Benson, Robert R. Livingston, James Duane, Robert Yates, and John Haring) in Hartford, Conn., and on 16 Dec. signed an agreement finally ending the dispute. Under its terms, Massachusetts agreed to all of New York’s claims and renounced the government, sovereignty, and jurisdiction over the disputed territory. For the renunciation of its claims, Massachusetts was awarded ownership of 6 million acres of land hitherto claimed by Native Americans, and another 230,400 acres in compensation for land in the area originally disputed that had been sold by New York (Alexander Hamilton, The Law Practice of Alexander Hamilton: Documents and Commentary, ed. Julius Goebel Jr. and others, 5 vols., N.Y., 1964–1981, 1:577). For James Bowdoin’s 13 Feb. 1787 message transmitting the agreement to the Mass. General Court, the approval of the agreement by a committee of the General Court, and the agreement itself, see Mass., Acts and Laws , 1786–1787, p. 459–467, 968–969.

Considering the time and effort he had spent in preparing the case to be used by Massachusetts in negotiations with New York, which was available to the Massachusetts commissioners at Hartford, JA was not impressed with the settlement. In his Autobiography, begun in 1802, he wrote that “the Decision was much less favourable to Massachusetts than it ought to have been, and the State have very unœconomically alienated all the Land since that time for a very inadequate sum of Money. I wish they had first given me a Township of the Land. It would have been much more prudently disposed of than any of the rest of it was, and more justly. I never had any thing for my half Years service, nor even Credit nor Thanks” (JA, D&A , 3:303–304).


Sullivan refers to the difficulty of governing colonists from a distance, which might unite them with disgruntled residents of the Wyoming Valley in Pennsylvania, who had been involved in the long-running dispute between Pennsylvania and Connecticut over its ownership.


For the Shaysite arrests, see Benjamin Hichborn’s 16 Jan. 1787 letter, and note 2, below.


Sullivan alludes to the attacks made by Honestus, Benjamin Austin Jr., on the Massachusetts legal profession, for which see Richard Cranch’s 3 Oct. 1786 letter, and note 3, above.