John Adams to Abigail Adams
Philadelphia Monday Septr. 8. 1777
There has been a very general Apprehension, during the last Week that a general Action would happen, as on Yesterday. But We hear of none.
Our Army is incamped between Newport and White-Clay Creek on advantageous Ground. The General has harrangued his Army and published in General orders, in order to prepare their Minds for something great, and has held up the Example of Starks, Harkemer, Gansevoort and their Troops, to animate his Officers and Men with Emulation.—Whether he expects to be attacked, or whether he designs to offend, I cant say.
A General Action which should terminate in a Defeat of How would be compleat and final Ruin to him, if it should terminate only in a drawn Battle, it would be the same Thing. If He should gain a Victory, and maintain Possession of the Field, he would loose so many Men killed and wounded, that he would scarcely have enough left to march to Philadelphia, surrounded as he would be with Militia, and the broken remains of the Continental Army.
But if there should be no general Battle, and the two Armies should lounge away the Remainder of the Campain, in silent Inactivity gazing at each other, Howes Reputation would be ruined in his own Country and in all Europe, and the Dread of him would cease in all America. The American mind, which I think has more Firmness now than it ever had before since this War begun, would acquire a Confidence and Strength, that all the Efforts of Great Britain afterwards would not be able to relax.
You will see by the Papers inclosed, that We have been obliged to attempt to humble the Pride of some Jesuits who call themselves Quakers, but who love Money and Land better than Liberty or Religion. The Hypocrites are endeavouring to raise the Cry of Persecution, and to give this Matter a religious Turn, but they cant succeed. The World knows them and their Communications. Actuated by a land jobbing Spirit, like that of William Penn, they have been soliciting Grants of immense Regions of Land on the Ohio. American Independence has disappointed them, which makes them hate it. Yet the Dastards dare not avow their Hatred to it, it seems.1
The Moments are critical here. We know not, but the next, will bring Us an Account of a general Engagement begun—and when once begun We know not how it will end, for the Battle is not always to the strong. The Events of War are uncertain. All that We can do is to pray, as I do most devoutly, that We may be victorious—at least that We may not be vanquished. But if it should be the Will of Heaven that our Army should be defeated, our Artillery lost, our best Generals kill’d, and Philadelphia fall into Mr. Howes Hands, still America is not conquered. America would yet be possessed of great Resources, and capable of great Exertions. As Mankind would see.—It may for what I know be the Design of Providence that this should be the Case. Because it would only lay the Foundations of American Independence deeper, and cement them stronger. It would cure Americans of their vicious and luxurious and effeminate Appetites, Passions and Habits, a more dangerous Army to American Liberty than Mr. Howes.
However, without the Loss of Philadelphia, We must be brought to an entire Renunciation of foreign Commodities, at least of West India produce. People are coming to this Resolution, very fast here. Loaf sugar at four dollars a Pound, Wine at Three Dollars a Bottle, &c. will soon introduce (Ceconomy in the Use of these Articles.
This Spirit of Ceconomy would be more terrible to Great Britain, than any Thing else—and it would make Us more respectable in the Eyes of all Europe.
Instead of acrimonious Altercations between Town and Country and between Farmer and Merchant, I wish, that my dear Countrymen would agree in this Virtuous Resolution, of depending on themselves alone. Let them make salt, and live without sugar—and Rum.
I am grieved to hear of the Angry Contentions among you. That improvident Act, for limiting Prices, has done great Injury, and in my sincere Opinion if not repealed, will ruin the state, and introduce a civil War.—I know not how unpopular, this sentiment may be: but it is sincerely mine.—There are Rascally Upstarts in Trade I doubt not, who have made great Fortunes in a small Period, who are Monopolizing, and oppressing. But how this can be avoided entirely I know not, but by disusing their Goods and letting them perish in their Hands.
RC (Adams Papers). Enclosures missing, but they were presumably the Pennsylvania Packet of 9 Sept. and the Pennsylvania Gazette of 10 Sept.; see note 1.
1. On 28 Aug. Congress received a letter of the 25th from Maj. Gen. Sullivan at Hanover, near Newark, N.J., with sundry enclosures; these were read and referred to a committee of three, of which JA was chairman. The enclosures were papers found among baggage recently captured in a raid on Staten Island and, if genuine, indicated that New Jersey Quakers were systematically furnishing intelligence to the British concerning the numbers and movements of the American forces. The committee brought in its report on the day it was appointed, recommending, among other things, that the Supreme Executive Council of Pennsylvania “apprehend and secure the persons” of a number of prominent Quakers in Philadelphia, “together with all such papers in their possession as may be of a political nature.” Congress so resolved (and also ordered the papers published, though this order does not appear in the Journal, and publication was delayed for a time). Some twenty Philadelphia Quaker leaders were promptly arrested by the Pennsylvania authorities, who on 3 Sept. sent Congress the papers seized when the arrests were made and recommended that the prisoners be sent to Virginia to prevent their cooperating with the British. The papers were turned over to the committee on Sullivan’s letter, which reported on the 5th, and next day Congress ordered these (or some of these) papers published as well as those sent by Sullivan. They were printed in the Packet and the Gazette on 9 and 10 Sept. respectively. Meanwhile there were sharp debates in Congress on whether remonstrances from the prisoners themselves should be heard, but the military crisis superseded all other considerations, and on the 11th all the prisoners who refused to swear or affirm allegiance were started on their exile at Winchester, Va., which lasted until the following spring.
Sullivan’s letter of 25 Aug. is in PCC, No. 160, and is printed, without the enclosures, in his Letters and Papers, ed. Otis G. Hammond, Concord, N.H., 1930–1939, 1:443–444. The Quaker documents he sent are in PCC, No. 53. See also JCC description begins Worthington C. Ford and others, eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789, Washington, 1904–1937; 34 vols. description ends , 8:688–689, 694–695, 708, 713–714, 718–719, 722–723; Burnett, ed., Letters of Members description begins Edmund C. Burnett, ed., Letters of Members of the Continental Congress, Washington, 1921–1936; 8 vols. description ends , 2:471 (with references in note there), 476–477, 486–487. For the Quaker side of these events, see [Thomas Gilpin,] Exiles in Virginia: with Observations on the Conduct of the Society of Friends during the Revolutionary War, . . . 1777–1778, Phila., 1848. Gilpin prints the papers that incriminated the Quakers in the eyes of Congress and others, but argues persuasively from discrepancies of dates and other evidence that the paper which most offended, the so-called Memorial of the Spanktown Yearly Meeting, was a fabrication; see p. 36–37, 61–63.