Richard Cranch to John Adams
Boston Jany. 18th. 1780
I was last Evening at your House and left Mrs. Adams, Miss Nabby and Master Tommy well, as are also all the rest of our Connections. The Communication between this Town and Braintree is at present extremely difficult by means of a greater Quantity of Snow on the Ground than has been known for forty Years past. I bro’t two Pacquets from Mrs. Adams which I deliver’d to Genl. Warren for conveyance. The Vessell by which these will be sent, will bring Jonathan Loring Austin who is sent by this Government for the Purpose of negotiating a Loan in Europe of 150 Thousand Pounds Sterling for the Use of this State, to be laid out partly for Supplies for the Soldiers of our part of the Continental Army, and partly in such other Goods as a Committee appointed for that Purpose shall direct: The rem[ainde]r to lye in safe Hands to be drawn for as shall be hereafter ordered. This measure originated from a Committee of the House appointed to devise Ways and Means for supplying the Treasury, who were permitted to consult Mr. Broom and the Honble. Mr. Bowdoin on the subject, who after fully examining the measure, and hearing what was offer’d for and against it were fully in favour of it. The members of Court as well as those Gentlemen, were, and yet are under an Injunction of Secresy. By a Letter from Government to you and Mr. Dana you will perceive that in Case of his Death or Capture you are requested to procure some Person or Persons to carry the matter into effect.1 The chief reason for this Measure that weighed with the House as far as I could observe, was this—That a fine new Frigate built by this State now almost ready for the Sea, might make a Cruise in the European Seas, without any extra expence, and when that was finished, go into a proper Port and take on board the Goods order’d for the Army &c. and then make the best of her Way back. It was supposed that the Insurance on a Vessell of such force, would be much lower than what must be given on other Vessels by private Merchants, and consequently that we should have a fairer Prospect of getting a real Supply for our Army, and that seasonably. It was supposed to be a fact that the Board of War now give to the Merchants for Goods to supply the Army more than Cent per Cent2 above what the same Goods would cost if procured in this manner, and this consideration had its weight with the House. Many other Advantages of a Political nature were supposed to be connected with the Measure. The Act providing for the Payment of the Sum borrow’d, will be sent to you.
The Convention for forming a Constitution are now meeting in the State House according to an Adjournment that took place soon after you left them, but I fear the excessive Snows that have lately fallen will prevent many members from being present. I will now come to my private Concerns; I have taken Borland’s Place in Braintree by Order of the Genl. Court for the Term of five Years. I suppose before that Term is expired the Place will be to be sold, and I should be glad to buy it if I was able, I would therefore suggest to your Consideration whether, if I could purchase it of Government for four or five Hundred Pounds Sterling, you would be willing to let me draw on you for that Sum, on my giving a Mortgage of the Place?3 The great Number of Tory Estates that will be soon to be sold, makes me think that some Gentlemen among our worthy Allies might make Purchases of some of them on very advantageous Terms. Auchmuty’s fine Seat at Roxbury about 2 Mile from Boston might have been bought for seventeen Hundred weight of Bohea Tea,4 and others in like Proportion. If any Gentlemen should incline to send Effects here for the purpose of purchasing such Houses or Lands within this State, I should be glad to transact the Business for them on Commission or otherwise. And as I read French and am one of the Commitee of the G. Court for selling such Estates it might perhaps be more agreeable and advantageous for french Gentlemen to write to me than to a Person unacquainted with that Language and unconnected with the Gen. Court. I throw out these hints to you in confidence that if any thing of that sort should turn up, you might mention me if you should think proper. I am just now informed that the Vessel sails early in the Morning, and as it is now late at Night, I must conclude with assuring you that I am with every Sentiment of Esteem, your affectionate Bror.,
Present my kindest Regards to the dear Boys, and to Mr. Thaxter.
Dft (MHi:Cranch Papers); endorsed: “Coppy of a Letter to Bror. Adams. Jany. 18th. 1780.” Sent by Jonathan Loring Austin, the RC of this letter was never received; see note 6 on the preceding letter.
2. That is, more than double the amount.
3. “Borland’s Place in Braintree” was the current name for a fine country seat in that town, the Vassall-Borland house, built by Leonard Vassall about 1730, and the garden and farm surrounding it on the old coast road from Boston to Plymouth. With the house enlarged and outbuildings added, but with the farm property greatly reduced, it is today the Adams National Historic Site, having been in the possession of the Adams family from 1787 to 1946 and usually referred to by the family itself (and sometimes in these volumes) as “the Old House.” For a summary note on its history, see above, vol. 1:219; on John Borland specifically, see JA, Diary and Autobiography description begins Diary and Autobiography of John Adams, ed. L. H. Butterfield and others, Cambridge, 1961; 4 vols. description ends , 1:74–75.
Since John Borland (whose wife was Anna, daughter of Leonard Vassall) had died on the very eve of hostilities, and since the provisional government of Massachusetts took some time to determine what was to be done about abandoned loyalist property, the status of the Vassall-Borland house remained for several years ambiguous. In the fall of 1775, during the siege of Boston, it was commandeered by the selectmen of Braintree (after no little trouble with a squatter named James Hayward who was a friend of the Borlands) for the use of refugees then flooding the neighborhood and of Braintree people who, living close to the shore, needed to get out of the way of British warships operating in the bay. Early in 1776 the family of Joseph Palmer were living in the house, and during the next couple of years it continued to be leased out, although the occupants are not known. See Palmer’s petition, Sept. 1775, in M-Ar: Legislative Records of the Council, 33:222–223; Mass., Province Laws description begins The Acts and Resolves, Public and Private, of the Province of the Massachusetts Bay, Boston, 1869–1922; 21 vols. description ends , 19:88; petition of Braintree Committee of Correspondence, 9 Oct. 1775 (M-Ar, vol. 180:189); Abigail (Paine) Greenleaf to Robert Treat Paine, 22 Jan. 1776 (MHi: Paine Papers); advertisement of lease of Borland estate by public auction, Boston Gazette, 24 March 1777, p. 3, col. 3.
Richard Cranch had a long but fruitless flirtation with this choice piece of loyalist property, which partly adjoined his own Braintree farm. Under a new Resolve for Leasing Absentees’ Estates at Public Auction, 19 Feb. 1779 (Mass., Province Laws description begins The Acts and Resolves, Public and Private, of the Province of the Massachusetts Bay, Boston, 1869–1922; 21 vols. description ends , 20:620–622), Cranch had been admitted by the Suffolk Probate Court “Agent” of the very extensive properties owned by “the late John Borland Esqre. an Absentee deceased” (Suffolk County Court of Probate, Records, No. 16987; photostats in Adams Papers Editorial Files; see also Cranch to Mrs. Cranch, n.d. [probably March 1779], MHi: Cranch Papers). The Confiscation Acts of April and May 1779 followed soon afterward, and Cranch was named a member of the General Court’s Committee for the Sale of Absentee Estates in Suffolk County, whose proceedings are recorded in a Journal in M-Ar; see also AA to JA, 8 June 1779, above, with references in note 5 there. He was thus decidedly an “insider” with respect to news and transactions relative to loyalist property. On 7 Oct. 1779 he obtained permission from the General Court to cut wood from Borland’s wood lot “for the Use of his own Family” (Mass., Province Laws description begins The Acts and Resolves, Public and Private, of the Province of the Massachusetts Bay, Boston, 1869–1922; 21 vols. description ends , 21:208); and on 4 Jan. 1780 he successfully petitioned the same body to lease for himself the house and farm for five years, contingent on its sale (same, 21:329). He was now determined to buy the place for himself if he could raise the money. But his plans went awry.
At a Braintree town meeting on 6 March, upon its being reported “that there had been great Strip & waste made in the wood Lott belonging to sd. Estate by Mr. Cranch or by those under him,” the town petitioned the General Court to put the lease of the Borland property up for public auction as the law required (Braintree Town Records description begins Samuel A. Bates, ed., Records of the Town of Braintree, 1640 to 1793, Randolph, Mass., 1886. description ends , p. 506). The issue, apparently, was Cranch’s status as an “insider,” for he shortly petitioned the Court, reporting that, “contrary to [his] expectation, a large number of the inhabitants . . . are uneasy and dissatisfied” because the lease had not been publicly auctioned. “And as your Memorialist,” he continued, “would by no means take possession of said Estate, in a way that might give the least umbrage for a supposition of partiallity in the Honourable Court in his favour,” he asked that his lease be rescinded and the auction be held. The legislature so resolved on 7 April (Mass., Province Laws description begins The Acts and Resolves, Public and Private, of the Province of the Massachusetts Bay, Boston, 1869–1922; 21 vols. description ends , 21:427–428). In the Boston Gazette for 24 April (p. 2, col. 1) appeared the following notice:
“A genteel Country Seat to Let.
“On Tuesday the 25th of this Instant, April, at Twelve o’Clock, will be leased for one Year, at Public Auction, (by special Permission of the Honorable General Court).
“A very genteel Dwelling House, Barn, and Coach-House, with a Garden, planted with a great Variety of Fruit Trees, an Orchard, and about 40 Acres of Land, lately belonging to john bor-land, Esq; deceased. This agreeable Seat is pleasantly Situated in the Town of Braintree, about ten Miles from Boston, on the Great Road to Plymouth.
“The Auction will be on the Premises.”
Two days later Cranch renewed his request to JA for a loan to enable him to purchase the property, offering a mortgage in return (Cranch to JA, 26 April, below).
From this point on, the history of the Borland estate becomes confused and obscure. Edward Church of Braintree obtained a deed for it from the General Court by making a first payment of £200 (M-Ar, vol. 190:120), but he did not retain it, for the deed is not on record in the Suffolk Registry. By 1782, when the war was about to end, allusions appear in contemporary correspondence to the plans of Borland’s widow to return to Boston and recover her husband’s property. With respect to his Braintree estate she succeeded. On 19–20 Nov. 1783 she conveyed this property to her son Leonard Vassall Borland (Suffolk County Registry of Deeds, vol. 142:6, 8; Tr in Adams Papers, Wills and Deeds), and a month later AA reported that “Mrs. Boreland since her return to America, has sold her House and Farm in this Town. Mr. Tyler has made the purchase at a thousand pounds Lawfull money. . . . None of it was ever confiscated” (to JA, 27 Dec. 1783). The purchaser was young Royall Tyler, a lawyer and literary man, who in acquiring the estate, as AA went on to say “has but one object in view,” namely marriage to AA2. With the failure of that “object” in the course of the next two years, Tyler lost all interest in his country seat, and when he failed to keep up his payments it reverted to the Borlands. For these matters, see the detailed account in the Introduction to JA, Earliest Diary description begins The Earliest Diary of John Adams, ed. L. H. Butterfield and others, Cambridge, 1966. description ends , p. 18–28. Tyler’s final settlement with Leonard Borland took place in 1787, when the Adamses were beginning to think of returning home from England. By now, Richard Cranch had given up hope of obtaining the property for himself, and he and his wife repeatedly and warmly urged the Adamses to buy it. This they did, through Cotton Tufts, on 26 Sept. 1787, at a cost of £600, and they moved in upon their return in the following June. See Mary (Smith) Cranch to AA, 22 April–20 May,  1787; Cotton Tufts to AA, 21, 26 May, 13, 30 June 1787; AA to Tufts, 1, 4 July 1787 (all in Adams Papers); AA to Mrs. Cranch, 16 July 1787 (owned by J. Delafield DuBois, New York City, 1957); AA to Tufts,  July 1787 (NHi: Misc. MSS); JA to Cranch, 20 July 1787 (MeHi); Tufts to JA, 18 Sept., and to AA, 20 Sept. 1787 (both in Adams Papers). The deed of sale from Borland to JA is in the Suffolk County Registry of Deeds, vol. 161:123 (photostat in Adams Papers Editorial Files). It conveys seven parcels of land, amounting in all to about eighty-three acres, including the home lot of seven acres with its “House, Barn and other Buildings” on the north side of the Plymouth road; three parcels, among them the “great Pasture” of twenty acres, on the south side of the road (i.e. up present Presidents Hill); a tract of salt marsh on the Town River; and thirty acres of “Woodland” in two parcels elsewhere in the town.
4. Robert Auchmuty (ca. 1723–1788), a prominent Boston admiralty lawyer, had fled to England early in 1776, and his property was confiscated in 1779 (JA, Legal Papers description begins Legal Papers of John Adams, ed. L. Kinvin Wroth and Hiller B. Zobel, Cambridge, 1965; 3 vols. description ends , 1:xcvi and passim; DAB description begins Allen Johnson and Dumas Malone, eds., Dictionary of American Biography, New York, 1928–1936; 20 vols. plus index and supplements. description ends ; Sibley-Shipton, Harvard Graduates description begins John Langdon Sibley and Clifford K. Shipton, Biographical Sketches of Graduates of Harvard University, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Cambridge and Boston, 1873– . description ends , 12:12–16). The notice of the sale of his estate by the General Court’s committee (of which Cranch was a member) remarked that “This very handsome and agreeable seat is so happily situated (a little beyond the main-street in the lower part of Roxbury) that it enjoys the united advantages of town and country” (Boston Gazette, 1 Nov. 1779, p. 1, col. 1).