Adams Papers

John Adams to Abigail Adams, 11 July 1781

John Adams to Abigail Adams

Paris July 11. 1781

My dear Portia

I am called to this Place, in the Course of my Duty: but dont conceive from it any hopes of Peace. This desireable object is yet unhappily at a Distance, a long distance I fear.1

My dear Charles will go home with Maj. Jackson. Put him to school and keep him steady.—He is a delightfull Child, but has too exquisite sensibility for Europe.2

John is gone, a long Journey with Mr. Dana:—he will serve as an Interpreter, <if not a Clerk,> and the Expence will be little more than at Leyden.3 He will be satiated with travel in his Childhood, and care nothing about it, I hope in his riper Years.

I am distracted with more cares than ever, yet I grow fat. Anxiety is good for my Health I believe.

Oh that I had Wings, that I might fly and bury all my Cares at the Foot of Pens Hill.

RC (Adams Papers).

1As the sole American representative in Europe empowered to discuss terms of peace with Great Britain, JA had been summoned to Paris by Vergennes to consult on proposals for a joint Russian and Austrian mediation between the warring powers. He set off from Amsterdam on 2 July and arrived in Paris on the 6th, where he put up at his former residence, the Hôtel de Valois in the Rue de Richelieu; see his account of travel expenses in Diary and Autobiography description begins Diary and Autobiography of John Adams, ed. L. H. Butterfield and others, Cambridge, 1961; 4 vols. description ends , 2:456–457. Not without justification, JA deeply distrusted the motives not only of the imperial mediators but of Vergennes toward the United States, and for this and other reasons the proposed mediation came to nothing; see same, 2:458, with references there; also the very full treatment of the mediation, its background, and its collapse, in Morris, Peacemakers description begins Richard B. Morris, The Peacemakers: The Great Powers and American Independence, New York, 1965. description ends , chs. 8–10.

2CA’s recent illness is alluded to in John Thaxter to JA, 5 April, above, and in following letters. In his “second autobiography” JA said in explanation of his sending CA home at this time: “My second son, after the departure of his brother, found himself so much alone, that he grew uneasy, and importuned me so tenderly to let him return to America to his mother, that I consented to that, and thus deprived myself of the greatest pleasure I had in life, the society of my children.” JA continued: “On or about the 10th [actually, after various and devious maneuvers by the captain, on the 12th] of August, 1781, the South Carolina, commodore Gillon, put to sea from the Texel, with Mr. Searle, Colonel Trumbull, Major Jackson, Mr. Bromfield, Dr. Waterhouse and Charles Adams on board as passengers.” (JA, Corr. in the Boston Patriot description begins Correspondence of the Late President Adams. Originally Published in the Boston Patriot. In a Series of Letters, Boston, 1809–1810; 10 pts. description ends , p. 572.)

The choice of a ship and commander for CA’s conveyance home proved unlucky. After leaving the South Carolina in La Coruña in Spain in September, CA sailed home from Bilbao in a different vessel, the Cicero, Captain Hugh Hill, which at length reached its home port of Beverly, Mass., on 21 Jan. 1782. CA arrived in Braintree on the 29th. Not until June 1782 did AA receive any of the mail put aboard the South Carolina for her ten months earlier. See note on Alexander Gillon under Waterhouse to JA, 26 Dec. 1780, above, with references there; and below, letters to JA and to AA from Gillon, Waterhouse, William Jackson, Richard Cranch, Isaac Smith Sr., and Hugh Hill. AA’s final word on the whole subject is in her letter to JA, 17 June 1782, also below.

Major William Jackson (1759–1828), under whose particular care JA had placed CA during the voyage, was a Charlestonian who had served under Maj. Gen. Benjamin Lincoln in the latter’s southern campaign and had come to Europe with John Laurens’ mission to obtain further aid for the American military effort. JA had recently told Pres. Huntington that “Major Jackson has conducted through the whole of his Residence here [in Amsterdam], as far as I have been able to observe, with great Activity and Accuracy in Business, and an exemplary Zeal for the public Service” (27 June 1781, PCC, No. 84, III; Wharton, ed., Dipl. Corr. Amer. Rev. description begins Francis Wharton, ed., The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States, Washington, 1889; 6 vols. description ends , 4:522). Some of the military goods, obtained in the Netherlands, were on board the South Carolina when it sailed surreptitiously from the Texel in August. The erratic conduct of Gillon led to an early and bitter quarrel between him and Jackson; they parted in Spain and afterward fought a duel in America, in which Jackson was wounded; see Jackson’s correspondence with JA, Aug.-Dec. 1781, and AA to John Thaxter, 18 July 1782, below. Jackson, who became secretary to Washington when President and afterward surveyor of customs in Philadelphia, is best remembered as secretary of the Federal Convention of 1787 (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 ; JQA, Memoirs description begins Memoirs of John Quincy Adams, Comprising Portions of His Diary from 1795 to 1848, ed. Charles Francis Adams, Philadelphia, 1874–1877; 12 vols. description ends , 4:174–175).

3This first allusion by JA to JQA’s departure for St. Petersburg was written on JQA’s fourteenth birthday. JQA had left Amsterdam on 7 July to join Francis Dana in Utrecht, after JA had already left for Paris; see JQA, Diary, 7 July et seq., for the overland route that he and Dana followed through Germany and Poland to Riga, Narva, and St. Petersburg, where they arrived on 27 August.

On Dana’s mission as the first American minister appointed to Russia but never accredited by that court, see above, Lovell to AA, 8 Jan., note 5, and references there. JA’s recollections in old age, not always reliable in details but in this case correct in general substance, throw light on the motives of those involved in this unusual and unexpected incident:

“Congress had ordered [Francis Dana] to go to St. Petersburg, and had sent him a commission as their minister, with instructions to conclude a treaty of friendship and commerce with the empress of Russia; but they had given him no secretary of legation, nor made any provision for a private secretary, or even a copying clerk. They had, moreover . . . reduced Mr. Dana’s compensation below that of the other ministers. Mr. Dana had taken pains to persuade some gentlemen to accompany him, but could find none that would consent to go. He had before him the dreary prospect of an immense journey by land, through Holland, Germany, Denmark, and he knew not how many other nations, of whose languages he knew not one word; and in the French, which was the travelling language of Europe, he was yet but a student. In this situation, he requested me to let him have my oldest son, John Quincy Adams, for a companion and a private secretary or clerk. The youth was, in conversation, a ready interpreter of French for an American, and of English for a Frenchman; he could easily translate in writing, as Mr. Dana had seen, any state paper. He wrote a fair hand, and could copy letters, or any other papers, as well as any other man; and he had the necessary patience of application to any of these services. I was at first very averse to the proposition, but from regard to Mr. Dana, at last consented. I would not however, burthen Mr. Dana with his expenses, but advanced him money for that purpose, and desired Mr. Dana to draw upon me for more when that should be expended, which he did. He returned from Russia before Mr. Dana was recalled, and in this interval, Mr. Dana must have been put to other expenses for clerkship. Mr. Dana agreed with me in opinion that congress would finally make him a grant for a private secretary at least, and in that case he was to pay me the money I had advanced, or should advance for expenses, and nothing more. All this I presume was known to congress, when they made the grant to Mr. Dana, not for the form but for the substance, for it was Mr. Dana’s right. When Mr. Dana received the grant from Congress, he returned me the sums I had advanced for expenses and no more. Neither the father nor the son ever received any thing for services.”

(JA, Corr. in the Boston Patriot description begins Correspondence of the Late President Adams. Originally Published in the Boston Patriot. In a Series of Letters, Boston, 1809–1810; 10 pts. description ends , p. 570–571.)

In Dana’s Account with the United States, rendered 30 Aug. 1785, the sum requested for “Mr. John Quincy Adams’s Expences in his Journey with Mr. Dana to Petersburgh during his Residence there as Mr. Dana’s Private Secretary and his return to the Hague” is given as £357 16s 9d (DNA:RG 39, Foreign Ledgers, Public Agents in Europe, 1776–1787, p. 364). The sum finally allowed when Dana’s accounts were settled in 1787 was $2,410 3/19 (PCC, No. 122, Book of Resolves of the Office of Foreign Affairs, 1785–1789, p. 101).

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