John Adams to Abigail Adams
Amsterdam October 9. 1781
My dearest Friend
This is the first Time, I have been able to write you, since my Sickness.—Soon after my Return from Paris, I was seized with a Fever, of which, as the Weather was and had long been uncommonly warm, I took little notice, but it increased very slowly, and regularly, untill it was found to be a nervous Fever, of a dangerous kind, bordering upon putrid. It seized upon my head, in such a manner that for five or six days I was lost, and so insensible to the Operations of the Physicians and surgeons, as to have lost the memory of them. My Friends were so good as to send me an excellent Physician and Surgeon, whose Skill and faithfull Attention with the Blessing of Heaven, have saved my Life. The Physicians Name is Osterdike.1 The surgeon the same, who cured Charles, of his Wound.2 I am, however still weak, and whether I shall be able to recover my Health among the pestilential Vapours from these stagnant Waters, I know not.3
I hope Charles is well and happy with you, by this Time. He sailed with Commodore Gillon seven Weeks ago. We have no News from Mr. Dana and his young Fellow Traveller, since they left Berlin.
The Pamphlet inclosed, is a Dutch Translation of the Abby Raynals History of the American Revolution. It is a Curiosity for you to lay up.4
With Sentiments and Affections that I cannot express, Yours.
RC (Adams Papers). For the enclosure see note 4.
1. Nicolaas George Oosterdijk (1740–1817), professor of medical theory at Leyden from 1775 (Nieuw Ned. Biog. Woordenboek description begins P. C. Molhuysen and others, eds., Nieuw Nederlandsch Biografisch Woordenboek, Leyden, 1911–1937; 10 vols. description ends , 3:935–936).
2. The surgeon is unidentified. CA had been ill in the spring, and it was in part for this reason that he was being sent home, but the editors have found no other allusions to a “Wound” he had sustained.
3. AA did not learn of JA’s illness for a long time to come, because this letter was not received for many months; her first reference to the news in it was in her letter to JA of 17 March 1782, below.
JA had returned to Amsterdam from Paris by the end of July. On 24 Aug. he received a letter from Franklin dated on the 16th enclosing a packet from Congress that contained JA’s new joint commission and instructions to treat of peace as adopted by Congress in June (Adams Papers; JA, Works description begins The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States: with a Life of the Author, ed. Charles Francis Adams, Boston, 1850–1856; 10 vols. description ends , 7:456–457). JA replied next day, 25 Aug. (Adams Papers; JA, Works description begins The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States: with a Life of the Author, ed. Charles Francis Adams, Boston, 1850–1856; 10 vols. description ends , 7:459–461); but on 4 Oct. he wrote again to Franklin in a letter that began: “Since the 25th of August, when I had the honor to write You, this is the first Time that I have taken a Pen in hand to write to any body, having been confined and reduced too low to do any kind of business by a nervous Fever” (PPAmP: Franklin Papers; printed from LbC, Adams Papers, in JA, Works description begins The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States: with a Life of the Author, ed. Charles Francis Adams, Boston, 1850–1856; 10 vols. description ends , 7:465–466). The letter sent to Franklin is, however, actually in John Thaxter’s hand and only signed by JA, as are the two or three other letters sent over his name during the preceding six weeks.
The illness was severe. In apology for having lately written so little to Congress, JA told Pres. Thomas McKean on 15 Oct.:
“[N]ot long after I got home I found myself attacked by a Fever, of which at first I made light, but which increased very gradually and slowly, until it was found to be a nervous Fever of a very malignant kind, and so violent as to deprive me of almost all sensibility for four or five days, and all those who cared any thing about me, of the hopes of my life. By the help however of great skill and all powerful Bark I am still alive, but this is the first time I have felt the Courage to attempt to write to Congress. Absence and Sickness are my Apologies to Congress for the few Letters they will receive from me since June.
“Whether it was the uncommon Heat of the Summer, or whether it was the Mass of pestilential Exhalations from the stagnant Waters of this Country that brought this disorder upon me, I know not: but I have every Reason to apprehend, that I shall not be able to re-establish my Health in this Country. A Constitution ever infirm, and almost half an hundred Years old, cannot expect to fare very well amidst such cold damps and putrid Steams as arise from the immense quantities of dead Water that surround it.” (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 , 4:780; also printed in JA, Papers.)
For his later recollection of this illness, see 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. 148, in which he says it resulted from “Anxiety concerning the state of my affairs in Holland,” the “unwholesome damps of the night,” and “excessive fatigue” from travel and work, and “brought me as near to death as any man ever approached without being grasped in his arms.”
4. Abbé Guillaume Thomas François Raynal, Staatsomwenteling van Amerika. Uit het Fransch, Amsterdam, 1781. Two copies are among JA’s books in MB (Catalogue of JA’s Library description begins Catalogue of the John Adams Library in the Public Library of the City of Boston, Boston, 1917. description ends , p. 208).