Benjamin Waterhouse to Abigail Adams
Boston Janry. 7th. 1783
For above a fortnight past I have been meditating a visit to Braintree but some unlucky occurrence or other turned up and disappointed me, and now I am certain I shall not be able within a fortnight, owing to some matters in agitation which will not be finished before that time, and are of such a nature that made me wish to see you at this time more particularly. I must explain myself by saying that about ten Days ago the Corporation of Harvard elected me Professor of the Theory and Practice of Physic in that University1 which must be confirmed you know by the Overseers before I can give public Lectures. They met last week and chose to postpone the confirmation of it for a fortnight that they might by enquiry be satisfied of my political sentiments, saying that they ought first to know whether I was a friend of the Revolution. Sufficient was said on that subject to induce them to think so and they would have even then have confirmed me But my friends themselves chose to postpone it. It was said that I was when in Europe on a very friendly footing with His Excllency Mr. Adams and that I was for many months part of his family. This was thought a sufficient proof of my sentiments. However some of the Corporation advised me to write to you and desire you to be so good as to address a line to any of them as Mr. President Willard, Mr. Lathrop and Mr. Howard, or Dr. Gordon2 who is one of the Overseers expressing how I stood in regard to Mr. Adams and he to me, and this would do every thing required. They do not suppose or even imagine that the Corporation of the College would have unanimously elected a person who they were in any doubt of respecting his politics yet as the Overseers comprehends the civil gentleman as well as the Clergy,3 many of whom I am not personally acquainted with, two or three of them expressed a wish to be satisfied in the above mentioned particular.
Excuse this trouble, but I thought it would be much more pleasing to Mr. Adams than to show any of his Letters to me. Neither the one nor the other will I am pretty certain be called for or even mentioned again, yet if they should my friends think it best to be provided and that Mrs. Adams’s would supersede all other testimonies.
My respectfull Compliments to Miss Adams, and my friend Charles and tell him the South-Carolina is carried into New-York by a 64 and two frigates.4
I congratulate you and every body else on the additional and corroborating circumstances of a speedy peace which it is said came this day from Philadelphia to Genl. Lincoln.5
I am, Madam, with every sentiment of respect Your humble servant.
RC (Private owner, Boston, 1957); addressed: “Mrs. Adams Braintree.”
1. Waterhouse was appointed to the first Hersey Professorship of the Theory and Practice of Physic, and was the second professor named to the Harvard Medical School, which was established in 1782. The inquiry into his loyalty arose from the university’s resolve that each appointee promise to “demean himself ’as a good citizen of the United States of America,’ to support their union and promote their happiness,” as well as to support and obey the Massachusetts constitution. At the medical school inauguration in Oct. 1783, Waterhouse and his colleagues each made this declaration (Morison, Three Centuries of Harvard, p.169–170).
2. Joseph Willard was president of the college, John Lathrop and Simeon Howard were fellows of the Corporation, and Howard, minister of Boston’s West Church, was also secretary of the Board of Overseers (Harvard Quinquennial Cat. description begins Harvard University, Quinquennial Catalogue of the Officers and Graduates, 1636–1930, Cambridge, 1930. description ends , p. 7, 10; Sibley’s 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 , 14:286). Rev. William Gordon, pastor of the Third Congregational Church in Roxbury, was an overseer by virtue of his pastorate (JA, Diary and Autobiography description begins Diary and Autobiography of John Adams, ed. L. H. Butterfield and others, Cambridge, 1961; 4 vols. description ends , 2:175, note 2).
3. Under the Massachusetts Constitution of 1780, chap. V, sec. 1 (see JA, Papers description begins Papers of John Adams, ed. Robert J. Taylor, Gregg L. Lint (from vol. 6), and others, Cambridge, 1977-. description ends , 8:259), the overseers were the governor, lieutenant-governor, council, and senate of the Commonwealth, and the ministers of the Congregational churches of Boston, Cambridge, Charlestown, Dorchester, Roxbury, and Watertown.
4. CA began his journey back to America with Waterhouse on board the South Carolina in Aug. 1781, but they changed to another vessel in September. The ship was captured by the British in Dec. 1782 (vol. 4:170, note 2; D. E. Huger Smith, “Commodore Alexander Gillon and the Frigate South Carolina,” South Carolina Historical and Genealogical Magazine, 9:216 [Oct. 1908]).
5. Waterhouse apparently refers to the news contained in letters by Franklin and Jay to the secretary for foreign affairs, dated 26 and 28 Sept. (and perhaps those of 13 and 14 Oct.) 1782 (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 , 5:763–764, 771, 809, 811–812), that the British had finally empowered Richard Oswald to negotiate with “the Commissioners of the thirteen United States of America” (Daniel Carroll to William Paca, 21 Dec.; P.S. 24 Dec. 1782, in 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 , 6:567). Several congressmen relayed this news to correspondents on 24 and 25 Dec. 1782, and it appeared in the Independent Chronicle, 9 January. Waterhouse’s letter may have been the first communication—vague as it is—of this diplomatic development to reach AA.