John Brown Cutting to Abigail Adams
Wednesday Evening 25. April 1787.
It may perhaps afford you satisfaction to learn that Mr Adams and his secretary pro tempore1 arrived at the Crown Inn within the ramparts of this naval arsenal last evening before eight, after a journey as pleasant as coud be expected considering the unverdant aspect of far the greater portion of the country through which we travel’d. To speak candidly (excepting the farm at Cobham) I never beheld so complete a fulfilment of Churchills prophesy of famine as stares one in the face on each side of the hedge from Kingston to Portsmouth.2 Mr Adams protests that he will never return by the same road: how chearfully do I acquiesce!
The culprit Muir was had before us this morning and underwent an examination. His answers were all contradictory inexplicit and evasive. He seems to be either a subtle and supereminent practitioner in dissimulation, or a vulgar villain without capability of mighty mischief or any ingenious system of enormity. I am rather inclin’d to the latter opinion at present. Perhaps he may be the agent of more crafty contrivers. He says he is a native of Scotland. I believe him. He has a hollow, hungry hanging look. The Court of Quarter Sessions, who have conducted with extreme propriety in this bussiness have just recommitted him for three months. This measure is pleasing to Mr Adams since it furnishes time to investigate & detect whatsoever may or can be investigated or detected in London or elswhere.3
Mr Wren guided us to view Fortune Prison this afternoon—and tomorrow if the weather shall be favourable Mr Adams is resolute to survey on horseback the rural felicity of the Isle of Wight. He has just gone to rest in high spirits at the prospect. I believe from circumstances we may condescend to revisit the smoak of the Metropolis within a fortnight.
Particular compliments to Mrs Smith and little Steuben. from, Dear Madam, Yours respectfully
John B Cutting
RC (Adams Papers).
1. That is, Cutting himself.
2. JA and Cutting traveled the seventy miles from London to Portsmouth on 24 April, passing through Kingston upon Thames and the village of Cobham in Surrey, site of the gardens at Painshill, which the Adamses had previously visited in June 1786. Charles Churchill’s 1763 political satire The Prophecy of Famine predicted that a growing Scottish influence on English culture would result in a metaphorically barren England of the future: “Far as the eye could reach, no tree was seen, / Earth, clad in russet, scorn’d the lively green.” In 1787, the Portsmouth Road was already known for passing through particularly barren country, “past ragged heaths, tumbled commons, and waste lands, chiefly unenclosed” (Karl Baedeker, Great Britain: Handbook for Travellers, 8th edn., N.Y., 1927, p. 55; AA to Mary Smith Cranch, 13 June 1786, note 9, vol. 7:221; Thomas Lockwood, Post-Augustan Satire: Charles Churchill and Satirical Poetry, 1750–1800, Seattle, 1979, p. 133–139; Charles Churchill, The Prophecy of Famine, London, 1763, p. 15; Charles G. Harper, The Portsmouth Road and Its Tributaries: To-day and in Days of Old, London, 1895, p. 194, 197).
3. In March Robert Muir, a native of Scotland, arrived in London from Charleston, S.C., in the guise of “a common seaman.” He soon began contacting engravers and printers in an attempt to counterfeit the paper currency of North and South Carolina. London metalworker William Caslon made plates of decorative elements on the currency at Muir’s request in early April. When Muir approached London engraver Richard Carpenter and Portsmouth printer Walter Mowbray, however, they reported his plans to authorities, and Muir was arrested and imprisoned. Rev. Thomas Wren, who had assisted American prisoners of war in Forton Prison in the late 1770s, hosted JA when he visited Portsmouth to interrogate Muir. From April to July, Wren sent JA updates on the case, acted as a liaison between American and British officials, and advanced funds for Muir’s board in jail. On 25 June, JA wrote to recommend that Muir be released for lack of evidence. Wren responded on 12 July to say that rather than be released as innocent, Muir would be tried later that month and acquitted for lack of evidence, an outcome that had been judged more likely to serve as a deterrent to further nefarious activity (Sheldon S. Cohen, “Thomas Wren: Portsmouth’s Patron of American Liberty,” The Portsmouth Papers, 57:11, 23, 28 [March 1991]; vol. 4:201; Thomas Wren to JA, 12 July, Adams Papers; JA to Wren, 21 April and 25 June, both LbC, APM Reel 113; Dipl. Corr., 1783–1789, 2:738–739, 741–744; Devon Libraries Local Studies Service, The London Book Trades 1775–1800: A Checklist of Members, www.devon.gov.uk/etched, 6 Feb. 2006).