Thomas Boylston Adams to John Adams
Woodbury Octr: 9th: 1793—
My dear Sir
After repeated, tho’ unsuccessful attempts to procure the letters, which I was informed by my Mothers letter, must be in the Post Office at Philada: this night’s Post has brought me six: four from Boston and Quincy, & two from my other friends;1 I feel no little gratitude to my friends in General, & my Parents in particular for the anxious solicitude they have expressed for my wellfare, upon the alarming occasion which now exists in Philadelphia.2 I have shuddered at the thought, when I reflect on the danger to which I now perceive I was for many days exposed before I left the City; while there, I was insensible to the innumerable instances of mortality, which daily occurred; but since my residence in this place, I have become more acquainted with the calamities of the City, & more regardful of my own safety. Had I received your’s & my Mothers letters sooner; or before I left the City, I should probably have made some town in the interior Counties of Pennsylvania the place of my residence; it might have been useful to me in my future pursuits, by giving me an oportunity to form a further acquaintance with the manners of the people, & also of determining upon the place of my future residence. The short notice I had for departure, (being only one day) precluded my making those arrangements which would have been necessary for a journey of any length or distance; & even at the short distance I now am from Philadelphia, I find myself destitute of winter cloaths, pretty short of cash, having left the greater part I possessed in the City, and wanting many conveniences, which would make my exile more comfortable. However I, in com[pany] with many of my acquaintance am amply provided with necessaries, & I can submit to any thing when I perceive others more unprovided, & willingly contibute my proportion to render their situation more tolerable. This place tho’ a small distance from the City, is by far the least crouded with inhabitants of any in the neighborhood, & from the little communication that exists with the City, I feel myself tolerably secure. My Friend Mr Freeman & myself were the two first strangers that came to this town; while every small village on the other side of the River was filled with deserters; for this reason I thought it more safe to retire to this place.3 Many have followed us, but they bear no proportion to the towns of Pennsylvania. I could write in this strain till morning, but it would afford you no satisfaction— I will therefore reserve further communications for the next Post,—
Subscribing myself / your Son
Thomas B Adams
PS, I have just heared of the death of your old friend J D Sergeant; he has fallen sacrifice to his public spirit & humane exertions— he was appointed a manager of the Hospital at Bush Hill, & undertook the trust—4 While we lament the cause, we cannot but admire the principles with which he was actuated.
Octr: 15. 93—
The accounts from the City are much the same;
RC (Adams Papers); addressed: “The Vice President of the United States / Quincy / near Boston.”; internal address: “The Vice President / of the U. S.”; endorsed: “T. Adams / oct. 9. 1793.” Some loss of text where the seal was removed.
1. None of these letters has been found.
2. Yellow fever appeared in Philadelphia in August and soon spread to become a devastating epidemic that killed an estimated 5,000 in the city before dissipating with the first frost of December. The pestilence was at its height in October and on the date of this letter the daily death toll passed 100 for the first time (J. H. Powell, Bring Out Your Dead: The Great Plague of Yellow Fever in Philadelphia in 1793, Phila., 1949, p. 233–234, 281–282).
3. During the yellow fever epidemic TBA fled across the Delaware River to Woodbury, N.J., ten miles south of Philadelphia. His companion was perhaps Ezekiel Freeman, a clerk in the Philadelphia Auditor’s Office (Philadelphia Directory description begins Philadelphia Directory [title varies], issued annually with varying imprints. description ends , 1793, p. 167, Evans, description begins Charles Evans and others, American Bibliography: A Chronological Dictionary of All Books, Pamphlets and Periodical Publications Printed in the United States of America [1639–1800], Chicago and Worcester, 1903–1959; 14 vols. description ends No. 25585).
4. Jonathan Dickinson Sergeant (1746–1793), Princeton 1762, a lawyer, met JA while attending the Continental Congress as a New Jersey representative. He moved to Philadelphia in 1776 and served as Pennsylvania’s attorney general. He died of yellow fever on 7 Oct. 1793 (DAB description begins Allen Johnson, Dumas Malone, and others, eds., Dictionary of American Biography, New York, 1928–1936; repr. New York, 1955–1980; 10 vols. plus index and supplements. description ends ; Philadelphia National Gazette, 9 Oct.). For the use of Bush Hill as a hospital during the epidemic, see Descriptive List of Illustrations, No. 4, above.