Fredericksburg June 9th 1775
The great Character he hath heard of you, induces a private Man to offer to your Consideration the following Hints, with an Assurance, that your Regard for your Country, will improve upon them for the general Good of all America.
When one Colony is declared to be in actual Rebellion, when all the others are anounced to be accessary to, and Favourers of that Rebellion, when the Sword is drawn, and a civil War actually commenced.
Every palliative Measure will be found ineffectual, and nothing will be more likely to restore Peace and a happy Union between Great Britain and America, or so effectually preserve the Liberty of the latter; as bold, daring, and strenuous Exertions of Force in the Beginning of the Contest.
In such a Situation of Affairs; Is it not impolitic to suffer the different Governors to exercise their several Functions, to drain from the People by their large Salaries, part of the Means of Defence, to restrain the Colonists from defending themselves, and to furnish Government with Intelligence, how they may most effectively divide weaken and subdue them?
Is it not still more so, to act the same pusillanimous Part with Regard to the Custom House and other Officers of the Revenue? Doth not common Sense dictate to Americans, the Necessity of strengthening their Hands, by reassuming all the Powers of Government, by seizing upon all the Revenues of the Crown, and by securing the Persons of all the Governors, and other Officers attached to Great Britain thro’ out America?
It will be needless to say any Thing of the Necessity of striking a very large Sum of Money, of making it current all over America, and of pledging the Faith of the whole Continent for its Redemption.
Is not Holland our natural Ally upon the present Occasion, to supply us with Arms, Ammunition, Manufactures and perhaps Money? Ought not an advantageous Treaty of Commerce to be immediately offered her, upon her repaying that Assistance against the Oppressions of Britain, which our Ancestors in the Reign of our glorious Queen Elizabeth afforded them against the Tyranny of Spain?
To proclaim instant Freedom to all the Servants that will join in the Defence of America, is a Measure to be handled with great Delicacy, as so great, so immediate a Sacrafice of Property, may possibly draw off many of the Americans themselves from the common Cause.
But is not such a Measure absolutely necessary? And might not a proper Equivalent be made to the Masters, out of the Large Sums of Money which at all Events must be struck, in the present Emergency?
If America should neglect to do this, will not Great Britain engage these Servants to espouse her Interest, by proclaiming Freedom to them, without giving any Equivalent to the Masters? To give Freedom to the Slaves is a more dangerous, but equally necessary Measure.
Is it not incompatible with the glorious Struggle America is making for her own Liberty, to hold in absolute Slavery a Number of Wretches, who will be urged by Despair on one Side, and the most flattering Promises on the other, to become the most inveterate Enemies to their present Masters?1
If the Inhabitants of Quebec should assist Great Britain, would not true Wisdom dictate to the other Colonies, to lead their Slaves to the Conquest of that Country, and to bestow that and Liberty upon them as a Reward for their Bravery and Fidelity?
Might not a considerable Quit Rent reserved upon their Lands, and a moderate Tax upon their Labours, stipulated beforehand, in a Course of Years, sink the Money struck, and refund to the Colonies the Price of the Slaves now paid to their Masters for their Freedom?
RC (Adams Papers); addressed: “To John Adams Esq. of the Masachusets Bay now in Philadelphia”; in red ink: “1/4,” probably the postage, and beside this in black ink: “N 8”; on the opposite side from the address and in the same hand as “N 8,” docketed: “Dumfrus June 14 1775”; docketed in a different hand: “anonymous X Fredericksburgh June 9th”; docketed in yet a different hand, possibly that of Rev. William Gordon: “Dumfrus June 9. 1775.” On Gordon, see Adams Family Correspondence description begins Adams Family Correspondence, ed. L. H. Butterfield and others, Cambridge, 1963– . description ends , 1:229–230, note.
A check with the Virginia Historical Society, the Historic Fredericksburg Foundation, and the Kenmore Association of Fredericksburg brought the suggestion that “Dumfrus” was Dumfries, a town north of Fredericksburg, where the letter might have been posted. No one has yet any clue to the authorship of this interesting letter. It was probably written to JA because he had already gained a reputation as a vigorous proponent of strong measures in dealing with Great Britain.
1. The issue of slavery was and continued to be a problem as the colonies moved closer to independence. The author’s belief that liberty for slaveholders and denial of liberty to slaves were in conflict was not uncommon, as is indicated by even a cursory examination of the writings of whig leaders, both northern and southern. The writer of this letter was unusual, however, because he not only states the problem, but offers a solution.
His plan did not arise wholly from perception of an abstract, if obvious, injustice, but also from events in Virginia in 1774 and 1775. By 9 June 1775, Virginia and the other southern colonies labored under a growing fear that the British, in the event of revolution, would free the slaves and use them against their former masters. These apprehensions were well grounded, for loyalists and their sympathizers had contemplated this possibility for some time (Benjamin Quarles, The Negro in the American Revolution, Chapel Hill, 1961, p. 21). In letters exchanged between James Madison and William Bradford in Nov. 1774 and Jan. 1775, reference is made to attempts to incite the slaves and to a ministerial plan to foment a slave rebellion (Madison, Papers description begins The Papers of James Madison, ed. by William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, Robert A. Rutland (from vol. 8), and others, Chicago, 1962- description ends , 1:129–130, 132). In April a group of slaves seeking to volunteer approached Gov. Dunmore, but he refused their services because he was not yet ready for action (Quarles, p. 22). Soon afterward, however, Lord Dunmore, according to a deposition taken from a Virginian, stated that in the event of rebellion, he would be able to count on the slaves for support (“Virginia Legislative Papers,” VMHB description begins Virginia Magazine of History and Biography. description ends , 13:49 [July 1905]). According to Lord Dartmouth, Dunmore in a letter to him of 1 May stated essentially the same thing (Force, Archives description begins [Peter Force, ed.,] American Archives: Consisting of a Collection of Authentick Records, State Papers, Debates, and Letters and Other Notices of Publick Affairs, Washington, 1837–1853; 9 vols. description ends , 4th ser., 3:6). By 15 May news of Dunmore’s plans had spread outside Virginia, for Gen. Gage noted the anxiety raised among the insurgents by Dunmore’s design to free the slaves (Gage, Corr. description begins The Correspondence of General Thomas Gage with the Secretaries of State, 1763–1775, ed. Clarence E. Carter, New Haven, 1931–1933; 2 vols. description ends , 1:399–400). From the warship on which he took refuge, Dunmore continued his efforts to raise forces among Negroes until in Nov. 1775 he issued his proclamation freeing the slaves (Force, Archives description begins [Peter Force, ed.,] American Archives: Consisting of a Collection of Authentick Records, State Papers, Debates, and Letters and Other Notices of Publick Affairs, Washington, 1837–1853; 9 vols. description ends , 4th ser., 3:373, 1385). The author was, therefore, not so much anticipating Dunmore’s final action as he was reacting to an existing situation and proposing a plan to avoid its consequences.
His solution to the problem was unique; no other reference to this or a similar plan has been found. In proposing to use Canada as a home for freed slaves and as a source of funds to pay the slaveholders, he obviously was responding to the American desire to take Canada. Beyond being of strategic importance, Canada could become the means to end a conflict between the ideals and realities of the American struggle and forestall the horrors of a slave insurrection.