Adams Papers

To John Adams from James Swan, 4 December 1775

From James Swan

Watertown 4 Decr. 1775


By a resolve of Congress the 18th of Oct. last, I1 perceive the Sufferers by fire and Seizures, occasion’d by the Enemy, are invited to lay their loss before them. For that reason I now trouble you, as one of the Committee.

You are doubtless acquainted with the General damage from the fire, which happen’d last May, in the Town dock of Boston,2 caused by Genl. Gage’s 47s. or Tarring and Feathering Regiment, making Cartrages in one of the Stores, which was improv’d as a Barrack; and which might have been prevented from Spreading, had not he very lately before that time, taken the Command from the Fire Wards, appointed by the Town, and vested it in the persons of known Tories; fixed locks upon the Doors, and Centries at each of the Engine Houses: So that before the people cou’d go to Gage, be admitted to his presence for Orders to obtain the Engines; who were directed by him to the New Captains, and then the Captains to their respective Wards, that, I say before these things cou’d be done, the fire was communicated far, and the Soldiers wou’d not permit the Inhabitants to assist in extinguishing it; by which means I became a loser in about £100 Sterling by the distruction of the Store which I improv’d, leading down on Treats wharf. My loss was in merchandize. The Warehouse belong’d to A. Oliver Esqr, of Salem, who with the Honl. John Hancock Esq., Mr. Fairweather, Mr. Ben Andrews and E[l]iakim Hutchinson, were the principal Sufferers in the Buildings.3

I know not, whether it is meant to indemnify the Sufferers: nor can I say, that from the hopes of such indemnification I am now induc’d to write you, so much, as to comply with the desire of Congress.

If this is not sufficiently authenticated, I can send you the particulars. I am, with respect, Sir Your mo. obd. Sevt.

Jams. Swan
Depy to Treas. Gardner

RC (Adams Papers); addressed: “The Honbl John Adams Esqr Philadelphia”; docketed: “James Swan 1775”; in another hand: “Decr 4.”; stamped: “FREE N*YORK*DEC: 11.”

1James Swan (1754–1830) emigrated from Scotland in 1765 and soon became a member of the Sons of Liberty. He participated in the Boston Tea Party and the Battle of Bunker Hill. During the war, not all of which he spent as a soldier, he rose to the rank of colonel; using his wife’s money, he invested heavily in loyalist property and speculated in western lands. He ended his career in France, first as an agent for the French Republic on naval stores and the American debt, then as an independent businessman. He died in debtors’ prison in Paris (DAB description begins Allen Johnson and Dumas Malone, eds., Dictionary of American Biography, New York, 1928–1936; 20 vols. plus index and supplements. description ends ).

2For another account of the fire which occurred on 17 May and a list of those suffering losses, see Massachusetts Gazette of 19 May and 1 June. Swan’s account is similar to those in the newspapers, particularly that in the New-England Chronicle of 25 May, which includes a letter from a Boston inhabitant describing the fire and efforts to prevent its spread. For Gage’s orders after the fire, see French, First Year description begins Allen French, The First Year of the American Revolution, Boston, 1934. description ends , p. 167.

3Andrew Oliver Jr. (1731–1799), judge and scientist, a founder of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and member of the American Philosophical Society (DAB description begins Allen Johnson and Dumas Malone, eds., Dictionary of American Biography, New York, 1928–1936; 20 vols. plus index and supplements. description ends ). Thomas Fayer-weather and Benjamin Andrews Jr., both Boston merchants (Thwing Catalogue, MHi). Fayerweather was father-in-law of Professor John Winthrop (Winsor, Memorial History of Boston, 4:494–495, note). Eliakim Hutchinson (1711–1775), loyalist and wealthy Boston merchant (Sibley-Shipton, 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 , 8:726–729).

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