Adams Papers

To John Adams from Arthur Lee, 5 July 1778

From Arthur Lee

Challiot July 5th. 1778

Dear Sir

I enclose you my Copy of Capt. Jones’s Instructions. My opinion is that in quitting his Ship without our leave or orders was a breach of his duty—that his continuing here after receiving his orders is a still more flagrant breach of his duty—that we shall be justly blamd, if we do not give him immediate and peremptory orders to proceed to his duty and compel obedience to them.1

You will see by the enclosd Account from Mr. Grand, that not only Mr. Williams’s drafts have been paid before his Accounts are settled without our orders;2 but that he has been drawing and giving Mandates since his being here, as if he were a Commissioner, which are also paid without our knowlege or Order. It seems we are only Commissioners for the responsible part, while Mr. Chaumont and Mr. Williams are to plan operations for the Captains of continental Ships and to spend the money for which we are to answer. These things must be checked, or it is easy to see where they will end. I am not well enough to come to Passi to-day, but will see you to-morrow. If the Order for Capt. Jones and the Letter for Mr. Schweighauser are made out today,3 they can be sent to me to sign. I shall be obligd to you to send me the charges you promisd me against the conduct of my Secretary.4 If they appear of consequence, he shall either answer them, or quit me. Adieu

A. Lee

RC (Adams Papers); docketed: “Mr A. Lee. July 5 1778.”

1Lee is presumably referring to Jones’ orders from the Commissioners of 16 June (calendared above), although JA had a copy in his Letterbook. JA acknowledged receipt of the orders in his reply to Lee of the 5th (NNPM). Lee might be referring to Jones’ instructions from the Marine Committee of 6 Sept. 1777 (PCC, No. 168, I, f. 15–16), requiring him to obey the instructions of the Commissioners “as far as it shall be in your Power,” except that there is no evidence that Jones communicated them to the Commissioners, at least not to Arthur Lee, and no copies have been found in either the Franklin or Lee Papers.

Lee’s transmission of the orders and the sentiments expressed regarding Jones’ conduct probably stemmed in part from Jones’ letter of 3 July (above), but more directly from an encounter that Lee had had on the previous day with JA and Franklin, which he recorded in his fragmentary journal of the period 25 May to 4 July (MH-H: Lee Papers). Lee wrote that JA had informed him that Chaumont and Jonathan Williams had brought Jones to him with a proposal, which he rejected, that the Commissioners permit Jones to serve, presumably during his wait for a new assignment, as a volunteer in the French fleet at Brest. At that point: “Dr. F. coming in Mr. L. said it was a most pernicious example that an Officer in the public service should quit his post without leave, stay here, in defiance of his orders intriguing to get into another service. Dr. F. excusd it, said we were not certain he was doing so, not knowing, that Mr. A. had told me what Mss. Chaumont and Williams had proposd but upon his repeating it the Dr. was silent. However he made an excuse of not having Capt. Jones’s instructions to see how far he was under our orders, for postponing the proposition I made that we should order him to his ship immediately.”

Although Lee could have had only suspicions, Franklin’s statements do seem questionable. He may not have known the exact nature of Jones’ instructions from the Marine Committee, but it is difficult to believe that Chaumont and Williams would have approached JA with such a proposal without consulting Franklin first, and it was Franklin who had invited Jones to Paris (see the Commissioners to Jones, 25 May, calendared above).

2It seems likely that the “enclosd Account” was that for the period 30 March to 30 June (above, under the initial date), which indicated that Jonathan Williams had received 114,281.14.11 livres.

3No orders for Jones later than 16 June have been found in either draft or final form, probably because Franklin, in light of his role in bringing Jones to Paris, refused to permit any. The only extant letter to Schweighauser for this period is that of 9 July, which is partly concerned with Jonathan Williams’ activities (JA, Diary and Autobiography description begins Diary and Autobiography of John Adams, ed. L. H. Butterfield and others, Cambridge, 1961; 4 vols. description ends , 4:147).

4John Thornton, who served Lee as secretary and the British as a spy and was soon to be replaced by Hezekiah Ford (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 , 1:539, 659–661). According to Lee’s docketing on a copy enclosed in a letter to the Committee for Foreign Affairs of 7 Aug., the charges against Thornton were in a “Paper delivered secretly to Mr J Adams by Dr Bancroft, and by Mr Adams given to me” (PCC, No. 83,1, f. 233–237, 255–261; see also 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 , 2:679–680). Bancroft, reporting on Thornton’s financial dealings with Joseph Wharton of London, depicted him, at worst, as a British spy, and, at best, as a speculator using documents obtained from the Commissioners, or forgeries thereof, to gain financial advantage. In addition, Bancroft noted Thornton’s attempt to cash a bill drawn on Arthur Lee of which, according to his letter of 7 Aug., Lee was unaware. In that letter Lee stated that, because of its source, he had at first discounted Bancroft’s report, but had been led by later information (enclosed with the letter of 7 Aug.) to conclude that his secretary had been seduced by the “stockjobbers,” including Bancroft, who had continued to be trusted with state secrets even after the stockjobbers’ activities were known to Franklin and Deane.

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