Adams Papers

From John Adams to Henry Marchant, 10 September 1779

To Henry Marchant

Braintree Septr. 10. 1779

My dear Sir

A few Days before I Sailed from America, I had the Pleasure of a Letter from you, on the subject of a Law for Confiscations,1 but my Engagements in a new Scaene of Adventures, made it impossible to attend to the subject, or answer the Letter. And Since, my Peregrination, not having received any Letters from you, and being occupied in a manner you may well imagine, I have not I confess done my Duty to you.

I believe the Scaene of Affairs you have been in, has been as disagreable as mine. I fancy We both deserve Commisseration, and shall have it—from Posterity, and from those of the present Generation, who may be in Similar Circumstances, if any such there can be. Yet I confess I am of old Dr. Cutlers2 Mind “I hate to be pitied.”

I had the inexpressible Pleasure, of finding on my Arrival my own Family and all my Connections in perfect Health—a fine Season, which promised Abundance of every Necessary for the People; our military and political Affairs in a much better Condition than I ex­pected, and infinitely less of Discontent and ill Humour, among all Sorts of People than I left when I went away.

I joyfully congratulate you on the fair Prospect of Affairs, that lies all around Us, except the affair of our Currency. But as this neither kills nor Wounds, nor starves any body, I do not suffer it to darken the scaene very much. We shall blunder along through, with tolerable Comfort, I think, the remainder of the Voyage.

Our maritime Power, has become an astonishing Thing. The Destruction of Thirty Eight Vessells at Penobscott is scarcely felt, and near 30 Privateers I am told have sailed since the Embargo.3 Wonders have been done this Year and greater will be done next. Poor Britania! I feel that kind of Compassion for thee, that I have sometimes felt, for an habitual Drunkard, who knew that he was ruining soul, Body and Estate, yet could not resolve to keep the Cup from his Lips.

I took my Pen, only to pay my Respects to you; to ask your further Correspondence and to assure you that I am your Frid & sert

John Adams

LbC (Adams Papers).

1That of 22 Dec. 1777 (vol. 5:363). When he wrote, Marchant, like JA, had just left the congress. He returned to the congress in the summer of 1778 and served until the end of Nov. 1779 (Burnett, ed., Letters of Members description begins Edmund C. Burnett, ed., Letters of Members of the Continental Congress, Washington, 1921–1936; 8 vols. description ends , 3:lx; 4:lxii).

2Perhaps Rev. Timothy Cutler, Harvard 1701, Congregational apostate and early Anglican leader in Boston (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 , 5:45–67).

3The clause about privateers is interlined; JA appears to have first written “40 Privateers,” and then heavily written a “3” over the “4.” Presumably a large number of privateers sailed because their crews were the more readily obtainable as a result of congressional action on embargoes. See John Bondfield to the Commissioners, 3 Oct. 1778 (above). A number of states had embargoes on provisions, which served a twofold purpose. Keeping needed food supplies within a state helped hold down prices (Pennsylvania Archives, Phila. and Harrisburg, 1852–1935; 119 vols. in 123, 1st ser., 7:588) and also kept such supplies out of the clutches of British warships. Such embargoes could cause temporary hardship elsewhere; earlier in the year both Rhode Island and Massachusetts turned to the congress for help in acquiring food supplies from states with embargoes (JCC description begins Worthington C. Ford and others, eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789, Washington, 1904–1937; 34 vols. description ends , 13:130, 152, 257, 449). On 11 Aug. the Pennsylvania Supreme Executive Council sought the advice of the congress on whether to extend the state’s embargo past 1 Sept., when it was scheduled to expire (Pennsylvania Colonial Records, 1683–1790;, Phila. and Harrisburg, 1851–1853; 16 vols., 12:70–71;). The first committee report on Pennsylvania’s query recommended that all states end their embargoes by 1 Oct., but the congress voted to recommit the report. On 21 Aug., the congress voted to recommend extension of all embargoes to 1 Jan. 1780 and urged the inclusion of a specified list of grains and meat products and the adoption of an embargo by every state. At the same time it called for an end to restrictions on inland trade. A later attempt to return to the 1 Oct. expiration date, as first recommended, was defeated (JCC description begins Worthington C. Ford and others, eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789, Washington, 1904–1937; 34 vols. description ends , 14:953–954; 986–987; 15:1036–1037). An additional reason for success in privateering was the presence of French naval forces in the West Indies, which drew British frigates away from the North American coast (see James Warren to JA, 13 June, above).

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