Adams Papers

To John Adams from Thomas Digges, 3 March 1780

From Thomas Digges

London 3 Mar 1780


In a letter from Mr. L of the 16th Feby. I find He was good enough to mention me to You1 and that you gave direction for any letters I might have occasion to write to be forwarded a Mons. Mons. Fernando Raymond San, Nogiciant chez Mons. Hocherau Libraire Pont neuf Paris.2 I shall be very happy in giving you any information of movements here that may come to my knowlege because in doing so I am certain I may in some degree serve the cause of my Country. I have never missd as yet any letter from Paris by Common Post directed For Mr. Wm. Singleton Church Nandoes Coffee House Temple Bar London. I dont mention my direction with a view to draw you in for answering any thing I may have to write, but meerly to serve you in any thing you may require of me—that direction under cover to Mr. Edward Bridgen3 Merchant Pater nostre Row will also find me. I am thus explanitory at the onset, because it might not be safe to mention so much by common post, and that I have a safe opportunity of conveying this to You by a Capt. Carpenter4 of the late Cartel ship to Bristol from Boston who goes on business to Passy, and will return in 10 or 12 days: If in the course of that time you chuse any other direction you may mention it to me by a line by Capt. Carpenter. I send by Him the news papers of four or five days back from which you will gather every thing doing here.5 The friends to Ministry and their measures are hoping every hour to hear that Clinton (who embarkd only 7,000 Effective Men, tho they are said to be ten, in the latter end of Decr) is in possession of Charles Town.

That Detatchment consisted of the Lt. Infantry and Grinadiers of the 7th, 23d, 33d, 42d, 63d and 64th British Regiments; a legion of Horse, the New York Volunteers; Fergusons Corps; Yagers; four Battalions Hessian Grenadiers; one Hessian Regiment; and a detatchment of the 71st. British Regiment. Many are of opinion a part of this army was intended for the Windward Islands, and that they embarkd and saild the 26th Decr., and was much hurt by a Storm after sailing; but this does not seem probable, as there are no accounts from N York later than the 23d Decr., and the most intelligent accounts then, said they were not to sail till the 12 or 15 Jany. 2,000 under Lord Cornwallis who said to be intended for the Chesapeak to burn two or 3 french men of war then in James River, and to serve as a diversion in favour of the other five going against Chs. Town.6

The toreys and others of the friends to Ministry do not at all seem to be in spirits about the picture of Affairs in America and the West Indies; nor do they rejoice so much as I have seen them on much less trivial occasions, for the success of Rodney over the Spaniards. They now begin to fear that the fleet at Gibraltar will be blockd up by the Cadiz fleet under Gaston which has many ships superior to Rodneys; They also fear much from the French getting a majority in the West Indies, from whence some late accounts are Come of vast sickness and disorder onboard the English Ships. The naval War will seemingly be removd for the next summer to that quarter. Rodney was to sail about the 20 or 25th Feby. with four ships for the Wt. Indies, and Walsingham will not take more than that number as a Convoy to about 100 Wt. Indiamen which will sail between the 15 and 20th Instant. More ships of war will probably conduct this fleet off the land. It is most likely the N York and Quebec trade about 50 more will sail at or near the same time. I dont hear of any troops or Ships of War going to that station; but there is a talk going about that Wallace will have a small squadron and carry 4 or 5 thousand men out but I dont beleive it in the later instance.7

You will find by the papers sent to Dr. F that the Ministry have been hard run in several parliamentary questions lately. Their party is loosing ground dayly, and the County Petitions for reform &c. seems to be a heavy weight round their necks—these meetings and Assosiations are very similar to former movements in America and it strikes me in the end there will be a serious rumpus if reforms do not take place. The Committees of each County have already appointd 3 Deputies to meet and act for the Whole. This is exactly a Congress and it will likely be stiled so eer it is long. I dont know whether these movements at home, or the Disturbances in Ireland chagrin and depress the ministry most. It appears that the Sovereignty of this Country over that, will not be of many months duration. The armd Assosiations of Ireland amount to near 64,000 Men, who from appearances seem determind to free themselves from every restriction laid on them by this Country. Their parliament are going to put an end to all appeals to England—to render the judges of that Country independant of the Crown, they at present holding their Offices durante bene placito and not quamdiu se bene gesserent8 as in England—To have a Hebeas Corpus act—to repeal Poinings Law which enacts that all Bills shall orriginate in the Council and not in the Commons—to confine the new supplys to the apportionment of new duties only—to give Counties on their own Manufactures—and to have a mutiny Bill which last goes immideately to the grant point of Jurisdection, &c.—this is all making for America but would have come better and more servicable to Us a Year or two ago. Even with all the present appearances against this Country, and the certainty of America succeeding to Her wish, I do not discover among what we term the Patriots in Parliament, many men that go straight forward in their wish for american Independence. Those whom I intimately connect myself with are clearly and decidedly for it—Viz: Lds. Camden, Effingham, Coventry and Bp. of St Asaph; Sr. G Saville, Dd Hartley and but a few others in the Commons—the rest whom I converse with, are all for Independence on some provisos, such as England to remain with a feather of Sovereignty, for America to give up the French Alliance, federal Alliance with England &c. &c. I wish they saw the Interests and exact state of both countries in a clearer view.

If you take in any of the English morning papers I think you will do well to fix a mode for getting regularly that calld the London Courant published by Almon in Piccadilly. The real state of Ship news, dispatches, sailing of Fleets &c. are as regularly and justly put into that paper as can be. The Courier de l’Europe also in them points is pretty chaste.9

I am Sir Yr very Obt Sert,

T D——s

RC (Adams Papers;) addressed: “A Monsieur Monsieur J. A——ms Paris”; endorsed: “T. Dundas. March 3d ansd 14. 1780.”

1In Digges, Letters description begins Letters of Thomas Attwood Digges, ed. Robert H. Elias and Eugene D. Finch, Columbia, S.C., 1982. description ends , p. 163, note 1, “Mr. L” is identified as Peter Luard.

Little is known of Thomas Attwood Digges’ early life. A member of a prominent Maryland family, he may have attended Oxford in the 1750s and then returned to America. In 1767, Digges went to Portugal as a merchant; by 1774 he was in London acting as an agent for various shipping interests. There he associated with other American supporters of the Revolution such as William and Arthur Lee, Matthew Ridley, Joshua Johnson, and William Carmichael. In 1775 he published a semiautobiographical novel, The Adventures of Alonso. With the outbreak of war, Digges turned to clandestine trade with America, usually through Portugal or Spain, and became interested in the welfare of American prisoners in England. In 1778, at the behest of their mutual friend David Hartley, Digges began a correspondence with Benjamin Franklin under a variety of pseudonyms that lasted until 1781, when Franklin accused Digges of embezzling funds intended to aid the prisoners (Digges, Letters description begins Letters of Thomas Attwood Digges, ed. Robert H. Elias and Eugene D. Finch, Columbia, S.C., 1982. description ends , p. xxiii–liv; William Bell Clark, “In Defense of Thomas Digges,” PMHB description begins Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography. description ends , 77 [Oct. 1953]:381–438).

The correspondence between Digges and JA that began with this letter was both important and extensive. The Adams Papers editorial files indicate that, between 3 March 1780 and 23 April 1782, the two men exchanged 73 letters. JA sent or received letters as Ferdinando Ramon San, but Digges adopted a variety of names, including Alexander Brett, J. W. C., William Singleton Church, T. Dundas, William Fitzpatrick, Alexander Hamilton, Timothy D. Ross, William Ross, William Russell, Alexander Williamson, and T. Williamson. William Singleton Church was the pseudonym most frequently used in Digges’ correspondence with JA. Digges, like Edmund Jenings, is a shadowy figure who may or may not have been a British agent, funnelling information to JA in order to obtain his confidence and receiving useful intelligence in return. In any case, JA described him as a person “with whom I had a correspondence under feigned names, and who sent me regularly pamphlets and newspapers: with whom, however, I was not sufficiently acquainted ever to write without reserve” (JA, Corr. in the Boston Patriot description begins Correspondence of the Late President Adams. Originally Published in the Boston Patriot. In a Series of Letters, Boston, 1809–1810; 10 pts. description ends , p.159).

2JA derived his pseudonym from the name of the Spanish muleteer he employed during his journey through Spain, to which he added the name Ferdinando. See JA’s letters to and from Michel Lagoanere of 26 Dec. 1779 and 16 Jan. 1780 (vol. 8:301–305, 310). The address, “Mons. Hocherau Libraire Pont neuf Paris,” was also given to Edward and Charles Dilly in a letter of 20 Feb. (vol. 8:342) as that to which English publications should be sent. For the Dillys, JA’s alias was to be Antonio Ares.

3Edward Bridgen, a North Carolinian and part of the London mercantile firm Bridgen & Waller, served at various times as a London alderman and was a friend of Thomas Brand Hollis. He spent considerable time with the Adamses when they went to England after the war. Bridgen exchanged numerous letters with Benjamin Franklin and JA, most notably on the possibility of his firm supplying copper blanks for coinage. See JA, Diary and Autobiography description begins Diary and Autobiography of John Adams, ed. L. H. Butterfield and others, Cambridge, 1961; 4 vols. description ends , 3:179–180, 188, 196, 200; Cal. Franklin Papers, A.P.S. description begins I. Minis Hays, comp., Calendar of the Papers of Benjamin Franklin in the Library of the American Philosophical Society, Philadelphia, 1908; 5 vols. description ends ; List of the Benjamin Franklin Papers in the Library of Congress, Washington, D.C., 1905.

4This was Capt. Benjamin Carpenter of the cartel ship Polly. The cartel had arrived at Bristol on 19 Dec. 1779, 24 days out of Boston, carrying prisoners taken on their passage to Jamaica. Besides this letter to JA, Carpenter also carried a letter from Digges to Benjamin Franklin giving the conditions under which Americans would be exchanged for those on the Polly (London Chronicle, 21–23 Dec. 1779; William Bell Clark, “In Defense of Thomas Digges,” PMHB description begins Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography. description ends , 77 [Oct. 1953]:407, 408; Digges, Letters description begins Letters of Thomas Attwood Digges, ed. Robert H. Elias and Eugene D. Finch, Columbia, S.C., 1982. description ends , p. 164–169).

5JA copied the text from this point, through the words “federal Alliance with England &c. &c.” in the second paragraph below, and included it in his second letter of 14 March to the president of Congress (No. 19, calendared, below).

6With the exception of the 42d regiment, which was held for use as a reinforcement, the force described by Digges sailed for Charleston on 26 Dec. 1779. The fleet, composed of approximately eighty-eight transports and nine warships, had a difficult passage. On the 28th a series of storms began that continued almost unabated until 20 Jan., scattering the fleet and resulting in the loss of most of the expedition’s horses and ordinance. It reassembled off Tybee Island at the mouth of the Savannah River at the end of January, but it was not until 11 Feb. that the troops began landing on the banks of the North Edisto Inlet, about thirty miles south of Charleston. The actual beginning of the siege of Charleston was put off to 1 April, after the landing force had been resupplied from St. Kitts and obtained cannon from the navy. Cornwallis accompanied the troops and took command when Clinton returned to New York at the end of May (B. A. Uhlendorf, ed. and transl., Siege of Charleston, Ann Arbor, 1938, p. 104– 111, 23–25, 101, 417; Mackesy, War for America description begins Piers Mackesy, The War for America, 1775–1783, Cambridge, 1965. description ends , p. 340–342).

7This report appeared in the London press, but in fact Capt. James Wallace remained in European waters until late 1781 (London Chronicle, 29 Feb.–2 March 1780; DNB description begins Leslie Stephen and Sidney Lee, eds., The Dictionary of National Biography, New York and London, 1885–1900; 63 vols. plus supplements. description ends ).

8That is, the judges were holding office at the King’s pleasure, rather than during good behavior.

9For John Almon’s London Courant and other newspapers that JA received on a regular basis, see Adams’ letter to Digges of 15 April, note 3, and Digges’ letter of 28 April, note 2 (both below). Compare Digges’ view of the Courier de l’Europe with JA’s in his letter to the president of Congress, 23 Feb. (No. 8, vol. 8:358–359, calendar entry).

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