Adams Papers

To John Adams from John Dudley, 2 November 1783

From John Dudley

poultry Compter Cheapside London
2nd. November 17831


With all due deference—I beg Leave to Lay before you the following facts— Necessity is the motive—that frequently obliges me to actions contrary to my Inclination—hope it will Be admited to pleade in Excuse for the Liberty I take in soliciting your Intrest in my Behalf—without previous Leave— my case is as follows) I am a native of America N Carolina—was an officer in the Service of the united States—and in may 1781 was on the Lines opposite New York—had my Retreat cut of by a party of Refugeas under the command of a Mr Blawvelt2—was wounded and taken prisnor—caried in to new York from thence Sent to England—and By my Arrival the wound I had Recieved togather with hard fare I met with had got so Bad that I was obliged to Suffer the Amputation of my Left Leg— which Rendered me Incapible of Returning to my native country till I was Entangled in Debt for common Necessaries of Life— Notwithstanding—I have made frequent applications—to this government— for that Releaf my unhappy situation had an immediate call for—and which I had Reson to Expect—and sorry I am to Say my applications—was of Little Effect— I waited in pirson on the Right Hble. Lord Sydney Late principal Secretary of State &c—and only obtained 10£ Bank Bill—and a passport to go from thence to france— which Sum would not Discharge my Board and Lodgings—my creditors finding that my Situation—immediately arrested me for a Ballence of 40£ and Being in a Strange country could not find Bail But was obliged to go to prison where I still Remain—in a State of missery and Distress—3 I have Been for three months past without one penney to Support me But Live Entirely on the prison Allowence which is only one penney Bread pr. Day—and have Been obliged to pledge Every Stich of cloathing But what is at present on my Back to Discharge my Lodgings on the Masters Side of the prison—or must Be turned on the common Side of the prison amongst the fellows where thier is no place to Ley Down on But the coald Boards I have Rote to Genl. Conway and was Honored with an Interview By his Aidecamp—and do Expect Something Done for me— But the immediate call I have for Some Assistence for present use Drive me to Look up to you for pity and commisseration—and if convenient to Honor me with an Intervew—that I may communicate the particulars of my unhappy Situation— I shall take it one of the greatest favours in Life—as I am—in prison Hungry without food (Naked without Raiment—and must Say I have not Language to Express my Sufferings— pray Dont fail—if you cannot conveniently Do me the Honor to call on me your Self—for gods sake consider my Distress and Send Some gentleman that will Be So friendly as to Attend to my case—as Speedy as possible—as term Begins this week and if I cannot find Some assistence Between this and tuesday I shall Be plunged further into Missery if possible it can Be So— the Barer of this will wait at the Doar for A verbal answer—and will Return again to me— I most Humbly pray you will Excuse my plain Language—as I can Assure you Distress Render me allmost incencible— your Humanity sir in considering my Distressed Situation—will Lay an Everlasting Obligation on me—and Shall Be most Gratfully Acknowledged—when Ever I can Effect that much wished for object of Returning to my Native country—By— / sir / Your Most Devoted / Much Distressed / Very Hble Servt. &c

John Dudley

RC (Adams Papers).

1This is the first of four letters from Dudley recounting his harrowing experiences as a prisoner. The others are dated 14 Nov. (Adams Papers), and 19 Nov. and 30 Dec., both below. Dudley has not been identified beyond the information supplied in his letters and military records, for which see his 30 Dec. letter, and note 3, below. There are no extant replies by JA to Dudley’s appeals for assistance. This may be, as Dudley indicates in his 19 Nov. letter, because JA doubted whether he had served in the Continental Army. However, Dudley’s letter of 30 Dec. indicates that he likely met with JA, who advised him on the sorts of proofs necessary to authenticate his case. For Dudley’s most detailed account of his captivity, see the enclosure to his letter of 30 Dec., below.

For other appeals to JA by former prisoners, see those from Robert Ford and A. Moore of 10 and 11 Nov., respectively, both Adams Papers. Ford was captured in 1777 on board the Continental brigantine Lexington. In 1779 he apparently was pardoned for service in the Royal Navy, but in 1783 he sought JA’s assistance in being freed from the service (Marion and Jack Kaminkow, comps., Mariners of the American Revolution, Baltimore, 1967, p. 67). Moore, allegedly from Boston, had been captured by the British in command of a French privateer and imprisoned on suspicion of being English. He sought JA’s assistance in obtaining compensation for losses during his confinement and a berth in a new vessel.

2Probably Tunis Blauvelt or Blanvelt, an active loyalist irregular (Sabine, Loyalists description begins Lorenzo Sabine, Biographical Sketches of Loyalists of the American Revolution, rev. edn. by Gregory Palmer, Westport, Conn., 1984. description ends ), but see also the account enclosed with Dudley’s letter of 30 Dec., below.

3That is, he was sent to Poultry Compter, a prison maintained by the sheriff of London (London Past and Present description begins Henry B. Wheatley, London Past and Present: Its History, Associations, and Traditions, London, 1891; 3 vols. description ends , 3:117–118). Dudley, however, did not remain there much longer, for which see his letter of 19 Nov., note 1, below.

Index Entries