George Washington Papers

To George Washington from John Adams, 19–20 June 1775

From John Adams

Phyladelphia June [19 or 20] 1775

Dear Sir

In Complyance with your Request, I have considered of what you proposed, and am obliged to give you my Sentiments, very briefly, and in great Haste.

In general, Sir, there will be three Committees, either of a Congress, or of an House of Representatives, which are and will be composed of our best Men, Such, whose Judgment and Integrity may be most relyed on. I mean the Committee on the State of the Province, the Committee of Safety, and the Committee of Supplies.1

But least this should be too general, I beg leave to mention particularly James Warren Esqr. of Plymouth, Joseph Hawley Esqr. of Northampton, John Winthrop Esqr. L.L.D. of Cambridge, Dr Warren, Dr Church, Coll Palmer of Braintree, Elbridge Gerry Esqr. of Marblehead. Mr Bowdoin, Mr Sever, Mr Dexter, lately of the Council will be found to be very worthy Men, as well as Mr Pitts who I am Sorry to hear is in ill Health.2

The Recommendations, of these Gentlemen, may be rely’d on. Our President was pleased to recommend to you, Mr William Bant for one of your Aid du Camps. I must confess, I know not where to find a Gentleman, of more Merit, and better qualified for Such a Place.3

Mr Paine was pleased to mention to you Mr William Tudor a young Gentleman of the Law, for a Secretary to the General. and all the rest of my Brothers, you may remember, very chearfully concurr’d with him. His Abilities and Virtues are such as must recommend him to every Man who loves Modesty, Ingenuity, or Fidelity: but as I find an Interest has been made in behalf of Mr Trumbull of Connecticut, I must Submit the Decision to your further Inquiries, after you shall arrive at Cambridge. Mr Trumbulls Merit is Such that I dare not Say a Word against his Pretensions. I only beg Leave to Say, that Mr Tudor is an Exile from a good Employment and fair Prospects in the Town of Boston, driven by that very Tyranny against which We are all contending.4 There is another Gentleman of liberal Education and real Genius, as well as great Activity, who I find is a Major in the Army; his Name is Jonathan Williams Austin. I mention him, sir, not for the Sake of recommending him to any particular Favour, as to give the General an opportunity of observing a youth of great abilities, and of reclaiming him from certain Follies, which have hitherto, in other Departments of Life obscurd him.5

There is another Gentleman, whom I presume to be in the Army either as a Captain, or in Some higher Station, whose Name is William Smith: as this young Gentleman is my Brother in Law, I dont recommend him for any other Place, than that in which the Voice of his Country has placed him. But the Countenance of the General, as far as his Conduct shall deserve it, which in an Army is of great Importance, will be gratefully acknowledged as a particular obligation by his Brother.6

With great Sincerity, I wish you, an agreable Journey, and a Successfull, a glorious Campaign: and am with great Esteem, sir, your most obedient Servant

John Adams

ALS, MHi: Adams Papers. The fact that this letter remains undated in the Adams Papers suggests that it was not sent to GW. Adams apparently laid it aside in order to join in the similar letter which the Massachusetts delegates sent to GW on 22 June. This joint letter is also in Adams’s writing. Its first two paragraphs and closing paragraph are nearly identical to the corresponding ones in Adams’s private letter. The third paragraphs of the two letters, where various Massachusetts leaders are named, differ significantly only in that nine additional names appear in the delegates’ letter. Adams’s recommendations of Bant, Tudor, Austin, and Smith in his private letter are omitted in the delegates’ letter. He may have orally recommended these young gentlemen.

In the dateline Adams left a short space between “June” and “1775.” Charles Francis Adams says that this letter “was written probably on the 19th or 20th” (Charles Francis Adams, ed., The Works of John Adams, 10 vols. [Boston, 1850–56], 9:359, n.1). That it was written no later than 20 June is indicated by Adams’s letters of 20 June to William Tudor and James Warren in which he tells each man that he has mentioned his name to GW (Taylor, Papers of John Adams description begins Robert J. Taylor et al., eds. Papers of John Adams. 17 vols. to date. Cambridge, Mass., and London, 1977—. description ends , 3:33, 34–37).

1With the collapse of royal authority in Massachusetts outside of Boston during the fall of 1774, an extralegal provincial congress was convened to replace the General Court. In the spring of 1775 the provincial congress asked the Continental Congress for advice about how the colony should be governed in the future. The Continental Congress recommended on 9 June that the offices of governor and lieutenant governor be considered vacant and that the General Court be reestablished in accordance with the colony’s charter. The provincial congress readily accepted this advice and on 20 June called for the election of a house of representatives. The new house met for the first time on 19 July. Two days later it elected a new council, and on 28 July it authorized the council to act as governor of the colony. The committees of safety and of supplies continued under the reestablished General Court, but the committee on the state of the province ceased to exist after May 1775.

2Dr. Joseph Warren (1741–1775), a prominent physician and political figure in Boston, became president of the Massachusetts provincial congress on 23 April 1775. He was killed at the Battle of Bunker Hill on 17 June, but news of his death apparently did not reach Philadelphia until ten days later (Richard Henry Lee to GW, 29 June 1775). James Warren (1726–1808) succeeded Joseph Warren as president of the provincial congress, and on 19 July he was elected speaker of the new house of representatives. Eight days later he was appointed Continental paymaster general. Joseph Warren, Benjamin Church (1734-c.1778), and Joseph Palmer (1716–1788) were members of the committee of safety; Elbridge Gerry (1744–1814) served on the committee of supplies; and James Warren and Joseph Hawley (1723–1788) had been on the committee on the state of the province. Dr. Church was appointed director and chief physician of the Continental army hospital on 27 July 1775, but he was soon discovered to be carrying on a traitorous correspondence with the British. See Council of War, 3–4 Oct. 1775. Of the four former councillors named here, three were elected to the reestablished Massachusetts council on 21 July 1775: James Bowdoin (1726–1790) and James Pitts (d.1776) both of Boston and William Sever (Seaver; 1729–1809) of Kingston. Pitts did not serve because of his bad health. Among the others elected to the new council were Joseph Palmer and Harvard College’s distinguished professor of mathematics and natural philosophy, John Winthrop (1714–1779). Winthrop received an honorary LL.D. degree from the University of Edinburgh in 1771 and another from Harvard in 1773. Samuel Dexter (1726–1810) of Dedham served on the old council from 1768 to 1774, but he retired from public life in July 1775 and moved to Connecticut.

3Congress resolved on 16 June to allow GW three aides-de-camp with monthly salaries of $33 each (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds. Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789. 34 vols. Washington, D.C., 1904–37. description ends , 2:94). William Bant (d.1779) was a Boston merchant who had been associated in business with John Hancock since 1767. When Hancock was elected president of the Massachusetts provincial congress in October 1774, Bant became his business manager, and he continued to act in that capacity during Hancock’s tenure as president of the Continental Congress. Bant was not appointed an aide-de-camp to GW or to any other position in the Continental army.

4The position of secretary to the commander in chief was coveted both for its prestige and its remuneration. The salary set by Congress when it authorized a secretary for the general on 16 June was $66 a month (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds. Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789. 34 vols. Washington, D.C., 1904–37. description ends , 2:94). In addition, the secretary, as a member of the general’s military family, lived on the general’s expense account. Joseph Trumbull (1737–1778), a son of Gov. Jonathan Trumbull, Sr., of Connecticut, was recommended for the position by Silas Deane, one of the Connecticut delegates to Congress, immediately after GW accepted command of the army. Deane was encouraged by GW’s response. “He told Me,” Deane wrote Joseph Trumbull on 18 June, “he was wholly disengaged, & should pursue one rule of Conduct invariably—To prefer so farr as in his power only those equall to the Post to be filled—That if You were desirous of it, and my recommendation was agreeable elsewhere (Viz) to the province he will be in [Massachusetts], it would suit him” (Smith, Letters of Delegates description begins Paul H. Smith et al., eds. Letters of Delegates to Congress, 1774–1789. 26 vols. Washington, D.C., 1976–2000. description ends , 1:506–7). The other Connecticut delegates, Eliphalet Dyer and Roger Sherman, joined Deane in pushing Trumbull’s candidacy, and on 20 June Dyer informed Trumbull: “I...procured all the Gentn. of the Massachusett Bay to Confirm our recommendation all which believe will Succeed for your Appointment unless the Massachusett Gent. behind the Curtain have made Interest for some Other person which I ought not to Suspect” (ibid., 1:521–22). Adams’s letter to GW reveals, however, that Dyer had reason to be suspicious. William Tudor (1750–1819) of Boston, a former law clerk to Adams, was recommended to GW for secretary by one of Adams’s “Brothers” in the Massachusetts delegation, Robert Treat Paine (1731–1814). On 20 July Adams wrote Tudor that he also had recommended him as secretary and that the other Massachusetts delegates “very chearfully and unanimously concurr’d with me in the warmest Terms. A great Interest is making however for Mr. Jos. Trumbull and for others. What the General will do I know not” (Taylor, Papers of John Adams description begins Robert J. Taylor et al., eds. Papers of John Adams. 17 vols. to date. Cambridge, Mass., and London, 1977—. description ends , 3:33). GW decided the matter before his arrival at Cambridge by choosing Joseph Reed of Philadelphia as his secretary, but he did not neglect Trumbull and Tudor. On 10 July GW recommended to Congress that Trumbull, who had been commissary general of the Connecticut forces since April, be made Continental commissary general, and Congress appointed him on 19 July. See GW to Hancock, 10–11 July 1775, Document II. Letter Sent, n.12, and General Orders, 31 July 1775, n.1. On 14 July Tudor was offered the position of Continental judge advocate general, which he eagerly accepted. See GW to Hancock, 21 July 1775 (first letter), n.8, and General Orders, 30 July 1775, n.1.

5Jonathan Williams Austin (1751–1779), a Chelmsford youth who had clerked in Adams’s law office with William Tudor, was a major in Col. Paul Dudley Sargent’s Massachusetts regiment outside Boston. As a student at Harvard College in 1768, Austin instigated a rebellion of his fellow students against the tutors and their regulations, and only after several prominent men intervened on his behalf were the college authorities persuaded to let Austin continue his studies and graduate the following year. Austin was not promoted in the Continental army despite steady support from Adams. On 5 Nov. 1776 he disgraced himself by burning the courthouse and about sixteen dwellings at White Plains, N.Y., contrary to general orders. At his court-martial he tried to excuse himself on the grounds of drunkenness, but he was found guilty and was dishonorably discharged from the service.

6William Smith, Jr. (1746–1787), of Lincoln, Abigail Adams’s only brother, commanded a company of minutemen at the Battle of Concord on 19 April 1775 and served the remainder of the year as a captain in Col. John Nixon’s Massachusetts regiment stationed outside Boston. His only subsequent military activity occurred in 1777 when he served briefly as a captain of marines aboard a privateer that was captured by the British. Dull-witted and undependable, Smith failed to satisfy his family’s high expectations for him as a scholar and businessman.

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