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From John Adams to Thomas Jefferson, 4 September 1785

To Thomas Jefferson

Grosvenor Square Wesminster Septr. 4. 1785

Dear Sir

I have received three Letter of the Tenor and Date of the within— I cannot find in any Gazetteer or geographical Dictionary any Such Place as Roscoff, and I can make nothing of the Story. I hope you have more Skill in Divination.1

I have no Letters from Congress, nor any Answer from the Ministry.

Pray what are the Sentiments in France upon the American Acts of Navigation? and what has been the Success of the French Whale Fishery? How many Ships have they Sent out this Year? The Britons have introduced into theirs a Spirit of Gambling, by giving a Bounty of 500£ to the Ship which has the greatest Success; 400£ to the next. This will make many Adventurers, and give a temporary Activity to the Business: But I rely upon it both the French and English Essays will fall through. My Reason for thinking so is, because the Business in itself is not profitable, and, excepting the four Vessells which may obtain the Bounties, the others upon an Average will be loosers. I know that my Countrymen in the best Times, with all their frugality, with all their Skill, and with their particular manner of conducting the Business could but barely live, and the Fishery was valuable to Us, only as a Remittance. The English are Sacrificing the Bread of thousands of their best Manufacturers to the interested Schemes of a very few Individuals and to a narrow Prejudice and a little Jealousy: but I dont believe the Delusion will be durable. Time will Shew, both them and the French, that it is better to buy our Oil and Candles and Fins, and pay for them in Buttons and Ribbons. if they dont, discover their Error We will lay on Duties upon Buttons and Ribbons, equal to the Alien Duties, and grant them out again in Bounties to our Whalemen.

We must not, my Friend, be the Bubbles of our own Liberal Sentiments. if We cannot obtain reciprocal Liberality, We must adopt reciprocal Prohibitions, Exclusions, Monopolies, and Imposts— our offers have been fair, more than fair. if they are rejected; We must not be the Dupes.—

With great Esteem, dear sir, yours

John Adams

RC and enclosure (DLC:Jefferson Papers); internal address: “His Excellency Thomas Jefferson.” LbC (Adams Papers); APM Reel 111. For the enclosure, see note 1.

1Of the three letters referred to by JA, presumably all from Lister Asquith, only two have been found, both dated 19 Aug. at Roscoff, a French port on the English Channel approximately twenty miles northwest of Morlaix. The first is at its date in the Adams Papers, the second is with this letter in DLC: Jefferson Papers. JA’s bewilderment is owing to the fact that while the letters were similar in their appeals for assistance to prevent Asquith and his shipmates from being imprisoned, neither gave any details about the circumstances leading to such a situation.

Asquith was the owner of the American schooner William and Catherine, bound from Baltimore to Liverpool with a cargo of flour and tobacco. Weather prevented the vessel from making a port in England, and it was blown onto the French coast where, in considerable distress, it put into Ile de Batz, near Roscoff. There the Farmers General charged the vessel and its crew with seeking to smuggle tobacco into France in defiance of the Farmers General’s monopoly, seized the vessel, and imprisoned the crew. JA had no further involvement, and the crew was not freed until mid-1786, but see Asquith’s letter to Thomas Jefferson of [ca. 6 Sept. 1785] laying out the details of his case, and Jefferson’s 14 Nov. memorial to the Comte de Vergennes regarding the William and Catherine, Jefferson, Papers description begins The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, ed. Julian P. Boyd, Charles T. Cullen, John Catanzariti, Barbara B. Oberg, and others, Princeton, N.J., 1950–. description ends , 8:492–498; 9:31–38, 649–50.

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