John Adams to Abigail Adams
Falmouth July 7th: 1774
Have you seen a List of the Addressers of the late Governor? There is one abroad, with the Character, Profession or Occupation of each Person against his Name.1 I have never seen it but Judge Brown says, against the Name of Andrew Fanuil Phillips, is “Nothing,” and that Andrew when he first heard of it said, “Better be nothing with one Side, than every Thing with the other.”—This was witty and smart, whether Andrew said it, or what is more likely, it was made for him.
A Notion prevails among all Parties that it is politest and genteelest to be on the Side of Administration, that the better Sort, the Wiser Few, are on one Side; and that the Multitude, the Vulgar, the Herd, the Rabble, the Mob only are on the other. So difficult it is for the frail feeble Mind of Man to shake itself loose from all Prejudices and Habits. However Andrew, or his Prompter is perfectly Right, in his Judgment, and will finally be proved to be so, that the lowest on the Tory Scale, will make it more for his Interest than the highest on the Whiggish. And as long as a Man Adhers immoveably to his own Interest, and has Understanding or Luck enough to secure and promote it, he will have the Character of a Man of Sense And will be respected by a selfish World. I know of no better Reason for it than this—that most Men are conscious that they aim at their own Interest only, and that if they fail it is owing to short Sight or ill Luck, and therefore cant blame, but secretly applaud, admire and sometimes envy those whose Capacities have proved greater and Fortunes more prosperous.
I am to dine with Mr. Waldo, to day. Betty, as you once said.2
I am engaged in a famous Cause: The Cause of King, of Scarborough vs. a Mob, that broke into his House, and rifled his Papers, and terrifyed him, his Wife, Children and Servants in the Night. The Terror, and Distress, the Distraction and Horror of this Family cannot be described by Words or painted upon Canvass. It is enough to move a Statue, to melt an Heart of Stone, to read the Story. A Mind susceptible of the Feelings of Humanity, an Heart which can be touch’d with Sensibi[li]ty for human Misery and Wretchedness, must reluct, must burn with Resentment and Indignation, at such outragious Injuries.3 These private Mobs, I do and will detest. If Popular Commotions can be justifyed, in Opposition to Attacks upon the Constitution, it can be only when Fundamentals are invaded, nor then unless for absolute Necessity and with great Caution. But these Tarrings and Featherings, these breaking open Houses by rude and insolent Rabbles, in Resentment for private Wrongs or in pursuance of private Prejudices and Passions, must be discountenanced, cannot be even excused upon any Principle which can be entertained by a good Citizen—a worthy Member of Society.
Dined With Mr. Collector Francis Waldo, Esqr. in Company with Mr. Winthrop, the two Quincys and the two Sullivans. All very social and chearfull—full of Politicks. S. Quincy’s Tongue ran as fast as any Bodies. He was clear in it, that the House of Commons had no Right to take Money out of our Pocketts, any more than any foreign State repeated large Paragraphs from a Publication of Mr. Burke’s in 1766, and large Paragraphs from Junius Americanus &c.4 This is to talk and to shine, before Persons who have no Capacity of judging, and who do not know that he is ignorant of every Rope in the Ship.
I shant be able to get away, till next Week. I am concerned only in 2 or 3 Cases and none of them are come on yet. Such an Eastern Circuit I never made. I shall bring home as much as I brought from home I hope, and not much more, I fear.
I go mourning in my Heart, all the Day long, tho I say nothing. I am melancholly for the Public, and anxious for my Family, as for myself a Frock and Trowsers, an Hoe and Spade, would do for my Remaining Days.
For God Sake make your Children, hardy, active and industrious, for Strength, Activity and Industry will be their only Resource and Dependance.
RC (Adams Papers); addressed: “To Mrs. Abigail Adams Braintree To be left at Mr. Adams’s Office in Queen Street Boston”; endorsed: “No 7.”
1. Two broadside editions of this List of Addressers were issued, both of them probably by Edes & Gill, publishers of the Boston Gazette (Ford, Mass. Broadsides description begins Worthington C. Ford, comp., Broadsides, Ballads &c. Printed in Massachusetts, 1639–1800 (Massachusetts Historical Society, Collections, vol. 75), Boston, 1922. description ends , Nos. 1699, 1700). One of them is reproduced in this volume from an original in MHi; see the Descriptive List of Illustrations. The other, preceded by a text of the Address and brief editorial comment, was reproduced in Boston Public Library, Bulletin, 12:217–218 and insert (Oct. 1893).
2. Francis Waldo, Harvard 1747, was one of the leading citizens and the first collector of the port of Falmouth, later Portland; he later fled to England as a loyalist exile (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 , vol. 12 [in press]). The signification of “Betty” is not apparent.
3. Though perhaps once “famous” (as JA says), and certainly illustrative of the feelings aroused by the Revolutionary struggle in its early stages, this “Cause” seems to have been almost entirely overlooked by historians and biographers.
The principal in it was Richard King (1718–1775), a well-to-do farmer, storekeeper, and timber exporter who had settled in Scarborough, Maine, in the 1740’s. He took the ministerial side in the Stamp Act, and this, in addition to his being both the largest creditor and the treasurer of the parish, made him obnoxious to a certain class of his neighbors. After a good deal of talk among themselves about his getting “his Estate by robbing the Poor” and his deserving “a good Whipping and to have his Ears cutt of[f] because he had treated them ill,” twenty or thirty men, including some who owed him money, gathered at his house late in the night of 19 March 1766. With much “Thumping, Yelling, Hooping,” they threw hatchets through windows, came in after them, terrorized King, his servants, his five children, and his wife (who was “far gone in her Pregnancy”), smashed furniture and dishes, hacked walls and staircase, and scattered and burned all the papers they could lay their hands on. One of King’s children (by a former wife) was Rufus King, later a leading Federalist politician and diplomat and a friend of two generations of the Adamses. He was then eleven years old and was probably at home during that night of violence, though no mention of it is made in the six-volume Life and Correspondence of Rufus King compiled by his grandson, Charles R. King, N.Y., 1894–1900. A faint and misleading echo of it may appear in the note on Richard King’s papers at vol. 1:2, but a considerable mass of documents bearing on the mobbing and trials actually remains among the Rufus King Papers in the New-York Historical Society.
Other, if lesser, acts of vandalism against King’s property occurred in the following months, and King, despite threats of personal injury if he went to law, sued his persecutors for trespass, claiming damages of £2,000. The case and its sequels continued in the courts until long after King’s death. They can only be summarized here. Fuller documentation will appear when JA’s legal papers are edited and published.
The trial of Richard King v. John Stewart et al. (Jonathan Andrews Jr., Amos Andrews, John Timothy, and Samuel Stewart) came on in Falmouth Inferior Court in March 1773. King was allowed no damages and appealed to the Superior Court in its July term. Here he won a judgment for £200. Both sides requested writs of review, King because he considered the judgment insufficient and the defendants because they thought the verdict wrong. This necessitated a trial de novo in July 1774.
It was at this point that JA entered the case, which had now, however, become two—King v. John Stewart et al., and Jonathan Andrews et al. v. King. JA and Theophilus Bradbury acted for King in both cases; James and John Sullivan were their opponents in both. JA’s emotional harangue to the jury in the first case was written out more or less in full and is preserved among his legal papers. He concentrated on the physical damage to King’s property, the intangible damage to his “Credit in Trade” (through the destruction of his papers), and the anguish suffered by the whole family from the malice and cruelty of the mob. For example:
“The Cruelty, the Terror, the Horror of the whole dismal scene. It would be affectation to attempt to exaggerate, it is almost impossible to exagerate, the distresses of this innocent Family at that Time.—The Excellency of a Tryal by Jury is that they are the Partys Peers, his equalls, men of like Passions, feelings, Imaginations and Understandings with him. If your Passions are not affected upon this Occasion, you will [not] be the Plaintiffs Peers. It is right and fit, it is reasonable and just that you should feel as he did, that you should put yourselves in his Place, and be moved with his Passions.
“Be pleased then to imagine yourselves each one for himself—in Bed with his pregnant Wife, in the dead of Midnight, five Children also asleep, and all the servants. 3 Children in the same Chamber, two above. The Doors and Windows all barrd, bolted and locked—all asleep, suspecting nothing—harbouring no Malice, Envy or Revenge in your own Bosoms nor dreaming of any in your Neighbors, In the Darkness, the stillness, the silence of Midnight.
“All of a sudden, in an Instant, in a twinkling of an Eye, an Armed Banditti of Felons, Thieves, Robbers, and Burglars, rush upon the House.—Like Savages from the Wilderness, or like Legions from the Blackness of Darkness, they yell and Houl, they dash in all the Windows and enter—enterd the[y] Roar, they stamp, they yell, they houl, they cutt, break, tear and burn all before them.
“Do you see a tender and affectionate Husband, an amiable deserving Wife near her Time, 3 young Children, all in one Chamber, awakened all at once—ignorant what was the Cause—terrifyd—inquisitive to know it. The Husband attempting to run down stairs, his Wife, laying hold of his Arm, to stay him and sinking, fainting, dying away in his Arms. The Children crying and clinging round their Parents—father will they kill me— father save me! The other Children and servants in other Parts of the House, joining in the Cries of Distress.
“What Sum of Money Mr. Foreman would tempt you, to be Mr. King, and to let your Wife undergo what Mrs. King underwent, and your Children what theirs did for one Night?
“I freely confess that the whole sum sued for would be no temptation to me, if there was no other Damage than this.
“But how can the Impression of it be erased out of his Mind and hers and the Childrens. It will lessen and frequently interrupt his Happiness as long as he lives, it will be a continual Sourse of Grief to him.”
But JA’s eloquence had limited effects. King obtained additional damages of £60 in this case, but in the other Jonathan Andrews was found not guilty and recovered £40 from the previous award to King.
JA’s minutes of the testimony, of the opposing arguments, and of his own plea are in Adams Papers, M/JA/6 (Microfilms, Reel No. 185). See also Superior Court of Judicature, Minute Book 99; Records, 1773, fol. 92; 1774, fol. 229–231; Suffolk County Court House, Early Court Files, &c., Nos. 139590, 139642, 139645. Richard King’s papers (in Rufus King MSS, NHi) include drafts, originals, and copies of depositions of witnesses in his favor (some of whom had originally been defendants but were excused when they agreed to testify for King); lists of the rioters and of King’s losses; King’s petitions and remonstrances to the Governor, General Court, and Superior Court; some correspondence; and even a doggerel poem by King about his adversaries, which is revealing enough to be quoted in part:
If mixt with those, vile Sons there are, Who, Burn and Steal, and fallsly Sware, Or make their Gain, by such fowl Deeds, Select them Lord, as vitious weeds;
Shall falls Confession Save the Soul,
Who still retains what he has Stole,
Or having don his Neighbour wrong,
Will God be pleased with his Song[ ?]
Richard King died early in 1775, and his widow had difficulty collecting the small judgments her husband had won at law. She was still trying to collect some part of the damages as late as 1790 (Records, 1790, fol. 140–141; Early Court Files, &c., Nos. 139893, 139894, 140140).
A drawing of “The King Mansion” in Scarborough appears as an insert on a detailed map of the region preceding the titlepage in Maine Hist. Soc., Colls., 1st ser., vol. 3 (1853). This volume has a garbled account of the “King Riot” of 1766 at p. 182–186, and some information on Richard King, p. 163, 172; see also same, 3d ser., 2 (1906):370–373.
4. Edmund Burke published in 1766 “A Short Account of a Late Short Administration,” a manifesto of the Rockingham whigs. “Junius Americanus” was a pen name used by Arthur Lee in contributing political pieces to the London papers.