John Adams to Abigail Adams
Falmouth July 9. 1774
I never enjoyed better Health in any of my Journeys, but this has been the most tedious, the most irksome, the most gloomy and melancholly I ever made.
I cannot with all my Phylosophy and christian Resignation keep up my Spirits. The dismal Prospect before me, my Family, and my Country, are too much, for my Fortitude.
Snatch me some God, Oh quickly bear me hence
To wholesome Solitude the Nurse of Sense
Where Contemplation prunes her ruffled Wings
And the free Soul looks down to pity Kings.
The Day before Yesterday, a Gentleman came and spoke to me, asked me to dine with him on Saturday. Said he was very sorry I had not better Lodgings in Town, desired if I came to Town again I would take a Bed at his House and make his House my Home. I should always be very welcome. I told him I had not the Pleasure of knowing him. He said his Name was Codman.1 I said I was very much obliged to him, but I was very well accommodated where I lodged. I had a clean Bed and a very neat House, a Chamber to myself, and every Thing I wanted.
Saturday I dined with him in Company with Brigadier Prebble,2 Major Freeman and his son, &c. and a very genteel Dinner we had. Salt Fish and all its apparatus, roast Chickens, Bacon, Pees, as fine a Salad as ever was made, and a rich meat Pie—Tarts and Custards &c., good Wine and as good Punch as ever you made. A large spacious, elegant House, Yard and Garden &c. I thought I had got into the Palace of a Nobleman. After Dinner when I was obliged to come away, he renewed his Invitation to me to make his House my Home, whenever I should come to Town again.
Fryday I dined with Coll., Sherriff, alias Bill Tyng.3 Mrs. Ross and her Daughter Mrs. Tyng dined with us and the Court and Clerk and some of the Bar.
At Table We were speaking about Captain Maccarty, which led to the Affrican Trade. J[udge] Trowbridge said that was a very humane and Christian Trade to be sure, that of making Slaves.—Ay, says I, It makes no great Odds, it is a Trade that almost all Mankind have been concerned in, all over the Globe, since Adam, more or less in one Way and another.—This occasioned a Laugh.
At another Time, J. Trowbridge said, it seems by Coll. Barres Speeches that Mr. Otis has acquired Honour, by releasing his Damages to Robbinson.4—Yes, says I, he has acquired Honour with all Generations.—Trowbridge. He did not make much Profit I think.—Adams. True, but the less Profit the more Honour. He was a Man of Honour and Generosity. And those who think he was mistaken will pity him.
Thus you see how foolish I am. I cannot avoid exposing myself, before these high Folk—my Feelings will at Times overcome my Modesty and Reserve—my Prudence, Policy and Discretion.
I have a Zeal at my Heart, for my Country and her Friends, which I cannot smother or conceal: it will burn out at Times and in Companies where it ought to be latent in my Breast. This Zeal will prove fatal to the Fortune and Felicity of my Family, if it is not regulated by a cooler Judgment than mine has hitherto been. Coll. Otis’s Phrase is “The Zeal-Pot boils over.”
I am to wait upon Brother Bradbury to Meeting to day, and to dine with Brother Wyer. When I shall get home I know not. But, if possible, it shall be before next Saturday night.5
I long for that Time to come, when My Dear Wife and my Charming little Prattlers will embrace me.
RC (Adams Papers); addressed: “To Mrs. Abigail Adams Braintree To be left at Mr. Adams’s Office Queen Street Boston”; endorsed: “No 8.”
1. Deacon Richard Codman, a merchant who in 1762 had built “one of the best houses in town on the corner of Middle and Temple streets” (William Willis, History of Portland, from 1632 to 1864, Portland, 1865, p. 795).
2. Brig. Gen. Jedediah Preble, who had served in Canada under Wolfe and was frequently a representative to the General Court; one of his daughters married a son of Richard Codman, and his son Edward became famous in American naval annals (same, p. 835–836).
3. William Tyng (1737–1807), sheriff of Cumberland co., had just been commissioned colonel by Gage; a loyalist, he later fled to New York City and afterwards to New Brunswick in Canada (MHS, Colls. description begins Massachusetts Historical Society, Collections and Proceedings. description ends , 1st ser., 10 :183–186).
4. On the Otis-Robinson quarrel and suit, in which JA had acted for Otis, 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 , 1:342; 2:47–48.
5. Presumably on one of the remaining days that he spent at Falmouth Court (for if it had happened earlier he would surely have mentioned it in a letter), JA took his painful leave of his colleague and oldest friend, Attorney General Jonathan Sewall, on Munjoy’s Hill overlooking Casco Bay. In 1819 JA gave the following account of this incident:
“We continued our friendship and confidential intercourse, though professedly in boxes of politics, as opposite as East and West, until the year 1774, when we both attended the Superior Court in Falmouth, Casco-bay, now Portland. I had then been chosen a delegate to Congress. Mr. Sewall invited me to take a walk with him, very early in the morning, on the great hill. In the course of our rambles he very soon begun to remonstrate against my going to Congress. He said ’that Great Britain was determined on her system; her power was irresistible and would certainly be destructive to me, and to all those who should persevere in opposition to her designs.’ I answered, ’that I knew Great Britain was determined on her system, and that very determination, determined me on mine; that he knew I had been constant and uniform in opposition to all her measures; that the die was now cast; I had passed the Rubicon; swim or sink, live or die, survive or perish with my country, was my unalterable determination.’ The conversation was protracted into length, but this was the substance of the whole. It terminated in my saying to him, ’I see we must part, and with a bleeding heart I say, I fear forever; but you may depend upon it, this adieu is the sharpest thorn on which I ever sat my foot.’ I never conversed with him again ’till the year 1788. Mr. Sewall retired in 1775 to England, where he remained and resided in Bristol....
“In 1788, Mr. Sewall came to London to embark for Halifax. I enquired for his lodgings and instantly drove to them, laying aside all etiquette, to make him a visit. I ordered my servant to announce John Adams, was instantly admitted, and both of us forgetting that we had ever been enemies, embraced each other as cordially as ever. I had two hours conversation with him in a most delightful freedom upon a multitude of subjects. He told me he had lived for the sake of his two children; he had spared no pains nor expense in their education, and he was going to Halifax in hope of making some provision for them. They are now two of the most respectable gentlemen in Canada. One of them a Chief Justice; the other an Attorney General. Their father lived but a short time after his return to America; evidently broken down by his anxieties and probably dying of a broken heart. He always lamented the conduct of Great Britain towards America. No man more constantly congratulated me, while we lived together in America, upon any news, true or false, favorable to a repeal of the obnoxious Statutes and a redress of our grievances; but the society in which he lived had convinced him that all resistance was not only useless but ruinous.”
(Preface to Novanglus and Massachusettensis..., Boston, 1819, p. vi–vii. As late as 1819 JA still wrongly believed Sewall was the author of “Massachusettensis.”)
JA was mistaken in dating this meeting with Sewall in London in 1788, for Sewall (who now spelled his name “Sewell”) on 21 Sept. 1787 addressed a long autobiographical letter to Judge Joseph Lee in Cambridge from St. John’s, New Brunswick, which described the meeting and furnished a memorable characterization of JA:
“While I was in London, my quondam friend, Jno. Adams, sent me a complimentary card, and afterwards made me a long friendly visit, as Mrs. Adams soon after did to Mrs. Sewell; and they then earnestly pressed us to take a family-dinner with them; in a way so evidently friendly and hearty, that I was sorry I could not comply; but having resolved to make no Visits nor accept of any Invitations; and having upon this ground previously declined invitations to dine with Sr. Wm. Pepperrell, your friend Mr. Clark, and several other friends, I was obliged, to avoid giving offence, to decline this. When Mr. Adams came in, he took my hand in both his, and with a hearty squeeze, accosted me in these words—how do you do my dear old friend! Our Conversation was just such as might be expected at the Meeting of two old sincere friends after a long separation. Adams has a heart formed for friendship, and susceptible of it’s finest feelings; he is humane, generous and open—warm in his friendly Attachments tho’ perhaps rather implacable to those whom he thinks his enemies—and tho’ during the american Contest, an unbounded Ambition and an enthusiastic Zeal for the imagined, or real, glory and welfare of his Country, (the ofspring perhaps, in part, tho imperceptible to himself, of disappointed Ambition,) may have suspended the operation of those social and friendly principles, which, I am positive, are in him, innate and congenial; yet, sure I am, they could not be eradicated;—they might sleep inactive, like the body in the grave, during the Storm raised by more violent and impetuous passions, in his political career for the Goal to which, Zeal and Ambition, united, kept his Eye immoveably fixed; but a resuscitation must have been the immediate Consequence of the peace; gratify’d in the two darling wishes of his Soul,—the Independence of America acknowledged and established, and he himself placed on the very pinnacle of the temple of Honor!—why, the very Devil himself must have felt loving and good-natured after so compleat a victory—much more a Man in whose heart lay dormant every good and virtuous, social and friendly principle. Nature must, and I have no doubt did break forth and assert her rights—of this I am so well convinced, that, if he could but play backgammon, I declare I would chuse him, in preference to all the Men in the world, for my fidus Achates, in my projected asylum: and I believe he would soon find it the happiest State; for if I am not mistaken, now he has reached the summit of his Ambition, he finds himself quite out of his element; and looks back with regret to those happy days, when in a snug house with a pretty farm about him at Braintree, he sat quiet in the full possession of domestic happiness with an amiable sensible wife and an annual increase of olive plants round his table, for whose present and future support he was, by his own honest Industry, for he was an honest lawyer as ever broke Bread, rapidly making ample provision: he is not qualifyed by nature or education to shine in Courts—his abilities are, undoubtedly, quite equal to the mechanical parts of his business as Ambassador; but this is not enough—he cant dance, drink, game, flatter, promise, dress, swear with the gentlemen, and talk small talk and flirt with the Ladys—in short he has none of the essential Arts or ornaments which constitute a Courtier—there are thousands who with a tenth part of his Understanding, and without a spark of his honesty, would distance him infinitely in any Court in Europe. I will only add that I found many Americans in London whose Sentiments and conduct towards him were by no means so liberal as I could have wish’d.”
(MHi: Lee Family Papers); a surviving fragment of a much longer letter. Tr of the full text is in Adams Papers, probably furnished to JQA by Benjamin Waterhouse, whose wife was a grandniece of Joseph Lee the addressee; see Waterhouse to JQA, 9 May 1827, Adams Papers.