Abigail Adams to John Adams
Boston July 13 1776
I must begin with apoligising to you for not writing since the 17 of June. I have really had so many cares upon my Hands and Mind, with a bad inflamation in my Eyes that I have not been able to write. I now date from Boston where I yesterday arrived and was with all 4 of our Little ones innoculated for the small pox. My unkle and Aunt were so kind as to send me an invitation with my family. Mr. Cranch and wife and family, My Sister Betsy and her Little Neice,1 Cotton Tufts2 and Mr. Thaxter, a maid who has had the Distemper and my old Nurse compose our family. A Boy too I should have added. 17 in all.3 My unkles maid with his Little daughter and a Negro Man are here. We had our Bedding &c. to bring. A Cow we have driven down from B[raintre]e and some Hay I have had put into the Stable, wood &c. and we have really commenced housekeepers here. The House was furnished with almost every article (except Beds) which we have free use of, and think ourselves much obliged by the fine accommodations and kind offer of our Friends. All our necessary Stores we purchase jointly. Our Little ones stood the opperation Manfully. Dr. Bulfinch is our Physician. Such a Spirit of innoculation never before took place; the Town and every House in it, are as full as they can hold. I believe there are not less than 304 persons from Braintree. Mrs. Quincy, Mrs. Lincoln, Miss Betsy and Nancy are our near Neighbours.5 God Grant that we may all go comfortably thro the Distemper, the phisick part is bad enough I know. I knew your mind so perfectly upon the subject that I thought nothing, but our recovery would give you eaquel pleasure, and as to safety there was none. The Soldiers innoculated privately, so did many of the inhabitants and the paper curency spread it everywhere. I immediately determined to set myself about it, and get ready with my children. I wish it was so you could have been with us, but I submit.
I received some Letters from you last Saturday Night 26 of June.6 You mention a Letter of the 16 which I have never received, and I suppose must relate something to private affairs which I wrote about in May and sent by Harry.
As to News we have taken several fine prizes since I wrote you as you will see by the news papers. The present Report is of Lord Hows comeing with unlimited powers. However suppose it is so, I believe he little thinks of treating with us as independant States. How can any person yet dreem of a settlement, accommodations &c. They have neither the spirit nor feeling of Men, yet I see some who never were call’d Tories, gratified with the Idea of Lord Hows being upon his passage with such powers.
By yesterdays post I received two Letters dated 3 and 4 of July7 and tho your Letters never fail to give me pleasure, be the subject what it will, yet it was greatly heightned by the prospect of the future happiness and glory of our Country; nor am I a little Gratified when I reflect that a person so nearly connected with me has had the Honour of being a principal actor, in laying a foundation for its future Greatness. May the foundation of our new constitution, be justice, Truth and Righteousness. Like the wise Mans house may it be founded upon those Rocks and then neither storms or temptests will overthrow it.
I cannot but feel sorry that some of the most Manly Sentiments in the Declaration are Expunged from the printed coppy. Perhaps wise reasons induced it.8
Poor Canady I lament Canady but we ought to be in some measure sufferers for the past folly of our conduct. The fatal effects of the small pox there, has led almost every person to consent to Hospitals in every Town. In many Towns, already arround Boston the Selectmen have granted Liberty for innoculation. I hope the necessity is now fully seen.
I had many dissagreable Sensations at the Thoughts of comeing myself, but to see my children thro it I thought my duty, and all those feelings vanished as soon as I was innoculated and I trust a kind providence will carry me safely thro. Our Friends from Plymouth came into Town yesterday. We have enough upon our hands in the morning. The Little folks are very sick then and puke every morning but after that they are comfortable. I shall write you now very often. Pray inform me constantly of every important transaction. Every expression of tenderness is a cordial to my Heart. Unimportant as they are to the rest of the world, to me they are every Thing.
We have had during all the month of June a most severe Drougth which cut of all our promising hopes of english Grain and the first crop of Grass, but since july came in we have had a plenty of rain and now every thing looks well. There is one Misfortune in our family which I have never mentiond in hopes it would have been in my power to have remedied9 it, but all hopes of that kind are at an end. It is the loss of your Grey Horse. About 2 months ago, I had occasion to send Jonathan of an errant to my unkle Quincys (the other Horse being a plowing). Upon his return a little below the church she trod upon a rolling stone and lamed herself to that degree that it was with great difficulty that she could be got home. I immediately sent for Tirrel and every thing was done for her by Baths, ointments, polticeing, Bleeding &c. that could be done. Still she continued extreem lame tho not so bad as at first. I then got her carried to Domet but he pronounces her incurable, as a callous is grown upon her footlock joint. You can hardly tell, not even by your own feelings how much I lament her. She was not with foal, as you immagined, but I hope she is now as care has been taken in that Respect.
I suppose you have heard of a fleet which came up pretty near the Light and kept us all with our mouths open ready to catch them, but after staying near a week and makeing what observations they could set sail and went of to our great mortification who were [prepared?]10 for them in every respect. If our Ship of 32 Guns which [was] Built at Portsmouth and waiting only for Guns and an other of [. . .] at Plimouth in the same state, had been in readiness we should in all probability been Masters of them. Where the blame lies in that respect I know not, tis laid upon Congress, and Congress is also blamed for not appointing us a General.—But Rome was not Built in a day.
I hope the Multiplicity of cares and avocations which invellope you will not be too powerfull for you. I have many anxietyes upon that account. Nabby and Johnny send duty and desire Mamma to say that an inflamation in their Eyes which has been as much of a distemper as the small pox, has prevented their writing, but they hope soon to be able to acquaint Pappa of their happy recovery from the Distemper.—Mr. C[ranch] and wife, Sister B[etsy] and all our Friend[s] desire to be rememberd to you and foremost in that Number stands your
PS A little India herb would have been mighty agreable now.
RC (Adams Papers); addressed in John Thaxter’s hand: “To The Honble: John Adams Esqr. at Philadelphia To be left at the Post Office”; postmarked: “BOSTON 15 IY”; endorsed: “Portia and. [i.e. answered (by JA)] July. 23d.”
1. Presumably Louisa Catherine (1773?–1857), daughter of AA’s only brother, William Smith. Owing to her family’s indigence and her father’s early death, Louisa, who never married, lived for many years in the Adams household, served as amanuensis to JA in his old age, and was generously remembered by both AA and JA in their wills. She is, of course, frequently mentioned in the family correspondence. See Adams Genealogy.
2. Cotton Tufts Jr. (1757–1833), Harvard 1777; see Adams Genealogy.
3. AA’s listing and total are confusing at best. It is impossible to arrive at 17 as the total number of patients, whether or not the persons mentioned in the next sentence are included. (The “Little daughter” in the next sentence was Elizabeth [b. 1770], daughter of Isaac and Elizabeth [Storer] Smith; she later married John P. Hale. See Adams Genealogy.)
4. First digit uncertain; possibly AA meant “50.”
5. “Miss Betsy and Nancy” were Elizabeth (later Mrs. Benjamin Guild) and Ann (later Mrs. Asa Packard), daughters of Col. Josiah Quincy by his 2d and 3d wives respectively. Mrs. Lincoln was doubtless Hannah, also a daughter of Col. Quincy but by his first wife; before her marriage to Dr. Bela Lincoln (1734–1773) in 1760, she had attracted JA’s serious interest and is frequently mentioned in his early Diary; in 1777 she married Ebenezer Storer (1730–1807). “Mrs. Quincy” was probably the Colonel’s 3d wife, the former Ann Marsh. All of these persons, though not close relations of the Adamses, are entered in the Adams Genealogy because of the numerous ties between the Quincy and Adams families.
7. No letter written by JA on 4 July 1776 is known to the editors. The possibility that he wrote a letter of that date to AA, enclosing in it the copy he had made of Jefferson’s draft of the Declaration of Independence (see the following note), and commenting on the revisions made by Congress in the text of that paper—this possibility cannot be ruled out. But it seems to the editors an exceedingly doubtful one. If one supposes that such a letter was written and received, then one must at once explain why no entry for it can be found in JA’s letterbooks, which he was keeping with great fidelity at this time, and how the recipient’s copy of a letter of such moment could have disappeared without a trace from the family archives. This supposition, in short, raises more unanswerable questions than it resolves. Since AA mentions “two Letters” rather than three, she is almost certainly referring to the two separate letters JA wrote her during the morning and the evening of 3 July, both printed above; otherwise we must suppose that she failed to acknowledge one of those letters, which are extant.
8. This remarkable paragraph raises questions to which only conjectural answers can be given. JA sent a copy of the Dunlap broadside of the Declaration of Independence to Mary Palmer on 5 July, the day it was printed (see his letter of that date, above), and he may have sent AA a copy in one of the packets of printed matter that he frequently forwarded from Philadelphia without covering letters. His earliest (surviving) reference to a text sent to her is in his first letter of 7 July (above), enclosing a Pennsylvania Evening Post of the 6th, which contained the first printing of the Declaration in a newspaper. AA had not received JA’s letter of the 7th when she wrote the present letter. But printed copies of the Dunlap broadside had certainly reached Boston by 13 July from some source, and probably from several sources, for on that day Ezekiel Price visited his children, who were under inoculation in Boston, and wrote in his Diary: “The mail from New York brings the declaration of the Continental Congress for Independence” (MHS, Procs., 1st ser. description begins Massachusetts Historical Society, Collections and Proceedings. description ends , 7 [1863–1864]:260). The same mail probably brought JA’s letter to Mary Palmer of 5 July and Elbridge Gerry’s letter to James Warren of the same date, which enclosed two broadside copies of the Declaration, one for Warren and one for Joseph Hawley (Austin, Gerry description begins James T. Austin, The Life of Elbridge Gerry. With Contemporary Letters, Boston, 1828–1829; 2 vols. [Vol. 1:] To the Close of the American Revolution; [vol. 2:] From the Close of the American Revolution. description ends , 1:202–203).
But what of AA’s regret that “some of the most Manly Sentiments in the Declaration” as submitted by the drafting committee had been “Expunged” by Congress? How could she know, from the evidence in her hands, that any such thing had happened? Possibly JA had told her so in a letter now missing (see preceding note). Possibly letters (now lost) from other delegates in Philadelphia made observations to that effect, and the word spread rapidly in Boston. Neither of these explanations seems at all likely to the editors. The only other explanation is that AA received, most likely on the 13th, with JA’s first and second letters of the 3d, his autograph copy of Jefferson’s draft of the Declaration (see below) and made a quick but perceptive comparison of it with a text of Dunlap’s broadside, either a copy sent to her or one sent to a friend with whom she was in touch in Boston. (Note that farther on in the present letter she mentions the Warrens’ arrival in Boston from Plymouth on the 13th; and see Warren to JA, 17 July, in Warren-Adams Letters description begins Warren-Adams Letters: Being Chiefly a Correspondence among John Adams, Samuel Adams, and James Warren (Massachusetts Historical Society, Collections, vols. 72–73), Boston, 1917–1925; 2 vols. description ends , 1:261.) Since, so far as we know, JA had said nothing to AA about the actual authorship of the Declaration, and since the copy of the draft that he had evidently sent on is in his hand, AA would very naturally have inferred that he was the author, and would, characteristically, have resented alterations by Congress in her husband’s work. The Adamses’ minister in Boston, Rev. Samuel Cooper, made the same inference and a similar comment in a letter he wrote JA on 14 Aug. (Adams Papers): “That Masterly Performance cannot fail of it’s deserved Weight upon the Minds of the People. I could wish, however, that some great Strokes I saw in a Manuscript Draught had not been omitted.” Cooper’s letter makes clear beyond all question that JA had sent on his copy of Jefferson’s “original Rough draught” during the summer of 1776, that it circulated in Boston, and that, since JA said nothing to the contrary (indeed apparently said nothing whatever about his handwritten copy when he sent it on), his friends in Boston assumed at this time that he was the author of the Declaration.
This is not the place to discuss the importance of the JA copy as a guide to the changes in the text of the Declaration while it was still in committee. It has remained ever since 1776 among the Adams Papers, except for a brief interval in 1943 when it was loaned to the Library of Congress for the purpose of making the first facsimile reproduction of it, which was published as plate 4 in Julian P. Boyd, The Declaration of Independence: The Evolution of the Text, Washington, 1943; see same, p. 6, 22–28; Jefferson, Papers, ed. Boyd description begins The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, ed. Julian P. Boyd and others, Princeton, 1950–. description ends , 1:416; and John H. Hazelton, The Declaration of Independence: Its History, N.Y., 1906, p. 306 ff., 348–349.
9. MS: “remided.”
10. Here and below, MS is torn by seal.