Abigail Adams to John Thaxter
Braintree August 19 1778
I really began to feel very uneasy at your long Silence and feared Sickness or some disaster had befallen you. I have been a journey, and absent about a fortnight as far as Haverhill,1 and upon my return I expected to have found Letters in Town, for so long a Space has not intervened since your absence, but to my no small dissapointment I could not hear any thing from you, but I will not complain since Last nights Express brought me so ample a compensation, for which accept my thanks and for the publick papers enclosed which beguile some of my lonely Hours. Six months have elapsed, in the whole of which time I have received only two short Letters from abroad. You may judge how painfull to me this long interval appears when I compare my present Situation with my former indulgence. Tho I could not expect such frequent intercourse yet I had flatterd myself with a much freer communication. I cannot help exclaming sometimes, O! that I had the wings of a Dove.2
I was in hopes that I should have had some very agreable intelligence to have communicated to you before this time from Rhode Island;3 the Spirit I assure you is greater here than you ever saw it. Gentleman of rank and fortune have joind that Army in the capacity of volunteers, the spirit caught from Town to Town surprizeingly. Portsmouth, Newburyport,4 Salem, Boston, all their chosen Sons, have marched with a spirit and vigor that does Honour to America. Hitchbourn, Welsh, Mason, Smith, Bradford, Codman are those you know of the independent company5 and all of them are gone to earn Lawrels I hope, and wear the victors Crown.6
“Honour rewards the Brave and bold alone
She spurns the Timirous, Indolent and base
Danger and Toil stand stern before her Throne
And guard, so Jove commands the sacred place
Who seeks her must the mighty cost sustain
And pay the price of Fame, Labour, care and pain.”
We are very anxious for the French Fleet, which saild after How, the day before the severest North East Storm ever known at this season of the year.7 Nothing has been heard of them since and to day is 9 days since they went out.
The commissioners of Britain make not only a small but an ignominious figure. I cannot help considering them in the Light of the Fallen Angles in Milton who meditating upon their own miserable State and lost Liberties are desirous of involving this New world, this paridice of Freedom in the same chains and thraldom with their own and thus consulting,
“Here perhaps some advantageous act may be achievd
By sudden onset, or with tempting Bribe
To waste this whole creation or possess all as our own
and drive, as we are driven the puny habitants
or if not drive, seduce them to our party,
that their God may prove their foe
And with repenting hand, abolish his own work.”8
They too like the Grand Deceiver must be making use of the same instruments to effect their diabolical plans by tempting a Modern Eve to taste the forbidden Fruit. But tis with pleasure I find in the General and Statesman a more rigid virtue and incorruptable Heart than our primitive parent discoverd, tho perhaps it may be happy for the Gentleman that his own Eve was not imployd, and she the only Female on Earth, or that unbounded knowledg was not the Bribe, instead of the paltry Gold.
You have heard before this time of the recovery of your worthy parent and mine from the small pox.9 They are both in Health.—I believe I did not mention to you that I have a new Nephew at Haverhill (betterd I hope by the Mothers side).10
You do not tell me how you do, nor how you like the city, the Metropilis as she calls herself of America.
Masters Charles and Tommy present their respects to you. Charly is learning to write and hopes soon to let you know it. Miss N[abb]y is at Boston. I have reminded her of a debt she owes you but she is backward in paying it. G[enera]l Hancock you see is gone to Rhode Island, so is another G[enera]l from this Town as volunteer.11 May they be calld to action and acquit themselves with Honour.
Continue to write by every opportunity. I love to know what is passing in the world tho excluded from it. I asked you several questions in my last, an answer to which is expected by your Friend
RC (MB); addressed: “To Mr. John Thaxter Philadelphia”; endorsed: “Mrs. Adams 19th. Augst. 1778.” Dft (Adams Papers); incomplete (see note 9); at head of text in CFA’s hand: “August 1778.” Some of the numerous variations between RC and Dft have been recorded in notes below.
1. Dft: “Haverhill and Newburyport.”
2. This sentence is not in Dft, which reads, instead: “I cannot help suspecting that many vessels must have been taken, or I should have heard oftner. Methinks with so respectable a Navy as France has she might keep a clearer coast. If England was not such a dastard she would have declared war, e’er this period. Our communication would be better should that be the case.”
3. The campaign then in progress against the British forces in Rhode Island was under the command of Maj. Gen. John Sullivan. On the point of probable success, it failed when a sudden and heavy storm disabled the Comte d’Estaing’s cooperating fleet. For detailed accounts see AA to Thaxter, 2–3 Sept., and Cotton Tufts to JA, 2 Nov., both below.
4. Dft inserts “Marblehead” at this point, which was perhaps unintentionally omitted in RC.
5. Benjamin Hichborn had been captured with JA’s indiscreet letters in Aug., 1775 but afterward escaped; 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 , 2:174–175; 3:318–319. Thomas Welsh, serving as a military surgeon, was a relative of AA’s by marriage; see Adams Genealogy. Jonathan Mason, a former law clerk of JA’s and a correspondent of AA’s, has been identified and often alluded to in earlier volumes of this series. John Codman (probably John Codman Jr., on whom see William Smith to AA, 1–3 Oct., below) was one of the members of the Independent Company when it was formed in 1776; see AA to JA, 1 Aug. 1776, vol. 2, above; Mass. Soldiers and Sailors description begins Massachusetts Soldiers and Sailors of the Revolutionary War, Boston, 1896–1908; 17 vols. description ends , 3:704. Neither Smith nor Bradford can be identified with certainty.
6. Dft varies markedly from RC at this point, but it may be necessary to note only that in Dft AA stated that she herself “saw the Boston independant company march. Many joind it who did not really belong to it. They made a Handsome appearence.” According to the newspapers the Company marched on Friday, 7 August. Presumably AA was in Boston at this time, either going to or returning from Haverhill.
7. Dft adds: “The wind blew a mere Hurricane for 24 hours.”
8. From Beelzebub’s speech in Paradise Lost, bk. II, lines 362–370, but, as usual in quoting, unquestionably from memory, AA partly paraphrases and pays little heed to the original line arrangement. In Dft her wording and line arrangement are still different.
9. From here to its end Dft reads:
“We have sufferd greatly by a very severe drought and intense Heat. The Indian corn was nearer perishing than ever I knew it before, many Feild[s] have been cut up, and what were left the most severe storm that was ever known here laid level with the Ground. I fear we shall be distressd for Bread, and cider will be scarcer than it has been since my remembrance. There were but very few apples before the storm having sufferd an early blast, and the few there were are distroyd by the storm. We think you deficient in your duty that you never tell us how you do, nor have you said lately whether your disorder has left you. Your Welfare is most earnestly wished by your Friend Portia.”
In a passage not quoted from Dft there is evidence that the entire draft was written a day earlier than the fair copy which was sent. It is possible that the date at head of RC was overwritten from “18” to “19.”
10. William Smith Shaw, son of AA’s sister Elizabeth (Smith) and Rev. John Shaw, was born in Haverhill on 12 Aug. 1778 (Vital Records of Haverhill, Massachusetts, Topsfield, Mass., 1910–1911, 1:271). He served as JA’s private secretary during the latter’s Presidency and became a founder and the first librarian of the Boston Athenaeum. See Adams Genealogy. AA’s aversion to her brother-in-law Shaw has been expressed earlier in this correspondence; see above, vols. 1:176 and 2:173, and see Thaxter’s answer, 11–12 Sept., below.
11. Possibly but not certainly Brig. Gen. Joseph Palmer.