John Adams to Abigail Adams
Bilbao January 16. 1780
My dearest Friend
We arrived here, last night, all alive, but all very near sick with violent Colds taken on the Road for Want of comfortable Accommodations.
I was advised, on all Hands to come by Land rather than wait an uncertain Time for a passage by sea. But if I had known the Difficulties of travelling, in that part of Spain which I have passed through I think I should not have ventured upon the Journey.
It is vain to attempt a Description of our Passage. Through the Province of Gallicia, and again when We came to that of Biscay, We had an uninterupted succession of Mountains; thro that of Leon and the old Castile, constant Plains. A Country, tolerably good, by Nature, but not well cultivated.
Through the whole of the Journey the Taverns were inconvenient to Us, because there are no Chimneys in their Houses and We had cold Weather. A great Part of the Way, the Wretchedness of our Accommodation exceeds all Description.1
I wish I could send you, some few Things for the Use of the Family from hence, but the Risque is such that I believe, I had better wait untill We get to France.4
I have undergone the greatest Anxiety for the Children, thro a tedious Journey and Voyage. I hope their Travels will be of Service to them, but those at home are best off. My Love to them.
RC (Adams Papers).
1. The Adams party had left La Coruña on 26 Dec., with JA still undecided whether he would proceed to Bilbao by the longer but more traveled route via Madrid or by the shorter route more or less directly eastward through the rugged terrain of northern Spain. At the junction of roads in the town of Astorga on 4 Jan., he made up his mind, continuing east to Burgos and then north to Bilbao instead of turning southeast to Madrid. For his reasons, see his letter to the President of Congress, written this day and copied into his Autobiography (Diary and Autobiography description begins Diary and Autobiography of John Adams, ed. L. H. Butterfield and others, Cambridge, 1961; 4 vols. description ends , 4:231). As for the adventures and rigors of the journey itself, JA’s diary entries furnish much vivid detail, and in his Autobiography description begins Diary and Autobiography of John Adams, ed. L. H. Butterfield and others, Cambridge, 1961; 4 vols. description ends he elaborated and commented upon them from memory—the whole forming a superb travel narrative (same, 2:415–433; 4:213–238).
2. The French consul stationed at La Coruña, who had welcomed JA at El Ferrol (same description begins Diary and Autobiography of John Adams, ed. L. H. Butterfield and others, Cambridge, 1961; 4 vols. description ends , 2:405; 4:194). JA this day wrote Detournelle a letter of warm thanks for his many kindnesses (LbC, Adams Papers).
3. Michel Lagoanere of La Coruña had, by contract, made the travel arrangements for the Adams party’s expedition across Spain. See JA to Lagoanere, 16, 18 Dec. 1779 (LbC’s, Adams Papers); Lagoanere to JA, 17, 26 Dec. 1779 (Adams Papers); also JA, Diary and Autobiography description begins Diary and Autobiography of John Adams, ed. L. H. Butterfield and others, Cambridge, 1961; 4 vols. description ends , 2:415; 4:213–214.
4. JA did, however, send AA substantially more than “some few Things” from Bilbao. They were furnished by the firm of Joseph Gardoqui & Sons, a mercantile house that had American connections, and they included tumblers, cups, knives, forks, green tea, bolts of linen cloth, and eighteen dozen “Barcelona Handkffs.,” at a total cost of 4,000 rials. They were shipped by Capt. James Babson in the Phoenix, who sailed from Bilbao on 5 February. See Gardoqui & Sons to JA, 19 Feb., with invoice enclosed (Adams Papers); the invoice is reproduced as an illustration in the present volume. Babson arrived at Beverly, Mass., in forty-five days (Boston Gazette, 20 March, suppl., p. 2, col. 1; see also AA to JQA, 20 March–8 May, below).