Winslow Warren to Abigail Adams
Boston May 26th 80
I had the honor of receiving your Letter the last Week handed Me by Mr. Cranch; accompanied with your Letters for Mr. Adams1 Which I shall take particular pleasure in Conveying safe.—I shant here Attempt to Discribe my Gratitude to you for your Good Wishes and friendly advice to Me, In which I should fall so far short of what I would wish to express that it would neither give me the satisfaction in Conveying nor perhaps sufficiently convince you of the Obligation I feel myself under for this mark of your Condescention and friendship. To you it may suffice to say I think such a Letter from a Lady, and a Lady so Very Capable of dictating to a Youth as Mrs. Adams would stimulate the Most Depraved to the path of Virtue and Honor.
I have ever Endeavoured as far as the Caprices and Instabilitys of Youth and My Situation would Allow me, to avoid every friendship and Connection from which I might Hazzard the least personal reproach and dishonor. You May immagine I have met with mistaken friendships and formed too Contemptable Connections.
If I had, I Could Not entertain suspicions so dishonorable to Understandings as to suppose Any would Attribute them to more than Misfortune and Mistake. To whatever cause Mrs. Adams would Ascribe them I am sure her Generosity and Candour would Overlook Every Inadvertance of that kind which may have happened, at least till she perceives that Maturer Years and a better knowledge of the World does Not Guide with More Judgement thro: the snares and Machinations you Mention. I do Now and perhaps may have better reason to Consider my Voyage as a fortunate Opportunity to shake of Intimacys Many of which I hold in ineffable Contempt.—After informing you of my disappointment that I had Not the Honour of Again Waiting on You, and after wishing You every felicity subscribe with every sentament of respect and Esteem yr. Most Obedt: and very humb: Servt:
RC (Adams Papers).
1. When Warren, 21-year-old son of James and Mercy (Otis) Warren, was about to embark in the brigantine Pallas, scheduled to sail from Boston on 20 May, his mother wrote AA offering her the opportunity of sending letters by him to JA (Mercy Warren to AA, 8 May 1781 , Adams Papers). AA embraced the chance, but the letters were doubtless lost when Warren was captured; see the following note.
2. Winslow Warren, in leaving for the Netherlands and France designed to seek his fortune by setting up a commission business dealing in goods to and from America. (See a brief sketch of Warren, vol. 2:151, above.) The Warrens were at least as protective of their children as other parents; Winslow’s youthful friendships and proclivities had evidently already caused them concern; and his mother had solicited AA’s advice to a son about to face temptations of a kind assumed to be far more numerous and seductive in Europe than in America; see AA to Winslow Warren, 19 May, above.
The departure of the Pallas was delayed until late in June, and not long after it finally sailed, from Newburyport, it was captured by the British man-of-war Portland and carried into St. John’s, Newfoundland, where Warren at least briefly joined other Americans aboard the prison ship Proteus (James Warren to JA, 11 July, 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 , 2:134; Winslow Warren and others to Adm. Richard Edwards, 20 July, MHi:Misc. Bound), then remaining at St. John’s until September when he continued to England. (For the events of this interval, see below, AA to JA, 23 Aug., note 1.) For a time after arriving in London, Warren suffered no restraints and enjoyed the pleasures of London life with two other young Americans who had recently arrived there via Nantes, Paris, and Ostend. They were the fledgling artist John Trumbull, of Connecticut, and John Steele Tyler, a Bostonian whose errand was not to be known until 150 years later; see above, Richard Cranch to JA, 26 April, and note 1 there. In passing, Trumbull characterized Warren as “a somewhat amphibious character, and withal young, handsome and giddy,” but they must all have seemed so to the British authorities, who, following the news of Major John André’s execution for his part in Arnold’s treason, moved with vigor to restrain the Americans’ movements. Trumbull was arrested, Tyler escaped arrest only by fleeing to the Continent, and Warren was allowed early in 1781 to leave the country only after submitting to repeated examinations of himself and his papers. According to his own account, written to his mother from Amsterdam in April 1781, one of the grounds for the leniency shown him was the fact that Secretary of State Lord Hillsborough was impressed by reading Mercy Warren’s letters sent to her son in London: “His Lordship Condescended to Give me a great deal of advice saying he was prepossessed in my favour from my appearance. He and others to whom my papers were exposed, lavished many praises on my Mothers Letters—said ’they would do honour to the Greatest Writer that ever wrote,’ and added, ’Mr. Warren I hope you will profit by her instructions and advice.’ I had the honour of three private Conferences with him.”
Warren remained in Europe for more than three years without settling down to anything anywhere. He looked up JA in Amsterdam in March and April 1781 and in Paris in July (AA to JA, 28 May 1781, in vol. 4 below; Winslow Warren to Mercy Warren, 28 April, 25 July 1781, MHi:Mercy Warren Papers), but JA’s mentions of him are laconic and unenthusiastic. The fullest reference he made to Warren is in a letter he wrote Mercy Warren, 29 Jan. 1783:
“I have never had an Opportunity, Madam, to see your Son since he has been in Europe, but once or twice at Amsterdam, and that before I had an House there. He has been travelling from Place to Place, and altho’ I have often enquired after him, I have seldom been able to hear of him. I have heard nothing to his disadvantage, except a Shyness and Secrecy, which, as it is uncommon in young Gentlemen of his Age and Education is the more remarked, and a general Reputation which he brought with him from Boston of loving Play. But I have not been able to learn, that he has indulged it improperly in Europe. But my Advice to him and every young American is and uniformly will be, to stay in Europe but a little while” (LbC in John Thaxter’s hand, Adams Papers).
The whole of the foregoing paragraph has been scratched out beyond legibility in RC (MHi:Warren-Adams Coll.); it strains belief to suppose that this could have been done by the sender.
The chief source of information about Winslow Warren is in his travel journals and correspondence with his parents in MHi:Mercy Warren Papers and Winslow Warren Travel Journals and Letters; the materials there concerning his first sojourn in Europe have been drawn on in Charles Warren, “A Young American’s Adventures in England and France during the Revolutionary War” (MHS, Procs. description begins Massachusetts Historical Society, Collections and Proceedings. description ends , 65 [1932–1936]:234–267). Though useful in bringing together scattered materials, Charles Warren’s account must be used with caution as to details, particularly on matters of date. The 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 of course contain numerous references to Winslow; see index. For John Trumbull’s characterization of Winslow and his part in helping John Steele Tyler to escape arrest in London, see Trumbull’s Autobiography, ed. Theodore Sizer, New Haven, 1953, p. 64.