John Quincy Adams to John Adams
O.S. St Petersburg August 21st 1781
We arrived here on Monday the 16/27 instant having left Amsterdam the N.S. 7th of July And rode the greatest part of the way day and night. The distance is about 2400 English Miles.2
The first place of any consequence we stopp’d at was Berlin the capital of the king of Prussia’s Dominions; this is a very pretty town, much more so than Paris, or London as Mr. Dana says; but it will be still more so if the present King’s plan is adopted by his successor, for wherever there is a row of low, small houses he sends the owners out of them, pulls them down and has large, elegant houses built in the same place and then sends the owners in again. But notwithstanding this, he is not beloved in Berlin, and every body says publicly what he pleases against the king; but as long as they do not go any farther than words, he don’t take any notice of it but says that as long as they give him all he asks, they may say what they will.
But they have a great reason to complain of him, for he certainly treats them like Slaves; Among other things, if a farmer has two or more sons the eldest3 inherits all the land and all the others (when of age) are soldiers for life at a gros and a half which is about two pence sterling per day, and they must with that find their own provisions; if a farmer has but one Son He inherits his land; whenever a Vacation happens in any regiment, he chuses one of his subjects to fill the place and this subject from that time becomes a soldier for life; every body that is tall enough is subject to this law. In peace time the Native troops are disbanded Nine months in a year, and in all that time their pay ceases and they must get their living as they can.
There is nothing very remarkable in Dantzic, Konigsberg, or Riga; in coming to this last we pass’d thro’ Courland, a province which does strictly speaking belong to Poland but Russia has much more influence there than Poland itself in that Province. All the Farmers are in the most abject slavery, they are bought and sold like so many beasts, and are sometimes even chang’d for dogs or horses. Their masters have even the right of life and death over them, and if they kill one of them they are only obliged to pay a trifling fine; they may buy themselves but their masters in general take care not to let them grow rich enough for that; if any body buys land there he must buy all the slaves that are upon it.
Narva is the last place which we stopp’d at before our arrival here, it is a small, insignificant town but will be always famous for the battle fought there.4 As to this place, I have not been here long enough to know much about it, but by what we have seen of it I think it to be still handsomer than Berlin. The streets are large and the houses very well built but it is not yet half finish’d and will require another century to be render’d compleat.
Just before we got to Berlin, by the carelessness of a postillion our carriage overset and broke so that Mr. Dana was obliged to buy another there but luckily no body was hurt by the fall.
Nothing else Extraordinary befel us on our journey.
I am your dutiful Son,
John Q. Adams
RC (Adams Papers); addressed: “A Son Excellence Monsieur Adams Ministre Plenipotentiare des Etats-Unis de L’Amerique à Amsterdam.”; endorsed: “J. Q. Adams 21. Aug. Ansd. 15. Decr. 1781.”LbC (Adams Papers); the first true letterbook entry in Lb/JQA/1 (Adams Papers, Microfilms, Reel No. 125); see descriptive note on AA2 to JQA, 24 May, above.
1. Adams Papers editorial style requires adhering to new style dates (eleven days later than old style) when either old style is known to have been used or double dates appear in the documents. This is one of the rare cases when JQA gives an old style date only.
2. For the circumstances leading to this journey, see above, JA to AA, 11 July, and note 3 there. For Dana’s and JQA’s itinerary across Europe see JQA, Diary, 7 July–27 Aug. 1781; Francis Dana, Journal from Amsterdam to St. Petersburg, July–Aug. 1781 (MHi:Dana Papers); Dana to JA, 28 Aug. / 8 Sept. 1781 (Adams Papers; JA, Works description begins The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States: with a Life of the Author, ed. Charles Francis Adams, Boston, 1850–1856; 10 vols. description ends , 7:461–463).
3. Two words supplied from LbC; RC torn by seal.
4. Charles XII of Sweden defeated a greatly superior force of Russians at Narva in 1700.