Abigail Adams to John Adams
December 27. 1783
My Dearest Friend
I did not receive your Letter of August the 14th. untill this very Evening; I was much gratified to find I had done what you directed, before your Letter reach’d me. That is, that I had bought a wood Lot. Concerning this purchase I have already written to you; but least that letter should not arrive, I will repeat, that the Lot I have purchased is a part of 27 acres which belonged to Samuel Ruggles,1 and in the division of that estate fell to William Adams in right of his wife. Out of regard to you, as he says whom he has carried about in his arms (and now I Suppose feels a merit in it) he came to offer it to me, and an other reason I told him I fancyed weigh’d full as much; which was that he wanted the money down. I inquired of my Neighbours and took the advise of your Brother, who purchased at the Same time a 7 acre Lot2 adjoining to his, and I bought the Lot containing 9 acres and gave him 20 dollors per acre; which at that time I thought a large price. But this week 5 acres of wood, upon Ruggles’es homestead was sold at vendue at a hundred and fifty dollors per acre, for the wood only; and purchased by persons able to pay for it. They estimate the wood 3 dollors per cord standing; you will from hence conclude, that money is very plenty, or wood very scarce. The latter only is true. The scarcity of vessels to transport wood from the eastward has been such, that during all the war; the Town of Boston was never so bare.
The land I purchased before, is part of the Grove below the Hill, and not an ax has been put to it since the purchase.3 I had it immediately fenced in with stone wall; I wish I could have commanded the whole, but some of the Children are not of age, and the Father in Law is levelling this Beautifull woods without mercy.
Mr. Vesey4 I hear is comeing to make me an offer of his Farm, but here I shall be wholy at a loss. He is determined to sell, and I dare not buy without hearing from you; taxes run so high upon land that he has discoverd that he is a looser, as he cannot himself improve it. If my dear Friend you will promise to come home, take the Farm into your own hands and improve it, let me turn dairy woman, and assist you in getting our living this way; instead of running away to foreign courts and leaving me half my Life to mourn in widowhood, then I will run you in debt for this Farm; I have a hundred pounds sterling which I could command upon such an occasion, but which upon all others is a deposit I do not chuse to touch. I will however let you know his terms, and if he should not sell untill spring, I may possibly by that time learn your pleasure.
I have had an offer of ten acres more of wood land, but having just purchased I dared not venture further, untill I received your approbation, and now the owner does not chuse to part with it, and I could not advise him to, as he will be under no necessity of doing it.
Mrs. Boreland since her return to America, has sold her House and Farm in this Town. Mr. Tyler has made the purchase at a thousand pounds Lawfull Money. The estate chiefly came by her. None of it was ever confiscated; it is considerd in Town as a good Bargain, there is about a hundred and eight acres in the whole 50 of which is fine wood land. The Garden contains the best collection of fruit in Town, and there is land enough contiguous to it, to be sold, to make a very pretty Farm, when ever he finds himself able to make an addition.5
I should deceive you if I did not tell you that I believe this Gentleman has but one object in view, and that he bends his whole attention to an advancement in his profession and to an oconomy in his affairs which enables him to pay for this purchase without being involved at all; he looks forward to some future day with a hope that he may not be considerd unworthy a connection in this family. The forms of courtship as the word stiles it, do not subsist between the young folks, but I am satisfied that both are fixed, provided your consent may one day be obtained. She intends however to take a voyage with me, provided I cross the water.
The opinion you express with regard to the chief seat of Goverment, is perfectly agreable to my sentiments.6 Ever since I have been capable of observation I have been fully satisfied that it is a most unthankfull office, subject to continual wranglings. And tho by a very general voice, you are and have been named as a successor, and your return earnestly wished for on that account, yet I have generally chosen to be silent upon the subject. There was even a proposal of putting you up last year, upon the Faith of your being here during the summer. It was mentiond to me, and I beged that no such thing might take place, as I was certain it would be very dissagreable to you, and instead of serving your interest, would greatly injure you.
The present Gentlemans Health is much upon the decline. He has been confined more than half of the last year and unable to do any buisness on account of the Goute.7
I most sincerely wish you would prosecute the plan discribed in your Letter.8 I feel myself so much better calculated for private and domestick Life, that it is with pain I think of any other. And I cannot yet help hoping You will return in the Spring of the year. Your ill Health distresses me and your complaints allarm me.
Congress have gone to Anapolis in Maryland. I shall constantly endeavour to inform myself of what passes there respecting my Friend, and to transmit it to you. In this state we appear to be in a much better temper than we were at the commencment of the year; things appear Setling into their old channel. Many of our Gay Gentry are returning to New York from whence they came. Commutation will go quietly down, the impost is passt in this state. Mr. Moris asscribes this, wholy to the extracts of your Letters which he sent to the Govenour, and through him to the assembly. They had a great influence tis true, and turnd the scale in favour of it.9 Mr. Morris mentiond the success you had obtaind in Holland respecting the loans with great approbation, as Mr. Thaxter informd me. He has been sick ever since his return confined to the house, so that I have only seen him for half an hour.
My uncle had furnished me with money to pay for my wood land before Mr. Thaxter arrived, upon my promiseing him a Bill. He wished to have it drawn upon London, but the Sum he wanted was 300 Dollors and I wanted two only. He is uncertain with respect to the Bill whither it will be upon Holland or England. If it is drawn upon Holland I had better apply to the Merchants you mention, because there is some expence attending the negotiation if it must be sent from thence to Paris. Bills upon London are in most demand, and would be more advantageous.
I will make the best use of your remittance in my power. You do not mention having sent me the articles I wrote for, the Irish linnen I should have been very glad of, and half a dozen pound of Hyson tea,10 we do not get any such as you used to send me.
I inclose to you a paper containing Govenour Trumbles farewell, which would do honour to an old Roman.11 A scheme for a Bank, which I am informd is already nearly fill’d, the utility I am no judge of.12
Dr. Coopers life is dispaird of, I shall mourn his loss. He has been by some very unkindly used and many gross falshoods reported of him, amongst the rest, that you had written a Letter last spring in which you had named 3 Gentlemen as pensioners to France, the Govenour, Dr. Cooper and Judge Sullivan. This I denied upon all occasions, and traced it to the Temple of Scandle.13 Trust not that Man. He means to visit you, and will bring you letters I suppose. I hope you know him.14 Adieu.
RC (Adams Papers); docketed: “Portia. 27. Decr. 1784”—an obvious inadvertance.
4. For several Veaseys (in various spellings) in Braintree, 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 , 4:index; Pattee, Old Braintree and Quincy description begins William S. Pattee, A History of Old Braintree and Quincy, with a Sketch of Randolph and Holbrook, Quincy, 1878. description ends ; and Braintree Town Records description begins Samuel A. Bates, ed., Records of the Town of Braintree, 1640 to 1793, Randolph, Mass., 1886. description ends .
5. Royall Tyler held this property until 1787 and made some improvements, intending, as AA asserts in this letter, to marry AA2 and settle there. Not long after the failure of his courtship of AA2 in late 1785, however, he decided to abandon Braintree, and the farm reverted to Leonard Vassall Borland, who sold it to JA in Sept. 1787. Occupied by Adamses from 1788 to 1927, it was given by the family to the United States in 1946, and is now the Adams National Historic Site. The Adamses have traditionally referred to it as the “Old House.” See G. Thomas Tanselle, Royall Tyler, Cambridge, 1967, p. 13, 18–19; JA, Diary and Autobiography description begins Diary and Autobiography of John Adams, ed. L. H. Butterfield and others, Cambridge, 1961; 4 vols. description ends , 1:74–75, note 1; 3:217, note 7.
7. John Hancock suffered from increasingly severe and prolonged attacks of gout from the early 1770s to his death in 1793 (Herbert S. Allan, John Hancock, Patriot in Purple, N.Y., 1948; William M. Fowler Jr., The Baron of Beacon Hill description begins William M. Fowler Jr., The Baron of Beacon Hill: A Biography of John Hancock, Boston, 1980. description ends , A Biography of John Hancock, Boston, 1980, p. 162–163).
8. In his letter of 14 Aug., above, JA wrote that he planned to sell his Boston house, collect his debts, and put his money into land, rejecting any high public office in favor of supervising the education of his children.
9. Robert Morris’ letter to Gov. Hancock, dated 20 Sept., enclosed extracts from two of JA’s letters to Morris, dated 10 and 11 July, in which he stressed the importance of the several states adopting a plan to pay the interest on the national debt. In his second letter JA wrote at length on the public honor requiring the payment of the debt: “The thirteen States, in relation to the discharge of the debts of Congress, must consider themselves as one body, animated by one soul. The stability of our confederation at home, our reputation abroad, our power of defence, the confidence and affection of the people of one State towards those of another, all depend upon it. . . .
“The commerce of the world is now open to us, and our exports and imports are of so large amount, and our connexions will be so large and extensive that the least Stain upon our character in this respect will lose us in a very short time advantages of greater pecuniary value, than all our debt amounts to” (Wharton, ed., Dipl. Corr. Amer. Rev. description begins Francis Wharton, ed., The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States, Washington, 1889; 6 vols. description ends , 6:531–532, 536–537).
This kind of persuasion was needed in the House, which on 8 Oct. voted down by 97 to 26 a motion to concur with the Senate in approving the 5 percent federal impost. The position of the House was that the impost should be used to pay the state’s proportion of the national debt, that its collection should be regulated by the state legislature, and that no part of its receipts should be used to provide half-pay for Continental Army officers.
The next day Gov. Hancock addressed a joint meeting of the legislature, in which he referred to JA’s extracted letters. Much of his address, which was printed in the Boston newspapers, dwelt upon the knowledge and accomplishments of JA, whose recommendations he urged the legislators to weigh carefully: “I need not remind you, Gentlemen, of the political knowledge of that minister; of the confidence he has acquired from the United States; of the part he bore in framing the constitution of this commonwealth, and the confederation of the states, the intent and spirit of which he well understood; nor need I mention the advantage afforded him by his important public employments in Europe for taking an extended view of the subject on which he writes, for examining it nicely, and feeling its whole force” (Continental Journal, 16 October).
Following Hancock’s address the House proposed a conference with the Senate to exchange views, and in the next ten days opposition to the impost as voted by the Senate steadily eroded. When it was revealed that only 37 members had instructions from their constituents to oppose half-pay, the House approved the Senate measure by 70 to 65. On 17 Oct., a motion to bar the use of the impost for half-pay failed by 74 to 64, but the final text of the act stipulated that sums raised could be applied only to discharge the interest or principal of debts incurred in fighting the war. The measure finally passed on 20 Oct., with 108 members present, 57 yeas (Records of the States, Microfilm, Mass. A.1b, Reel No. 11, Unit 1, p. 224–225, 231–233, 234, 236, 238, 252–254, 258–261, 267; Mass., Acts and Laws description begins Acts and Laws of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts [1780–1805], Boston, 1890–1898; 13 vols. description ends , 1782–1783, p. 541–543).
11. Enclosure not found. The only Boston newspaper that carried Gov. Jonathan Trumbull’s speech was the Continental Journal of 18 December. The speech was separately printed as An Address of His Excellency Governor Trumbull, to the General Assembly and the Freemen of the State of Connecticut: Declining Any Further Election to Public Office. With the Resolution of the Legislature, in Consequence thereof, New London, 1783, Evans description begins Charles Evans and others, comps., American Bibliography: A Chronological Dictionary of All Books, Pamphlets and Periodical Publications Printed in the United States of America [1639–1800], Chicago and Worcester, 1903–1959; 14 vols. description ends , No. 17885. In his address, Trumbull laid heavy emphasis on the need for a stronger central government, urged the faithful payment of public and private debts, and entered a plea for virtuous living and love among community members.
12. This fragmentary reference must be to the establishment of the Massachusetts Bank, the first in the state (later called the First National Bank of Boston, and from 1984, The Bank of Boston). On 10 Dec., six Bostonians, including AA’s uncle, Isaac Smith Sr., wrote to Thomas Willing, president of the Bank of North America in Philadelphia, the nation’s first bank, asking for information on how to start and run a bank. Willing’s reply of 6 Jan. 1784 encouraged the six to seek legal incorporation, and on 7 Feb. the General Court passed an act to establish the bank. The first stockholders met in March to organize the institution and elected James Bowdoin its first president. It is likely that AA first heard of this endeavor while visiting Isaac Smith on 13–14 December. Norman S. B. Gras, The Massachusetts First National Bank of Boston: 1784–1934, Cambridge, 1937; Ben Ames Williams Jr., Bank of Boston 200: A History of New England’s Leading Bank, 1784–1984, Boston, 1984.
13. No JA letter of any date accusing Gov. John Hancock, the Rev. Samuel Cooper, or the prominent attorney and former superior court judge James Sullivan of being in the pay of France has been identified, and it seems as unlikely to the editors as it did to AA that JA would ever have made such a charge.
Yet the Rev. Cooper, who died on 29 Dec., had in fact, in Jan. 1779, accepted the offer of an annual stipend of £200 sterling from Joseph de Valnais, the French consul in Boston, to promote the French alliance through his speeches and newspaper writings. This stipend was approved by Conrad Alexandre Gérard, the French minister to the United States, and then by the Comte de Vergennes, who continued it until Cooper’s death. Cooper later informed the French of the contents of letters written by Arthur Lee and JA to Cooper’s good friend, Samuel Adams (William C. Stinchcombe, The American Revolution and the French Alliance, Syracuse, 1969, p. 124). According to his biographer, Charles Akers, Rev. Cooper sincerely believed that the alliance and French leadership were in the best interests of the United States.
As AA suggests here, John Temple, the son-in-law of James Bowdoin, had become suspicious of Cooper’s strong pro-French sympathies, and either Temple or his friends began attacking Cooper in Boston’s newspapers in Jan. 1782 for being too political a clergyman. By the spring of that year, James Sullivan emerged as a defender of both Cooper and James Bowdoin’s political rival, Gov. Hancock, against Temple.
Once the question of whether the American Commissioners would observe Congress’ instructions that they follow the French lead in the peace negotiations with Great Britain became a public issue, the acceptance of a stipend from the French crown would have seemed to many Americans to be disloyalty to the interests of the United States. Because JA as Commissioner refused to observe these instructions, he and those holding like views would certainly have been dismayed to learn that Cooper was taking French money. Apparently without any such suspicion on JA’s part, but after warnings from William Gordon to JA in Sept. 1782, that Cooper had become “Franklified & Frenchified” (Stinchcombe, p. 124), the old warm relationship between JA and Dr. Cooper was cooling by 1783. Neither man, however, would acknowledge this alteration.
Dr. Cooper died without the knowledge of his pension being revealed to his countrymen. No evidence has been produced that either John Hancock or James Sullivan was ever a French pensioner. Cooper, however, so strongly supported Hancock that he was dubbed the governor’s “Prime Minister” in the early 1780s. And James Sullivan, one of Cooper’s stoutest defenders, wrote a laudatory obituary of the pastor for the Boston newspapers. See Charles W. Akers, The Divine Politician, Boston, 1982, p. 278–281, 290, and chaps. 21–22; Stinchcombe, p. 67, 113, and chap. 9.
14. This, AA’s first criticism of John Temple, contrasts sharply with the favorable view expressed in Richard Cranch to JA, 21 Nov. (Adams Papers). AA may have learned of Cranch’s opinion, which she had not countered in her letter of 20 Nov., above, and therefore felt a need to caution JA here. In any event, AA’s wariness of John Temple, despite his strong opposition to Gov. Hancock, whom she despised, and her continued high opinion of Dr. Cooper, who remained one of Hancock’s principal supporters, points to the complexity of Massachusetts politics, and to its interconnections with the foreign policy of the United States, in 1783.