Adams Papers

Abigail Adams to William Stephens Smith, 30 May 1787

Abigail Adams to William Stephens Smith

London, [30] May, 1787.1

My Dear Sir

I have written you only a few lines since your absence; and those conveyed to you rather an unpleasing account, but you will find my letter attended with so many others of a different complexion, that I hope it will not give you a moment’s uneasiness. Mrs. Smith is now very well, and sitting here at the table, making herself a mourning bonnet, for the Princess Carolina Wilhelmina, whom neither she or I care a farthing for.2 What a farce this court-mourning is; and indeed most other European mournings out of the numerous tribe who wear the garb, how few sorrowful hearts does it cover.

Mrs. Smith has given you the history of the bills, drawn by a certain house, which have been noted for non-payment, and the consequent flight of a gentleman and family to America. The amount of bills noted, Mr. Parker tells me, is a hundred thousand pounds; seventy-five thousand guilders for the payment of the June interest is a part. When this took place Mr. A. wrote to his friends, requesting their advice what step could be taken. In reply, they informed him that, in consequence of delaying only two days, the advertising the payment of the June interest, the obligations had fallen two per cent., and would continue to depreciate, unless a new loan was opened. That money there was scarce, and could not be obtained at less than eight per cent.; that they had called the brokers together, stated the matter to them, and that his presence was necessary immediately to save the honour and credit of the United States, as they must advance on their own account, until he could attend to sign the obligations. No time was to be lost, and at two day’s notice the journey commenced. Mr. Cutting has gone as companion and secretary. On the 25th they sat out; and I have not yet heard of their arrival.3 This is a sad stroke, but there is less commotion here in consequence of it than could have been expected. The general idea is that the house will stand it, but I fear the contrary; and what Congress will say to the step taken I know not; yet what else could be done? Mr. B. has drawn a bill for three hundred and fifty pounds since you left us, or rather I believe it has been accepted since you left us.4 Mr. A. must protest any farther drafts, should they come. Nothing certainly can be done for him with regard to his private affairs, how muchsoever we may feel for his situation. I shall forward your letter last night received, by this day’s post, as well as one received from Mr. Swanwich upon the same subject.5 So here we go up, and there we go down, as I sing to your boy every day, who grows so fat we can scarcely toss him.

As to news here, I know of nothing worth communicating, except a bill which has passed, making four free ports in the West Indies; Kingston in Jamaica, St. George in Grenada, Mosea6 in Dominica, and Nassau in New Providence. I have not seen the bill, so cannot say whether America is the most unfavoured nation in it. I dare say they will find a way of being benefited by it.

All is love and harmony here. The Royal Father and Son, are perfectly reconciled—the one to give, the other to receive. The household is again established, the jeweller in a hopeful way of receiving his thirty thousand debt, the confectioner his seven, and even the spur maker his hundreds.7 Mr. Hartley has just made me a morning visit. He has had a return of his disorder, though not so bad as before.8 He is going to write to you, therefore it is needless to say more about him, for if his pen is half as prolific as his tongue, he will not need an assistant.

We are to have a large party to dine with us to-day, invited previous to Mr. A.’s excursion; I have engaged Mr. Shippen as an assistant. Of the number is Sir George Stanton and Mr. Hollis.9 I cannot tell how much we miss you; in short if it was not for the boy, it would be dummy all.

We begin to dine abroad again, and I hope to prevail with Mrs. Smith to go into the country for a little excursion, when Sir returns; but she is rather averse to the idea, and says without she had some one to go and see, she cannot find a pleasure in it.

Remember me to Mr. Harrison when you meet. I have a most sincere esteem for him, and frequently drink his health in the good wine which he procured for us. If any vessel should be bound for Boston, request the favour of him to ship two such casks of wine for that port, as he imported here for us, addressed to Isaac Smith, merchant, Boston, and draw his bill here for the payment of it. The sooner he does it the more agreeable to us.

It is scarcely worth while to say a word about return, till at least you reach the place for which you sat out. So I waive that subject, only observing that the sooner it is, the more agreeable it will be to your affectionate friend,

A. A.

RC not found. Printed from AA2, Jour. and Corr. description begins Journal and Correspondence of Miss Adams, Daughter of John Adams,... Edited by Her Daughter [Caroline Amelia (Smith) de Windt], New York and London, 1841–[1849]; 3 vols. description ends , 1:121–125. Dft (Adams Papers), filmed at [May 1787?].

1The dating of this letter is based on AA’s statement that she had received WSS’s letter to JA of 19 May “last night.” In her letter to JA of 29 May, above, she indicated that WSS’s letter had come in on the 29th.

2Princess Carolina Wilhelmina (b. 1743), the sister of Dutch stadholder William V, died on 6 May. AA2’s preparation of a bonnet was part of the court’s prescribed mourning dress. Its requirements were widely reported in the press. See, for example, London Gazetteer and New Daily Advertiser, 28 May.

3As a result of the nonacceptance of Robert Morris’ bills of exchange, JA was obliged to go to Amsterdam to secure a new loan to pay the interest on an earlier Dutch loan (Dipl. Corr., 1783–1789 description begins The Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States of America, from... 1783, to... 1789, [ed. William A. Weaver], repr. edn., Washington, 1837 [actually 1855]; 3 vols. description ends , 2:751–753; AA2 to JQA, 10 June, below).

4That is, Thomas Barclay.

5In the Dft the second paragraph to this point reads as follows: “but to the Subject I meant to write you upon the intelligence I mean to communicate is no secreet therefore no cypher is needed. Soon after your absence the N. Y——k packet arrived & brought a letter from the Board of Treasury containing Bills to the amount of 75 thousand Guilders for the payment of the june Interest the morning after their arrival Sir—I will add, J. That it may look more respectfull, Sir J. went to mr R——r to offer them for acceptance, but found the family gone into the Country, & no Clerk. the next day he repeated his visit. When the clerk unfolded the mistery, the Bill were then noted for non payment, & mr R & family had embarked for A—— What was then to be done? Sir J——wrote to H——d the circumstances & requested to know whether a loan could be obtaind sufficient for the purpose, in replie they wrote it was indispensable, for in concequence of the advertizing the payment of the june interest being delayed only two days, the obligations had fallen 2 pr cent, but that the Brokers had refused to proceed in the Buisness untill Sir J. came upon the spot to sign the obligations. two days only were given to prepair for the journey and on fryday last Sir J Sat out accompanied by Secretary C——g What will be the concequence of a hundred thousand pounds worth of Bills going back for nonpayment to the House by which they were drawn. time will determine. Money is said to be very scarce in H——d & not to be had but at the monstrus premium of 8 pr cent. What C——ss will say I know not. yet nothing else could be done to save their affairs from total destruction. the Letter this Evening received from you shall forward by tomorrows post, but know not what can be done.”

6“Rosea” in the Dft copy. AA’s capital “R” can easily be misread for an “M.” Roseau is now the capital of Dominica.

7The Dft adds the following at this point: “Mrs F——t has been the Sacrifice. mr Fox declaring in the House of commons by authority as he said, that not the least foundation was ever given for the reports which had gone forth to the world, who well knew that it was impossible any such thing could legally take place, but not only so, but that it had never taken place in any way whatever—he should have gone still further & have said that the prince was as chast as Scipio—& that mrs F. was a vestal, that there was no distinction between virtue & vice but in our Ideas & that no moral obligation was binding upon a prince.”

The Prince of Wales had spent £54,000 on Maria Anne Fitzherbert and owed creditors £270,000 when in May he convinced friends to ask Parliament to pay his debts. An angry George III ordered a full accounting and a repayment schedule before increasing the prince’s £50,000 annual allowance by £10,000. Parliament voted an outlay of £160,000 to pay the creditors, and the prince agreed to close his London residence, sell his horses and carriages, and move to a more modest abode in Brighton (James Munson, Maria Fitzherbert: The Secret Wife of George IV, London, 2001, p. 172–173; Valerie Irvine, The King’s Wife: George IV and Mrs. Fitzherbert, N.Y., 2004, p. 51, 54).

8Former British envoy David Hartley (1731–1813) may have suffered a relapse of an unidentified illness that struck him in France in the spring and summer of 1784 just after he and the American commissioners exchanged the ratified Treaty of Paris (George Herbert Guttridge, David Hartley, M.P., An Advocate of Conciliation, 1774–1783, Berkeley, Calif., 1926, p. 319).

9Sir George Staunton (1737–1801), born in Galway, Ireland, was a physician, medical writer, and diplomat who served the British in a public capacity in a number of positions, especially in India and the West Indies. He married Jane Collins in July 1771 (DNB description begins Leslie Stephen and Sidney Lee, eds., The Dictionary of National Biography, New York and London, 1885–1901; repr. Oxford, 1959–1960; 21 vols. plus supplements. description ends ; AA to Mary Smith Cranch, 16 July, below).

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