Adams Papers

From John Adams to Elbridge Gerry, 18 June 1775

To Elbridge Gerry

Philadelphia, 18 June, 1775

Dear Sir

I have at last obtained liberty, by a vote of Congress, to acquaint my friends with a few of the things that have been done.1

The Congress have voted, or rather a committee of the whole house have unanimously agreed, that the sum of two million dollars be issued in bills of credit, for the redemption of which, in a certain number of years, twelve colonies have unanimously pledged themselves.2

The Congress has likewise resolved that fifteen thousand men shall be supported at the expense of the continent; ten thousand at Massachusetts, and five thousand at New York; and that ten companies of riflemen be sent immediately; six from Pennsylvania, two from Maryland, and two from Virginia, consisting of sixty-eight privates in each company, to join our army at Boston. These are said to be all exquisite marksmen, and by means of the excellence of their firelocks, as well as their skill in the use of them, to send sure destruction to great distances.

General Washington is chosen commander-in-chief, General Ward the first major-general, and General Lee the second, (the last has not yet accepted,) and Major Gates adjutant-general.3 Lee and Gates are experienced officers. We have proceeded no further as yet.

I have never, in all my lifetime, suffered more anxiety than in the conduct of this business. The choice of officers, and their pay, have given me great distress. Lee and Gates are officers of such great experience and confessed abilities, that I thought their advice, in a council of officers, might be of great advantage to us; but the natural prejudices, and virtuous attachment of our countrymen to their own officers, made me apprehensive of difficulties. But considering the earnest desire of General Washington to have the assistance of these officers, the extreme attachment of many of our best friends in the southern colonies to them, the reputation they would give to our arms in Europe, and especially with the ministerial generals and army in Boston, as well as the real American merit of them both, I could not withhold my vote from either.

The pay which has been voted to all the officers, which the Continental Congress intends to choose, is so large, that I fear our people will think it extravagant, and be uneasy. Mr. Adams, Mr. Paine, and myself, used our utmost endeavors to reduce it, but in vain.

Those ideas of equality, which are so agreeable to us natives of New England, are very disagreeable to many gentlemen in the other colonies. They had a great opinion of the high importance of a continental general, and were determined to place him in an elevated point of light. They think the Massachusetts establishment too high for the privates, and too low for the officers, and they would have their own way.4

I hope the utmost politeness and respect will be shown to these officers on their arrival. The whole army, I think, should be drawn up upon the occasion, and all the pride, pomp, and circumstance of glorious war displayed;—no powder burned, however.

There is something charming to me in the conduct of Washington. A gentleman of one of the first fortunes upon the continent, leaving his delicious retirement, his family and friends, sacrificing his ease, and hazarding all in the cause of his country! His views are noble and disinterested. He declared, when he accepted the mighty trust, that he would lay before us an exact account of his expenses, and not accept a shilling for pay. The express waits.

Reprinted from (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 , 9:357–359.)RC offered for sale by Parke-Bernet Gall., N.Y., Gribbel sale, pt. 1, 30 Oct.– 1 Nov. 1940.

1The JCC description begins Worthington C. Ford and others, eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789, Washington, 1904–1937; 34 vols. description ends contains no reference to this vote, but it probably came on 17 June, for various letters written by members of the congress contain essentially the same information (Eliphalet Dyer to Joseph Trumbull, 17 June; James Duaneto the New York Provincial Congress, 17 June; and John Hancock to Joseph Warren, 18 June, Burnett, ed., Letters of Members description begins Edmund C. Burnett, ed., Letters of Members of the Continental Congress, Washington, 1921–1936; 8 vols. description ends , 1:127–130, 134–135).

2The formal vote of the congress was not taken until 22 June, but the committee of the whole reached agreement on 15 June (JCC description begins Worthington C. Ford and others, eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789, Washington, 1904–1937; 34 vols. description ends , 2:103, 91). JA writes of only twelve colonies agreeing, because Georgia was not officially represented in the Congress until 20 July. On 13 May the congress had admitted a representative from St. John’s Parish in Georgia, but he could not speak for the whole colony (same, p. 192–193, 45).

3Washington was appointed commander in chief of the Continental Army on 15 June after considerable maneuvering by various delegates and factions at the congress (same, p. 91; JA, Diary and Autobiography description begins Diary and Autobiography of John Adams, ed. L. H. Butterfield and others, Cambridge, 1961; 4 vols. description ends , 3:321–323). Although present in Philadelphia, Lee did not immediately accept his commission because he wanted to be assured of indemnification if he lost his Irish estate for supporting the American cause. On 19 June a committee of three, of which JA was a member, met with Lee to learn his decision, but he asked that a committee from the congress composed of one member from each of the colonies meet with him to hear his request for indemnification. After a meeting with the new committee, its recommendation to accept his condition was promptly supported by the congress. Only then did Lee accept his commission (JCC description begins Worthington C. Ford and others, eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789, Washington, 1904–1937; 34 vols. description ends , 2:98–99; Alden, General Charles Lee description begins John Richard Alden, General Charles Lee: Traitor or Patriot?, Baton Rouge, La., 1951. description ends , p. 73–77).

4The congress set the pay of major generals and brigadiers at $166 and $125 per month respectively, with lesser amounts for the paymaster and commissary generals (JCC description begins Worthington C. Ford and others, eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789, Washington, 1904–1937; 34 vols. description ends , 2:93–94). On 29 April the Provincial Congress set the pay for colonels, lieutenant colonels, and majors at £12, £9 12s, and £8 respectively; these sums were a reduction by one-fifth from the original scale, the change being justified by the reduced size of regiments that had been decided upon (Mass. Provincial Congress, Jours. description begins William Lincoln, ed., The Journals of Each Provincial Congress of Massachusetts in 1774 and 1775, and of the Committee of Safety, Boston, 1838. description ends , p. 167–168). In dollars at 6s equal to one Spanish dollar, the salaries become $40, $32, and $26 2/3. The Provincial Congress left the payment of minutemen up to the several towns, but recognized that a general muster would require payment from the province (same, p. 71). Braintree established pay for its minutemen at 1s 4d for a day of exercising with their arms from two to six o’clock each week; ordinary militiamen were to receive 1s per half-day if they exercised no more than once a week from three to six o’clock (Braintree Town Records description begins Samuel A. Bates, ed., Records of the Town of Braintree, 1640 to 1793, Randolph, Mass., 1886. description ends , p. 461, 454). No record for monthly pay for privates on general muster has been found. These rates were set at a time when the average daily wage for farm laborers was 2s per day (Jackson T. Main, The Social Structure of Revolutionary America, Princeton, 1965, p. 70). Connecticut, which offers fuller records on pay scales, paid privates during the French and Indian War 36s per month of 28 days; in 1776, it was paying 40s per calendar month (Conn. Colonial Records description begins J. Hammond Trumbull and Charles J. Hoadly, eds., The Public Records of the Colony of Connecticut, Hartford, 1850–1890; 15 vols. description ends , 11:94, 15: 297). Roughly, then, we may say that New England privates were getting between $6 and $7 per month. This estimate is confirmed by James Warren in his letter to JA, 20 Oct. (below).

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