To the Massachusetts Council
Braintree Sept. 13. 1779
May it please your Honours
While I resided at Paris, I had an opportunity of procuring from London, exact Information, concerning the British Whale Fishery on the Coast of Brazil, which I beg Leave to communicate to your Honours, that if any Advantage can be made of it, the Opportunity may not be lost.1
The English, the last Year and the Year before, carried on, this Fishery to very great Advantage, off of the River Plate, in South America in the Latitude Thirty five South and from thence to Forty, just on the Edge of Soundings, off and on, about the Longitude Sixty five, from London. They had Seventeen Vessells in this Fishery, which all Sailed from London, in the Months of September and October. All the Officers and Men, are Americans.
The Names of the Captains are Aaron Sheffield of Newport, Goldsmith and Richard Holmes from Long Island, John Chadwick, Francis May, Reuben May, John Meader, Jonathan Meader, Elisha Clark, Benjamin Clark, William Ray, Paul Pease, Bunker Fitch, Reuben Fitch, Zebbeda Coffin, and another Coffin, Delano, Andrew Swain, William Ray, all of Nantuckett, John Lock, Cape Cod. Four or five of these Vessells went to Greenland. The Fleet Sails to Greenland, yearly, the last of February, or the Beginning of March.
There was published, the Year before last, in the English Newspapers, and the Same Imposture was repeated last Year, and no doubt will be renewed this, a Letter from the Lords of the Admiralty to Mr. Dennis De Berdt in Colman Street, informing him, that a Convoy should be appointed to the Brazil Fleet. But this, I had certain Information, was a Forgery calculated merely to deceive American Privateers, and that no Convoy was appointed, or did go with that Fleet, either last Year, or the Year before.
For the Destruction or Captivity of a Fishery so entirely defenceless, for not one of the Vessells has any Arms, a single Frigate or Privateer of Twenty four, or even of Twenty Guns, would be sufficient. The Beginning of December, would be the best Time to proceed from hence, because the Frigate would then find, the Whaling Vessells nearly loaded. The Cargoes of these Vessells, consisting of Bone and Oyl, will be very valuable, and at least four hundred and fifty of the best kind of Seamen, would be taken out of the Hands of the English, and might be gained into the American service to act against the Ennemy. Most of the Officers and Men wish well to this Country, and would gladly be in its service, if they could be delivered, from that they are engaged in. Whenever an English Man of War, or Privateer, has taken an American Vessell, they have given to the Whalemen among the Crew, by order of Government, their Choice, either to go on Board a Man of War, and fight against their Country or go into the Whale Fishery; such Numbers have chosen the latter as have made up the Crews of these seventeen Vessells.
I thought it my Duty to communicate this Intelligence to your Honours, that if So profitable a Branch of Commerce, and so valuable a Nursery of Seamen, can be taken from the English it may be done. This state has a peculiar Right and Interest to undertake the Enterprise, as almost the whole Fleet, belongs to it.
I have the Honour to be, with the highest Consideration, your Honours most obedient & most humble servant
Read and sent down
John Avery D Secy.
Read—and the House being first enjoined secresy on the subject matter thereof—Orderd That the Honbl. General Warren, and Mr. [Caleb] Davis of Boston, with such as the Honble. Board shall join be a Committee to consider the same—and report what is proper to be done thereon.
Sent up for Concurrence
John Hancock Spkr.
Read and Concurred and Moses Gill Eqr. is joined.
John Avery D Secy.
RC (M-Ar: vol. 210, p. 216–218A); docketed: “Letter from Honbl. John Adams & Report thereon” and “Resolve on a Letter from Honbl John Adams Letter to transmit the same to the Honble Congress October 6th. 1779.” LbC (Adams Papers).
1. JA copied the following four paragraphs virtually verbatim, even retaining the blank spaces for Goldsmith and Delano in place of their first names, from his Letterbook copy of Benjamin Franklin’s and his letter to Sartine of 30 Oct. 1778 (above), which in turn follows the text of JA’s Diary entry of 8 Oct. (Diary and Autobiography description begins Diary and Autobiography of John Adams, ed. L. H. Butterfield and others, Cambridge, 1961; 4 vols. description ends , 2:319–320).
2. A note in JA’s hand at the bottom of the Letterbook copy reads: “on the 19 Oct. 1779 wrote the same to Congress, concerning this Fishery.” See PCC, No. 84, I, f. 97. JA’s letter, with “an extract from the proceedings of the general court,” arrived in the congress on 1 Nov. It was read but not referred to a committee for action (JCC description begins Worthington C. Ford and others, eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789, Washington, 1904–1937; 34 vols. description ends , 15:1231). Apart from changes made necessary by its being sent to the congress, the letter was little altered. JA omitted the statement that he procured his information from London on whaling off Brazil and that it was “exact.” In concluding, he mentioned his unsuccessful effort with his colleagues in Paris to persuade the French to take action. He also mentioned his appeal to the Massachusetts Council but noted, correctly as it turned out, that after the disastrous Penobscot Expedition, the state was unlikely to act.
3. A mistake for the 14th.