Adams Papers

Code Used in Correspondence between John Adams, Francis Dana, and James Searle, 14 January 1781

Code Used in Correspondence between John Adams, Francis Dana, and James Searle

[ca. 14 January 1781] 1

Mr. Dana and J. Searle Cyphers2

AZ. Congress






D.D.J—Franklin Junr.








De Novo—De Castres

Grex—States General


Steady—Mr. Adams

Funn—J. Searle

Dortje—Regency of Ams.

<N> Knobb—Van Berkle

Swivel Eye J. D. Neufville

V—Arthur Lee

Brux—Mr. Izard



Fornicatio—Sr. Jos. Yorke



MS in James Searle’s hand (Adams Papers); endorsed in an unidentified hand: “Cyphers. Dana & JS”; filmed with Ciphers and Cipher Keys, Adams Papers, Microfilms, Reel No. 602.

1This date derives from Dana’s letter of 1 Jan. and JA’s endorsement on that letter (descriptive note, and note 4, above). The letter of 1 Jan. was the first in which Dana used the code. He stated that James Searle, who was then at Amsterdam, would supply JA with a key. JA indicated in his endorsement that he replied to Dana’s letter on 14 Jan. (not found), making it likely that he received it either on 14 Jan. or on the previous evening when he returned from a tour of the principal cities of the province of Holland (to the president of Congress, 14 Jan.; to C. W. F. Dumas, 14 Jan., both above). Since the manuscript is in Searle’s hand, and he arrived in Brussels on 15 Jan., on his way back to Paris (from William Lee, 17 Jan., below), it seems likely that Searle wrote out the key for JA on or about 14 Jan. before he left Amsterdam.

2Although attributed to Dana and Searle, the code probably originated with C. W. F. Dumas who used the code word for Congress as early as Oct. 1779 (Weber, Codes and Ciphers description begins Ralph E. Weber, United States Diplomatic Codes and Ciphers, 1775–1938, Chicago, 1979. description ends , p. 63–64).

3Possibly William Alexander Jr., an intimate of Franklin who lived in the village of Auteuil, next to Passy. Alexander’s daughter, Mariamne, was married to Jonathan Williams (vol. 8:170).

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