Adams Papers

To John Adams from William Peterkin, 26 June 1785

From William Peterkin

Macduff (formerly Down) by Banff N. Britain
26th June 1785

Sir

I presume, in all humility, to request the protection of the Embassador of the United States of North America. I have been, for above sixteen years, a Clergyman of the Communion of the Church of Scotland. Having had repeated invitations to settle in N. America, I signified my intention of complying with them, to Lord Fife my present Patron. His Lordship has thought proper to hasten my emigration, by locking up my Church-doors, tho’ I have not demitted my charge.1 There have been no instances of such a mode of persecution in N. Britain since the Revolution. I intend to embark from Clyde to Philadelphia, within these three weeks, & hope to breathe my last among Free Men. I humbly trust, a Gentleman of your distinguished character, the Representative of the friends of human kind, will not suffer my Wife & six young children to starve, till I shall be able to send for them. To so much penury am I reduced by aristocratic power, that I am obliged to ensure my life, to command money to pay my passage to America.

My testimony concerning the above particulars, will derive some weight from the perusal of the inclosed Letter from Dr. Rush, a Gentleman of undoubted character, who honors me with his correspondence.2 I have also the honor to be known to several persons of character & distinction in this Country: particularly Alexr Garden Esqr M. P. Banff; Sir James Pringle Bart. Stitchell, Berwick: The Rt. Hon. Lady Banff, presently at Melvill House, Edinburgh or The Rt Hon. Lord Adam Gordon M. P. London.3 Any of these, will, I doubt not, give such a character of me to your Excellency as shall be satisfactory— I have the honor to be, with the utmost deference & respect / Sir / Your most devoted, most obedient / & most humble Servant

Will: Peterkin

RC and enclosures (Adams Papers); addressed: “John Adams Esqr. / Embassador from the / United States of North America / to the Court of G. Britain / London”; internal address: “John Adams Esqr. / Embassador from the / United States of N. America”; endorsed: “Mr W. Peterkins Letter. / 26. June 1785. / Macduff.”; notation: “to be left, at Colonel Smith’s / No. —15. Leicester Square.” Enclosed letter from Benjamin Rush filmed at 27 Nov. 1784.

1Little is known of Peterkin beyond what is contained in this letter and its enclosures. There is no later correspondence with JA. He may, however, be the William Peterkin (ca. 1743–1792) who authored A Dialogue on Public Worship, Between Mr. Alamode, a Young Gentleman of Fortune; and Mr. Freeman, an Aged Country Gentleman, Aberdeen, 1780 (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; rev. edn., www.oxforddnb.com. description ends , entry on Alexander Peterkin).

Peterkin’s adversary was James Duff, 2d Earl Fife under the Irish peerage (1729–1809). Fife, a large landowner and proponent of scientific farming, was lord lieutenant of the county Banff and founder of the town of Macduff. In 1785 he represented Elginshire in the House of Commons (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; rev. edn., www.oxforddnb.com. description ends ; Namier and Brooke, House of Commons description begins Sir Lewis Namier and John Brooke, eds., The House of Commons, 1754–1790, London, 1964; 3 vols. description ends ).

Following his signature, Peterkin transcribed a copy of an undated letter to Fife. There he wrote that his lordship, “by diminishing my small Living in proportion as my family has encreased, has had the pleasure of reducing me to this alternative—either to do injustice to the world—or to starve my family—or to seek a subsistence for them & myself in a Country where Lords have less power, & Presbyterian Ministers are in more estimation than in N. Britain.” Peterkin hoped “my insignificant example shall not be a leading Card to others whom your Ldsp cannot so easily spare. I should be exceedingly sorry to be even the innocent cause of emigration’s becoming epidemical in this corner.”

2This is Rush’s letter to Peterkin of 27 Nov. 1784 (Adams Papers). Rush indicated that since replying to a previous letter from Peterkin he had inquired concerning possible churches for his ministry and two, at York and Hopewell, Penn., had been recommended. He indicated that “the life of a Clergyman in Pennsylvania is respectable, and agreeable, especially if his manners are accommodating, and his life exemplary.” “In America,” Rush wrote, “every thing is new & yielding.— Here Genius and benevolence may have full Scope. Here the benefactor of mankind may realize all his Schemes.” Rush ended by saying that it would “afford me great pleasure to take you by the hand upon your arrival in Philada.

3Alexander Garden and Lord Adam Gordon were currently members of Parliament from the constituencies of Aberdeenshire and Kincardineshire, respectively, and both were in political opposition to the interests of Lord Fife. Sir James Pringle, 4th Baronet of Stichill, Roxburgh, had represented Berwick-shire in Parliament until 1779 (Namier and Brooke, House of Commons description begins Sir Lewis Namier and John Brooke, eds., The House of Commons, 1754–1790, London, 1964; 3 vols. description ends ). Lady Banff was probably Jean Nisbet (d. 1790), who married Alexander Ogilvy, 7th Lord Banff (d. 1770), in 1749, and was the mother of William Ogilvy (d. 1803), the current Lord Banff (Complete Peerage of England, Scotland, Ireland, Great Britain and the United Kingdom, ed. George E. Cokayne, 8 vols., London, 1887–1898).

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