George Washington Papers

To George Washington from John Adams, 1 April 1776

From John Adams

Philadelphia April 1. 1776

Dear sir

The Bearer of this Letter Francis Dana Esqr. of Cambridge, is a Gentleman of Family, Fortune and Education, returned in the last Packett from London where he has been about a Year. He has ever maintained an excellent Character in his Country, and a warm Friendship for the American Cause. He returns to share with his Friends in their Dangers, and their Triumphs. I have done myself the Honour to give him this Letter, for the sake of introducing him to your Acquaintance, as he has frequently expressed to me a Desire to embrace the first opportunity of paying his Respects to a Character, So highly esteemed, and so justly admired throughout all Europe, as well as America. Mr Dana will Satisfy you, that We have no Reason to expect Peace from Britain.1

I congratulate you, sir, as well as all the Friends of Mankind on the Reduction of Boston, an Event which appeared to me of so great and decisive Importance, that the next Morning after the Arrival of the News, I did myself the Honour to move, for the Thanks of Congress to your Excellency and that a Medal of Gold should be struck, in Commemoration of it. Congress have been pleasd to appoint me, with two other Gentlemen to prepare a Device. I should be very happy to have your Excellencys Sentiments concerning a proper one.2 I have the Honour to be, with very great Respect, sir, your most obedient and affectionate servant

John Adams

ALS, DLC:GW.

1Francis Dana (1743–1811) arrived at New York from England on 11 Mar. and set out for Philadelphia the next day to confer with his close friend and fellow lawyer John Adams (see Stirling to GW, 11 Mar. 1776, and note 2). A political moderate, Dana had sailed to England the previous April to settle some family business and during his stay had become convinced through discussions with several prominent friends of America that matters had gone too far for reconciliation with Britain. Soon after returning home to Massachusetts this spring, Dana was elected to the council, and on 15 Nov. 1776 he was named a delegate to the Continental Congress. He did not attend Congress until the following November, however. In Congress Dana served on the Board of War, and he chaired the committee on military reorganization that met with GW at Valley Forge during the winter of 1778. In 1779 Dana became secretary to John Adams on the peace commission that was sent to Europe, and from 1781 to 1783 he was the unacknowledged American minister to the Russian court at St. Petersburg.

2In response to Adams’s motion of 25 Mar., Congress on that date appointed him, John Jay, and Stephen Hopkins a committee to prepare a letter of thanks and a proper device for the medal (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds. Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789. 34 vols. Washington, D.C., 1904–37. description ends , 4:234). The committee submitted the letter eight days later, and it was signed by Hancock and forwarded to GW (see Hancock to GW, 2 April 1776). Nearly fourteen years passed before GW received his medal, however. The committee initially sought the advice of Pierre Eugène Du Simitière, a Swiss-born artist living in Philadelphia, and in August 1776 Du Simitière showed Adams his design for the obverse of the medal: “Liberty with her Spear and Pileus, leaning on General Washington. The British Fleet in Boston Harbour, with all their Sterns towards the Town, the American Troops, marching in” (John Adams to Abigail Adams, 14 Aug. 1776, in Butterfield, Adams Family Correspondence description begins Lyman H. Butterfield et al., eds. Adams Family Correspondence. 11 vols. to date. Cambridge, Mass., 1963–. description ends , 2:95–98). For the reverse, Du Simitière proposed an eye casting rays over an unsheathed sword held upright by a hand, the whole surrounded by thirteen shields bearing the names of the states (see figure 1). On 29 Nov. 1776 Congress granted Du Simitière $32 for his work on GW’s medal (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds. Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789. 34 vols. Washington, D.C., 1904–37. description ends , 6:991), but Du Simitière’s designs were never executed, perhaps because his figure of Liberty is so poorly drawn that she appears to be leering at GW (W. S. Baker, “Washington-before-Boston Medal,” Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, 13 [1889], 482–83).

Although the committee for procuring GW’s medal existed at least until October 1777, little more was done toward that end during the war years (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds. Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789. 34 vols. Washington, D.C., 1904–37. description ends , 9:785, 14:893). In June 1784 Robert Morris, superintendent of finance, requested David Humphreys, GW’s former aide and the newly appointed secretary to the American peace commissioners, to obtain in Europe the honorary swords and medals that Congress had authorized for various officers in the course of the war. Humphreys began making the necessary arrangements in Paris, and when he left the city in November 1785, he turned the unfinished business over to Thomas Jefferson, who completed it. For a detailed account of their efforts, see “Notes on American Medals Struck in France” in Boyd, Jefferson Papers description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. 40 vols. to date. Princeton, N.J., 1950–. description ends , 16:53–79. GW’s medal was executed by Pierre Simon Benjamin Duvivier, a noted French medal engraver. The bust of GW on the obverse was modeled on Houdon’s work (Humphreys to Jefferson, 30 Jan. 1786, ibid., 9:241–42). The reverse shows GW on horseback amid a group of officers observing the evacuation of Boston at a distance (see figure 2, and Humphreys to GW, May 1785). Jefferson carried the finished medals for all of the officers with him when he returned to the United States in the fall of 1789, and the following March he delivered them to GW in New York. Included were GW’s Boston medal in gold and a boxed duplicate set in silver of all eleven medals struck in France, which Congress had ordered as a gift for GW. GW’s gold medal is now in the Boston Public Library, and his silver set is at the Massachusetts Historical Society (Boyd, Jefferson Papers description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. 40 vols. to date. Princeton, N.J., 1950–. description ends , 16:xxxv-xxxvi, 66). The medals for the other officers were subsequently distributed by GW (see GW to Anthony Wayne and to Stephen Stewart, both 25 Mar. 1790).

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