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John Adams Regarding the Gaspee Affair

                      Adams by John Copley, c1784Boston Decr 26 1772

We are all in a lurry1 here about the Dependency of the Governor and the Dependency of the Judges, the Commission for trying the Rhode Islanders for burning the Gaspee.

I wonder how your Colony sleeps so soundly in a whole skin, when her sisters are so worried and tormented!

I am with much respect your old friend & humble servant

John Adams


Mr. Elliot


+The fools call it the Independency of the Govr, Judges, etc

The above letter from John Adams was rediscovered in January 2013 when it came up at auction in Rhode Island.  The letter had not been previously cataloged by the Massachusetts Historical Society where folks edit the Adams Family Papers. Since the date and location of Boston are detached from the letter, there is some question as to whether this is merely the last page of a larger letter.


We are not entirely sure who the letter is addressed to, but in searching the Works of John Adams it appears he did carry on correspondence with an Andrew Eliot from Connecticut.  This is of importance since here Adams appears to be carrying on an early, informal inter-colonial correspondence seeking out the opinions of those from other colonies.  Indeed, he writes in his Diary2 (p. 5) that this was his intent during December 1772:

The high Commission Court, the Star Chamber Court, the Court of Inquisition, for the Tryal of the Burners of the Gaspee, at Rhode Island, are the present Topick of Conversation. The Governor of that Colony, has communicated to the assembly a Letter from the Earl of Dartmouth. The Colony are in great Distress, and have applied to their Neighbours for Advice, how to evade or to sustain the Shock.

John Adams, like his cousin Sam Adams, was ahead of his time in realizing the importance of having the colonies build a unified front against British oppression.  This letter was written a full three months prior to the formal proposal made by the Virginia House of Burgesses to reestablish the Committees of Correspondence.


Of course, the development of these Committees of Correspondence were driven by two items.  First was the threat to colonial independence posed by the British plan to pay the salaries of colonial  judges and governors directly, thus making these officials more owing to the British than to the Colonists.  The second item was the threat to a local trial of peers posed by the attempt to ship to Britain any persons accused of participating in the burning of the Gaspee.  Both of these issues greatly alarmed John Adams and other American colonial leaders of the day, and were viewed as a direct assaults on the judicial liberties of Americans as British subjects.  And moreover,  the fleeting references by John Adams to these two topics indicate that he knew the reader of this letter would also be well-familiar with these controversies. But John Adams was clearly pissed about the Gaspee Affair as he revealed in his Diary2 (p. 10):

This Evening at Mr. Cranch's, I found that my constitutional or habitual Infirmities have not entirely forsaken me. Mr. Collins an English Gentleman was there, and in Conversation about the high Commissioned Court, for enquiring after the Burners of the Gaspee at Providence, I found the old Warmth, Heat, Violence, Acrimony, Bitterness, Sharpness of my Temper, and Expression, was not departed. I said there was no more justice left in Britain than there was in Hell -- That I wished for War, and that the whole Bourbon Family was upon the Back of Great Britain -- avowed a thoughrough Dissaffection to that Country -- wished that any Thing might happen to them, and that as the Clergy prayed of our Enemies in Time of War, that they might be brought to reason or to ruin.

1.  According to < > Lur"ry is an obsolete noun referring to a confused heap; a throng, as of persons....

2.  John Adams diary 19, 16 December 1772 - 18 December 1773 < >

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Originally Posted to Gaspee Virtual Archives 1/2013    Last Revised: 01/2013   JohnAdamsLtr.html