Lot 11
  • 11

John Adams, second President, as Minister to France

30,000 - 40,000 USD
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  • Autograph letter signed ("John Adams") to William Churchill Houston celebrating encouraging war news, including the defeat of the Hessian commander Baron von Knyphausen at Springfield
  • Paper, Ink
2 pages (9 x 7 1/4 in.; 229 x 184 mm) on a bifolium of laid paper (watermarked D & C BLAUW  posthorn), Amsterdam, 17 September 1780, docketed by recipient on verso of integral blank; tiny separations at a few horizontal folds neatly repaired, pinholes at central intersecting folds, verso of integral blank lightly soiled. 


Hamilton, 12 May 1977, lot 25A (undesignated consignor) — Sotheby's New York, 25 November 1997, lot 209 (undesignated consignor)


Papers of John Adams, ed. Gregg Lint, et al., 10:159–60

Catalogue Note


After having been relieved of duties as minister to Versailles, John Adams travelled to Holland as a private citizen on a mission to secure war financing. On September 16, 1780, Francis Dana arrived in Amsterdam from Paris with news that Congress had approved the mission. Dana also carried a letter from William Churchill Houston, sent from Philadelphia on July 11, 1780, noting some long-awaited good news on the military front. Dana had been sent to serve as a secretary in the American diplomatic mission under Adams. At the time Houston, a thirty-four year old lawyer and former professor, was a New Jersey delegate to the Continental Congress.

Adams here joyfully replies to Houston, commenting particularly on the failure of a raid on Springfield, New Jersey, by Wilhelm von Knyphausen, senior commander of Hessian mercenary troops in America. In what would be one of the last major battles in the North, on June 23, 1780, Knuyphausen’s 5,000 men in British, Hessian and Loyalist regiments were defeated by Nathanael Greene’s  force of only 1,500 Continental troops aided by a number of late arriving New Jersey militiamen. Adams also revels in the capture of fifty-five British Naval vessels—but despite these military successes he remains cautious in his expectation of peace.

"You cannot imagine, Sir how much Pleasure, this Letter gave me. I shall make a good Use of this and every other authentic Information, in order to prevent the unfavourable Impressions, you are aware of. It has been my greatest Affliction Since I have been in Europe that I have had so seldom Letters from my friends, or Intelligence from America of any Kind. That Business which is every Bodeys, is never done. Most of the Letters I receive tell me, 'you will be so fully informed, both officially, and by your other Friends, that I shall not trouble you with public Affairs.' And thus it is that I learn, nothing. My Friend Lovell [James Lovell, member of congress from Massachusetts] indeed remembers me, now and then, and considering his indefatigable Labours in other Things, is very good. Heaven reward him for his Virtues, Exertions and sufferings! And Earth too Say I! 

"General Greens Report, of Kniphausens Exploit is much admired in Europe. Yet I am almost wicked enough to wish that even my friend Green had been beaten, because his defeat would have insured the Captivity of Kniphausen and all his Banditti. 

"The late Accounts from America, from all Quarters, have had a good Effect in Europe. And the Capture of 55 ships at once by the combined Fleets of France and Spain, with the Captures by Don Barcelo [commander of the Spanish squadron blockading Gibraltar] and that of the Quebec Fleet, have cast down the English Cause to such a degree, as to put them upon the compassionate List, even with some who detest their Tyranny.

"You will not mistake this for a Promise or an Hope of Peace. This cannot be. The Heads of a King and Ministers is at Stake, in the negotiation for Peace, at least they Suspect so. The new Parliament, will not alter the System, unless it should make it more insidious.

"As to Money, I can promise nothing but my Utmost Exertions to procure it. It is lucky that I had been here 4 or 5 Weeks before my Commission arrived, because I have had an opportunity to reconnoitre the Country. … I most earnestly request the Continuance of your Correspondence . …"