J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Sunday, July 09, 2006

John Adams on a Sunday in July

Here’s one of my favorite entries in John Adams’s diary, which can be perused in its entirety at the Massachusetts Historical Society’s website. It is 1 July 1770. Adams is on his way to the northeastern part of the province of Massachusetts, which is today the state of Maine. And because it’s Sunday, he can’t ride further or do business, so he catches up on the local gossip.

What I love about this diary entry is how Adams struggles with how he wants to present himself on the page, and in doing so reveals so much more. The young lawyer hopes to be writing for the ages, hopes that a “Biographer” will look back on this document to see what was occupying his mind. Yet his attention keeps being drawn to animals: a runaway mare, the children’s strange pet crow.

Finally Adams settles down to writing about what he thinks gentlemen should write about: politics, that day’s sermon, science, and more politics. The “Prerogative Side” are supporters of the royal government. Adams’s innkeeper Woodbridge, a “high Son” of Liberty, thinks that those men are too protective of their royal appointments (“Commissions”) and privileges. Woodridge is unsure about the political firmness of James Gowen, a new appointment to the Governor's Council from Sagadahock, the part of Maine east of the Kennebec.

The latest political squabble up north was about "Thanks to the 92 Antirescinders"—whether the town wanted to express support for the members of the Massachusetts House who had defied the royal governor and refused to rescind the circular letter of February 1768. Symbolic issues like that divided the local society, even making Woodbridge happy that one of his genteel rivals was "running distracted."

Arose early at Paul Dudley Woodbridge's. A cloudy morning. Took a Walk to the Pasture, to see how my Horse fared. Saw my old Friend and Classmate David Sewall walking in his Garden. My little mare had provided for herself by leaping out of a bare Pasture into a neighbouring Lott of mowing Ground, and had filled herself, with Grass and Water. These are important Materials for History no doubt. My Biographer will scarcely introduce my little Mare, and her Adventures in quest of Feed and Water.

The Children of the House have got a young Crow, a Sight I never saw before. The Head and Bill are monstrous, the leggs long and sprawling. But the young Crow and the little mare are objects, that will not interest Posterity.

Landlord says David Sewall is not of the Liberty Side. The Moultons, Lymans, and Sewalls, and Sayward, are all [smudge] of the Prerogative Side.—They are afraid of their Commissions—and rather than hazard them, they would ruin the Country. We had a fair Tryal of them when we met to return Thanks to the 92 Antirescinders. None of them voted for it, tho none of them, but Sayward and his Bookkeeper had Courage enough to hold up his Hand, when the Vote was put the Contrary Way.

This same Landlord I find is a high Son. He has upon his Sign Board, Entertainment for the Sons of Liberty, under the Portrait of Mr. Pitt.—Thus the Spirit of Liberty circulates thro every minute Artery of the Province.

Heard Mr. Lyman all day. They have 4. deacons and Three Elders in this Church. Bradbury is an Elder, and Sayward is a Deacon. Lyman preached from "which Things the Angells desire to look into."

Drank Coffee at home, with Mr. Farnum, who came in to see me, and then went to D. Sewalls where I spent an Hour, with Farnum, Winthrop and Sewall and when I came away took a View of the Comet, which was then near the North Star—a large, bright Nucleus, in the Center of a nebulous Circle.

Came home, and took a Pipe after Supper with Landlord who is a staunch, zealous Son of Liberty. He speaks doubtfully of the new Councillor Gowing of Kittery. Says he always runs away till he sees how a Thing will go. Says he will lean to the other Side. Says, that He, (the Landlord) loves Peace, And should be very glad to have the Matter settled upon friendly Terms, without Bloodshed, but he would venture his own Life, and spend all he had in the World before he would give up.

He gives a sad Account of the Opposition and Persecution he has suffered from the Tories, for his Zeal and Firmness against their Schemes. Says they, i.e. the Moultons, Sewalls and Lymans, contrived every Way to thwart, vex, and distress him, and have got 1000 st[erling] from him at least, but he says that Providence has seemed to frown upon them, one running distracted and another &c., and has favoured him in Ways that he did not foresee.
The Comet that John Adams saw in Maine is no doubt the same that young John Greenwood remembered seeing in Boston when he was ten years old.

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