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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Tuesday, May 22, 2007

John Adams Starts to Worry

Yesterday I quoted Abigail Adams’s frazzled description of the skirmish on Grape Island, off the South Shore of Boston harbor. John Adams’s response to early news of the incident reaching Philadelphia was a jocular comment on 2 June:

Was you frightened, when the sheep Stealers got a drubbing at Grape Island?—Father Smith [i.e., Abigail’s father] prayed for our Scough Crew, I doubt not, but how did my dear Friend Dr. [Cotton] Tufts sustain the shock?
Only later did he receive Abigail’s letter describing the panic among their friends and family and the local militias’ response. On 6 June, John sent a further comment:
I am afraid you will have more Alarms than are necessary, in Consequence of the Brush at Grape Island. But I hope you will maintain your philosophical Composure.
Another four days went by, and John hadn’t heard from Abigail again. And I sense that he started to worry a little more because he returned to the topic of Grape Island in his letter on 10 June, asking more questions:
I long to know, how you fare, and whether you are often discomposed with Alarms. Guard yourself against them my Dear. I think you are in no Danger—dont let the groundless Fears, and fruitfull Imaginations of others affect you.

Let me know what guards are kept—and who were principally concerned in the Battle at Grape Island as well as that at Chelsea. The Reputation of our Countrymen for Valour, is very high. I hope they will maintain it, as well as that for Prudence, Caution and Conduct.
Abigail didn’t receive that letter until 22 June, and by then the little skirmish off Hingham had been overshadowed by the Battle of Bunker Hill. Nevertheless, she responded with some more news about the fight on 21 May:
You inquire of me, who were at the engagement at Grape Island. I may say with truth all Weymouth Braintree Hingham who were able to bear Arms, and hundreds from other Towns within 20 30 and 40 miles of Weymouth.

Our good Friend the Doctor is in a very misirable state of Health, has the jaundice to a [very great] degree, is a mere Skelliton and hardly able to [ride from] his own house to my fathers. Danger you [know] sometimes makes timid men bold. He stood that day very well, and generously attended with drink, Bisquit, flints &c. 5 hundred men without taking any pay. He has since been chosen one of the committee of Correspondence for that Town, and has done much Service by establishing a regular method of alarm from Town to Town.

Both your Brothers were there—your younger Brother [Elihu] with his company who gaind honour by their good order that Day. He was one of the first to venture aboard a Schooner to land upon the Island.
You can explore the Adams family correspondence in depth through the Massachusetts Historical Society’s Digital Adams collection.

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