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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Saturday, November 15, 2008

John Quincy Adams’s Lost Breeches

As I described yesterday, I started to look through the Massachusetts Historical Society’s new Founding Families: Digital Edition of the Adams family papers, and was intrigued by an entry in the index under John Quincy Adams: “loses breeches.” Unfortunately, the link beside that entry was a dead end.

Fortunately, I’d also hit the link for “JQA / loses eight guineas in gold,” and it turned out to refer to the same incident. That second link led to this footnote attached to a John Adams diary entry:

JA and [William] McCreery corresponded on commercial subjects for some years, though at first their letters rather amusingly centered on a pair of homespun breeches, lost by JQA in Bordeaux, that contained eight guineas sewed into the waistband.
So at that point I could go back to the index and look up McCreery’s name. (Which is alphabetized ahead of the “Ma...” entries, in the pre-digital way.) And that in turn led to four documents which tell the sad tale.

John Adams’s 15 Apr 1778 letter to McCreery:
I have another Thing to mention to you, which is, that in unpacking my Baggage, I miss a pair of coarse homespun Breeches, which my little son wore in the Passage. If they are at your House, I should be obliged to you if you would rip open the Waistband in which you will find a few Guineas, 8 at least.

The Breeches you may give to the first Child that wants them. The Guineas, you may send to me, or ship the Value of them, deducting your Commissions in any Thing you please, to Mrs. Adams at Braintree near Boston, to the Care of Isaac Smith Esqr., Queen Street Boston. Linnens, or Cambricks, I suppose would be as acceptable as any Thing.
McCreery’s reply on 3 May, quoted in a footnote to that letter:
I have made all possible search and enquiry for the Breeches you mention belonging to your Son, containing the Money, but have not been able to get any tidings of them. I do not remember having seen any such at the time you were here. I know that many things were left carelessly loose by the Servants, and am affraid that some of the Porters have got hold of them. I really do not expect that they will be found in this House, after the search that has been made.
Adams on 14 May (a letter he drafted but never sent because it contained other, sensitive information):
I thank you for the trouble you have taken in searching for the Breeches. I have no suspicion of the Servants at your house. I rather conjecture that once, upon the road, when a few Things were taken out of my Trunk, this Article might slip aside. The Gold could not have been the temptation for it was hid in the Waistband. However, whether it is in the hands of a Thief or an honest finder, I wish he knew of the Gold for it might be of Service to him. So much for that.
And finally Adams’s entry in his accounting for “To 8 English Guineas, lost in a Garment which was stole on the Road bet. Bourdeaux and Paris,—the Guineas were sewn up in the Garment, to conceal them from the Enemy in Case of Capture at Sea.”

So I think it’s a little hard on young John Quincy for the Adams Papers index to suggest that he lost his breeches in the same way we say Robert Treat Paine lost his purse. The boy probably had nothing to do with the breeches’ disappearance. And anyway, he was only ten years old.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great anecdote. Adam's response is classic New Englander--at least let someone get use of the money.

Doug Hudson