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 12, 2009

“Get a Horse for Pappa.”

In August 1776, Abigail Adams realized that if she wanted her husband John to come home from the Continental Congress in Philadelphia, she would have to make the trip possible. Procuring his own horses was too hard for him—perhaps because everyone expected a big battle around New York.

So on 22 August, Abigail reported that she had convinced a neighbor named Bass—probably Joseph Bass, who had worked as John’s servant in 1775—to ride to Philadelphia with an extra horse and accompany John home. As to those horses:

I shall write to my Father to request of him that he would endeavour to procure for you a couple of Horses. I shall try some other Friends and will fix of Bass as soon as tis possible to procure Horses for you. . . .

As to applying to —— [she probably meant the Massachusetts government] for Horses, I remember the old proverb, he who waits for dead mens shooes may go barefoot. It would only lengthen out the time, and we should be no better of, than before I askd. I will have them if they are to be had at any price, and they may pay for them. I think you have done your part.
Abigail had other worries on her mind. Nabby, Charly, and Tommy Adams were still getting over their smallpox inoculations, and they wanted their father home. On 25 August, Abigail sent John this anecdote to remind him of his paternal responsibilities:
I was talking of sending for you and trying to procure horses for you when little Charles who lay upon the couch coverd over with small Pox, and nobody knew that he heard or regarded any thing which was said, lifted up his head and says Mamma, take my Dollor and get a Horse for Pappa.
In that same letter, Abigail reported some success at finding mounts:
Our Friends are very kind. My Father [the Rev. William Smith] sends his Horse and Dr. [Cotton] Tufts has offerd me an other one he had of unkle [Quincy] about 5 year old. He has never been journeys, but is able enough. Mr. Bass is just come, and says he cannot sit out till tomorrow week without great damage to his Buisness. . . . Tho I urged him to sit of [i.e., set off] tomorrow, yet the Horses will be in a better State as they will not be used and more able to perform the journey. I am obliged to consent to his tarrying till then when you may certainly expect him.

Bass is affraid that the Drs. Horse will not be able to travel so fast as he must go. He will go and see him, and in case he is not your Brother has promised to let one of his go.
Bass finally departed with the two horses on 29 August.

On 5 Sept 1776, John wrote back:
I am rejoiced that my Horses are come. I shall now be able to take a ride. But it is uncertain, when I shall set off, for home. I will not go, at present. Affairs are too delicate and critical.
I usually admire Abigail Adams more than I sympathize with her, but in this case I feel like she deserves a free swing of the frying pan.


alai said...

but in this case I feel like she deserves a free swing of the frying pan.

hah! Preferably one fresh from the range.

George Lovely said...

I think the first line should read "In August 1776,..."

J. L. Bell said...

Quite right—thanks!