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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Thursday, December 12, 2013

Elisha Adams’s Admission

Last night author Nathaniel Philbrick and I talked about the Battle of Bunker Hill at Cambridge Forum. That was taped to make a radio show or podcast, and I’ll post the link when it’s ready.

In the meantime, here’s a record of something else happening that same day, 17 June 1775, from the Boston Public Library’s collection, made available through archive.org.
Whereas I having been Suspected to be unfriendly and inimical to the Just rights & Liberties of America & the Constitution of the Province, Being Sensible that by Some imprudent Conversation & Conduct I have Justly Caused Such Suspicions, & more Especially in my Selling a horse on the way from Acton to Charlston ferry, but a Day or 2 before the late Hostilities Commenced at Concord, & also by Conversation with Katherine wife of Jonathan Adams sd. Relating to the Negro Plan for killing woman Children &c, And being Sensable of my Imprudence therein Do freely Say, That with Regard to Selling sd. horse I Sincerely Declare that I had no thought nor intention any way, whatsoever to Assist & Enable the British forces then at Boston to march into the Country, Neither Did I think any thing but that the sd. horse was to have been Sent Directly to Deerfield. But as it is Strongly Suspected the sd. horse was made use of in the sd. Hostilities, I am Sorry I Sold sd. horse as I Did, And with Regard to my Conversation with mrs. Adams Relative to the Negro plan afore sd., Altho. I had no unfriendly intention, yet I Acknowledg the sd. Conversation & Answers then made to Mrs. Adams Justly Aggravated the Suspicions Afore sd., and that thereby I manifested an unfriendly inhumane Disposition, for which unadvised Conduct I ask the forgiveness of my Neighbours & acquaintances & of Neighbour Adams & wife in Particular.

Elisha Adams
June 17 1775
Recreating the background of this document is a bit uncertain since there were so many families named Adams in Medway, where it’s from. But it looks like Elisha Adams (1719-1781) had been a big man in town: deacon, town clerk, and often selectman. He was Medway’s representative in the Massachusetts General Court for several years in the 1760s, but Jeremiah Adams had won that seat and held it since 1769.

Elisha’s neighbor Jonathan Adams (1737-1814) was some sort of cousin a generation younger. He may have recently become a selectman, or that might be another member of the same family.

In any event, Elisha Adams seems to have been less enthusiastic about the uprising against the royal government than his neighbors, and to have spread alarmist rumors about a slave revolt. There were similar alarms at other times in 1774 and 1775 with very little evidence behind them—it was simply a common fear in a slaveholding society. Other folks in Medway in turn assumed the worst about how Adams had sold his horse.

On 8 June Elisha Adams had signed another document declaring that he felt Parliament’s new laws were unconstitutional and that he would support the Continental Congress’s plans to counteract them. But the town’s committee of correspondence and selectmen evidently wanted a more specific admission of fault, hence this document.

All the Adamses remained in Medway during the war. Elisha paid a higher-than-average amount to maintain soldiers, presumably substitutes for himself or family members. He died in Medway in 1781 and is buried there.


Brooke said...

Thanks for putting a podcast together! Your follower in Penn's Woods would enjoy hearing the discussion.

J. L. Bell said...

Cambridge Forum is doing all the work on the broadcast/podcast, so that group deserves all the thanks.