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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Monday, May 22, 2017

“It was easy to discover that he was a curious Character“

Yesterday I quoted Abigail Adams’s description of visiting Carisbrooke Castle in England in 1788.

That passage from her travel account continues:
We returnd to Newport to dine. After dinner a Gentleman introduced himself to us by the Name of Sharp. Professed himself a warm and zealous Friend to America. After some little conversation in which it was easy to discover that he was a curious Character he requested that we would do him the Honour to go to his House and drink Tea. We endeavourd [to] excuse ourselves, but he would insist upon it, and we accordingly accepted.

He carried us home and introduced to us an aged Father of 90 Years, a very surprizing old Gentleman who tho deaf appeard to retain his understanding perfectly. Mrs. Sharp his Lady appeard to be an amiable woman tho not greatly accustomed to company. The two young Ladies soon made their appearence, the Youngest about 17 very Beautifull. The eldest might have been thought Handsome, if she had not quite spoild herself by affectation. By aiming at politeness she overshot her mark, and faild in that Symplicity of manners which is the principal ornament of a Female Character.

This Family were very civil, polite and Friendly to us during our stay at Cowes. We drank Tea with them on the Sunday following and by their most pressing invitation we dined with them the tuesday following. Mr. Sharp is a poet, a man of reading and appears to possess a good mind and Heart and enthusiastick in favor of America. He collected a number of his Friends to dine with us all of whom were equally well disposed to our Country and had always Reprobated the war against us.
The Adams Papers doesn’t identify this man, but I suspect he was William Sharp, Jr., author of the poem “Sincerity” (1763) and A Rumble from Newport to Cowes, in the Isle of Wight (1784). The latter book has this to say about the recent American war:
O passing fate of things below!
No Immortality they know:
Change will on all her marks inscribe,
Except the ministerial Tribe,
And their vile Masters; they ne’er range;
To Pelf still true, they never change.
Be curs’d their arts and selfish ends
Who sink to foes and separate friends:
Where are the flags that once display’d
The blessings of a mutual trade: Where
Where are the crowded wharfs which own’d
America’s chaste produce round:
Discharg’d to give the state their pay,
Before they shap’d a distant way.
Yeah, it’s all like that. I think Abigail was lucky to get away without hearing more.

A footnote on this passage explains: “The CAROLINA trade was a great article at Cowes, many thousand barrels of Rice being unloaded here every season, and repack’d for market; after paying duty, afforded much employment and profit.” So Sharp felt the “ministerial Tribe” had damaged the local economy by disrupting trade with America for their own “selfish ends.” And he and his fellow Isle of White Whigs had opposed Lord North’s policy toward the American colonies.

The picture above comes from the frontispiece of Sharp’s 1784 poetry book. It shows the landscape of the Isle of Wight between the port of Cowes and the central town of Newport, a scene that Adams herself probably saw four years later.

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