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, July 11, 2009

“Necessary to procure two Horses”

In August 1776, with the Continental Congress just having declared independence and the British army and navy massing in huge numbers around Staten Island, what was on John Adams’s mind?

Among other things, he was whining about not having a horse to ride home on. He complained in letters to his wife Abigail about how the Massachusetts Committee of Safety had supplied “an Horse and a fine chaise” for Samuel Adams, but nothing for him. Couldn’t she send him a horse and servant to Philadelphia to accompany him back home?

Of course, that meant she would have to find two horses to spare, all while keeping the farm going. And right then the family was undergoing the smallpox cure in Boston. On 12 August, Abigail told John:

And now about your returning. I am shut up here, and wholly unable to do that for you, which I might endeavour to if I was at home, and then the fate of your poor horse which I must ever lament makes it necessary to procure two Horses and a very great Scarcity there are. I think I should advice you if you could light of a good Horse, to procure one there, as you will stand in need of one when you return.
But John didn’t take the hint. He kept writing things like:
I shall conclude by repeating my Request for Horses and a servant. Let the Horses be good ones. I cant ride a bad Horse, so many hundred Miles. If our Affairs had not been in so critical a state at N. York, I should have run away before now. But I am determined now to stay, untill some Gentleman is sent here in my Room [i.e., until Massachusetts chose another delegate to replace him], and untill my Horses come.
And on 20 August:
I am so comfortable however, as to be determined to wait for a servant and Horses. Horses are so intollerably dear, at this Place, that it will not do for me to purchase one, here.
So it was up to Abigail.

TOMORROW: Abigail Adams finds a solution.

(Photo above courtesy of the Virginia Department of Agriculture.)


Chaucerian said...

I am struck by the idea that the wife, far away and quite busy, would be the person to turn to in a difficult purchasing situation. And yet it is the husband we remember with admiration. Thanks for the story behind the story!
(P.S. There is an inadvertent repetition in the first quotation.)

J. L. Bell said...

Thanks for alerting me to the needed correction.

pilgrimchick said...

That's an interesting exchange--one of those little details that is lost to time all too often. I am eager to discover what Abigail works out.