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, July 25, 2013

Joshua Johnson Receives a "small neat looking man”

Here’s more from Louisa Catherine Adams’s memoir of living in London in the 1790s, when her father, Joshua Johnson, was serving as a consul-general of the U.S. of A. in Britain. Johnson had been born in Maryland but moved to England, married, and entered business there before the war:
It was about this time that a Gentleman called on my father a small neat looking man in a very handsome chariot with livery Servants &ce. He walked into the Office entered into conversation very agreeably and then presented some papers to my father which concerned some American business to be done before the Consul—

My father returned the papers for signature and stood to see the name when to his utter surprize he discovered that it was the Traitor [Benedict] Arnold, and he deliberately took up the pen with the Tongs and put it into the fire—

The gentlemean sneaked off endeavouring not to notice the act—This trait will give you a real insight into your Grandfathers character—He was a perfect Gentleman in his manners and universally respected—
Adams wrote out this recollection around 1825 when her husband, John Quincy Adams, was President and his political rivals were trying to make hay of his marriage to a Englishwoman. She therefore had a strong reason to portray her father as a strong supporter of the U.S. of A.

Did Arnold really call on Johnson? (He wasn’t particularly “small” for his time, certainly not compared to some men in the Adams family. And what sort of “American business” did he expect to conduct?) Did Johnson really show his distaste for Arnold so openly? All we can say for sure is that Adams left this story for her descendants.

At another point in her memoir, Adams characterized her father’s move to Nantes in France in 1778 as politically motivated—getting closer to America’s new ally. But the footnotes in the Massachusetts Historical Society’s new edition of Adams’s papers suggest that he also had financial reasons: the war had hurt his main business of importing tobacco from North America to Britain. But telling stories about grandfather’s patriotism was a republican mother’s duty.


John L Smith Jr said...

I had read in some journal or book somewhere that Benedict Arnold was 5' 5" tall. Have you ever run across that?

G. Lovely said...

In 'Benedict Arnold: The Dark Eagle' Brian Richard Boylan states he was 5'-7"

J. L. Bell said...

I decided to post about this burning question tomorrow.