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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Friday, May 01, 2020

Hutchinson and Adams, Together at Last

Both men would hate that I’m making a combined announcement, but new volumes of the Papers of Thomas Hutchinson and the Papers of John Adams have just been published.

The Colonial Society of Massachusetts is publishing the Thomas Hutchinson Papers, edited by John S. Tyler and Elizabeth Dubrulle.

The latest volume covers the years 1767-1769, including the imposition of the Townshend duties, the arrival of the new Customs Commissioners, the Circular Letter stand-off, the Liberty riot, the arrival of troops, the leak and publication of Gov. Francis Bernard’s letters, the Michael Corbet trial (barely mentioned), and Bernard’s departure. During this period Hutchinson was both lieutenant governor and chief justice of Massachusetts.

I received a printed volume as a member of the society. At some point soon, the text will be available in digital, searchable form on the Colonial Society’s website.

The Massachusetts Historical Society is publishing the Adams family’s papers in several series. On behalf of the editorial team, Sara Georgini just announced volume 18 of John Adams’s correspondence, which covers the months from December 1785 to January 1787.

Adams was then in London as the U.S. of A.’s first minister to the Court of St. James, feeling increasingly frustrated as Britain waved aside the young nation’s interests. A couple of men from pre-war Boston came back into Adams’s life in this period: Dr. John Jeffries and John Singleton Copley, who painted the picture shown above.

I looked at what these volumes said about the relationship between Hutchinson and Adams. The chief justice must have met the young Braintree lawyer in the early and mid-1760s, but Hutchinson left no comment about Adams until after he’d moved into Boston.

The new volume appears to contain Hutchinson’s first surviving remark on Adams, in a 5 Aug 1768 letter to a fellow judge (either John Cushing, Benjamin Lynde, or Peter Oliver):
For news I refer you to Edes and Gill. I am grown callous and all they say about me makes no impression. [James] Otis and the two Adams, [William] Cooper & [Benjamin] Church go regularly every Saturday in the afternoon to set the Press. They all profess a great friendship for me. I wish the whole Court were Pensioners that they might share part of the Obloquy.
The Boston Gazette had recently published an essay criticizing Hutchinson as “the Pensioner” for accepting a salary from the Crown.

Though the lieutenant governor included both Samuel and John Adams among the Whigs who “set the Press” in 1768, going to the print shop appeared to be a curious new experience for John when he wrote about it thirteen months later.

The new John Adams Papers volume takes up five years after Hutchinson’s death, but the American diplomat hadn’t forgotten the late governor. On 27 Jan 1787 he wrote to Benjamin Hichborn about the danger posed by the Shays Rebellion:
I begin to suspect that some Gentlemen who had more Zeal than Knowledge in the year 1770. will soon discover that I had good Policy as well as sound Law on my side when I ventured to lay open before our People the Laws against Riots, Routs & unlawful assemblies—

mobs will never do—to govern states or command armies—I was as sensible of it in 70. as I am in 87—to talk of Liberty in such a state of things–

Is not a [Job] Shattuck & a Chase [Daniel Shays] as great a Tyrant, when he would pluck up Law & Justice by the roots, as a Bernard or a Hutchinson when he would overturn them partially?
Over the nearly two decades in between those letters, Adams had become a lot more like Hutchinson than he’d acknowledge. In both of these collections the writer sighs about all the people criticizing him and warns against mobs.

TOMORROW: A new job for John Adams?

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