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 16, 2020

“That obstinate Wretch will not remove his few things”

Yesterday I started quoting Abigail Adams’s July 1775 letter to her husband John reporting on her conflict with a tenant and farm hand named Hayden.

Abigail had asked Hayden to move out of the house where John had been born, or to use only some rooms in that house, to make space for the George Trott family from besieged Boston. That request became especially acute when the Adams sister-in-law with whom the Trotts were living went into labor.

Abigail’s letter continued:
I removed my dairy things, and once more requested the old Man to move into the other part of the house, but he positively tells me he will not and all the art of Man shall not stir him, even dares me to put any article out of one room into an other. Says Mr. Trot shall not come in—he has got possession and he will keep it. What not have a place to entertain his children in when they come to see him. I now write you an account of the matter, and desire you to write to him and give me orders what course I shall take.

I must take Mr. Trott in with me and all his family for the present, till he can look out further or have that house. It would make your heart ake to see what difficulties and distresses the poor Boston people are driven to…and yet that obstinate Wretch will not remove his few things into the other part of that house, but live there paying no rent upon the distresses of others.

It would be needless to enumerate all his impudence. Let it suffice to say it moved me so much that I had hard Work to suppress my temper. I want to know whether his things may be removed into the other part of the house, whether he consents or not? Mr. Trott would rejoice to take the whole, but would put up with any thing rather than be a burden to his Friends.

I told the old Man I believed I was doing nothing but what I should be justified in. He says well tis a time of war get him out if I can, but cannon Ball shall not move him.
She closed by writing, “I shall be much mortified if you do not support me. . . . I feel too angry to make this any thing further than a Letter of Buisness.”

On 16 July, while awaiting a reply, Abigail sent John an update:
Mr. Trot I have accommodated by removeing the office into my own chamber [in the John Quincy Adams Birthplace, shown above], and after being very angry and sometimes persuaideding I obtaind the mighty concession of the Bed room, but I am now so crouded as not to have a Lodging for a Friend that calls to see me. I must beg you would give them warning to seek a place before Winter. Had that house been empty I could have had an 100 a year for it. Many person[s] had applied before Mr. Trot, but I wanted some part of it my self, and the other part it seems I have no command of.
This was the first time Abigail mentioned the financial dimension of the dispute. 

On 28 July, John responded with appropriate supportiveness:
…the ill Usage you have received from Hayden gave me great Pain and the utmost Indignation.

Your generous Solicitude for our unfortunate Friends from Boston, is very amiable and commendable, and you may depend upon my Justification of all that you have done or said to Hayden. His sawcy, insolent Tongue is well known to me, but I had rather he should indulge it to me than to you. I will not endure the least disrespectfull Expression to you. In my Absence and in your Situation, it is brutal.

I send you a Warning to him to go out of the House immediately. You may send it to him, if you see fit. If you do, let two or three Witnesses see it, before you send it, and let it be sent by a good Hand.
John Adams giving legal advice there. His “Warning” doesn’t survive. We know, however, that it had only a limited effect.

TOMORROW: The “old Man” still around.

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