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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Sunday, October 03, 2021

“Send my Children to me this Evening”

As I quoted yesterday, on 10 Nov 1780 Latin School rector Heinrich Verheyk sent American diplomat John Adams a letter stating that his eldest son, John Quincy Adams, was misbehaving in an attempt to get expelled.

John Adams responded immediately:

I have this moment received, with Surprise and Grief, your Billet.

I pray you Sir, to send my Children to me this Evening and your Account, together with their Chests and Effects tomorrow. I have the Honour to be, with great Respect, Sir, your humble servant,
He whisked both John Quincy and younger son Charles out of the Latin School at the Singel.

We don’t know what conversations took place in the Adams house that night. We do know that Adams already disagreed with how the school was placing John Quincy in a class with younger boys instead of letting him study Greek. So, while he may have been mortified at his son’s reported misbehavior, he sympathized with the motive behind it.

Adams cast about for a way for his boys to continue their education. John Quincy was thirteen, a year away from the age when many elite Massachusetts boys went to Harvard, and Charles was ten. They needed Latin and Greek for college. Adams was too busy trying to convince the Dutch republic to recognize the U.S. of A. to teach them himself. John Thaxter, who had tutored the boys in Braintree and aboard the ship to Europe, was still in Paris helping the American diplomats there.

Somehow Adams learned about another possible source of information: a young man from Newport, Rhode Island, named Benjamin Waterhouse (1754-1846, shown above as painted by Gilbert Stuart in 1775). He had started studying medicine as an apprentice at age sixteen and then sailed to Britain for more advanced training in March 1775, just before the Boston Port Bill took effect. Though Waterhouse spent the next three years in wartime Britain, he supported the independent U.S. of A.

In 1778 Waterhouse went to study at the University of Leyden, reportedly disconcerting the authorities by declaring himself a citizen of the free American states, which Holland had yet to recognize. After finishing a medical degree in 1780, he went back to Britain to visit his mentor there, then returned to Leyden to attend lectures on law and history. Perhaps on that trip he passed through Amsterdam, a little over twenty miles north of Leyden, and met the American minister.

Sometime in November or early December Adams asked Waterhouse if there were educational opportunities for his sons in Leyden. On 13 December the young doctor wrote back:
It so happened that I could not see the persons of whom I wished to enquire concerning the Schools, mode of education &c. untill yesterday, otherwise I should have written before.—

The Gentlemen from whom I have my information have each of them a young person under their care about the age of your eldest, and are well acquainted with every thing appertaining to education in this City, from conversing with them I am able to inform you that besides the publick-school which is a good one, there are private masters in the latin and greek, who at the same time they teach these languages, teach the greek and roman History. With boys who are far advanced in greek they read and explain Euripides, Sophocles and others.

The same person will if required repeat any of the Law-lectures to the pupil, and that indeed is what they are principally employed for, by those whose wives are to be Mevrouws [i.e., ladies].— There is a teacher of this kind in Leyden who is both an elegant schollar and a gentleman, such a one asks 20 ducats a year. . . .

In regard to living I am persuaded they can live here for much less than at Amsterdam. Three furnished rooms would probably cost 20 guilders a month. We find our own tea, sugar, wine, light and fire, and give one ducat a week for dinner, it is always the same price whether we go to the public-house, or have it brought from thence to our own rooms . . .

In respect to their being Americans or Sons of Mr. Adams they will never meet with any thing disagreeable on that head, where any profit is like to accrue little do the Dutchmen care for their political, or even religious principles—Turk, Jew, or Christian make no difference with them. I beleive we may say of them as they said of themselves at Japan when the Japonese enquired if they were christians—they answered, they were Dutchmen.

If the Gentlemen should come, I can insure them an agreeable Society and a genteel circle of acquaintance. If they should not, I hope at least they will come and pay us a visit, and I think I need not add how ready I should be to render them any service in my power.
Meanwhile, Adams had summoned Thaxter from Paris.

TOMORROW: A new arrangement.

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