Wednesday, September 28, 2011

A John Adams Letter from 1776

Having just finished David McCullough's fascinating biography John Adams, I was intrigued to see this ALS (autograph letter signed) coming up for auction at Bonhams on October 10. The U.S., of course, was singularly blessed in its Founding Fathers, some of the most remarkable men of their time, or indeed of any time. They were educated, totally dedicated to the cause of freedom, and not incidentally prolific letter writers.

There are collectors today who seek out autographs by the signers of the Declaration of Independence. There are also those who collect signatures of the U.S. Presidents. For them, and also for anyone with an interest in American history, what could be more desirable then a full two-sided letter written by John Adams in the year 1776? Adams, in addition to his many other services to the emerging nation, was the father of the Continental Navy. This letter to William Cooper of the Massachusetts House of Representatives informs him of the construction of new ships for the Navy. It also suggests obliquely that the second Continental Congress may be coming close to agreement on declaring independence from Great Britain. This, then, is an important letter that is evidently fresh to the market. I have no idea what this should sell for, but the estimate of $50,000 to $80,000 barely seems to acknowledge its tremendous historical significance.

Lot No: 1221
ADAMS, JOHN. 1735-1826.
Autograph Letter Signed ("John Adams"), 2 pp, 4to(conjoined leaves), Watertown, January 4, 1776, to William Cooper, light dust-soiling, lower edge uneven, neatly repaired tear in margin.

ADAMS COMMUNICATES NEWS OF THE FIRST DEDICATED CONTINENTAL NAVY VESSELS: "the Honourable House will soon receive authentic Intelligence of a considerable naval Force ordered by the Congress to be prepared, as I am well informed they have resolved to build Thirteen Ships five of Thirty two Guns, five of Twenty Eight and Three of Twenty four."
Adams asks Cooper, a member of the House of Representatives in the Massachusetts provisional government, to pass this news on to the House. The Continental Navy was created in October of 1775, with a number of merchantmen refitted as men-of-war, and with regulations drafted by Adams himself. In mid-December, Congress ordered the construction of a number of new vessels, "which together with those fitted out before by the Continent, and by particular Colonies as well as private Persons, it is hoped, will be a security, in Time to come, against the Depredations of Cutters and Tenders at least, if not against single ships of War."
Otherwise, he writes, he has "no particular Intelligence to communicate from the Honourable Congress ... only I beg leave to say that as much Harmony and Zeal is still prevailing in that honourable Assembly as ever appeared at any time, and that their Unanimity and Firmness increase."
Until now the letter has been known only from a transcript in the hand of W.C. Ford held by the Massachusetts Historical Society, published in the Papers of John Adams (Harvard University Press, 1977).

Estimate: US$50,000 - 80,000

October 10, 2011 Update: Unsold.


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