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Miss Adams In Love
Eighteenth-century equivalents of “Yankee go home!” greeted the Adams family when, in 1785, they arrived in London. Nevertheless, there were certain delightful compensations—especially for an eligible young lady
February 1965 | Volume 16, Issue 2
Having got the Colonel to declare himself, Mrs. Adams then revealed to Amelia the contents of Sister Cranch’s letter. The girl listened quietly and then unhesitatingly declared that she would break the engagement. When her mother, somewhat taken aback, asked her, “Have you well considered what you are about?” she replied, “I have well considered and am determined”; and as proof that it was no hasty decision, produced a copy of the letter she had written Tyler in May requesting an explanation of his neglect, to which she had had no reply. After this interview with her mother, she asked the advice of her father, who told her (according to Abigail) that if she had sufficient reason to doubt Tyler’s honor and veracity, “he had rather follow her to her grave than see her united with him.”
From a locked box in her room, Amelia took Tyler’s miniature and his few letters and made a bundle of them to which she affixed a note:
Sir: Herewith you receive your letters and miniature with my desire that you return mine to Uncle Cranch and my hopes that you are as well satisfied with the affair as is A.A.
Amelia’s cold little note, the last letter she ever wrote Royall Tyler, was dated August 11, 1785. That same day, Abigail received a letter from Colonel Smith written from Harwich on his way to board the Channel packet for Holland in company with Colonel Miranda. He informed her that following the Prussian Review he intended to return to London by way of Paris. This was totally unexpected both to her and to John Adams, who had requested his Secretary to return to London “as soon as may be,” but Abigail gave no hint of disapproval in her prompt reply. Advising the Colonel to keep a journal on his travels, “for I promise myself much entertainment from it upon your return,” she offered him introductions to several old friends in Paris.
Another person in London was also much interested in the continental tour of the two colonels. The Spanish minister had furnished Miranda with a letter of introduction to Spain’s minister to Prussia. But he had offset this letter by a dispatch in cipher to the Spanish legation in Berlin; and in anticipation of the Paris visit he had persuaded the Comte de Vergennes to issue orders for Miranda’s arrest if he should venture to cross the northern frontier of France.
Colonel Smith had hardly arrived in Holland before John Adams was wishing for his return. The first real crisis had arisen at the legation. In the third week of August, 1785, reports began circulating in London that the Algerians were capturing American ships.
For centuries Algiers and the other Barbary States on the coast of North Africa—Morocco, Tunis, and Tripoli—had been preying on the Mediterranean commerce of any nation that did not buy them off. The British had done so, and as long as American ships were under British sovereignty they had been safe; but they were safe no longer.
Adams, all too aware of the inability of his weak young nation either to make war on the pirates or to pay the tribute they would demand, thought he saw a ray of hope in the arrival in London of a minister from Tripoli, one Abdurrahman, who seemed to be friendly to America and might be helpful in persuading the other Barbary powers to make a treaty. Amelia encountered the Tripolitan at court and was “absolutely frightened.” At first she mistook him for the Mohawk Indian chief Joseph Brant, who was in London at the time being considerably feted and admired, appearing at the Queen’s Drawing Room in his native dress “with that pretty plaything his Tommy Hawk in his hand.” The minister from Tripoli seemed almost as strange, in his turban and robes and sandals. He was accompanied by two pages, and Amelia thought she had never seen “such a dirty set of creatures.”
She was vastly entertained by her father’s account of his first visit to this phenomenon, how “by a little Italian and French with some Langua Franca they got into Conversation—and understood each other wondrously. There were two pages present and a servant brought two long Pipes—one for Pappa and the other for Monsieur Ia T’fcrke—with two cups of Coffee. Pappa took both and resting the bowl of the Pipe upon the floor while the stem was in his mouth smoaked away —taking a sip of Coffee and a Whif at his pipe—the Ambassador did the same—at last one of the Secretaries cried out in ecstasy to Pappa—Monsieur vous etes un veritable Turk.” The visit was returned, but all that resulted from these efforts at sociability was a hint from the Tripolitan that a treaty with the Barbary States might cost as much as 200,000 guineas.
Throughout that fall of 1785, lights burned late in the Minister’s study in the ell of the house on Grosvenor Square. The negotiations with the Barbary States required an immense amount of writing: instructions to be written and rewritten, copied and recopied; dispatches ciphered and deciphered. Everything had to be done in secrecy, for fear of British intervention. For several days John Adams’ eyes became so inflamed that he could do nothing. At first Charles Storer helped, but he left for America early in September, and after that the burden fell on Amelia, for there was no one else. In Paris Mr. Jefferson was plentifully supplied with attachés, but Adams had only Colonel Smith, and Colonel Smith was noticeably absent.