DescriptionWilliam Vernon Jr. Autograph Letter Signed with five retained copies of different letters, plus several other true copies of letters, including one John Adams letter (true copy). Vernon Jr. provided these letters for his father, William Vernon Sr., to peruse. All are dated 1778. Together, these letters tell the story of the arrival in France of Rhode Islander William Vernon Jr. aboard the same frigate as John Adams. The letters also convey information about Vernon Jr.'s first nine months in France. In addition, the letters reveal the expanding political and commercial ties between the French people and the new United States in 1778, the year the French became the United States' first ally. All letters are moderately toned. The address leaf of the ALS was torn at the seal when originally opened. Minor dampstaining to some letters.
Vernon Jr. graduated from the College of New Jersey (modern Princeton University) in 1776. After his graduation, he sailed for France in February 1778 to establish himself with a French merchant house and to learn the French language. His father was William Vernon Sr., a prosperous Newport, Rhode Island, merchant and slave trader who fled to Boston following the British invasion of Rhode Island in December 1776. In Boston, Vernon Sr. was chosen by the Continental Congress to serve on the Eastern Navy Board. He was acquainted with John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin and the marquis de Lafayette. In one of the included letters, John Adams writes that Vernon Sr. was "a Gentleman in high trust & esteem" who "had the virtue to abandon his property to the fury of a British Army, & take his lot with his countrymen, in their hardy struggle for Liberty."
All of these letters were likely mailed to Vernon Sr. to give him a better understanding of what his son was accomplishing in France, likely in response to a scolding letter (not included) that Vernon Sr. had sent Vernon Jr. for not writing home enough. In his ALS (three pages, from Montauban, December 14, 1778), Vernon Jr. responds specifically to his father's scolding, "Your disappointments will be frequent if by every Vessel that arrives from France you expect letters from me." The copies of letters Vernon Jr. included were likely intended to ease the father's worries.
One retained copy ("Quadruplicate", Bordeaux, June 15, 1778) signed by Vernon Jr. is written to his father describing the six week passage from America to France aboard the frigate Boston. Also on board were John Adams and ten-year-old John Quincy Adams. The elder Adams, making his first of three trans-Atlantic voyages, had been chosen with Benjamin Franklin by the Continental Congress to negotiate a French alliance. According to John Adams' diary (the April 1, 1778, entry found in L. H. Butterfield, Marc Friedlaender, and Mary-Jo Kline, eds., The Book of Abigail and John: Selected Letters of the Adams Family, 1762-1784 [Northeastern University Press, 2002], 206), when the vessel arrived at the port of Bordeaux on April 1, Vernon Jr. rowed ashore with John Adams to visit the bustling French city. Three days later, Adams began his journey to Paris, while Vernon Jr., after "receiving the best information concerning the commercial Cities of France", decided to stay in Bordeaux. But he needed help securing a position in a merchant house: "I wrote immediately to Mr. A[dams] (who before his departure desired it) for recommendations to the house of (Messrs. Feyers frères); & that I had on that day receiv'd his answer. Mr. Bon[d]field the American Agent [appointed by the Continental Congress as an American commercial agent to France] (to whom Mr. A. recommended me before he left this) has had the goodness to make the application for me to this house."
Vernon Jr. provides his father with another retained copy of the letter that he wrote to "Mr. A." (Bordeaux, May 12, 1778) explaining that he was still unable to enter "into the Counting House of some principal Merchant" and requesting John Adams to "give me recommendations. . . . Being fully sensible that the business in which you must be involved leaves you few leisure moments. . . . You, who art the only Person of much consequence in France who has the least knowledge of me or my connections." Vernon Jr. then provides his father with a true copy of the response he received from Mr. Adams ("Passi, near Paris", May 12, 1778). In that letter, John Adams agrees with Vernon Jr.'s decision to remain in Bordeaux, though Adams doesn't know anything about the merchant house that Vernon wants to work with ("Messrs. Feyers frères") and insists that Vernon Jr. contact John Bondfield. Adams includes a paragraph of introduction in his letter which Vernon Jr. can use to help secure a position: "You are sprung from a Family of much merit in America; that your Father, who was a Mercht. Of large prosperity & excellent reputation, in the Town of Newpt. on RI has had the virtue to abandon his property to the fury of a British Army, & take his lot with his countrymen, in their hardy struggle for Liberty. That he is a Gentleman in high trust & esteem, being the first of the three Members of the Continental Navy Board established at B[oston]., for the Eastern district of N. America." From the Papers of William Vernon.
In the "Quadruplicate" letter (June 15, 1778), Vernon Jr. writes, "I wrote . . . informing you of our safe arrival here on the second of April after a blustering Passage of 6 weeks; I also wrote you by the Boston Frigate." The newly built frigate Boston set sail for France on February 17, 1778. The 3,000 mile voyage, which lasted twice as long as the usual three weeks, was very risky, especially in time of war with Britain. Not far from the French coast, the frigate encountered and defeated a British vessel. Adams, and likely Vernon Jr., took part in the short skirmish. Interestingly, the day before the Boston sailed for France, John Adams records in his diary (February 16, 1778 entry) that he had received a letter from Vernon Sr. asking him to "place my Son [Vernon Jr.], in such a situation [in France], and with such a gentleman as you would choose for one of yours, whom you would wish to accomplish for a merchant." Adams ends the diary entry for that day by observing, "Thus I find myself invested with the unexpected trust of a kind of guardianship of two promising young gentlemen [the other was the young son of Silas Deane], besides my own son. This benevolent office is peculiarly agreeable to my Temper" (John Adams, The Portable John Adams, ed. John P. Diggins [Penguin Books, 2004], 28-29).
Two other retained copies were provided for Vernon Sr. (August, 22, 1778, and October 28, 1778, both from Montauban). In them, Vernon Jr. writes that the French are "admirers of American liberty" and that American are "respected upon account of their noble struggle for their privileges."
Three letters (two retained copies [both signed "William Vernon Junr." from Bordeaux, May or June 1778] and one true copy [from London, June 1778]) are communications to an unnamed family friend in England with hopes that "the public disputes which at present subsist between Great Britain and America . . . must not necessarily be broken off . . . unless they enter warmly & inveterately into contrary sides." The family friend appreciates the Vernon family who were "such valuable individuals as have conducted themselves with integrity and honor."
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