"Will an imperious Court ever ratify that (Saratoga) Convention? or will the Army be Prisoners during the War? I think Burgoines Army ought to be sentJohn Adams Important Autograph Letter Signed "John Adams", 1.25 pages, 6.5" x 8", separate conjoined sheets. Braintree, February 6, 1778. Addressed on verso of second leaf by Adams to: "Hon./William Ellery Esqr/Member of Congress/York Town, docketed by Ellery: "Jno Adams/dated Feb 6 1778/Recd Mh 11th". There are tears at the left portion of the first page and at the edges from the opening of the letter by Ellery at the wax seal.
At the time of this letter, John Adams was preparing to leave for France to supersede Silas Deane in the American commission there (he left on February 15th) and Ellery represented Rhode Island in the Continental Congress. On September 26, 1777, Congress moved to York, Pennsylvania, remaining there until returning to Philadelphia on July 2, 1778. This letter was sent by Adams to Ellery in York. Two years earlier, both had signed the Declaration of Independence
In part: "Report says, that when the order for suspending Mr Burgoines [sic] embarkation was given him, he threshed his Hand upon his Thigh and declared that he believed Congress were determined to kill him. Will an imperious Court ever ratify that Convention? or will the Army be Prisoners during the War? I think Burgoines Army is snugg enough but they ought to be sent farther from Boston...." Adams also agrees to render "to the Gentleman whom you recommend every Service in my Power. I had been introduced to that young Gentleman by his Father, for whom I have conceived a great deal of Esteem...."
After three weeks of battle, British General John Burgoyne, surrounded by a force of nearly 20,000 American soldiers, surrendered to General Horatio Gates at Saratoga, New York, on October 17, 1777. The Saratoga Convention was signed and Burgoyne and his army of about 6,000 men laid down their arms after one of the most important military victories in U.S. history. The large painting The Surrender of Burgoyne at Saratoga by John Trumbull hangs in the U.S. Capitol building. Under the terms of the Saratoga Convention, General Gates agreed, among other things, to permit Burgoyne's troops to lay down their arms by command of their own officers, to march out of camp with the honors of war, and to proceed under guard to Boston so that from there they could be sent back to England "upon Condition of not serving again in North America during the present Contest." Congress felt that returning these troops to England would free other British troops to be sent to America so they looked for a way to at least detain Burgoyne's army in Boston. On November 8, 1778, a little more than a week after first learning the terms of the Convention, Congress ordered General William Heath, the American commander at Boston, to take a census of Burgoyne's officers and men on the premise that if any were later found serving against the United States they might be punished. This census was not part of the Saratoga Convention and an angry Burgoyne refused. On November 14th, Burgoyne complained that Massachusetts authorities had violated the Convention by failing to provide suitable housing for himself and his officers, commenting in a letter to General Gates that "The public faith is broke." On November 22nd, Congress ordered Gates to investigate allegations that Burgoyne's army had failed to surrender all the arms, accoutrements, and colors as required by the Convention, another delaying tactic. On December 18th, Burgoyne's letter to Gates was read to Congress. Congressional leaders felt that Burgoyne's remark about "public faith" might be a pretext for Burgoyne's repudiating the Convention altogether as soon as his ships sailed from Boston. After debate, Congress officially resolved on January 8, 1778, that "the embarkation of Lieutenant General Burgoyne, and the troops under his command, be suspended till a distinct and explicit ratification of the convention of Saratoga shall be properly notified by the court of Great Britain to Congress." In this letter, Adams questions whether Britain ("an imperious Court") would ever ratify it. They wouldn't and Adams knew it. British ratification of the Convention would have constituted an acknowledgment of the legitimacy of Congress itself, which the British still refused to concede. Adams then asks if Burgoyne's army would "be prisoners during the war". Burgoyne's so-called "Convention Army" of British, Hessian, and Canadian troops, however, remained prisoners until the ratification of the Treaty of Paris ending the Revolutionary war in 1783 when what remained of the 5,800 soldiers captured in 1778 were released. However, on March 3, 1778, Congress resolved "That Lieutenant General Burgoyne, on account of his ill state of health, have leave to embark for England by Rhode Island, or any more expeditious route, with the officers of his family and his servants...." Adams also remarks that he feels Burgoyne's army "ought to be sent farther from Boston." They were. In November 1778, the Convention Army was marched south 700 miles to Charlottesville, Virginia.
Contemporary letters referring to the Battle of Saratoga are rare. Those commenting on Burgoyne's delayed embarkation are even rarer. The fact that this letter was written by a future President of the United States and a Signer of the Declaration of Independence to another Signer, makes it extremely desirable and would be a cornerstone in an American historical collection.
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