Birth of the US Navy: President John Adams's letter confirms America's first ships

Bonhams is shaping up to present a strong manuscripts auction including classic Americana from around the time of the country's bid for independence and views of the world even older than that.

One of the highlights in the October 10 sale is undoubtedly an autograph letter signed by second US President-to-be John Adams. It is two pages long with conjoined leaves and sent from Watertown on January 4, 1776, to William Cooper.

Its condition is generally very good, though with a light dust-soiling, lower edge uneven and a 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.

Adams autograph letter
John Adams signed letter - estimated at $50,000-80,000

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.

Collectors interested in Americana from the time of the United States' revolution against and declaration of independence from Britain may wish to read about the newly re-united annotated newspapers of Harbottle Dorr, or accounts of the first reactions to the infamous Stamp Act, both of which sold recently.

Alternatively, they may wish to buy a lottery ticket signed by George Washington himself, which we currently have in stock.


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