John Adams letter to Abigail Adams, 29 June 1774


New York, 29 June, 1774.


I HAVE a great deal of leisure, which I chiefly employ in scribbling, that my mind may not stand still or run back, like my fortune. There is very little business hero, and David Scwall, David Wyer, John Sullivan and James Sullivan and Theophilus Bradbury are the lawyers who attend the inferior courts, and consequently, conduct the causes at the superior.

I find that the country is the situation to make estates by the law. John Sullivan, who is placed at Durham in New Hampshire, is younger both in years and practice than I am. He began with nothing, but is now said to be worth ten thousand pounds lawful money, his brother James allows five or six or perhaps seven thousand pounds, consisting in houses and lands, notes, bonds and mortgages. He has a fine stream of water with an excellent corn mill, saw mill, fulling mill, scythe mill and others, in all, six mills, which are both his delight and his profit. As he has earned cash in his business at the bar, he has taken opportunities to purchase farms of his neighbours, who wanted to sell and move out farther into the woods, at an advantageous rate, and in this way has been growing rich ; under the smiles and auspices of Governor Wentworth, he has been promoted in the civil and military way, so that he is treated with great respect in this neighbourhood.

James Sullivan, brother of the other, who studied law under him, without any academical education (and John was in the same case), is fixed at Saco, alias Biddeford, in our province. He began with neither learning, books, estate nor anything but his head and hands, and is now a very popular lawyer and growing rich very fast, purchasing great farms, &c., and a justice of the peace and a member of the General Court.

David Sewall, of this town, never practises out of this county ; has no children ; has no ambition nor avarice, they say, (however quaere.) His business in this county maintains him very handsomely, and he gets beforehand.

Bradbury at Falmouth, they say, grows rich very fast.

I was first sworn in 1758. My life has been a continual scene of fatigue, vexation, labour and anxiety. I have four children. I had a pretty estate from my father; I have been assisted by your father; I have done the greatest business in the province ; I have had the very richest clients in the province. Yet I am poor, in comparison with others.

This, I confess, is grievous and discouraging. I ought however to be candid enough to acknowledge that I have been imprudent I have spent an estate in books ; I have spent a sum of money indiscreetly in a lighter, another in a pew, and a much greater in a house in Boston. These would have been indiscretions, if the impeachment of the Judges, the Boston port bill, &c. &c., had never happened ; but by the unfortunate interruption of my business from these causes, those indiscretions became almost fatal to me ; to be sure, much more detrimental.

John Lowell, at Newburyport, has built himself a house like the palace of a nobleman, and lives in great splendor. His business is very profitable. In short, every lawyer who has the least appearance of abilities, makes it do in the country. In town, nobody does, or ever can, who either is not obstinately determined never to have any connexion with politics, or does not engage on the side of the Government, the Administration and the Court.

Let us, therefore, my dear partner, from that affection which we feel for our lovely babes, apply our selves, by every way we can, to the cultivation of our farm. Let frugality and industry be our virtues, if they are not of any others. And above all cares of this life, let our ardent anxiety be, to mould the minds and manners of our children. Let us teach them not only to do virtuously, but to excel. To excel, they must be taught to be steady, active and industrious.

I am, &c. Your


John Adams

Letters of John Adams, Addressed to His Wife. Edited by His Grandson, Charles Francis Adams, Volume I, 1841