I have nothing to do here but to take the air, inquire for news, talk politics, and write letters. This town has the best air I have ever breathed. It is very level and there are no mountains or hills to obstruct the free course of the air upon any point of compass for eight or ten miles. It lies upon the sea on the south and has a river running through it. The weather has been inexpressibly fine all this week. The air is as clear, as bright, as springy, as you can conceive. Braintree air is thick and unelastic in comparison of this. What then is that of Boston?
I regret that I cannot have the pleasure of enjoying this fine weather with my family, and upon my farm. Oh, how often am I there! I have but a dull prospect before me. I have no hope of reaching Braintree under a fortnight from this day, if I should in twenty days.
I regret my absence from the county of Suffolk this week on another account. If I was there, I could converse with the gentlemen who are bound with me to Philadelphia¹; I could turn the course of my reading and studies to such subjects of Law, and Politics, and Commerce, as may come in play at the Congress. I might be furbishing up my old reading in Law and History, that I might appear with less indecency before a variety of gentlemen, whose educations, travels, experience, family, fortune, and everything will give them a vast superiority to me, and I fear to some of my companions.
This town of York is a curiosity, in several views. The people here are great idolaters of the memory of their former minister, Mr. Moody. Dr. Sayward² says, and the rest of the generally think, that Mr. Moody was one of the greatest men and best saints who have lived since the days of the Apostles. He had an ascendency and authority over the people here, as absolute as that of any prince in Europe, not excepting his Holiness.
This he acquired by a variety of means. In the first place, he settled in the place without any contract. His professed principle was that no man should be hired to preach the gospel, but that the minister should depend upon the charity, generosity, and benevolence of the people. This was very flattering to their pride, and left room for their ambition to display itself in an emulation among them which should be most bountiful and ministerial.
In the next place, he acquired the character of firm trust in Providence. A number of gentlemen came in one day, when they had nothing in the house. His wife was very anxious, they say, and asked him what they should do. “Oh, never fear; trust Providence, make a fire in the oven, and you will have something.” Very soon a variety of everything that was good was sent in, and by one o’clock they had a splendid dinner.
He had also the reputation of enjoying intimate communication with the Deity, and of having a great interest in the Court of Heaven by his prayers.
He always kept his musket in order, and was fond of hunting. On a time, they say, he was out of provisions. There came along two wild geese. He takes gun and cries, “If it please God I kill both, I will send the fattest to the poorest person in the parish.” He shot, and killed both; ordered them plucked, and then sent the fattest to a poor widow, leaving the other, which was a very poor one, at home,–to the great mortification of his lady. But his maxim was, Perform unto the Lord they vow.
But the best story I have heard yet was his doctrine in a sermon from this text: “Lord, what shall we do?” The doctrine was that when a person or people are in a state of perplexity, and know not what to do, they ought never to do they know not what. This is applicable to the times.
He brought his people into a remarkable submission and subjection to their spiritual rulers, which continues to this day. Their present parson³ does and says what he pleases, is a great Tory, and as odd as Moody.
- John Adams
York, June 30, 1774
¹ “gentlemen… bound with me to Philadelphia”: Just prior to the drafting of this letter, on June 17, Adams had been selected as a delegate to the First Continental Congress, scheduled to meet in Philadelphia; also chosen were James Bowdoin, Thomas Cushing, Robert Treat Paine, and John’s second cousin, Samuel Adams.
² Mr. Moody. Dr. Sayward: Samuel Moody was born in 1675, graduated from Cambridge in 1697, and died in 1747. He was often referred to as “peculiar”, but most seemed to mean that with nothing but respect and positivity. Dr. Jonathan Sayward (1713-97), a known loyalist, was a prominent citizen of York County. Despite his loyalist leanings, he retained his property and social position during and even after the Revolution.
³ their present parson: This letter was later edited to remove Adams’ identification of the pastor as Isaac Lyman, a known Loyalist. I haven’t been able to find out why it was edited. It seemed important to note, however, since Isaac Lyman will be referenced in future letters.