Thursday, December 4, 2008

Letter from John Jay to John Adams delivered by Unknown Kissam

John Jay to John Adams about Unknown Kissam - Feb 16, 1788

When I first found the letter from John Jay to John Adams about a Kissam family member (original at Columbia University, text version below) I wishfully thought it was related to Dr. Benjamin Kissam, Benjamin Kissam's son, and my direct ancestor. After reviewing the timeline I doubt it is (though it could be!). Dr. Kissam was already in New York City with a practice in 1788 [pg. 28, Kissam Family in America]. The other four other candidates are:

  • Peter Rutgers Kissam - at 32 I'm not sure he qualifies as a "young gentleman" so I think we can rule him out.
  • Samuel Kissam - had a practice in Suriname in the Caribbean I realized this was wrong shortly after I posted but thanks to Toby for reminding me. so i guess he's a candidate
  • Richard Sharpe Kissam - was in Edinburgh completing his medical degree
  • and Adrian Kissam - the youngest

So for me, the leading candidate would be Adrian based on age and the possible interpretation of the letter. Benjamin is still possible though I find it odd he'd be referred to as "Mr." as opposed to "Dr." So some background to the letter...

In February 1788 John Adams found himself trying to come back home from England where he had been serving as both United States' Minister to the Netherlands and it's Minister to Great Britain. John Jay as United States Secretary for Foreign Affairs was working to provide him the proper letters of recall so he could return with the appropriate decorum. On Feb. 14 1788 we have a letter from Jay to Adams about the situation [cite]:

Dear Sir,—New York, 14 February, 1788.

As this letter will go by the way of Ireland, and may be exposed to accidents in the course of its route, I decline entering into particulars; but, as the long recess of congress, who are now again convened, makes it necessary that the inclosed letters of recall should be transmitted without delay, I think it best to send one set by this conveyance, and to forward duplicates by another vessel, which will sail about the last of the month for Bristol. Your letters by the packet are come to hand, and shall be particularly noticed in my next, which will go under cover to a friend, with directions to him what to do with it in case you should have left England before its arrival. Massachusetts has adopted the proposed constitution by a majority of nineteen.

I am, dear sir, &c.

John Jay.

I haven't found a text version of the letter John Jay sent to John Adams introducing this unknown Kissam online yet but here is my take. The first few lines of the letter are fairly straightforward but I had a tough time deciphering the last few lines.

Dear Sir,—New York 16 Feb. 1788

Permit me to introduce to you Mr. [???] Kissam who will have the honor of delivering this letter to you. He is the son of a late eminent Lawyer of this city, who I really think was one of the best men I have ever known as well as one of the best friends I have ever had. That and considerations interest me in whatever may concern the amiable family he has left and induce me to request your friendly attention to this young gentleman, whose good character and manners unite with my esteem and affection for his father in recommending him to my best wishes and success[?].

With great and sincere esteem and regard of I have the honor to be
John Jay
your ...

So was a Kissam the "friend" that acted as "cover" for John Jay when he sent another letter to John Adams? Or was it simply a benefactor introducing the young son of a much loved mentor to another American in London? The timing is interesting...

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