“too good a joke to lose”

In 1794, President George Washington sent John Jay to England to negotiate a treaty dealing with issues that had arisen relating to the Peace Treaty of 1783. Concluded in November of 1794, the Jay Treaty, as it was called, did not resolve all of the problems in a satisfactory manner, but it prevented another war between Britain and the United States that had seemed imminent. John Jay, his son, Peter Augustus, who served as his private secretary, and his official secretary John Trumbull remained in London until the spring of 1795.

About this time John Quincy Adams, with his brother Thomas Boylston, arrived in London en route to a diplomatic assignment in the Hague. The Adams brothers and the Jays met at the Johnsons several times. Louisa described details of a particular visit to her children in “Record of a Life”.

Mr. Jay . . . came to England and while he was there Mr. Adams [JQA] and his Brother Tom arrived in London on their way to Holland. . . . Mr. Jay and your father and Uncle were invited to dine with us . . . they were asked on account of the former acquaintance of the two families when your Grandfather [John Adams] was Minister in England—Your father was engaged; but your Uncle dined with us and so far were we from dreaming of a future connection in the family that from some strange fancy my Sister Nancy nick named your Uncle Abel and of course the brother whom we had never seen was called Cain. I mention this merely to show how little idea or desire there was in the family to plot or plan a marriage between the families—I also had a nick name in consequence of my habit of warning my Sisters if any thing was likely to go wrong; they called me Cassandra because they seldom listened to me until the mischief was done. . . .

Colonel John Trumbull visited the Johnsons frequently and his favorite among the sisters was Louisa. She remarked that “he said he wished he was a young man for then he should certainly pay his addresses to me; and this was the utmost that ever passed between us that could be tortured into love or what we fashionably term a belle Passion.” Louisa goes on to describe an amusing incident that took place at a friend’s house.

In consequence of our being at Mrs. Church’s the first Evening that Mr. Jay and his son and the Col was introduced he also bore another name among us Girls—The Servant a frenchman announcing them as Mr Pétéràjay and Col Terrible—you may suppose this was too good a joke to lose and it attached itself to them as long as they remained in England.

The information and quoted passages are from A Traveled First Lady: Writings of Louisa Catherine Adams edited by Margaret A. Hogan and C. James Taylor (Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2014), pages 21-22. The portrait of John Jay is by an unknown artist after a painting by Gilbert Stuart, courtesy of the John Jay Homestead State Historic Site. Gilbert Stuart painted the portrait of John Trumbull in 1818. It is at the Yale University Art Gallery.


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