Adams’s revenge, Part 13 of 13

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William Rotch had hoped and expected for a quiet retirement upon his return to the United States, but John Adams had a different idea in mind. The two corresponded previously when Adams had contacted Rotch requesting data on the whaling industry (number of ships, tons of oil, etc.) for Adams’s report on the subject. Rotch replied that he lost most of his records during his flight from France, but offered what few insights he could. Adams thanked him and wished him well. Imagine Rotch’s surprise, then, when he discovered that Adams had instructed a Massachusetts newspaper to re-print the wartime treason charges against him “word for word” in its pages. Rotch, hurt and affronted by Adams’s petty vengefulness, wrote Adams a letter, asking if the former U.S. President acted out of malice or “the effect of old age bordering on second childhood.” Though Rotch initially thought the vindictive and malicious gesture would “have no more effect on me, than the diging up the bones of John Wickcliff after being inter’d forty-one years and burning them, had on him,”  Rotch nevertheless  defended himself once again.1   Citing his autobiography, “Memorandum  Written by William Rotch in the Eightieth Year of his Age,” an 89-page defense of his conduct during the wars, Rotch offered his own account of the bayonet mishap, the Massachusetts treason trial; his removal to England, then France, then Wales; and his dispute with Jefferson. We don’t know if Jefferson or Adams ever accepted Rotch’s justifications for his conduct, but we do know that Rotch outlived both of his old rivals. Rotch died in New Bedford in 1828, two years after Adams and Jefferson famously died only hours apart on July 4, 1826.

1 The full text of the letter from William Rotch to “Respected Friend” John Adams dated 4-10-1823 may be found online at:

Published as part of a series

  1. Before the Rockefellers, there were the Rotches
  2. For those who fail at business…there’s always politics
  3. The Tea Party: bad for business
  4. A different kind of sunken treasure
  5. The Falkland gambit
  6. “No step between being clear, and death”
  7. Patriotism…and false flags?
  8. America’s first trade war: bad for business
  9. You can run but you can’t hide (in France)
  10. Whaler, traitor, coward…spy?
  11. Can you ever go home again?
  12. Post-script: Jefferson’s accusations and Adams’s
  13. Adams’s revenge

The Nantucket Historical Association preserves and interprets the history of Nantucket through its programs, collections, and properties, in order to promote the island’s significance and foster an appreciation of it among all audiences.

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