University Archives


John Adams Boldly Signed Promissory Note Written in the Hand of John Quincy Adams, Ex-Sang

A promissory note signed by 2nd U.S. President John Adams (1735-1826) as "John Adams" at lower right, the remaining text inscribed in the hand of his son, 6th U.S. President John Quincy Adams (1767-1848). From the collection of Philip D. Sang (1902-1975), the noted autograph and manuscript collector.

Written in Quincy, Massachusetts on March 29, 1802, the promissory note reads in part: "Quincy 29. March 1802. For value received I promise to pay Mr Thomas Thaxter junr or order eleven hundred and twenty-five dollars and fifty cents, in twelve months from this date, with interest untill paid." To the left is the signature of a witness to the debt, Dr. Cotton Tufts. The faint impressions of two embossed twenty-five-cent revenue stamps can be found at left. Light mat burn does not affect the legibility of the document or detract from Adams's large signature, which measures 2.875" x .375" alone. Hinge tabs are located at the top verso, as are a few reversible pencil inscriptions. 7.5" x 4.5." Accompanied by two period prints, one depicting Adams after Alonzo Chappel, and the other depicting the White House.

This promissory note is dated March 29, 1802, a little over one year after John Adams left the White House (his presidential term had ended on March 4, 1801.) The sum of money that Adams promised to be repaid was substantial; $1,152.50 in 1802 is the equivalent of over $27,000 in 2020 currency.

All the parties involved in this financial transaction were related by familial ties. The debtor John Adams, the amanuensis John Quincy Adams, the creditor Thomas Thaxter, and the witness Dr. Cotton Tufts were related either through family or marriage.

Adams's creditor was "Thomas Thaxter junr." This could have possibly been Thomas Thaxter (1760-1839) of Hingham, Massachusetts, who was a merchant in the firm of Loring & Thaxter and who served as postmaster until 1809. Thaxter was married to Anna Quincy (1758-1832), the first cousin once removed of Adams's wife Abigail (Anna Quincy's mother Anna (1719-1799) was Abigail Adam's maternal aunt.) Thomas Thaxter is mentioned within the Adams Family correspondence, and was also cited among the parties involved in a three party indenture for distribution of property between John Adams and Abigail Adams in October 1814. (If this is the Thomas Thaxter referred to in the check, the only mystery remains the use of the word "junior" in the check, since Thomas was the son of Benjamin.)

Dr. Cotton Tufts (1734-1815) was John Adams's cousin and frequent correspondent. A Harvard University graduate, Tufts aligned with the Patriot cause during the Revolutionary War. He was also a politician, an intellectual, and a prominent physician.

This promissory note gains in importance when one considers that printed checks signed by John Adams are extremely rare. One of the only instances of an Adams signed printed check appearing at auction was part of a collection formed by the late Philip D. Sang; it was sold at Christie's as Lot 177 at their December 10, 1999 sale.

This item comes with a Certificate from John Reznikoff, a premier authenticator for both major 3rd party authentication services, PSA and JSA (James Spence Authentications), as well as numerous auction houses.


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