Thankfull Adams petition to the Probate Court of Massachusetts Bay for the dissolution of the estate of Elihu Adams

(AMERICAN REVOLUTION–1777.) Adams, Thankful White. A probate petition from the estate of Captain Elihu Adams, brother of John Adams. Document Signed, one page, 5 1/4 x 6 1/2 inches; cropped on all edges, folds, docketed on verso. (MRS) Braintree, MA, 21 April 1777
CASE#: 15842

Braintree, Suffolk County, Massachusetts Bay

April 21, 1777

I finally purchased this underappreciated document after watching it float around the antiquities market since November 2016 when the estate of Timothy Treacy released his incredible collection including a first edition of the Book of Mormon, and documents written and signed by George Washington and Benjamin Franklin. This is one of few Adams family documents that isn’t by or about John or Abigail Adams, but this document and Thankfull’s probate issues are referenced by John and Abigail a number of times in their mutual correspondence in the time between Elihu’s death and the resolution of the estate.

Thankfull Adams, born Thankfull White

Born: May 25, 1747 / Died: May 22, 1822

Married: Elihu Adams on September 20, 1765 (original registration)

Children: Susanna Adams (1766 – 1826), John Adams (1768 – 1835), Elisha Adams (1770 – 1829) Elihu Adams (? 1775 – September 24, 1775). The child is referred to only once in Abigail’s diary with undetermined name but suspect ‘Elihu’)

Life / Marriage: Thankfull White married Elihu Adams, one of three brothers to John Adams Sr., and included John Adams (Founding Father, Second President, Father of John Quincy Adams Sixth President) and Peter Adams. From the few accounts of her communicating with the family, it seems that Thankfull wasn’t well schooled and bordered on illiterate. Her husband, Elihu, certainly didn’t conjure change as his brother John, but in his short military life he participated in some of the most historically significant battles in the war.

As a member of Col. Benjamin Lincoln’s company, a man famous in his own right, he marched on Boston led by Lt. David Linfield, and engaged the British en route, in the conflict that became infamously known as the shot heard around the world, the Battle of Lexington and Concord where the Americans won their first battle against the British forces and drove them closer to Boston center, ultimately kicking them out of the city.

Elihu died of dysentery five months into the Seige of Boston. Many reports suggest that he died on March 18, 1776, and after hours pouring through the archives, there was indeed a flurry of legal documents submitted on this day, but according to John Adams wife Abigail, he passed away sometime on the night of August 10th or the morning of the 11th, 1775, as she writes him to let him know.

At the time, Braintree was a very small community, everyone was related or knew each other, bought and sold property from each other, and lived within mere miles of Boston, the epicenter of the Revolution called the Siege of Boston (April 19, 1775 – March 17, 1776). And, despite what seems to be a complete lack of influence or participation during the incredible time in which Thankfull lived in her prime, one has to assume that, as the wife of the brother to John Adams, and in later years, Aaron Hobart, she must have met and even befriended even to a small degree, some of the most influential people in American history. John Adams was friends with and Vice President to George Washington, his best friend was John Hancock, the first signatory of the Declaration of Independence and the greatest signature of all time, and also friends with Benjamin Franklin. Not to mention Paul Revere who was a Bell Maker’s protege to her second husband, Aaron Hobart. And we can’t forget Abigail Adams, the secret force behind the creation of an independent nation.


After some fairly extensive handwriting comparisons of court documents issued to the State of the Massachusetts Bay between February and July 1777, there is substantive evidence that the document was written by Samuel Niles, Justice of the Peace.


The handwriting on the reverse may also be that of Samuel Niles. The request for more info is interesting in that it requests one person to ask another person if yet a third person is owed money. OR, is it a note-to-self?

Cpt. Elihu Adams

b. 1741, d. August 10, 1775, Brother to John Adams
Elihu Adams’ home was located on what is now South Franklin Street in Holbrook, back when Braintree, Holbrook, Randolph and Quincy were all Braintree. D’Anns Restaurant, 200 South Franklin Street is currently located at that address.

He was surveyor of highways in 1766, warden in 1771, and served on various committees in 1774, and as assizer of bread in 1775, which meant that he was in charge of making sure that bakers who made bread conformed to the strict loaf-weight restrictions. In 1775, Elihu Adams served on the Committee of Correspondence, a very important committee largely responsible for spreading news of the revolution in the 13 colonies. Adams served as captain in the Braintree Third Volunteer Militia. In 1775, en route to Boston, he engaged the British at “the shot heard around the world”, and later participated in the famous Battle of Grape Island.

For some reason, the local town remembers him on the anniversary of his death, but they chose March 18, 1776 and still contend that he died on this day. I haven’t figured out why there is a discrepency. Perhaps they are using the date that Thankfull Adams assumed guardianship of his children and when the will was enforced. I have to admit that I am a little curious as to why, if he did die in August ’75, it took until March 18, 1776 to attend to the estate.

(The text marked in red are meaningful references to this dissolution petition and the underlying assets or people involved in the creation and expedition of this document)

Thursday, August 10, 1775

Elihu Adams dies of Dysentery contracted in camp while with his company at Cambridge

His brother John Adams writes in his diary “I returned to Philadelphia, but not till I had followed My youngest Brother to the Grave. He had commanded a Company of Militia all Summer at Cambridge, and there taken a fatal Dissentary then epidemic in the Camp of which he died leaving a young Widow and three Young Children, who are all still living.”

Sunday, September 24, 1775

Thanksfull’s infant child dies from dysentery

Unnamed but may have also been Elihu, mentioned by Abigail Adams in her letter the following day, first referred to as Sister Adams then as Sister Elihu Adams.

Sunday, March 17, 1776

Boston is liberated from the British

The British evacuate Boston, taking with them some 1500 Tories, and board ships in Boston harbor. The first detachment of Americans under Putnam and Ward enter the town (about 11,000 British army and navy personnel and almost 1,000 Loyalists sailed out of Boston Harbor). Abigail write that the Fleet left 8 ships, 2 snows, 2 brigs and a schooner in the harbour, from at least the 18th until approximately the 24th.

In a historically significant week for Thankfull and John Adams’ vessel, their Lighter (sailing barge) is loaded with weapons and ammunition to attack the British in Boston Harbor by Major Tupper. The Lighter must have been returned sometime to the dock in the time between April 14 and May 27, 1776 where it sat until May 9, 1777.

A diary entry from a soldier eyewitness noted that “on the 26th Noon, report of more canon, Major Tupper & a party of Provincials said to be cut off“.

Monday, March 18, 1776

First action towards Elihu Adams’ Estate, Probate Docket, Record of Proceedings and list of documents


Court commands Thankfull Adams to take a full inventory of goods rights chattels and credits by June 18, 1776, and to render and plain and true account of your said administration upon oath, at or before the 18th of March, 1777, the one-year anniversary for what is often considered to be his date of death, and remembered on this date by local communities for some reason, despite Abigail’s first-hand account.

Thursday, March 28, 1776

Noah Whitcomb, Thomas White and Thomas Penniman swear oath to take inventory, Thankfull assumes guardianship of John and Elisha Adams


Sunday, April 14, 1776

Abigail writes to John about his boat used in the push to drive British out of Boston

Abigail Adams writes to John Adams, who is in Philadelphia trying to create the Constitution, telling him about the use of the Lighterhe is part owner of“, being “fitted them with every sort of combustible matters, hand grenades etc. in order to set fire to the fleet, but the very day he was ready they sailed and it was said that they had intelligence from Boston of the design. However he carried the Lighters up to Town for the next Fleet that appears.

(A Lighter is sailing barge, this one owned by Elihu Adams, now Thankfull Adams; the fleet is the British navy still lingering in Boston harbour; and Town is likely Germantown, just north of Braintree, between it and Boston.)

April 30 / May 9 / 16 / 23, 1776

Thomas White / the Estate posts ad in newspaper to settle all Elihu Adams financial accounts

Original: The New-England Chronicle, May 9, 1776, Page 3

All persons who have demands on the estate of Captain Elihu Adams, late of Braintree deceased, are desired to bring in their accounts to Thankful Adams, of Braintree, Administratrix; and all those indebted to said estate are desired to make speedy payment, Braintree April 30, 1776″

Monday, May 27, 1776

Abigail writes to John about buying the land Thankfull inherited

(mailed May 28, received June 15 : 18 days delivery time; 314 miles, 17.4 miles (28kms) / day)
Original documents; Abigal asking John to buy Thankfull’s land

“I am desired by Sister Adams to ask you if you will take 28 acres of wood land which she mentioned to you. It must be sold, has a very fine Growth of Walnut wood upon it, as well as other wood, tis prized at forty shillings per acre which by looking into his deed of it, I find to be the same he gave for it. The distance which it lies from us is the chief objection in my mind. You will be so good as to send me word as soon as you receive this. They are about settling the Estate as soon as possible. What can be done with, or about the Lighter I know not. I was told that she was taken for a fire ship, but was Misinformed. There is no regular account of any thing but the ropes, cable and sails, nor any thing which appears to shew the cost of her. I think it can only be left to those who Built about that time to say what they believe she cost. They have prized one half of her very Low 33. 8. 4. I have asked my unkle [Quincy] to assist in your stead. The watch she says you desired to have. I know nothing about it; not having heard you mention it. She sits it at 6 pounds. ”

(The 28 acres which they refer to as “woodlands”; Abigail refers to the situation as “it must be sold“, asking forty shillings / acre, same as Elihu paid; mentions “they” are about settling the estate as soon as possible. “Unkle” refers to Norton Quincy, Abigail’s favorite uncle, lived as a recluse on his farm at Mount Wollaston on the shore of what is now Quincy Bay)

Sunday, June 16, 1776

John writes to Abigail agreeing to buy land Thankfull inherited

Original documents; agreeing to the purchase

I am willing to take the Woodland Sister mentions, and the Watch and the sword. As to the Lighter, it cost more than five hundred Dollars in hard Cash”

Monday, November 25, 1776

Noah Whitcomb, Thomas White and Thomas Penniman complete the inventory and file it with the court


Notable inventory
Mentions Silver Watch which Abigail Adams refers to as being worth 6 pounds in her May letter to John but noted here at 6 pounds 16 shillings. And it mentions the Lighter with an appraised value of 16 pounds 13 and 4 (Abigail says its worth 33, 8 and 4 in her letter to John Adams)

Suffolk County, MA: Probate File Papers.Online database. New England Historic Genealogical Society, 2017-2019. (From records supplied by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Archives. Digitized mages provided by

November 28 / December 5 / 13, 1776

Waited until inventory oath on November 25th to place ad on 28th

Original: The Continental Journal and Weekly Advertiser, December 13 1776; Page 1, last space

“TO BE SOLD CHEAP FOR CASH: A Lighter with all her Appurtenances except sails, now laying in Weymouth Landing, built by Captain Elisha Adams in the year 1772, burthen Twenty-eight tons. For particulars apply to Captain Thomas White of Braintree”.

December 19, 1776

Notice of Probate Court new location and times

Transcribed: Report on Public Records

“Suffolk County Probate will be at the Probate Office in Boston on Fridays at 10am”

Elihu Adams’ statement of accounts was submitted to the courts on Friday, April 18, 1777, so the change of the court’s location to Fridays mentioned in the newspaper on December 19, 1776 must not have changed in the subsequent months for Thankfull to have an appearance with the JP on the 18th.

Friday, April 18, 1777

Statement of accounts for Elihu submitted to the Probate Court

Transcribed: Report on Public Records

Were these late / on time? Completed by Samuel Niles Justice of the Peace. Of all of the probate documents discovered in relation to this Estate, this one is the closest in timeframe, one business day prior.

Suffolk County, MA: Probate File Papers.Online database. New England Historic Genealogical Society, 2017-2019. (From records supplied by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Archives. Digitized mages provided by

Monday, April 21, 1777

Thankfull Adams submits Petition to the Court for dissolution of Estate

It is clear from the size of this document that it must have been part of a larger one, and the scissor cut across the top left traces of writing in the top right corner, refered to in the document itself as “the certificate herewith exibited”. The search is on for this other piece.

The court was closed on Monday the 21st, so at some point between the submission of the statements of account on Friday 18th, and the night of Sunday 20th, Thankfull Adams must have learned about her financial situation and in talking to her, Samuel Niles JP wrote the Petition. It isn’t clear when it was actually submitted, and whether “asking Mr. Palmer” (on the outside) was added before it was submitted as a note to self / writer, or the intended recipient, or after it was submitted as a follow-up to be able to complete the Petition.

Monday April 21 to May 9, 1777

Thankfull starts dumping assets

Sells her half of the Lighter to “Vose of Milton” who pays her with New Hampshire script

May 9, 1777

Abigail writes to John about counterfeit currency from Lighter sale

Original: Letter from Abigail

“I must add a little more. A most Horrid plot has been discovered of a Band of villains counterfeiting the Hampshire currency to a Great amount, no person scarcely but what has more or less of these Bills. I am unlucky enough to have about 5 pounds LM of it.”

May 27, 1777

John writes to Abigail about counterfeit currency

Original: Letter May 27, 1777

“How could it happen that you should have 5 of counterfeit New Hampshire Money? Cant you recollect who you had it of? Let me intreat you not to take a shilling of any but continental Money, or Massachusetts — and be very carefull of that. There is a Counterfeit Continental Bill abroad sent out of New York but it will deceive none but Fools, for it is Copper Plate — easily detected, miserably done.”

June 1, 1777

Abigail writes to John with counterfeit update

Original: Letter June 1, 1777

“.. and this week I propose to send in to the continental Loan office a hundred pound LM. If I do not explain the matter I fear you will suspect me of being concerned with the Hampshire money makers. You must know then that your sister A–s [Adams] took up a Note to the amount of a hundred & 27 pounds out of which was owing to her as you may remember upon the Settlement 45 pounds […..] and 24 pounds which I received for the Sale of a Lighter! ..”

June 15, 1777

Abigail writes to John about resolving the counterfeit money issue

“As to your injunctions with regard to my taking any money but this States and continental, I have strictly adhered to them. I know of whom I received the Hampshire money, and returned it again. I took it of Sister [Adams] as part of the pay for the Lighter, and she of Vose of Milton. She returned it the same week to Him, which she took it but He refused to receive it, and tho she has twice sent it to Him, and he does not pretend to say He did not pay it to her, Yet he will not take it again. What can be done? I had several other Bills, but knowing of whom I received them, I found no difficulty in returning them again. — There will no money pass in this State after next month but continental and this States.”

August 15, 1777

John writes to Abigail and tells of friend Benjamin Franklin’s thoughts on lightning

Original: Letter to Abigail

“Half after 9 at Night. — The Wind blows, the Clowds gather, the lightnings Play and the Thunder rolls. You can have no adequate Idea of the joy occasioned here by such a Scaene. They call it a Gust. Dr. Franklin in his Letters on Electricity has explained the Philosophy of it. After a Continuance of Heat it seldom fails to occasion a Change of Weather. It is followed by a cooler and purer Air”

September 30, 1777

John writes to Abigail and tells of Continental Congress retreating to Yorktown

Original: Letter to Abigail

“In the Morning of the 19th. Inst., the Congress were alarmed, in their Beds, by a Letter from Mr. Hamilton one of General Washington’s Family, that the Enemy were in Possession of the Ford over the Schuylkill, and the Boats, so that they had it in their Power to be in Philadelphia, before Morning. The Papers of Congress, belonging to the Secretary’s Office, the War Office, the Treasury Office, &c. were before sent to Bristol. The President, and all the other Gentlemen were gone that Road, so I followed, with my Friend Mr. Marchant of Rhode Island, to Trenton in the jersies. We stayed at Trenton, until the 21. when We set off, to Easton upon the Forks of Delaware. From Easton We went to Bethlehem, from thence to Reading, from thence to Lancaster, and from thence to this Town, which is about a dozen Miles over the Susquehanna River. — Here Congress is to sit. In order to convey the Papers, with safety, which are of more Importance than all the Members, We were induced to take this Circuit, which is near 180 Miles, whereas this Town by the directest Road is not more than 88 Miles from Philadelphia. This Tour has given me an Opportunity of seeing many Parts of this Country, which I never saw before.”

October 26, 1777

John writes to Abigail and tells about having created Thanksgiving

Original: Letter to Abigail

Aaron Hobart

b. June 8, 1729, d. March 11, 1808, Retired Military, Bell Maker

November 25, 1777

Thankfull Adams marries Aaron Hobart

error: Protected