Mandeville, LA – After discovering that there is a creek that used to flow, almost as mightily as the nearby Potomac River, IN Washington DC but is now paved over by the edifices of government, namely the IRS building, I was intrigued. I became especially curious upon learning that the Tiber Creek nearly claimed the life of then President John Quincy Adams. According to White House historian and essayist William Seale, Quincy Adams’ morning ended thus:
“The president lay gasping on the riverbank, attended by his son, while Giusta departed to secure a vehicle. A visitor passing by saw the whole thing and quickly reported it to the waking capital, where the subject of a president dying in office remained current for days afterward. The incident, widely reported, was naturally an embarrassment to the president. He described the near-tragedy in detail that evening in his diary, concluding: “By the mercy of god our lives were spared, and no injury befell our persons.” And he pledged to try no further feats of athletic skill but to “strictly confine myself to purposes of health, exercise, and salutary labor.”
I wondered if there were more history behind this history so I wandered off to the JQA archives at the MA Historical Society and found the diaries of JQA and the diary entries from the date in question. As I read those entries it became clear that my translation of Adams’ heiroglyphic like writing differed wildly from Seale’s. Here is what my translation of the event, from JQA’s diary looks like.
Listen to Mike Church tell the story of John Quincy Adams in Tiber Creek
John Quincy Adams diary Entry 13 June, 1825 – as translated by Mike Church
“Attempt to cross the river with Antoine in a boat. She filled with water and swamped, we swam to the opposite shore, I with my pantaloons, drawers, shirt and hat, Antoine naked, John Junior across the river to meet us as we intended to have a swim back but he came to me on the other shore. Antoine crossed the bridge with my wet shirt and pantaloons and brought back John’s cloathes and my watch and umbrella witch I had left with him. He had also gone with a boat and found his own hat floating with his shirt and breeches in it and one of my shoes.
He had also sent a carriage to the house to enlist the coachman, John, to come for us in the carriage – whilst Antoine was gone for the cloathes, John and I were walking and swimming up and down on the other shore. Getting naked on the banks John walked over the bridge home. The carriage came and took us and Antoine home, half dressed. We got home about quarter before nine. I lost and old swimming coat and white waistcoat, two napkins and two pocket handkerchiefs and one shoe. Antoine lost his watch, jacket, waistcoat and pantaloons and shoes. The boat was also lost. By the blessings of heaven our lives were spared.”
Note the difference between the two benedictions:
Seale: “By the mercy of god our lives were spared, and no injury befell our persons.”
Church: “By the blessings of heaven our lives were spared.”
I contend that mine is the correct reading of the journal notation which can be seen at the Massachusetts Historical Society: