For this particular Hall of Fame entry, there is some controversy. Although John Adams was known for being the man who ushered in the era of religion and stability for Pitcairn Island, he was not without flaws. However, he is the 2014 Pitcairner inductee into the Dem Tull Hall of Fame.
John Adams was born in Middlesex, the third of four children, in November 1766. The family was poor, and his father died when he was still young, forcing him to be brought up in the poorhouse. While there, Adams received some basic schooling, but he eventually went to sea. Sometime in the late 1780's he was married to a woman called Hannah, and in late 1787 they had a daughter called Sarah. However, Adams joined the H.M.A.V. Bounty on September 7th, 1787, fourteen days before his infant daughter was baptised. For his entire time on the Bounty, John Adams went under the name “Alexander Smith,” perhaps because he had recently deserted another ship.
While on the voyage to Tahiti, he is not mentioned in any special way, or singled out specifically, so he obviously just did his work as a seaman without any incidents. However, not long after they landed on Tahiti, he was guarding the ship’s cutter when a gudgeon was stolen from it. As a result, Adams was subjected to 12 lashes for being inattentive. Several notable Tahitians protested in his favour, but the punishment was carried out nevertheless. He also contracted venereal disease, for which £0.30.0 was deducted from his pay for medication. Though he was involved with various women, the most notable one is known as Teehuteatuaenoa, who would be later known as Jenny (and was a previous inductee into the Hall of Fame). This relationship did, however, eventually go sour.
On the journey back to England, Adams was woken on the day of the mutiny by his shipmate John Sumner. Though initially confused, like others on that day, he quickly joined the mutiny, reasoning in later years that he was afraid of being on the weaker side. He was tasked with keeping the warrant officers from communicating too much in case the situation turned on the mutineers. He was instrumental in stopping John Fryer, the ships Master, from turning the tide when Fryer tried to convince two subordinates James Morrison and John Millward to join him in a counter-attack. All in all, the evidence points to John Adams as one of the most active mutineers.
On reaching Tahiti, Adams's new girlfriend Puara'i did not join him aboard the Bounty when they went to Tubuai. “Jenny” was aboard, but she was now married to another seaman, Isaac Martin. On Tubuai, there was an incident involving Adams. Women from the tribe of the hostile chief Tinnarow lured several of the men, including Adams, to their district. They were all stripped and a naked Adams kept a prisoner at Tinnarow’s house. Fletcher Christian formed a party and marched into Tinnarow’s district, but the woman who had lured Adams brought him to them, although he wore nothing but a shirt. Within a couple of months, the colony failed, and when the time came for a decision to be made, Adams was one of only nine of the original crew who voted to stay with the ship. On returning to Tahiti, Puara'i had a change of heart and joined him aboard ship.
When the Bounty reached Pitcairn in January, 1790, she was partially dismantled and an argument was brought up about destroying the ship or completely dismantling her with the possibility of rebuilding her at a later point. Adams was one of those who favored dismantling, but the debate was settled when Mathew Quintal set fire to the Bounty.
Life initially settled down on Pitcairn, but one of the first problems that arose, came from Adams. A dispute between him and Christian over Adams’ hogs coming into Christian’s garden ended with Adams threatening to shoot the other man. The other European men all bound Adams and were about to set him adrift to preserve the peace when Christian interceded on his behalf. Not long after, Adams wife Puara'i was killed while collecting birds’ eggs. Another man, John Williams, had lost his wife to illness shortly after the Bounty had been burnt, and the two men clamored for a wife from one of the Polynesian men. In Adams case, the wife of Edward Young, Teraura, was willing to share her services between Adams and Young, and Adams relented, the three settling down into a shared living arrangement. Williams, however, persisted and got an exclusive wife and subsequently intrigue and death was the result of that decision.
By 1793, Adams had taken the Polynesian Tetahiti and his wife as personal slaves. Although it is not known how he treated them, in other cases the Europeans treated the Polynesians abominably. In October of that year the four remaining Polynesian men rose up, and in one bloody day they slaughtered all but four of the nine European men. Adams himself was assaulted after being forewarned by Quintal’s wife, which resulted in some fingers broken and a musket ball tearing through his shoulder. When cornered, he attempted to run off a cliff when he was given reassurances that he was to be spared, at the request of Young who was ill and protected by the women. The two other survivors, Quintal and William McCoy, were free but hiding in the hills. Some days later, Young and the women hatched a plan to get revenge and once more tipped the balance of power. Adams, recovering from his wounds, was not greatly involved in the planning. Once more a bloody incident occurred, and all the Polynesian men were violently killed.
Adams now found himself living with three widows, one of them being Mill’s widow Vahineatua, who had two children already. With her, Adams would have three daughters, Hannah (named after his wife in England), Dinah and Rachel. This particular relationship was not overly pleasant, since according to Vahineatua's first daughter, Adams would often beat Vahineatua. Sadly, Vahineatua was killed when a goat gored her in her garden. Also, in the years following the massacre, there was trouble between the four men and the women, which eventually resulted in the women trying to leave Pitcairn in a boat that the men sabotaged to keep them there. Over time, though, things settled down, but more problems arose when the Bounty's still was used to distill liquor. The end result was that Quintal was killed in a fight, and McCoy committed suicide by jumping from the cliffs.
In his last years, Young converted to Christianity (family records state that he was an agnostic since childhood), and taught Adams to better read and write to the point that he learned to read the Bible. After dying of asthma in 1800, Young left Adams the sole surviving man from the original settlers. Depressed and drunk, Adams eventually converted as well. Though some have viewed his religious conversion with dubiousness (an understandable stance), the fact is that he did improve life on the island as a result. Though he did rule by a kind of absolute law, which was sometimes harsh, the island did for the first time settle down peacefully for a long period. The children were educated, or educated as much as Adams could teach them. One incident stands out that attests to the moral strictness that Adams imposed on the community. Edward Quintal had gotten Dinah Adams pregnant in a premarital affair, and Adams stated that they were worthy of death for their 'sin.' However, Arthur Quintal interceded, but the two were forbidden to marry. Family records show that this incident was probably engineered by Adams to see how others would react, and Arthur Quintal’s reaction was what he was looking for. The conclusion to this story is that the two lovers were eventually married, with Adams's blessing. Adams settled down with one wife, Teio, who was the widow of McCoy, and she bore him his only son George in 1804.
Pitcairn was rediscovered by the American sealer Topaz in February 1808, and the captain Mayhew Folger, gave a positive report about the community. So too did most who stopped by Pitcairn Island over the next couple of decades. Though the British Government learned of the mutineer's survival, it was decided to leave him with the community he was leading. In December, 1823, the vessel Cyrus arrived, and two men remained behind, John Buffet and John Evans. With Buffet’s experience and knowledge, Adams groomed him as a successor to him, and while John Evans married Adams's daughter Rachel, Adams was none too pleased with this particular event.
A couple of years later, the H.M.S. Blossom arrived, and Adams even spent time aboard the ship, reliving his past in many ways. It was also this ship that got the most accounts from Adams regarding the Bounty and the early events on Pitcairn. A painting of Adams by Richard Beechey was also done at this time, one that has been used countless times during the years to illustrate the old patriarch. Before departing, Captain F.W. Beechey also performed a marriage service for Adams and Teio, though they had been exclusive partners since the death of Vahineatua or even before.
As the years progressed, Adams placed more responsibility on others, such as Buffet. In 1828, two more settlers arrived, Noah Bunker and George H. Nobbs. Though Bunker would die not long after, Nobbs would go on to more or less become Adams's successor. The following year, Pitcairn was visited by the French traveller Jaques Moerenhout. Moerenhout wrote an account of his short stay, and even sketched a picture of Adams that looked more realistic than the one done by Beechey. Taking a couple of island men on a pearl diving voyage, Moerenhout promised to return. When they did return, they found that Pitcairn was in the throes of an illness passed on by a visiting whaler. Adams was extremely ill and bedridden, and according to Moerenhout spoke only in a whisper. Moerenhout departed as Adams was on his deathbed. Adams died not long after, on March 5th, 1829, and was buried near his house.
Though many of his actions were controversial, Adams is seen as the one who brought stability to Pitcairn, and is regarded as a patriarch to modern Pitcairn. The fact also remains that his grave is now the only one of the mutineers’ that is known today.
For this article, many sources were used. Bounty's log, the accounts of James Morrison and John Fryer, the court martial minutes of the Bounty mutineers, Adams's accounts as given to the various crew of the H.M.S. Blossom, one of the copies of Edward Young's journal, the Young Archives, the accounts left by Mayhew Folger, and the account written by Jacques Moerenhout. These are to name a few of the sources used.