An American Founding Father on the Camino

According to statistics from the Pilgrims’ Office in Santiago de Compostela, ten percent of all pilgrims who walked the Camino de Santiago in 2016 came from the United States, making it the fourth most represented country along the Camino (after Spain, Italy and Germany).

Statue of John Adams in Bilbao, Spain

But did you ever wonder who were the first Americans to travel the route? Well, it might come as a surprise (it did to us) to learn that one of the first Americans to find themselves on the Camino was arguably one of the most famous people to have ever followed the Camino at all. We’re talking here about the American patriot and founding father John Adams, who travelled the Camino Francès route in the winter of 1779-1780.


Sent to Paris during the American War of Independence to negotiate treaties of peace and commerce with Great Britain, Adams was forced to take the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route to France after his badly damaged ship landed on the coast of northwest Spain. On the 15th of December, 1779, Adams, his two sons, his secretary, servants, and hired Spanish guides and muleteers set off, and what followed was a grueling journey that Adams recorded vividly in his journal. Bouts of illness, spells of harsh weather and scenes of poverty and suffering left a deep impression on the future second President of The United States, who wrote in his journal that “he had never experienced anything like this journey”.

Adams arrived in Paris in early February 1780 and was successful in securing funds and treaties for his cause. So, on top of all those rare and wonderful aspects of the Camino, which we talk about regularly, now we have to add its little contribution to the fledgling American independence movement and the eventual establishment of the United States.


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