Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Abigail Smith Adams (1744-1818) & John Adams

Abigail Smith Adams (1744-1818) was a smart, independent woman who said what she believed. Although she had strong feelings about women having an equal voice in the new United States of America, women would not get the right to vote in national elections until 1920.  “If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice, or representation.” .Abigail Adams



Even though her husband did not agree with her call for women's sufferage, she maintained a great appreciation for his work & that of his fellow patriots in helping establish a new nation.  "These are times in which a genius would wish to live. It is not in the still calm of life, or in the repose of a pacific station, that great characters are formed. The habits of a vigorous mind are formed in contending with difficulties. Great necessities call out great virtues." Abigail Adams



Even though his wife was outspoken & did not feel the need to constantly agree with him, President John Adams (1735-1826) dearly loved his partner. In one of their many letters, he wrote,  "Miss Adorable, I hereby order you to give [me], as many kisses, and as many hours of your company...as [I] shall please to demand, and charge them to my account.”

Thursday, June 22, 2017

John Adams writes to his wife Abigail Smith Adams (1744-1818) on Thomas Paine & the coming Revolution

Thomas Paine. Painting by Auguste Millière (1876), based on an engraving by William Sharpe, based on a painting by George Romney, 1792.

"In the Course of this Winter appeared a Phenomenon in Philadelphia a Star of Disaster Disastrous Meteor, I mean Thomas Paine. He came from England, and got into such company as would converse with him, and ran about picking up what Information he could, concerning our Affairs, and finding the great Question was concerning Independence, he gleaned from those he saw the common place Arguments concerning Independence: such as the Necessity of Independence, at some time or other, the peculiar fitness at this time: the justice of it: the Provocation to it: the necessity of it: our Ability to maintain it &c. &c. Dr. Rush put him upon Writing on the Subject, furnished him with the Arguments which had been urged in Congress an hundred times, and gave him his title of common Sense. In the latter part of Winter, or the early in the Spring he came out, with his Pamphlet. The Arguments in favour of Independence I liked very well: but one third of the Book was filled with Arguments from the old Testiment, to prove the Unlawfulness of Monarchy, and another Third, in planning a form of Government, for the seperate States in One Assembly, and for the United States, in a Congress. His Arguments from the old Testiment, were ridiculous, but whether they proceeded from honest Ignorance, and or foolish [Superstition] on one hand, or from willfull Sophistry and knavish Hypocricy on the other I know not. The other third part relative to a form of Government I considered as flowing from simple Ignorance, and a mere desire to please the democratic Party in Philadelphia, at whose head were Mr. Matlock, Mr. Cannon and Dr. Young. I regretted however, to see so foolish a plan recommended to the People of the United States, who were all waiting only for the Countenance of Congress, to institute their State Governments. I dreaded the Effect so popular a pamphlet might have, among the People, and determined to do all in my Power, to counter Act the Effect of it. (Autobiography, Winter 1776).

"At this day it would be ridiculous to ask any questions about Tom Paines Veracity, Integrity or any other Virtue. (Autobiography).

"You ask, what is thought of Common sense. Sensible Men think there are some Whims, some Sophisms, some artfull Addresses to superstitious Notions, some keen attempts upon the Passions, in this Pamphlet. But all agree there is a great deal of good sense, delivered in a clear, simple, concise and nervous Style.

"His Sentiments of the Abilities of America, and of the Difficulties of a Reconciliation with G.B. are generally approved. But his Notions, and Plans of Continental Government are not much applauded. Indeed this Writer has a better Hand at pulling down than building.

"It has been very generally propagated through the Continent that I wrote this Pamphlet. But although I could not have written any Thing in so manly and striking a style, I flatter myself I should have made a more respectable Figure as an Architect, if I had undertaken such a World. This Writer seems to have very inadequate Ideas of what is proper and necessary to be done, in order to form Constitutions for single Colonies, as well as a great model of Union for the whole."

 (John Adams to Abigail Adams, 19 March 1776).


Abigail Smith Adams (1744-1818), Mrs. John Adams, by Gilbert Stuart, ca. 1800-1815. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Martha Dandridge Custis Washington 1731-1802 (Mrs George Washington) - Portraits made during her lifetime

1757 John Wollaston, Martha Dandridge Custis (later Mrs George Washington)

This is the biography of Martha Dandridge Custis Washington from the White House website:

"I think I am more like a state prisoner than anything else, there is certain bounds set for me which I must not depart from..." So in one of her surviving letters, Martha Washington confided to a niece that she did not entirely enjoy her role as first of First Ladies. She once conceded that "many younger and gayer women would be extremely pleased" in her place; she would "much rather be at home."

1789-96 Edward Savage (1761-1817). The Washington Family (detail)

But when George Washington took his oath of office in New York City on April 30, 1789, and assumed the new duties of President of the United States, his wife brought to their position a tact and discretion developed over 58 years of life in Tidewater Virginia society.

1790 Edward Savage (1761-1817). Martha Washington.

Oldest daughter of John and Frances Dandridge, she was born June 2, 1731, on a plantation near Williamsburg. Typical for a girl in an 18th-century family, her education was almost negligible except in domestic and social skills, but she learned all the arts of a well-ordered household and how to keep a family contented.


1791-2 Archibald Robertson (1765-1835). Martha Washington.

As a girl of 18--about five feet tall, dark-haired, gentle of manner--she married the wealthy Daniel Parke Custis. Two babies died; two were hardly past infancy when her husband died in 1757.

1793 John Trumbull (1756-1843). Martha Washington.

From the day Martha married George Washington in 1759, her great concern was the comfort and happiness of her husband and children. When his career led him to the battlegrounds of the Revolutionary War and finally to the Presidency, she followed him bravely. Her love of private life equaled her husband's; but, as she wrote to her friend Mercy Otis Warren, "I cannot blame him for having acted according to his ideas of duty in obeying the voice of his country."

As for herself, "I am still determined to be cheerful and happy, in whatever situation I may be; for I have also learned from experience that the greater part of our happiness or misery depends upon our dispositions, and not upon our circumstances."

1795 Charles Willson Peale (1741-1827). Martha Washington.

At the President's House in temporary capitals, New York and Philadelphia, the Washingtons chose to entertain in formal style, deliberately emphasizing the new republic's wish to be accepted as the equal of the established governments of Europe. Still, Martha's warm hospitality made her guests feel welcome and put strangers at ease. She took little satisfaction in "formal compliments and empty ceremonies" and declared that "I am fond of only what comes from the heart."

Abigail Adams, who sat at her right during parties and receptions, praised her as "one of those unassuming characters which create Love and Esteem."

1796 Gilbert Stuart (1755-1828). Martha Washington

In 1797 the Washingtons said farewell to public life and returned to their beloved Mount Vernon, to live surrounded by kinfolk, friends, and a constant stream of guests eager to pay their respects to the celebrated couple. Martha's daughter Patsy had died, as had her son Jack at 26, but Jack's children figured in the household. After George Washington died in 1799, Martha assured a final privacy by burning their letters; she died of "severe fever" on May 22, 1802. Both lie buried at Mount Vernon, where Washington himself had planned an unpretentious tomb for them.

1796 James Peale ( 1749-1831). Martha Washington.


1796 James Sharples (1751-1811). Martha Washington.


1800 Unidentified Artist, Martha Washington

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Betty Washington (Mrs Fielding Lewis) 1733-1797 George Washington's Sister & The Revolution

Rebecca A. Johnson, “Betty Washington Lewis,” The Digital Encyclopedia of George Washington, 

Betty Washington Fielding Lewis 1733-1797

Betty Washington Lewis was more than just the only sister of George Washington to survive to adulthood; she was also a patriot. Lewis & her husband, Fielding, contributed a considerable amount of their personal wealth & time toward the American Revolution. Their devotion & loyalty to the wartime effort & to its leader, George Washington, inadvertently led them to financial hardship.

Born on June 20, 1733, Betty Washington was the 2nd child & only surviving daughter of Augustine & Mary Ball Washington. Christened as Elizabeth, Betty was most likely named after her mother’s beloved half-sister, Elizabeth Johnson Bonhum. Along with her eventually famous older brother George, Betty had 3 other brothers, Samuel, John (Jack), & Charles, & a sister, Mildred, who died in infancy. From her father’s 1st marriage, she also had 3 half-brothers, Butler, Lawrence, & Augustine, only 2 (Lawrence & Augustine) of whom survived to adulthood, & a half-sister, Jane, who died when a child.1

Betty Washington was born at the family estate on Pope’s Creek in Westmoreland County. In 1735, the Washingtons moved to a property on the Upper Potomac, known at the time as Little Hunting Creek but eventually renamed Mount Vernon. In 1740, the family moved to Ferry Farm, overlooking the Rappahannock River, across from the town of Fredericksburg.2

Like many Virginia girls among the gentry, young Betty Washington no doubt received some practical & ornamental education. She learned to ride a horse at an early age & most likely became an expert horsewoman. Like all young Virginians, she must have learned to dance. Her mother taught her the domestic arts, such as sewing, knitting, & embroidery. Along with her 4 brothers, Betty attended a school taught by Reverend James Marye, a scholarly Huguenot. Betty & her family regularly attended Falmouth Church in Brunswick Parish, which contributed to her lasting faith & regular attendance at services in St. George’s Parish in the latter part of her life.3

Colonel Fielding Lewis (1725-1781)

Betty Washington was 16, when she married the widower Fielding Lewis, who was 8 years her senior, on May 7, 1750. The couple not only shared the same acquaintances & circulated in the same social circles, they were also 2nd cousins through their maternal grandmothers, who were sisters. Marriage between kin was common in 18C Virginia. Fielding Lewis’ 1st wife, Catharine Washington, was also a cousin. Betty Washington’s marriage settlement of £400 & 2 female slaves, left to her in her father’s will, along with Fielding Lewis’ wealth, enabled the newly married couple to live comfortably.4

In 1752, Fielding Lewis purchased 1,300 acres on the outskirts of Fredericksburg & asked his brother-in-law, George Washington, to survey the 861-acre portion that would be the site of Kenmore, the Lewises’ exquisite house.5 Together, Betty & Fielding Lewis had a total of 11 children, 6 of whom survived to adulthood. Betty Lewis also had 2 stepchildren, from Fielding's 1st marriage. It was at Kenmore where Betty & Fielding Lewis resided & raised their family during their 31 years of married life.6

Kenmore where Betty & Fielding Lewis resided

Kenmore was a Georgian-style 2 story home that consisted of 8 rooms, a full cellar, 12-foot high ceilings, & 4,000 square feet of living space.7  Many people lived & worked at Kenmore, including 80 slaves, whose quarters were among the many outbuildings on the estate. Records indicate it took several years to build the house, in part because the disruption of trade during the imperial crisis prevented the Lewsises from obtaining necessary supplies from England. Decorative plasterwork on the ceilings & mantles were added as late as 1775.8

Kenmore where Betty & Fielding Lewis resided

Fielding Lewis was often away from Kenmore due to his involvement in public life. He was a vestryman of St. George’s Church, a colonel in the Spotsylvania County militia, & from 1760 to 1768 served as a member of the House of Burgesses. In 1773, he joined Virginia’s pre-revolutionary Committee of Correspondence.9 Fielding’s absence left Betty in charge of running & maintaining their estate.  Although she had many slaves to do manual tasks, like other plantation mistresses, she supervised their work. She also oversaw the management of her gardens, spent much of her time attending to her children, offered hospitality to guests, & hosted various social gatherings. Betty’s brother George was one of Kenmore's many frequent visitors.10

Betty & Fielding Lewis were strong supporters of the Revolution, & their loyalty to the cause cost them financially. The Lewises owned a store, which originally belonged to Fielding’s father. During the war, Fielding supplied salt, flour, bacon, & clothing to patriot forces. Herbs & other produce from Betty’s gardens became teas & ointments that Fielding also supplied to the army. In July 1775, the Virginia assembly passed an ordinance providing for a “Manufactory of Small Arms in Fredericksburg, Va.” & named Fielding Lewis & four other men as its Commissioners. Appropriations of £25,000 were distributed & land was secured near Hunter’s Forge for the construction & operation of the gunnery. However, the appropriations ran out, & Betty & Fielding Lewis used £7,000 from their personal accounts to maintain the gunnery. They later borrowed between £30,000 & £40,000 to provide saltpeter, sulfur, gunpowder, & lead for the manufacture of ammunition during the war. Kenmore was heavily mortgaged to meet the costs of these patriotic endeavors.11

Betty Lewis handled family affairs for her brother George, while Fielding managed many of his financial concerns. Fielding collected outstanding debts for George, & he also handled several land transactions for his brother-in-law.12 Meanwhile, when George & Betty’s mother, Mary Ball Washington, died in 1789, shortly after he had left for New York to assume the presidency, George asked his sister to take care of their mother’s estate, providing her with detailed instructions, which she followed.13 In 1790, at George’s request, Betty cared for their niece Harriot Washington, the daughter of their deceased brother Samuel. Harriot resided at Mount Vernon, & her uncle George was her guardian.  Beginning in October 1792, due to the responsibilities of the presidency in Philadelphia, there were no women living at Mount Vernon to watch over her, so George Washington instructed Betty Lewis to move Harriot to Kenmore, which she did.14

When Fielding Lewis died December 1781, just two months after the American victory at Yorktown, the Commonwealth of Virginia still owed the Lewises some £7,000. In widowhood at age 49, Betty struggled financially & sometimes hired out her slaves to raise money. She also tried running a small boarding school at Kenmore, though she had to sell land in order to keep the school & Kenmore afloat.15  Betty Lewis remained at Kenmore fourteen years before she went to live with her daughter, Betty Carter, in Culpepper County. On March 31, 1797, she died at her daughter’s home, Western View, & was buried on the property.16 Eighteen days after she died, Kenmore & its contents were sold. The Lewis descendants were never compensated for Betty & Fielding Lewis’ enormous expenditures in support of the revolutionary cause.

Notes:

1. Fitzpatrick, John, ed. The Writings of George Washington (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing, 1939), 28.

2. Charles Moore, The Family Life of George Washington (Boston & New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1926), Internet Archive, 12-13; Duke, Kenmore & the Lewises, 19.

3. Duke, Kenmore & the Lewises, 20-21, 37-38; Moore, The Family Life of George Washington, 206-7.

4. Fielding Lewis, “Genealogical notes of the Fielding Lewis family,” Fred W. Smith National Library, Mount Vernon, General Collection; Eugene Scheel, “Kenmore House One of the Finest Examples of American Colonial Architecture;” “Augustine Washington, April 11, 1743, Will,” American Memory, The Library of Congress, Source: George Washington Papers 1741-1799, Series 4, General Correspondence, 1697-1799, Library of Congress, Manuscripts Division; “Augustine Washington’s Will,”

5. “To George Washington from Fielding Lewis, 23 April 1775,” Founders Online, National Archives, Source: The Papers of George Washington, Colonial Series, vol. 10, 21 March 1774?–?15 June 1775, ed. W. W. Abbot & Dorothy Twohig (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1995), 343–344; Vivian Minor Fleming, The Story of Kenmore (Fredericksburg, VA: Kenmore Association, 1927), 6.

6. Paula S. Felder, Fielding Lewis & the Washington Family: A Chronicle of 18th Century Fredericksburg (Fredericksburg, VA: American History Company, 1998), 163.

7. Though Kenmore is the more commonly known name of the home of Colonel Fielding Lewis & Betty Washington Lewis, it was first called “Millbrook.” The name was changed to Kenmore by Samuel Gordon who purchased Kenmore in 1819. According to tradition, the Gordons named the house "Kenmore" after their ancestral Scottish home of Kenmuir.

8. Scheel, “Kenmore House;” “Historic Kenmore Plantation;” Fleming, Story of Kenmore, 6; Duke, Kenmore & the Lewises, 36, 68-69.

9. William Pitt Palmer, & Sherwin McRae, eds., Calendar of Virginia State Papers & Other Manuscripts, 1652-1781, vol. 1 (Richmond: R. F. Walker, Superintendent of Public Printing, 1875), Internet Archive, 406; Scheel, “Kenmore House;” Duke, Kenmore & the Lewises, 62-65.

10. Duke, Kenmore & the Lewises, 50; Felder, Fielding Lewis & the Washington Family, 164-165; Moore, Family Life of George Washington, 12-13.

11. “Fielding Lewis Store: The Oldest Retail Building in America?,” Historic Fredericksburg Foundation, 2005; “Fielding Lewis;” Palmer, & McRae, eds. Calendar of Virginia State Papers, 456, 502-3; Duke, Kenmore & the Lewises, 94-96; Fleming, Story of Kenmore, 9; “To George Washington from Fielding Lewis, 14 November 1775,” Founders Online, National Archives, Source: The Papers of George Washington, Revolutionary War Series, vol. 2, 16 September 1775?–?31 December 1775, ed. Philander D. Chase (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1987), 371–373. 

12. “From George Washington to Fielding Lewis, 20 April 1773,” Founders Online, National Archives, Source: The Papers of George Washington, Colonial Series, vol. 9, 8 January 1772?–?18 March 1774, ed. W. W. Abbot & Dorothy Twohig (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1994), 221–224; “To George Washington from Fielding Lewis, 8–9 May 1773,” Founders Online, National Archives, Source: ibid., 229–230. “To George Washington from Fielding Lewis, 24 May 1773,” Founders Online, National Archives, Source: ibid., 235. 

13. “From George Washington to Betty Washington Lewis, 13 September 1789,” Founders Online, National Archives, Source: The Papers of George Washington, Presidential Series, vol. 4, 8 September 1789?–?15 January 1790, ed. Dorothy Twohig (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1993), 32–36. 

14. “To George Washington from Harriot Washington, 2 April 1790,” Founders Online, National Archives, Source: The Papers of George Washington, Presidential Series, vol. 5, 16 January 1790?–?30 June 1790, ed. Dorothy Twohig, Mark A. Mastromarino, & Jack D. Warren (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1996), 310–311; “To George Washington from Betty Washington Lewis, 25 September 1792,” Founders Online, National Archives, Source: The Papers of George Washington, Presidential Series, vol. 11, 16 August 1792?–?15 January 1793, ed. Christine Sternberg Patrick (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 2002), 155–156; “From George Washington to Betty Washington Lewis, 7 October 1792,” Founders Online, National Archives, Source: ibid., 201-202. 

15. “To George Washington from Betty Washington Lewis, 24 September 1793,” Founders Online, National Archives, Source: The Papers of George Washington, Presidential Series, vol. 14, 1 September–31 December 1793, ed. David R. Hoth (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 2008), 131–132. 

16. Moncure Daniel Conway, ed. George Washington & Mount Vernon: A Collection of Washington’s Unpublished Agricultural & Personal Letters, vol. 4. (Brooklyn: Long Island Historical Society, 1889), lix; Fleming, Story of Kenmore, 10-11.

Bibliography:

Duke, Jane Taylor. Kenmore & the Lewises. Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Co., 1949.

Felder, Paula S. Fielding Lewis & the Washington Family: A Chronicle of 18th Century Fredericksburg. Fredericksburg, VA: American History Company, 1998.

Fleming, Vivian Minor. The Story of Kenmore. Fredericksburg, VA: Kenmore Association, 1927.

Kierner, Cynthia A. Beyond the Household: Women’s Place in the Early South, 1700-1835. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1998.

Moore, Charles. The Family Life of George Washington. Boston & New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1926. Internet Archive, https://archive.org/details/familylifeofgeor008680mbp

Norton, Mary Beth. Liberty’s Daughters: The Revolutionary Experience of American Women, 1750-1800. Ithaca, NY & London: Cornell University Press, 1980.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Abigail Smith Adams (1744-1818), Mrs. John Adams - The Adams' Home at Braintree, Massachusetts

Abigail Smith was born on November 11, 1744, in Weymouth, Massachusetts, the 2nd child of Elizabeth Quincy Smith & the Reverend William Smith. Her father was pastor of Weymouth's North Parish Congregational Church. Abigail's mother, Elizabeth, spent much of her time visiting the sick & distributing food, clothing, & firewood to needy families. Young Abigail accompanied her mother on these visits putting into practice the lessons her father taught at church.  Abigail educated herself in her father's library.
Abigail Smith Adams (1744-1818), Mrs. John Adams, by Gilbert Stuart, ca. 1800-1815. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

When she was 18, Abigail met John Adams, a young lawyer from nearby Braintree. During their 2 year courtship, the young couple spent long periods apart & relied upon writing letters to keep in touch. On October 25, 1764, Abigail's father presided over their wedding. The young couple moved into the small house John had inherited from his father in Braintree to begin their life together.  Abigail proved to be exceptionally capable of managing the family's finances & household. Meanwhile, John's began to ride the court circuit (traveling from one district to another) building a successful law career.  On July 14, 1765,  John & Abigail's 1st child, Abigail, was born."Nabby," as she was called, was followed by son John Quincy Adams on July 11, 1767, Susanna (who died just after her 1st year), Charles, & Thomas Boylston.  The young couple continued to live on John's small farm at Braintree or in Boston as his practice expanded. In ten years she bore three sons & two daughters; she looked after family & home; when he went traveling as circuit judge. "Alas!" she wrote in December 1773, "How many snow banks divide thee and me...."

John Adams decided to move his family to Boston, because his work was located there. The Adamses friends inlcuded John's cousin Samuel Adams, John Hancock, James Otis, & Joseph Warren. Long separations kept Abigail from her husband while he served the country they loved, as delegate to the Continental Congress, envoy abroad, elected officer under the Constitution. Her letters--pungent, witty, & vivid, spelled just as she spoke--detail her life in times of revolution. They tell the story of the woman who stayed at home to struggle with wartime shortages & inflation; to run the farm with a minimum of help; to teach 4 children when formal education was interrupted. Most of all, they tell of her loneliness without her "dearest Friend."

The Boston Massacre occured on March 5, 1770. At the risk of his own popularity & career, John Adams chose to defend 8 British soldiers & their captain, accused of murdering 5 Americans.  Although John was an ardent patriot & favored independence, he felt the soldiers had acted properly & been provoked into firing by an unruly mob. Also, he felt it was important to prove to the world that the colonists were not under mob rule, lacking direction & principles, & that all men were entitled to due process of law. Most Americans, driven by emotion, were angry with Adams for defending the hated "redcoats," but throughout the ordeal Abigail supported her husband's decision. In the end, Adams was proved correct & all 9 of the men were acquitted of the murder charges. While the verdict diffused this crisis, far greater ones were destined for the colonies.


1798 Watercolor of the Old House of John & Abigail Adams by E. Malcom  The Old House, built in 1731, became the residence of the Adams family for 4 generations from 1788 to 1927.

In 1774 John traveled to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, as a delegate to the First Continental Congress; where America made its first legislative moves toward forming a government independent of Great Britain. Abigail remained in Braintree to manage the farm & educate their children. Again, letter writing was the only way the Adamses could communicate with each other. Their correspondence took on even greater meaning, for Abigail reported to her husband about the British & American military confrontations around Boston. Abigail took her son John Quincy to the top of Penn's Hill near their farm to witness the Battle of Bunker Hill on June 17, 1775.

Not all Americans shared the Adamses' vision of an independent nation. To those that wavered, Abigail argued, "A people may let a king fall, yet still remain a people: but if a king lets his people slip from him, he is no longer a king. And this is most certainly our case, why not proclaim to the world in decisive terms, your own independence?" John agreed with his wife; & in June 1776, was appointed to a committee of five men to prepare a Declaration of Independence from Great Britain.


1820 Sketch of the Mansion by Abigail Adams Smith who lived with her grandfather John Adams in the Old House from 1818-1829

Abigail's vision of independence was broader than that of the delegates. She believed all people, & both sexes, should be granted equal rights. In a letter to John she wrote, "I wish most sincerely that there was not a slave in the province. It always seemed to me to fight ourselves for what we are robbing the Negroes of, who have as good a right to freedom as we have."  Later Abigail added that John & his fellow delegates should "remember the ladies, & be more generous & favorable to them than you ancestors" when they enact new codes of law. Her views were far too progressive for the delegates of the Continental Congress. 

John soon was appointed president of the Board of War & turned to Abigail for advice on carrying out his job.  Throughout his career, Adams had few confidants. Thus Abigail advised her husband, & John valued her judgment so much that he wrote his wife, "I want to hear you think or see your thoughts."


1828 A drawing of The Adams Seat in Quincy by Mrs. George Whitney

In 1778,  John Adams was sent to Paris on a special mission to negotiate an alliance with France. He remained in Europe from 1778 to 1787, through a succession of different appointments, except for a 3 month rest at home; during which time he drafted the Massachusetts Constitution.  Separated from her husband by the Atlantic Ocean, Abigail continued to keep their farm running, paid their bills, & served as teacher to their children. She particularity labored to develop the great abilities of her son John Quincy, who had joined his father in Europe. In one letter to her son, she inspired him to use his superior abilities to confront the challenges before him: "These are times in which a genius would wish to live. . . . Great necessities call out great virtues."


John Adams by William Joseph Williams, C. 1797.

In 1784, with independence & peace secured from Great Britain, Abigail sailed to Europe to join her husband & son. Abigail spent 4 years in France & England, while her husband served as U.S. minister to Great Britain. As the wife of a diplomat, she met & entertained many people in Paris & London. While never at home in these unfamiliar settings, Abigail did her best to enjoy the people & places of both countries. Abigail was pleased, when the time came to return home to Braintree in 1788.


1846 Woodcut of the Residence of John Quincy Adams

The next year, John Adams was elected the 1st vice president of the United States. During the course of the next 12 years as John Adams served 2 terms as vice president (1789-1797) & 1 term as president (1797-1801), he & Abigail moved back & forth between Braintree (the "Old House") & the successive political capitals of the United States: New York, Philadelphia, & then, briefly, at the unfinished White House in Washington, D.C.


Portrait of John Adams by William Winstanley, 1798.

Abigail had recurring bouts of rheumatism that forced her frequently to retreat to the peace of Braintree recover. After 1791, poor health forced her to spend as much time as possible in Quincy. Illness or trouble found her resolute; as she once declared, she would "not forget the blessings which sweeten life."  In 1796, John Adams was elected to succeed George Washington as president of the United States.  Party lines were forming. John Adams faced dissent in his cabinet & the vice president, Thomas Jefferson, was head of the opposition party. John realized the problems he faced & wrote to his wife, who was in Quincy recovering from a rheumatic bout, that "I never wanted your advice & assistance more in my life."  Abigail rushed to her husband's side & maintained a grueling schedule to perform all her duties as first lady. She entertained guests & visited people in support of her husband. The first lady had a limited budget to carry out her duties, but she compensated for this with her attentiveness & charm.


1849 Daguerreotype of the Old House of John & Abigail Adams by John Adams Whipple

Meanwhile, Great Britain was at war with France, & popular opinion held that America should jump in to aid Great Britain, especially after France insulted the United States by demanding bribes. The president felt that war would weaken the United States & decided on the unpopular course of neutrality. During this time many of Adams' opponents used the press to criticize his policies. Abigail was often referred to as "Mrs. President," for it was widely believed that the president's decisions were heavily influenced by his wife. In reality Abigail disagreed with her husband's stand of neutrality; but people believed she was setting his policies, & this weakened John Adams politically.


1849 Painting of the Old House of John & Abigail Adams by G. Frankenstein

In 1798, with John Adams' approval, Congress passed the Alien & Sedition Acts, which were aimed at restricting foreign influence over the United States & weakening the opposition press. Abigail supported these measures, because she felt they were necessary to stop the press from undermining her husband. The acts proved very unpopular, with Thomas Jefferson & James Madison leading the protest against them. Adams' support of these acts undermined his popular support, already suffering from his courageous but unpopular stand on war with France, & led to his failure to be reelected in 1800.


 1852 View of the Adams Mansion at Quincy by Mallory, C. 1852 from “Gleasons’ Pictorial Drawing Room Companion” Volume 3, August 21, 1852.

In March 1801, John & Abigail retired to Quincy. During her last years, Abigail occupied herself with improving her home & entertaining visiting children, grandchildren, nieces, & nephews. The proud mother watched as her son John Qunicy Adams distinguished himself as a U.S. senator, minister to Russia, & secretary of state. In October 1818, Abigail contracted typhoid fever. Surrounded by family members, she died on October 28. John Adams & his wife had shared 54 years of happiness & companionship, & John wrote, "I wish I could lay down beside her & die too."


Portrait of John Adams at age 88 by Jane Stuart, after Gilbert Stuart, 1824.

See National Park Service Adams House