Abigail Adams was the wife of John Adams, second President of the United States and the mother of the sixth President, John Quincy Adams. Her letters and memoirs of the Revolutionary era are considered to be major historical documents.
Abigail Adams was born in Weymouth, Massachusetts on November 11, 1744, in the parsonage of the North Parish Congregational Church of Weymouth. Her parents were the Reverend William Smith and Elizabeth Quincy. Her mother’s cousin was Dorothy Quincy, the wife of John Hancock.
Abigail Smith’s Childhood
During her childhood, Abigail was greatly influenced by her Congregationalist upbringing. She received no formal schooling, but she was able to use the library and environment of her father’s parsonage to learn to study the Bible, history and literature, including the works of William Shakespeare, John Milton and Alexander Pope. Although her relatives on her mother’s side were well-known in Massachusetts, she was given a simple upbringing that stressed the importance of reason and morality. Although she is well-known for the letters she wrote during the Revolutionary period, she was embarrassed about her overall lack of education, and her difficulties with spelling and punctuation.
Marriage to John Adams
In 1759, Abigail met John Adams, a country lawyer, and three years later, in 1762, their courtship began. The two were married on October 25, 1764, in the Smith’s home, five days shy of John’s 29th birthday. The ceremony was performed by Abigail’s father. After living in Braintree for some time, they moved to Boston, where John was able to expand his law practice. Between 1765 and 1777, they would have six children:
- Abigail (“Nabby”) (1765-1813)
- John Quincy Adams (1767-1848)
- Susanna Boylston (1768-1770)
- Charles (1770-1800)
- Thomas Boylston Adams (1772-1832)
- Elizabeth (stillborn in 1777)
While John served as a circuit judge and traveled throughout Massachusetts, Abigail stayed at home, managing the farm and raising the children. John praised his wife for her skills and took a great amount of pride in her accomplishments. She continued in this capacity during the Revolutionary War period when John served as a delegate to the First Continental Congress, Second Continental Congress, and as a diplomat in Europe. Even after the war and during John’s terms as Vice President and President she oversaw the family’s business affairs.
Abigail Adams in Europe
From 1784 to 1788, she joined John in Europe, on diplomatic missions to France and England. Her account of the voyage to England from Boston, the return trip, and journals she kept while in England can be found in The Adams Papers’ Diary and Autobiography of John Adams, volume 3.
Abigail Adams, First Lady to Live in the White House
John was elected President in 1797, but unlike her predecessor, Martha Washington, Abigail took an active role in politics, earning the nickname “Her Majesty,” for supporting John’s views on the influence of the French revolution and passage of the Alien and Sedition Acts. In 1800, John and Abigail moved into the new President’s House, which is now known as the White House, making her the first First Lady to reside there. The building was unfinished, cold, and damp, which required fires to be constantly lit to make the place livable. She even used one of the rooms to hang the laundry on clotheslines, a far cry from the White House as we know it today.
John and Abigail Retire to Braintree
In 1800, Thomas Jefferson was elected President, and John and Abigail retired to their home in Braintree. During these years, they were able to enjoy the rise of John Quincy Adams to prominence. However, there were difficult times as they dealt with the errant ways of Thomas and Charles, and questionable investments by the husband of their daughter Nabby.
In October of 1818, Abigail fell ill with typhus and died on the 28th. Her last words to John were, “Do not grieve, my friend, my dearest friend. I am ready to go. And John, it will not be long.” She was buried in the cemetery of First Church in Quincy. She was 73 years old, two weeks shy of her 74th birthday.
Legacy of Abigail Adams
Abigail’s legacy lives on through the many letters she wrote in correspondence with her husband and other notable men and women of the time, including Thomas Jefferson, James Lovell, Benjamin Rush, and Mercy Otis Warren. Her letters stand as an important record of the Revolutionary era and beyond, and cover topics that include:
- Laws subordinating married women to their husbands
- Women’s Rights
Although publicly Abigail played the role of a public official’s wife, the men and women she corresponded with knew that she was a fiercely intelligent woman, with advanced thoughts on many issues of the time.
Tour the Birthplace of Abigail Smith Adams
The Birthplace of Abigail Adams is located in Weymouth, Massachusetts, and is maintained by the Abigail Adams Historical Society. Visit their website or give them a call at 781-277-1271 for more information.