Abigail Adams.

Letters of Mrs. Adams, the wife of John Adams (Volume 1) online

. (page 1 of 16)
Online LibraryAbigail AdamsLetters of Mrs. Adams, the wife of John Adams (Volume 1) → online text (page 1 of 16)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


3 3433 08230924




-< ~~










V. ... - .

. -,

;& :

Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1840, by


in the Clerk's Office of the District Court of the District of

* :








THE extremely favorable reception which the
Letters of Mrs. Adams have thus far met with
from the American public, encourages the Editor
to attempt the present republication of them. The
opportunity has been taken to revise the text by
a fresh comparison with the original manuscripts,
and carefully to correct that portion of the work
which was supplied by himself. Objections to
the somewhat unwieldy size of the former volume
have been removed by dividing the matter which
it contained into two. In order to do this, how-
ever, it was found necessary to add a few letters.
These, together with a commentary upon them
in the memoir, originally prepared for the first


edition, and finally excluded from it only because
of the unexpectedly large space which the letters
of earlier date were found to occupy, are now
inserted. In all other respects the two editions
do not differ.

Boston, December, 1840.




To Mrs. H. Lincoln. 5 October. Accepts the offer to
correspond with her. Views of life 3


To John Adams. 1G April. Pleasure in writing. Ques-
tions about his health 7

To the same. 19-20 April. Wishes to know her faults.
Dreams 8


To the same. 14 September. Family well. At her fa-
ther's 12


To the same. 19 August. Time tedious in his absence.
Anxiety for the future. Reading Rollin 13

To the same. 2 September. Popular excitement. Seiz-
ure of the warrants for summoning juries. Drought . 15

To the same. 14- 16 September. Warlike preparations
of Governor Gage. The gunpowder in Braintree se-
cured by the people. They force the Sheriff to surren-
der warrants and burn them. Dismay of the Tories.
At Colonel Quincy's. Students at law in her house.



Mr. Thaxter teaches her son. Morals of children.

Popular feeling in Taunton 18

To the same. 22 September. Visit to Boston. State of

the town. Negro conspiracy 23

To the same. 16 October. Desires his return. Fears

for the future. Necessity of economy. General Gage.

Departure of Josiah Quincy, Jr., for England ... 25


To the same. 4 May. Affairs at home. Hutchinson's

letters. Mr. Quincy's death 29

To the same. 7 May. Cheering news from North Caro-
lina. Distress of Boston 31

To the same. 24 May. Alarm in Braintree. British
foraging party. Arrival of Dr. Franklin from Europe.

Fire in Boston. State of her house 32

To the same. 15 June. Arrival of British recruits. Ap-
prehensions. Mr. Bowdoin. Importance of soldiers.

Scarcity of pins 35

To the same. 18- 20 June. Action on Bunker's Hill.

Death of Dr. Warren ....'... 39

To the same. 22 June, Answers inquiries. Dr. Tufts.

Preparations for removal 41

To the same. 25 June. Particulars of the action on
Bunker's Hill. Divine service. Preacher not ardent
enough. Condition of Boston. Effect of reports . . 43
To the same. 5 July. Pleasure of telling news. State

of Boston. Not afraid. Scarcity of grain 47

To the same. 16 July. Appointment of Washington
and Lee satisfactory. First impressions upon seeing
them. State of Boston. British attacked upon Long
Island. Braintree elects a representative. Scarcity of

foreign goods 50

To the same. 25 July. Boston lighthouse burnt by a party
of Americans. Restrictions on the inhabitants of Boston.
Generals Burgoyne and Clinton. Visit to Dedliam . 57



To the same. 31 July -2 August. Inveighs against
Britain. Treatment of Dr. Warren's remains. British
carpenters attacked at the lighthouse. Four prisoners
with whom she converses 63

To the same. 1 October. Death of her mother. In
great distress. Prevalence of disease 67

To the same. 21 October. Sickness abated. State of
Boston. Dr. Church. Her father's grief. Complains
of her long separation from her husband. Want of
needles and cloth 69

To the same. 22 October. Describes her mother's death.
Effect upon herself. British demand upon Falmouth.
Tory satires in Boston 73

To the same. 5 November. Dines in company with
Dr. Franklin. Reflections upon Dr. Church. Hopes
for her husband's return 76

To the same. 12 November. Renounces attachment to
Britain. Skirmish atLechmere's Point. Her own mel-
ancholy 78

To the same. 27 November. Regrets his prolonged
stay. Reflections upon government 80

To the same. 10 December. Visits the American camp.
Generals Lee and Sullivan. Suggests measures. Scar-
city of foreign goods. Congress too timid .... 83


To the same. 2- 9 March. Ridiculous rumor. Desires
independence to be declared. Roar of cannon from
Dorchester Heights. Disappointment at the result.
Movements in Congress 87

To the same. 7-11 April. British troops removed.
Funeral of Dr. Warren. Engaged in. farming. Cap-
ture of a British vessel. News 93

To the same. 7 -9 May. Neglect of preparations for
defence. Necessity for government. More captures 96

To the same. 17 June. At Plymouth. Goes on board


the brig Defence. Account of the capture of two

transports. Confidence in the future 100

To the same. 29 September. Anxious for news. High
prices paid for drafted men. Great number in the
public service, and in privateers. Willing to reap the
harvests 105


To the same. 30-31 July. Bad news from the north.
Distrust of foreign officers. Female mob in Boston . 107

To the same. 5 August. Alarm in Boston. Proves
unfounded. Mourns her separation from him . . . 110

To the same. 17 September. Letter from Mr. Lovell.
Horrible apprehensions 113

To the same. 25 October. General Burgoyne's sur-
render. Generous terms offered to him. Reflections
upon her wedding anniversary 114


To the same. 8 March. Rumor of Dr. Franklin's as-
sassination. Apprehensions at her husband's departure
for Europe. Directions to her son 116

To the same. 18 May. Anxious for intelligence of him.
Attachment to her native country. Opposite conduct of
France and of Great Britain. Depreciated currency .119

To John Quincy Adams. June. Advice ..... 122

To John Adams. 30 June. Receipt of his first letter
from abroad. Begs for more. Defective female edu-
cation in America. Shebbeare's Letters 125

To the same. October. Officers of the French fleet.
Visits the ship of Count d'Estaing. Is displeased with
the brevity of her husband's letters. Paper money . 129

To the same. 27 December. Her lonely situation this
winter. Effect of a Scotch song 132

To the same. 20 March - 23 April. Letters intercepted.



Paper money. Public news. Capture of British ves-
sels 134

To the same. 8 June. Depreciated currency. Death
of Dr. Winthrop 138

To the same. 14 November. Her house looks discon-
solate at his departure 142


To John Quincy Adams. 12 January. Advice. Advan-
tages of travelling. Great necessities call out great
virtues 143

To the same. 20 March. Religion the only foundation
of virtue. Self-knowledge recommended, and self-
government 146

To John Adams. 16 July. Receipt of letters. Sacri-
fices to support the war 151

To the same. 15 October. Arnold's plot. Prices cur-
rent ;,.... 154


To the same. 28 January. Repeal of the tender law.

Heavy taxes. British employ Arnold 157

To the same. 25 May. Beauty of the season. Hopes

he may make a treaty with Holland. The currency

has lost all value 160

To the same. 9 December. Marquis de la Fayette. The

surrender of Corn wall is. Anxiety about the return of

her second son. Has the heart-ache for want of letters.

Requests assistance for townsmen in British prisons.

Hopes for his return. Affairs of business 163


To the same. 25 October. Eighteenth anniversary of
her wedding. Reflections. Return of the prisoners . 168

To 1he same. 13-25 November. Regrets his long ab-
sence. Her confidence in him 172



To the same. 23 December. Expresses her feelings.
Willing to sacrifice them for the common good . . .. 175


To the same. 28-29 April. Joy at the news of peace.
Amused by his journal. Movement in Congress.
Doubts about accepting his invitation to join him in
Europe 177

To the same. 20 June. Uncertainty as to his course.
Doubtful state of the country. Would prefer his return
to going to join him 182

To the same. 19 November. Decides not to cross the
ocean this winter. Anxious about his health . . . 186

To John Quincy Adams. 20 November. Rejoiced to
hear at last from him. Advice 188

To John Adams. 18 December. Attends divine service
in Boston. Feelings occasioned by the Thanksgiving
sermon of Dr. Clarke. Arrival of, and interview with,
Mr. Dana. Answers her husband's pressing invitation
to join him 192

To John Quincy Adams. 26 December. Comparison of
Russia and America. Causes of the rise and fall of
nations. Advice 196


THE memorials of that generation, by whose
efforts the independence of the United States
was achieved, are in great abundance. There
is hardly an event of importance, from the year
1765 to the date of the definitive treaty of peace
with Great Britain, in September, 1783, which
has not been recorded, either by the industry
of actors upon the scene, or by the indefatiga-
ble activity of a succeeding class of students.
These persons have devoted themselves, with a
highly commendable zeal, to the investigation
of all particulars, even the most minute, that
relate to this interesting period. The individu-
als, called to act most conspicuously in the Re-
volution, have many of them left voluminous
collections of papers, which, as time passes, find
their way to the light by publication, and fur-
nish important illustrations of the feelings and
motives under which the contest was carried
on. The actors are thus made to stand in bold


relief before us. We not only see the public
record, but the private commentary also ; and
these, taken in connexion with the contempo-
raneous histories, all of which, however defec-
tive in philosophical analysis, are invaluable
depositories of facts related by living witnesses,
will serve to transmit to posterity the details for
a narration in as complete a form as will in all
probability ever be attained by the imperfect
faculties of man.

Admitting these observations to be true, there
is, nevertheless, a distinction to be drawn be-
tween the materials for a history of action and
those for one of feeling : between the conduct of
men aiming at distinction among their fellow-
beings, and the private, familiar sentiments, that
run into the texture of the social system, with-
out remark or the hope of observation. Here it
is, that something like a void in our annals ap-
pears still to exist. Our history is for the most
part wrapped up in the forms of office. The
great men of the Revolution, in the eyes of
posterity, are. many of them, like heroes of a
mythological age. They are seen, for the most
part, when conscious that they are acting upon
a theatre, where individual sentiment must be
sometimes disguised, and often sacrificed, for
the public good. Statesmen and generals rarely
say all they think or feel. The consequence is,


that, in the papers which come from them, they
are made to assume a uniform of grave hue,
which, though it doubtless exalts the opinion
entertained of their perfections, somewhat di-
minishes the interest with which later genera-
tions study their character. Students of human
nature seek for examples of man under cir-
cumstances of difficulty and trial: man as
he is, not as he would appear ; but there are
many reasons why they are often baffled in the
search. We look for the workings of the heart,
when those of the head alone are presented to
us. We watch the emotions of the spirit, and
yet find clear traces only of the reasoning of the
intellect. The solitary meditation, the confi-
dential whisper to a friend, never meant to
reach the ear of the multitude, the secret wishes,
not to be blazoned forth to catch applause, the
fluctuations between fear and hope, that most
betray the springs of action. these are the
guides to character, which most frequently
vanish with the moment that called them forth,
and leave nothing to posterity but the coarser
elements for judgment, that may be found in
elaborated results.

There is, moreover, another distinction to be
observed, which is not infrequently lost sight
of. It is of great importance not only to
understand the nature of the superiority of


the individuals, who have made themselves
a name above their fellow-beings, but to esti-
mate the degree in which the excellence for
which they were distinguished was shared by
those among whom they lived. Inattention
to this duty might present Patrick Henry
and James Otis, Washington. Jefferson, and

/ <*_S I t

Samuel Adams, as the causes of the American
Revolution, which they were not. There was
a moral principle in the field, to the power
of which a great majority of the whole popula-
tion of the colonies, whether male or female,
old or young, had been Jong and habitually
trained to do homage. The individuals named,
with the rest of their celebrated associates, who
best represented that moral principle before the
world, were not the originators, but the spokes-
men of the genera] opinion, and instruments
for its adaptation to existing events. Whether
fighting in the field, or deliberating in the Sen-
ate, their strength against Great Britain was
not that of numbers, nor of wealth, nor of
genius ; but it drew its nourishment from the
sentiment that pervaded the dwellings of the
entire population.

How much this home sentiment did then, and
does ever, depend upon the character of the
female portion of the people, will be too readily
understood by all, to require explanation. The


domestic hearth is the first of schools, and the
best of lecture-rooms ; for there the heart will
cooperate with the mind, the affections with the
reasoning power. And this is the scene for the
almost exclusive sway of the weaker sex. Yet,
great as the influence thus exercised undoubt-
edly is, it escapes observation in such a manner,
that history rarely takes much account of it.
The maxims of religion, faith, hope, and char-
ity, are not passed through the alembic of logi-
cal proof, before they are admitted into the
daily practice of women. They go at once into
the teachings of infancy, and thus form the
only high and pure motives of which matured
manhood can, in its subsequent action, ever
boast. Neither, when the stamp -of duty is to
be struck in the young mind, is there commonly
so much of alloy in the female heart as with
men, with which the genuine metal may be
fused, and the face of the coin made dim.
There is not so much room for the doctrines of
expediency, and the promptings of private in-
terest, to compromise the force of public exam-
ple. In every instance of domestic convulsions,
and when the pruning-hook is deserted for the
sword and musket, the sacrifice of feelings
made by the female sex is unmixed with a
hope of worldly compensation. With them
there is no ambition to gratify, no fame to be


xviii MEMOIR.

gained by the simply negative virtue of priva-
tions suffered in silence. There is no action to
drown in its noise and bustle a full sense of the
pain that must inevitably attend it. The lot of
woman, in times of trouble, is to be a passive
spectator of events, which she can scarcely
h/pe to make subservient to her own fame, or
to control.

If it were possible to get at the expression of
feelings by women in the heart of a community,
at a moment of extraordinary trial, recorded in
a shape evidently designed to be secret and
confidential, this would seem to present the
surest and most unfailing index to its general
character. Hitherto we have not gathered
much of this material in the United States.
The dispersion of families, so common in Amer-
ica, the consequent destruction of private papers,
the defective nature of female education before
the Revolution, the difficulty and danger of
free communication, and the engrossing charac-
ter, to the men, of public, and to the women, of
domestic cares, have all contributed to cut short,
if not completely to destroy, the sources of in-
formation. It is truly remarked, in the present
volume, that " instances of patience, persever-
ance, fortitude, magnanimity, courage, human-
ity, and tenderness, which would have graced
the Roman character, were known only to those


who were themselves the actors, and whose
modesty could not suffer them to blazon abroad
their own fame." 1 The heroism of the females
of the Revolution has gone from memory with
the generation that witnessed it, and nothing,
absolutely nothing, remains upon the ear of the
young of the present day, but the faint echo of
an expiring general tradition. Neither is there
much remembrance of the domestic manners of
the last century, when, with more of admitted
distinctions than at present, there was more of
general equality ; nor of the state of social feel-
ing, or of that simplicity of intercourse, which,
in colonial times, constituted in New England
as near an approach to the successful exempli-
fication of the democratic theory, as the irregu-
larity in the natural gifts of men will, in all
probability, ever practically allow.

It is the purpose of the present volume to
contribute something to the supply of this de-
ficiency, by giving to tradition a form partially
palpable. The present is believed to be the
first attempt, in the United States, to lay before
the public a series of private letters, written
without the remotest idea of publication, by a
woman, to her husband, and others of her near-
est and dearest relations. Their greatest value

1 Letter, 4 March, 1786.


consists in the fact, susceptible of no miscon-
ception, that they furnish an exact transcript of
the feelings of the writer, in times of no ordi-
nary trial. Independently of this, the variety
of scenes in which she wrote, and the opportu-
nities furnished for observation in the situations
in which she was placed by the elevation of her
husband to high official positions in the coun-
try, may contribute to sustain the interest with
which they will be read. The undertaking is,
nevertheless, too novel not to inspire the Editor
with some doubt of its success, particularly as
it brings forward to public notice a person who
has now been long removed from the scene of
action, and of whom, it is not unreasonable to
suppose, the present generation of readers have
neither personal knowledge nor recollection.
For the sake of facilitating their progress, and
explaining the allusions to persons and objects
very frequently occurring, it may not be deemed
improper here to premise some account of her

There were few persons of her day and gen-
eration, who derived their origin, or imbibed
their character, more exclusively from the gen-
uine stock of the Massachusetts Puritan settlers,
than Abigail Smith. Her father, the Reverend
William Smith, was the settled minister of the
Congregational Church at Weymouth, for more


than forty years, and until his death. Her
mother, Elizabeth Quincy. was the grand-
daughter of the Reverend John Norton, long
the pastor of a church of the same denomina-
tion in the neighbouring town of Hingham, and
the nephew of John Norton, well known in the
annals of the colony. 1 Her maternal grand-
father, John Quincy, was the grandson of
Thomas Shepard, minister of Charlestown. dis-
tinguished in his day, and the son of the more
distinguished Thomas Shepard of Cambridge,
whose name still lives in one of the churches of
that town. These are persons whose merits
may be found fully recorded in the pages of
Mather and of Neal. They were among the
most noted of the most reputed class of their
day. In a colony, founded so exclusively upon
motives of religious zeal as Massachusetts was,
it necessarily followed, that the ordinary dis-
tinctions of society were in a great degree sub-
verted, and that the leaders of the church,
though without worldly possessions to boast of,
were the most in honor everywhere. Educa-
tion was promoted only as it was subsidiary to
the great end of studying or expounding the
Scriptures ; and whatever of advance was made
in the intellectual pursuits of society, was rather

1 Hutchinson, Vol. I. pp. 220, et seq.


the incidental than the direct result of studies
necessary to fit men for a holy calling. Hence
it was, that the higher departments of know-
ledge were entered almost exclusively by the
clergy. Classical learning was a natural, though
indirect consequence of the acquisition of those
languages, in which the New Testament and
the Fathers were to be studied ; and dialectics
formed the armour, of which men were com-
pelled to learn the use, as a preparation for the
wars of religious controversy. The mastery of
these gave power and authority to their posses-
sors, who, by a very natural transition, passed
from being the guides of religious faith to their
fellow men, to be guardians of their educa-
tion. To them, as the fountains of knowledge,
and possessing the gifts most prized in the com-
munity, all other ranks in society cheerfully
gave place. If a festive entertainment was
meditated, the minister was sure to be first on
the list of those to be invited. If any assembly
of citizens was held, he must be there to open
the business with prayer. If a political measure
was in agitation, he was among the first whose
opinion was to be consulted. Even the civil
rights of the other citizens for a long time de-
pended, in some degree, upon his good word;
and, after this rigid rule was laid aside, he yet
continued, in the absence of technical law and


lawyers, to be the arbiter and the judge in the
differences between his fellow men. He was
not infrequently the family physician. The
great object of instruction being religious, the
care of the young was also in his hands. The
records of Harvard University, the child and
darling of Puritan affections, show that of all
the presiding officers, during the century and a
half of colonial days, but two were laymen, and
not ministers of the prevailing denomination ;
and that of all, who in the early times, availed
themselves of such advantages as this institu-
tion could then offer, nearly half the number
did so for the sake of devoting themselves to
the service of the gospel.

But the prevailing notion of the purpose of
education was- attended with one remarkable
consequence. The cultivation of the female
mind was regarded with utter indifference. It
is not impossible, that the early example of Mrs.
Hutchinson, and the difficulties in which the
public exercise of her gifts involved the colony,
had established in the public mind a conviction
of the danger that may attend the meddling of
women with abstruse points of doctrine; and
these, however they might confound the strong-
est intellect, were, nevertheless, the favorite
topics of thought and discussion in that genera-
tion. Waving a decision upon this, it may very


safely be assumed, not only that there was very
little attention given to the education of women,
but that, as Mrs. Adams, in one of her letters, 1
says, "It was fashionable to ridicule female
learning." The only chance for much intellect-
ual improvement in the female sex was, there-
fore, to be found in the families of that, which
was the educated class, and in occasional inter-
course with the learned of their day. What-
ever of useful instruction was received in the
practical conduct of life, came from maternal
lips ; and what of further mental developement,
depended more upon the eagerness with which
the casual teachings of daily conversation were
treasured up, than upon any labor expended
purposely to promote it.

Abigail Smith was the second of three daugh-

1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16

Online LibraryAbigail AdamsLetters of Mrs. Adams, the wife of John Adams (Volume 1) → online text (page 1 of 16)