Massachusetts

The Ageless Love Story of John and Abigail Adams

The enduring love story of John and Abigail Adams began with a whimper rather than a bang  in 1762.

John and Abigail Adams

John and Abigail Adams

It was during a visit to her father’s house in Weymouth, Mass., where Abigail Smith was born on Nov. 22, 1744. She was just 15, while John was 24. She was a minister’s daughter, barely five feet tall, slim, with dark brown hair and eyes. John was a country lawyer, already losing his hair and quite plump – not necessarily a bad thing in those days.

John accompanied his friend Richard Cranch to the Smith house because Richard was interested in Abigail’s older sister Mary.

John described the visit in his diary as a waste of time. He didn’t like Abigail’s father, the Rev. William Smith, describing him as ‘a crafty designing man.’  The three girls were "not fond, not frank, not candid." Nor did Abigail’s mother Elizabeth Quincy think much of John, whose manners, she felt, were lacking.

John would soon change his mind about the bookish minister’s daughter. John and Abigail got to know each other over the next three years, as he had legal business in Weymouth and Cranch courted, then married, Mary. John and Abigail were wed on October 25, 1764, five days before John’s 29th birthday. They rode off on a single horse together to their new home, a small house and farm in Braintree that John had inherited.

They would be married for 50 years, have five children, and witness revolution, war, scandal, diplomatic crises and the birth of a new nation. They would endure long separations, during which they wrote more than a thousand letters to each other. Of those letters written between  between 1762 and 1801, 1,160 survive. It is those letters that tell us about their long love affair. At times passionate, occasionally vexed, they were lovers, friends, partners, trusted advisers and confidantes.

They were separated by John’s involvement in the American Revolution and the creation of the new republic. During the 1770s, he was in Philadlephia with the Continental Congress in the 1770s; in the 1780s, he was a negotiator in Europe; and in the 1790s, vice president and president in New York, Philadelphia and Washington.

Miss Adorable

 "Miss Adorable": "By the same token that the bearer hereof [JA] satt up with you last night, I hereby order you to give him, as many kisses, and as many Hours of your company after nine o'clock as he pleases to demand, and charge them to my account.

Abigail was more high-minded in her communiqués. As was the custom of the day, they adopted pen names for each other: John was Lysander, Abigail Diana.  On Aug. 11, 1763, she wrote,

And there is a tye more binding than Humanity, and stronger than Friendship ... unite these, and there is a threefold chord — and by this chord I am not ashamed to say that I am bound, nor do I [believe] that you are wholly free from it. ... The health and happiness of Seneca she says was not dearer to his Paulina, than that of Lysander to his Diana.

During the struggle for American independence, John was often in Philadelphia as a member of the Continental Congress. A letter to Abigail dated April 28, 1776 shows his reliance on her mind as well as her heart:

Is there no Way for two friendly Souls, to converse together, altho the Bodies are 400 Miles off?— Yes by Letter.— But I want a better Communication. I want to hear you think, or see your Thoughts. The Conclusion of your Letter makes my Heart throb, more than a Cannonade would. You bid me burn your Letters. But I must forget you first.

'Remember the ladies'

Abigail_Smith_Adams_by_Gilbert_StuartAbigail embraced the concept of independence personally and politically. While John was gone from home, she managed the farm, raised their children and enlarged the house. But she also  joined John in Paris and played the role of ambassador's wife, and as First Lady she entertained formally . When John was president her political activity earned her the nickname 'Mrs. President.' In perhaps her most famous letter to her husband, then in Philadelphia advocating independence, she wrote on March 31, 1776,

I long to hear that you have declared an independency. And, by the way, in the new code of laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make, I desire you would remember the ladies and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the husbands. Remember, all men would be tyrants if they could. 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.

Twenty years after they met in her father’s home, they were still passionate about each other. On Dec. 23, 1782, when John was in The Netherlands trying to borrow money for the new American government, Abigail wrote:

My Dearest Friend,

…should I draw you the picture of my Heart, it would be what I hope you still would Love; tho it contained nothing new; the early possession you obtained there; and the absolute power you have ever maintained over it; leaves not the smallest space unoccupied. I look back to the early days of our acquaintance; and Friendship, as to the days of Love and Innocence; and with an indescribable pleasure I have seen near a score of years roll over our Heads, with an affection heightened and improved by time -- nor have the dreary years of absence in the smallest degree effaced from my mind the Image of the dear untitled man to whom I gave my Heart...

John and Abigail would live together in Washington in the unfinished ‘President’s House,’ where Abigail would famously hang their laundry to dry in the East Room. John arrived first, and it was to Abigail he penned the words on Nov. 2, 1800, that would be chiseled over the fireplace in the State Dining Room:john adams

 I pray Heaven to bestow the best of blessings on this House, and all that shall hereafter inhabit it. May none but honest and wise men ever rule under this roof.

John acknowledged Abigail Adams as a partner and an equal many times, but in none so poignant as the one he wrote at the end of his presidency:

It is fit and proper that you and I should retire together and not one before the other.

I am with unabated Confidence and affection your

John Adams

With thanks to First Family: Abigail and John Adams by Joseph Ellis and to the Massachusetts Historical Society.

5 Comments

5 Comments

  1. Jade Lally

    February 11, 2014 at 1:13 pm

    Abigail was such a courageous and strong woman.

  2. Molly Landrigan

    February 11, 2014 at 1:53 pm

    I think it’s wonderful that they didn’t let that first meeting foretell their future.

  3. Nancy Place

    February 11, 2014 at 5:02 pm

    A wonderful article!

  4. New England Genealogy

    February 13, 2014 at 1:54 am

    shared

  5. Pingback: Helen Keller, Not Quite the Nice Lady Who Campaigned for Peace - New England Historical Society

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