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The Wayward Youth of John Adams

John Adams birthplace

John Adams birthplace

During his wayward youth, John Adams frustrated his pious father and vexed his hot-tempered mother with his stubborn independence.

He was born Oct. 30 (New Style), 1735, in Braintree (now Quincy) in the Province of Massachusetts Bay. He would have two younger brothers, Peter, with whom he was close, and Elihu, who died of disease in the American Revolution.

His great-great-grandfather Henry Adams had come to Massachusetts in 1630 as part of the Great Migration of Puritans from England.

Young John’s father, Deacon John Adams, was a pious, well-respected farmer who made shoes in the winter and never owned more than 200 acres of land.

John Adams’ father was 15 years older than and socially inferior to his mother, Susanna Boylston. She was a member of a wealthier Brookline family and grandniece of the doctor who pioneered the treatment of smallpox.

Wayward Youth

A youngish John Adams

A youngish John Adams

One week after he was born, John Adams was baptized by the Rev. John Hancock, father of the John Hancock who signed the Declaration of Independence.

His father wanted him to be a minister. He didn't. "I thought that the Study of Theology...would involve me in endless Altercations and make my life miserable," he wrote as an adult.

Deacon Adams sent him to grammar school to learn Latin so he could enter Harvard. Adams remembered his teacher, Joseph Cleverly, as a 'tolerable Schollar and a Gentleman' but so lazy he didn't teach arithmetic. John Adams got a copy of the 1703 edition of Cocker's Decimal Arithmetick and taught himself.

He sometimes skipped school to hunt and fish. He later wrote,

I spent my time as idle Children do in making and sailing boats and Ships upon the Ponds and Brooks, in making and flying Kites, in driving hoops, playing marbles, playing Quoits, Wrestling, Swimming, Skating, and above all in shooting, to which Diversion I was addicted.

He was also girl-crazy and spent many evenings in the society of young ladies.

He loved hunting so much he brought his gun to school so he could begin shooting game as soon as classes were over. Cleverly scolded him for it. Adams then left the gun at the home of an elderly neighbor near the school. On the way home he killed crows and squirrels.

Farmer John

At the age of 10 he told his father he didn’t care for learning and wanted to be a farmer. His father took him out of school for a day and put him to work cutting thatch, a dirty, miserable job.

At the end of the day, young John Adams returned home tired and sore.

"Well, John, are you satisfied with being a farmer?" Deacon Adams asked. "I like it very well, Sir," he replied.

Young John Adams was sent to school the next day.

Finally at 14 his father sent him to a private boarding school run by Joseph Marsh, a better teacher than Cleverly. Young John Adams not only applied himself but discovered he loved learning.

He abandoned his interest in sports, and 'even for the Society of the Ladies.'

Photo of John Adams’ birthplace: By Daderot at the English language Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2438038

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