Abigail Smith Adams
Biography: Inheriting New England's strongest traditions, Abigail
Smith was born in 1744 at Weymouth, Massachusetts. On her mother's side she was descended
from the Quincys, a family of great prestige in the colony; her father
and other forebearers were Congregational ministers, leaders in a society
that held its clergy in high esteem.
Like other women of the time, Abigail lacked formal education; but her
curiosity spurred her keen intelligence, and she read avidly the books at
hand. Reading created a bond between her and young John Adams, Harvard
graduate launched on a career in law, and they were married in 1764. It
was a marriage of the mind and of the heart, enduring for more than half
a century, enriched by time.
The young couple lived on John's small farm at Braintree or in Boston as
his practice expanded. In ten years she bore three sons and two
daughters; she looked after family and home when he went traveling as
circuit judge. "Alas!" she wrote in December 1773, "How many snow banks
divide thee and me...."
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, and 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 and inflation; to run the farm with a
minimum of help; to teach four children when formal education was
interrupted. Most of all, they tell of her loneliness without her
"dearest Friend." The "one single expression," she said, "dwelt upon my
mind and played about my Heart...."
In 1784, she joined him at his diplomatic post in Paris, and observed
with interest the manners of the French. After 1785, she filled the
difficult role of wife of the first United States Minister to Great
Britain, and did so with dignity and tact. They returned happily in
1788 to Massachusetts and the handsome house they had just acquired in
Braintree, later called Quincy, home for the rest of their lives.
As wife of the first Vice President, Abigail became a good friend to
Mrs. Washington and a valued help in official entertaining, drawing on
her experience of courts and society abroad. After 1791, however, 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."
When John Adams was elected President, she continued a formal pattern of
entertaining--even in the primitive conditions she found at the new
capital in November 1800. The city was wilderness, the President's House
far from completion. Her private complaints to her family provide blunt
accounts of both, but for her three months in Washington she duly held
her dinners and receptions.
The Adamses retired to Quincy in 1801, and for 17 years enjoyed the
companionship that public life had long denied them. Abigail died in
1818, and is buried beside her husband in United First Parish Church.
She leaves her country a most remarkable record as patriot and First
Lady, wife of one President and mother of another.