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Abigail Adams: The Second First Lady

Writing life sketches / interviews covering well-known poets, philosophers, and others keeps me in touch with history and current events.

Abigail Adams

Early Life

Abigail was born November 11, 1744, in Weymouth, Massachusetts, to the Reverend William and Elizabeth Quincy Smith. Her native intelligence and intense interest in learning sparked her curiosity and resulted in a highly educated woman even without a formal education.

Often experiencing ill health in her girlhood, Abigail spent most of her time reading and writing letters to friends and family. She and her siblings, one brother and two sisters, lived a comfortable life in a large home with fashionable furniture. Her family had servants who helped run the farm.

Cold and Aloof to Prudent and Sensible

Finding her manner somewhat cold and aloof, John Adams, upon meeting Abigail for the first time, came away with less than a favorable impression of her. They met again after two years, and this time John noticed her more positive qualities; he described her in his diary as "[p]rudent, modest, delicate, soft, sensible, obliging, active." After their second meeting, their relationship grew to one of strong friendship coupled later with great, long-lasting love.

Abigail and John were married October 25, 1764, and settled in Braintree, Massachusetts (Braintree was later renamed Quincy). Abigail soon became pregnant, and her life as wife and mother and director of a large estate began. She was responsible for overseeing the operations of their farm because John had to travel often for his job as a lawyer.

Marriage and Children

The future First Lady gave birth to five children during the first eight years of their marriage: Abigail, 1765; John Quincy, 1767; Susanna, 1768, who died at thirteen months; Charles, 1770; and Thomas, born 1772. Six years later, she gave birth to a sixth child who was stillborn.

In the midst of birthing all these children, Abigail and the large family moved several times; she especially enjoyed their time in Boston, where she could read several newspapers and socialize with powerful families like the Bowdoins and the Hancocks.

American Revolution

As the American Revolution was heating up, John was suddenly thrust into the middle of events when he was elected as a delegate to the First Continental Congress. This meant he would once again be traveling far from home, and Abigail would once again be in charge of the farm, or as John described her duties, "I ... intreat you to rouse your whole attention to the Family, the stock, the Farm, the Dairy." Despite the heavy burden, Abigail performed those duties proficiently and without complaint.

The Famous Letters

During John’s many trips from home, the couple kept up a letter-writing correspondence that has become famous and useful in showing future generations the specifics of that historical period in early America. Letter-writing became Abigail’s best form of expression; in one letter she wrote to John, she explained: "My pen is always freer than my tongue. I have wrote (sic) many things to you that I suppose I never could have talk'd." And she wrote many letters to other people, including Thomas Jefferson.

Because of her letters, she has been described "as a self-confident, insightful, and sharp woman deeply involved in the activities of her day. At times, however, her letters reveal a judgmental and critical nature: she seemed unwilling to tolerate people who did not live up to her high standards of character or, in some cases, who did not share her views."

From the Letters of John and Abigail Adams - Ken Burns, Sally Field

Supportive of Husband’s Work

As First Lady, Abigail Adams remained very supportive of her husband’s work, just as she had before his achieving the highest office in the land. Her day began early by 5:00 a.m. when she took care of family and household work; then from 11:00 a.m., she greeted visitors, as many as sixty each day. Her afternoons were spent visiting personal friends around Philadelphia, where the original capitol was located. Part of her duty as First Lady was to host large dinner parties, including Fourth of July events.

As president, John relied heavily on Abigail’s advice. As he waited for her to come to Philadelphia, he wrote, "I never wanted your Advice and assistance more in my life; The Times are critical and dangerous, and I must have you here to assist me."

Peaceful Life

After John’s presidency ended, he and Abigail experienced a peaceful life together once again in Quincy, where they had begun. Despite Abigail’s frail health, she lived a robust life and enjoyed the close relationship of her husband, friends, and family. On October 28, 1818, she died at her home in Quincy at age 73.

Not only does Abigail Adams have the distinction of being the wife of a president, she also became the mother of a president in 1825, when her son John Quincy Adams was elected as the sixth president of the United States—an honored shared only by Barbara Bush, wife of George H. W. Bush and mother of George W. Bush

After John’s presidency ended, he and Abigail experienced a peaceful life together once again in Quincy, where they had begun. Despite Abigail’s frail health, she lived a robust life and enjoyed the close relationship of her husband, friends, and family. On October 28, 1818, she died at her home in Quincy at age 73.

Not only does Abigail Adams have the distinction of being the wife of a president, she also became the mother of a president in 1825, when her son John Quincy Adams was elected as the sixth president of the United States—an honored shared only by Barbara Bush, wife of George H. W. Bush and mother of George W. Bush.

Sources

© 2018 Linda Sue Grimes

Comments

Linda Sue Grimes (author) from U.S.A. on January 01, 2019:

The history of identity politics is a long and fascinating one. So much exaggeration, so much obfuscation and bending of the truth. Humankind's penchant for classifying itself has caused untold misery and likely will continue to do so until people claim their true identities as souls that exist without race, gender, nationality, creed, or class.

Leland Johnson from Midland MI on January 01, 2019:

I remember a quote from Abigail to John: "I hope that when you've formed the new government you will not forget the ladies." Today people tend to talk about the trends in a "back then" frame of mind, especially when it comes to the sexes. I find it fascinating that even "back then" there were men and women who realized the inherent nature of equality between the sexes.

Linda Sue Grimes (author) from U.S.A. on December 31, 2018:

Thank you, Leland, for the kind words. Abigail Adams does offer a fascinating character study. She seemed so in touch with her times, the people around her, and the policies that needed to become law. Her analytical mind offered her husband a useful conversation through which he could evaluate his own ideas regarding government and social issues. Our country, no doubt, owes her a great debt for its direction on the path to individual freedom and governmental accountability.

Leland Johnson from Midland MI on December 31, 2018:

Linda- excellent article. I was made an admirer of the Adams's after seeing the mini-series "John Adams." Paul Giamatti played John Adams and Laura Linney portrayed Abigail brilliantly. I found the point you made about Abigail to be a diligent letter writer in her youth particularly interesting. People who are prolific letter writers tend to have high intelligence, strong social skills, and superb vocabularies. Loved learning about Abigail.

Leland

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