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First Lady Abigail Smith


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President John Adams

First Lady Abigail Smith

  • Born: 11 Nov 1744, Weymouth, Norfolk, Massachusetts
  • Marriage: President John Adams on 24 Feb 1764 in Weymouth, Norfolk, Massachusetts
  • Died: 28 Oct 1818, Quincy, Norfolk Co., Massachusetts at age 73
  • Buried: First Unitarian Church Cemetery, Hancock, Berkshire, Massachusetts

  General Notes:

Abigail Smith Adams: Born: Weymouth, Massachusetts Date: 1744, November 11

Father: William Smith, 1706, January 29, Charlestown, Massachusetts, died 1783, September 1783, Weymouth, Massachusetts. He was a Congregationalist minister.

Mother: Elizabeth Quincy, born 1721, Braintree, Massachusetts, died 1775, Weymouth, Massachusetts; married in 1740. She was the daughter of John Quincy, a member of the colonial Governor's council and colonel of the militia. Mr. Quincy was also Speaker of the Massachusetts Assembly, a post he held for 40 years until his death at age 77. He died in 1767; three years into his granddaughter Abigail Smith's marriage to John Adams, and his interest in government and his career in public service influenced her.

Ancestry: English, Welsh; Abigail Adams' paternal great-grandfather, Thomas Smith, was born 1645, May 10, and immigrated to Charleston, Massachusetts from Dartmouth, England. One of her great-great-great-great grandmothers came from a Welsh family. Her well-researched ancestral roots precede her birth some six centuries and are traced back to royal lines in France, Germany, Belgium, Hungary, Holland, Spain, Italy, Ireland and Switzerland.

Birth Order and Siblings: Second born; one brother, three sisters, Mary Smith Cranch (1741-1811), William Smith (1746-1787), Elizabeth Smith Shaw Peabody (1750-1815)

Physical Appearance: 5' 1", brown hair, brown eyes

Religious Affiliation: Congregationalist; she was buried in the Unitarian faith of her husband.

Education: Although Abigail Adams was later known for advocating an education in the public schools for girls that was equal to that given to boys, she herself had no formal education. She was taught to read and write at home, and given access to the extensive libraries of her father and maternal grandfather, taking a special interest in philosophy, theology, Shakespeare, the classics, ancient history, government and law.

Occupation before Marriage: No documentation exists to suggest any involvement of Abigail Adams as a young woman in her father's parsonage activities. She recalled that in her earliest years, she was often in poor health. Reading and corresponding with family and friends occupied most of her time as a young woman. She did not play cards, sing or dance.

Marriage: 19 years old, married 1764, October 25 to John Adams, lawyer (1735-1826), in Smith family home, Weymouth, Massachusetts, wed in matrimony by her father, the Reverend Smith. After the ceremony, they drove in a horse and carriage to a cottage that stood beside the one where John Adams had been born and raised. This became their first home. They moved to Boston in a series of rented homes before buying a large farm, "Peacefield," in 1787, while John Adams was Minister to Great Britain.

Children: Three sons and two daughters; Abigail "Nabby" Amelia Adams Smith (1765-1813), John Quincy Adams (1767-1848), Susanna Adams (1768-1770), Charles Adams (1770-1800), Thomas Boylston Adams (1772-1832)

Occupation after Marriage: Abigail Adams gave birth to her first child ten days shy of nine months after her marriage, thus working almost immediately as a mother. She also shared with her husband the management of the household finances and the farming of their property for sustenance, while he also practiced law in the nearby city of Boston.

When John Adams went to Philadelphia in 1774 to serve as his colony's delegate to the First Continental Congress, Abigail Adams remained home. The separation prompted the start of a lifelong correspondence between them, forming not only a rich archive that reflected the evolution of a marriage of the Revolutionary and Federal eras, but a chronology of the public issues debated and confronted by the new nation's leaders. The letters reflect not only Abigail Adams' reactive advice to the political contentions and questions that John posed to her, but also her own observant reporting of New England newspapers' and citizens' response to legislation and news events of the American Revolution.

As the colonial fight for independence from the mother country ensued, Abigail Adams was appointed by the Massachusetts Colony General Court in 1775, along with Mercy Warren and the governor's wife Hannah Winthrop to question their fellow Massachusetts women who were charged by their word or action of remaining loyal to the British crown and working against the independence movement. "…you are now a politician and now elected into an important office, that of judges of Tory ladies, which will give you, naturally, an influence with your sex," her husband wrote her in response to the appointment. This was the first instance of a First Lady who held any quasi-official government position.

As the Second Continental Congress drew up and debated the Declaration of Independence through 1776, Abigail Adams began to press the argument in letters to her husband that the creation of a new form of government was an opportunity to make equitable the legal status of women to that of men. Despite her inability to convince him of this, the text of those letters became some of the earliest known writings calling for women's equal rights. Separated from her husband when he left for his diplomatic service as minister to France, and then to England in 1778, she kept him informed of domestic politics while he confided international affairs to her. She joined him in 1783, exploring France and England, received in the latter nation by the king. Upon their return, during John Adams' tenure as the first Vice President (1789-1797), Abigail Adams spent part of the year in the capital cities of New York and Philadelphia, while Congress was in session.

Presidential Campaign and Inauguration: As much of her political role was conducted in correspondence, so too was Abigail Adams's active interest in her husband's two presidential campaigns, in 1796 and 1800, when his primary challenger was their close friend, anti-Federalist Thomas Jefferson. Caring for her husband's dying mother; Abigail Adams was unable to attend his March 4, 1797 inaugural ceremony in Philadelphia. She was highly conscious, however, of how their lives would change that day, with "a sense of the obligations, the important trusts, and numerous duties connected with it."

First Lady: 1797, March 4 - 1801, March 4 52 years old

Of the four years her husband served as President, Abigail Adams was actually present in the temporary capital of Philadelphia and then, finally, the permanent "Federal City," of Washington, D.C. for a total of only eighteen months. She nonetheless made a strong impression on the press and public. She was unofficially titled "Lady Adams," and encouraged such recognition by assuming a visible ceremonial role. After touring a New Jersey Army encampment, she reviewed the troops stationed there as "proxy" for the President. Often mentioned in the press, her opinions were even quoted at a New England town hall meeting. A highly partisan Federalist, Mrs. Adams helped forward the interests of the Administration by writing editorial letters to family and acquaintances, encouraging the publication of the information and viewpoint presented in them. She was sarcastically attacked in the opposition press, her influence over presidential appointments questioned and there were printed suggestions that she was too aged to understand questions of the day. One anti-Federalist derided her as "Mrs. President" for her partisanship. Indeed, Abigail Adams supported the sentiment behind her husband's Alien and Sedition Acts as a legal means of imprisoning those who criticized the President in public print. Fearful of French revolutionary influence on the fledgling United States, she was unsuccessful in her urging the President to declare war with France. She remained an adamant advocate of equal public education for women and emancipation of African-American slaves.

Highly conscious of her role as the president's wife, Abigail Adams saw her role largely as a hostess for the public and partisan symbol of the Federalist Party. Her entertainments were confined to a relatively small home in Philadelphia, turned into a hotel after the capital was moved from Philadelphia to Washington, D.C. Although she did host a dance for her son and his friends, she received visitors formally, seated like a royal figure as she had witnessed at Buckingham Palace. She also attempted to influence fashion, believing that the more revealing Napoleonic-style clothing then popular were too indecorous. Since presidential families were responsible for covering the costs of their entertainments and the Adamses were enduring financial difficulties at the time of his presidency, Abigail Adams's receptions were somewhat Spartan. The first First Lady to live in the White House, she resided there for four months, arriving in November 1800. During that time she famously hung her family's laundry in the unfinished East Room to dry.

Post-Presidential Life: Embittered at the loss of her husband's re-election to their old friend Thomas Jefferson, now a rabid anti-Federalist, Abigail Adams remained interested in national political issues. Her focus remained primarily on her home and her family. She raised her granddaughter Susanna Adams to maturity. Upon learning of Maria Jefferson Eppes' death, Abigail Adams wrote to the girl's father, President Jefferson, thus initiating a renewal of their contact and while she remained mistrustful of his politics, a new friendship through correspondence opened between Jefferson and John Adams. She corresponded upon at least one occasion with her successor Dolley Madison. Relieved at the return of her son John Quincy Adams from his diplomatic missions in Europe, Abigail Adams had an initially strained relationship with his English-born wife, Louisa Catherine Johnson. She did not live to see her son become President, which occurred six years after her death. When once approached for permission to publish some of her political letters, Abigail Adams refused, considering it improper for a woman's private correspondence to be publicly divulged. However, one of her grandsons arranged for the publication of some of her famous letters in 1848, becoming the first published book pertaining to a First Lady.

Death: Her home, Quincy, Massachusetts 1818, October 28 73 years old

Burial: First Unitarian Church, Quincy Massachusetts

"What is it that affectionate parents require of their Children; for all their care, anxiety, and toil on their accounts? Only that they would be wise and virtuous, Benevolent and kind."

-- Abigail Adams (letter to John Quincy Adams, 20 November 1783)

Reference: The Adams Family Correspondence, Richard Alan Ryerson, ed., vol. 5

Abigail married President John Adams, son of John Adams and Susannah Boylston, on 24 Feb 1764 in Weymouth, Norfolk, Massachusetts. (President John Adams was born on 19 Oct 1735 in Braintree (Now Quincy), Norfolk Co., Massachusetts, died on 4 Jul 1826 in Quincy, Norfolk Co., Massachusetts and was buried in Jul 1826 in First Unitarian Church Cemetery, Hancock, Berkshire, Massachusetts.)

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