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ABIGAIL ADAMS (1744-1818)

Her Life

Abigail was the second daughter of four children born to the Rev. William Smith and Elizabeth Quincy in Weymouth, Mass. Abigail was thought to be too sickly to go to school, so she learned to read by having her older relatives help teach her. Fortunately, her elders had good libraries, so she could read the Bible and the works of Milton, Locke, Shakespeare and others.

Although she learned to read, she complained about not learning how to spell, punctuate and capitalize. In trying to write her biography, her decendents had a difficult time deciphering the about 2000 letters she wrote, most to her husband, John. After reading English authors, she tried to teach herself to read books in French. Wanting to learn French was fortuitous, considering her future.

Abigail married John Adams in October 1764. John was an attorney, then became active in the new Continental Congress, so was away for long periods of time in Boston and Philadelphia. When he was stationed in Boston, she and the children moved to Boston.

Their children were: Abigail "Nabby," John Quincy, Susanna (died at 14 mo.), Charles, Thomas Boylston, and one stillborn daughter. Their first home was in Braintree, (now Quincy) Mass., where they had a farm like most people. While John was away for business or government, she managed the home and farm with the help of servants.

Abigail was a witness to the American Revolution. At times she observed some of the battles. She took an active interest in every phase of it.

Abigail Adams

At the time Common Sense was published and distributed on Jan. 10, 1776, it was read and criticized by many people. John was cautious, but Abigail developed her ideas too and wrote John her suggestions. She was 100 years before her time, when she wrote:

" --- 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 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."

Later, Thomas Paine admitted that he was the author of Common Sense.

In the same month when the Declaration of Independence was announced, July 1776, Abigail, her children and others from her extended family went to Boston to be vaccinated for smallpox by Dr. Thomas Bullfinch. They were in the first group to be vaccinated; about 30 people from Braintree were vaccinated this way.

When John became the U.S. Ambassador to France in 1784, he wrote to her asking that she come to France to live with him. Now, her learning the French language and having taught it to her children came in handy. With some fear and trepidation, she and "Nabby" went to live with him in France. (John Quincy was already working for the U.S. government as a representative in Spain, the Netherlands, Prussia and Russia). He could visit them occasionally.

Abigail was an excellent ambassador's wife; her years of self-management and wide reading made her into a wise and capable ambassador's wife, entertaining government officials in France, such as the Marquis de Lafayette and his wife, and of course, was entertained by the French.

First Day Cover

A year later John became the first American minister to the Court of St. James in England. Moving the family and servants was difficult, but being the conscientious and prudent woman that she was, she did all that she could to assist John and be an able representative of the new United States of America with the former enemy. He resigned as minister to England in 1787. On the way home in a sailing vessel, Abigail hoped and prayed that she would never have to sail across the ocean again.

When John was elected Vice-President to George Washington, they moved to Richmond Hill, N.Y.then to Philadelphia in July 1790. He was elected President in 1796 and moved to the "President's House" in Washington D.C. in Nov. 1799. Again, he wrote for Abigail to come; she came with servants and arrived on Nov. 16. Their residency lasted a brief three months. The house was not yet finished and finding comfort was a continuous struggle; Abigail complained about the burden of housekeeping and social obligations.

In the next election, and while the votes were still being counted in the House of Representatives for the new President, she started for Quincy before the roads would be more tortuous. After Thomas Jefferson was elected, John finished his work in Washington D.C. and left on March 5, arrived home March 23.

In their retirement they lived their lives with intelligence, humor and courage. Abigail was no longer lonesome for her husband. She attended to the household duties, continued writing letters and concerned herself with their children and other relatives. She still complained of the lack of knowing how to spell, punctuate and capitalize. She was indeed a "sickly" woman, but seemed to recover her vitality after a rest with some healthy treatment. She had met George and Martha Washington, knew Thomas Jefferson and had corresponded with Presidents James Madison and James Monroe. She did not live to see her son, John Quincy, become President.

She died on October 28, 1818. The "sickly" child and woman lived to be 74 years old. She took a great interest in her family, friends,

Her Religion
United First Parish Church, Quincy, Mass.

Abigail's father, Rev. William Smith, a Congregational minister, was one of those clergymen who had softened original Puritanism by accentuating the positive contributions to daily living while neglecting the harsher theological doctrines taken from Calvin. He was one of those ministers, who placed greater emphasis on reason and duty in worship.

He and the Rev. Ebenezer Gay of Hingham, Mass. (which became Unitarian with his arrival in 1719), who was his closest friend, often exchanged pulpits. In her many letters, written to John Quincy, her son, about religious beliefs, she wrote: "There is not any reasoning which convince me, contrary to my senses, that three is one and that one is three." (meaning: Father, Son and Holy Ghost). She also wrote: I acknowledge myself to be a unitarian --- believing that the Father alone is the Supreme God, and that Jesus Christ, derived his Being and all his powers and honours from his Father."

The United First Parish Church (1639) was rebuilt in 1828 of Quincy granite, left by John Adams to the church in his will. Here John and Abigail and their son and his wife, John Quincy, and Louisa, are buried in a crypt.

The first day of issue of this stamp was held in the United First Parish Church in Quincy, Mass. on June 14, 1985.

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