Abigail Adams

Abigail Adams Headshot

Biographical Information

Born in Weymouth, Mass. (11 November) to William Smith, a Congregational minister, and Elizabeth Quincy, daughter of the prominent John Quincy. Because of poor health, she did not attend school, but learned from her parents, grandparents, her older brother-in-law (Richard Cranch), and her future husband. She was surrounded by books and was an insatiable reader. She met John Adams in 1759 when she was fifteen years old and he twenty-four. They married five years later in October 1764. Over the next ten years she gave birth to four children—first a daughter and then three sons (the oldest son being John Quincy Adams). She gave birth to a stillborn daughter in 1777 and then had no more children. Her lawyer husband was absent a great deal riding the judicial circuit throughout Massachusetts and Maine. As the Revolutionary movement developed, John Adams was increasingly away from home serving in the colonial legislature, the Continental congresses, and on diplomatic missions abroad. During his absences, Abigail raised the children, supervised the farm, and administered the family finances. She believed in the concept of republican motherhood. Men and women had separate roles to play. A woman’s role was different from a man’s but fully as important. No man could achieve his maximum potential without the assistance and cooperation of his wife. She was a sounding board for his ideas—a defender of his reputation—a soul mate—an inspiration. She advocated the expansion of rights (not necessarily voting rights) for women to protect them from the arbitrary and oppressive rule of their husbands. She and her daughter left Braintree for London in June 1784 and arrived on 20 July. She subsequently lived in The Hague (The Netherlands), Paris, and London. She and John returned to Massachusetts in June 1788. When her husband became vice president of the United States, she lived in New York City and then in Philadelphia. She continued shortly in Philadelphia after her husband became president and briefly resided in Washington, D.C., the new federal capital. During most of Adams’ presidency, however, Abigail was not in good health and resided in Quincy. When separated, they regularly corresponded about all matters, including politics. She was her husband’s most trusted adviser. She died of typhoid fever 28 October 1818.

Descriptions of Abigail Adams

John Adams to Abigail Adams, 7 July 1775

It gives me more Pleasure than I can express to learn that you sustain with so much Fortitude, the Shocks and Terrors of the Times. You are really brave, my dear, you are an Heroine. And you have Reason to be. For the worst that can happen, can do you no Harm. A soul, as pure, as benevolent, as virtuous and pious as yours has nothing to fear, but every Thing to hope and expect from the last of human Evils.

John Adams to Mary Palmer, 5 July 1776

In Times as turbulent as these, commend me to the Ladies for Historiographers. The Gentlemen are too much engaged in Action. The Ladies are cooler Spectators. . . . There is a Lady at the Foot of Penn’s Hill, who obliges me, from Time to Time with clearer and fuller Intelligence, than I can get from a whole Committee of Gentlemen.

Abigail Adams to John Adams, 24 August 1783

I know not how to realize that I shall see you soon. Hope and Fear have been the two ruling passions of a large portion of my Life, and I have been banded from one to the other like a tennis Ball.

Abigail Adams to John Adams, 3 January 1784

Why with a Heart Susceptible of every tender impression, and feelingly alive, have I So often been called to Stand alone and support myself through Scenes which have almost torn it assunder, not I fear, because I have more resolution or fortitude than others, for my resolution often fails me; and my fortitude wavers.

Abigail Adams to Mary Cranch, 24 April 1786

[She wishes she could shed some pounds.] . . . and having bestowed some pounds I should move nimbler and feel lighter. Tis true I enjoy good Health, but am larger than both my sisters compounded. Mr. Adams too keeps pace with me, and if one Horse had to carry us, I should pity the poor Beast, but your Niece is moulded into a shape as Slender as a Grey hound, and is not be sure more than half as large as she was when she first left America. The Spring is advancing and I begin to walk so that I hope exercise will be of service to me.

Abigail Adams to Thomas Jefferson, 23 July 1786

I suppose you must have heard the report respecting Col. Smith—that he has taken my daughter from me, a contrivance between him and the Bishop of St. Asaph. It is true he tendered me a Son as an equivalent and it was no bad offer, but I had three Sons before, and but one Daughter. Now I have been thinking of an exchange with you sir, suppose you give me Miss Jefferson, and in some future day take a Son in lieu of her. I am for Strengthening the federal Union.

Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, 25 May 1788

When he [John Adams] established himself [as a diplomat in Europe], his pecuniary affairs were under the direction of Mrs. Adams, one of the most estimable characters on earth, and the most attentive and honorable economists.

John Adams to Abigail Adams, 4 February 1794

You apologize for the length of your Letters and I ought to excuse the shortness and Emptiness of mine. Yours give me more entertainment than all the speeches I hear. There is more good Thoughts, fine strokes and Mother Wit in them than I hear in the Whole Week. An Ounce of Mother Wit is worth a Pound of Clergy and I rejoice that one of my children [i.e., John Quincy Adams] at least has an Abundance of not only Mother Wit, but his Mother’s Wit. It is one of the most amiable and striking Traits in his Compositions. It appeared in all its Glory and severity in Barneveld.

Abigail Adams to John Adams, 28 March 1796

I detest still life, and had rather be jostled than inanimate.

Julian Ursyn Niemcewicz, Travels through America, 8 November 1797

I passed then into a room opposite and I found there the true counterpart of Mr. Adams. It was his wife. Small, short and squat, she is accused of a horrible crime. It is said she puts on rouge. What is certain is that if her manner is not the most affable, her mind is well balanced and cultivated.

Benjamin Rush, Sketches, post 1801

The pleasures of these evenings [in conversation with John Adams] was much enhanced by the society of Mrs. Adams, who in point of talent, knowledge, virtue, and female accomplishments was in every respect fitted to be the friend and companion of her husband in all his different and successive stations, of private citizen, member of Congress, foreign minister, Vice President and President of the United States.

Fisher Ames to Rufus King, 24 September 1800

[Referring to John Adams’s praise for Jefferson.] The good Lady his wife has been often talkative in a similar strain, and she is as complete a politician as any Lady in the old French Court.