Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography/Adams, Abigail

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ADAMS, Abigail (Smith), wife of John Adams, second president of the United States, b. in Weymouth, Mass., 23 Nov., 1744; d. in Quincy, Mass., 28 Oct., 1818. Her father, the Rev. William Smith, was for more than forty years minister of the Congregational church in Weymouth. Her mother, Elizabeth Quincy, was great-great-grand-daughter of the eminent Puritan divine, Thomas Shepard, of Cambridge, and great-grandniece of the Rev. John Norton, of Boston. She was among the most remarkable women of the revolutionary period. Her education, so far as books were concerned, was but scanty. Of delicate and nervous organization, she was so frequently ill during childhood and youth that she was never sent to any school; but her loss in this respect was not so great as might appear; for, while the New England clergymen at that time were usually men of great learning, the education of their daughters seldom went further than writing or arithmetic, with now and then a smattering of what passed current as music. In the course of her long life she became extensively acquainted with the best English literature, and she wrote in a terse, vigorous, and often elegant style. Her case may well be cited by those who protest against the exaggerated value commonly ascribed to the routine of a school education. Her early years were spent in seclusion, but among people of learning and political sagacity. On 25 Oct., 1764, she was married to John Adams, then a young lawyer practising in Boston, and for the next ten years her life was quiet and happy, though she shared the intense interest of her husband in the fierce disputes that were so soon to culminate in war. During this period she became the mother of a daughter and three sons. Ten years of doubt and anxiety followed during which Mrs. Adams was left at home in Braintree, while her husband was absent, first as a delegate to the continental congress, afterward on diplomatic business in Europe. In the zeal and determination with which John Adams urged on the declaration of independence he was staunchly supported by his brave wife, a circumstance that used sometimes to be jocosely alleged in explanation of his superiority in boldness to John Dickinson, the women of whose household were perpetually conjuring up visions of the headsman's block. In 1784 Mrs. Adams joined her husband in France, and early in the following year she accompanied him to London. With the recent loss of the American colonies rankling in the minds of George III. and his queen, it was hardly to be expected that much courtesy would be shown to the first minister from the United States or to his wife. Mrs. Adams was treated with rudeness, which she seems to have remembered vindictively. “Humiliation for Charlotte,” she wrote some years later, “is no sorrow for me.” From 1789 to 1801 her residence was at the seat of our federal government. The remainder of her life was passed in Braintree (in the part called Quincy), and her lively interest in public affairs was kept up till the day of her death. Mrs. Adams was a woman of sunny disposition, and great keenness and sagacity. Her letters are extremely valuable for the light they throw upon the life of the times. See “Familiar Letters of John Adams and his Wife, Abigail Adams, during the Revolution.” with a memoir by C. F. Adams (New York, 1870).