Abigail Adams Biography

Quick Facts

Place: Weymouth, Massachusetts
Date: November 11, 1744
Best Known For
Being the wife of President John Adams and mother of President John Quincy Adams
A lifetime of correspondence which superbly illustrates people, places and events of her age.
Place: Quincy, Massachusetts
Date: October 28, 1818
Name: William Smith
Birth: January 29, 1706 in Charlestown, Massachusetts.
Occupation: Congregationalist Minister
Death: September, 1783 in Weymouth, Massachusetts.
Name: Elizabeth Quincy
Birth: 1721 in Braintree, Massachusetts
Facts: She was 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.
Death: 1775 in Weymouth, Massachusetts
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.
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:
An active member of First Parish Church in Quincy, which became Unitarian in doctrine by 1753. Her views about religeon evolved over the course of her life.
Abigail Adams 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.
At 19 years old, she married John Adams on October 25, 1764 in the Smith family home of Weymouth, Massachusetts, 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.
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)

Early Life and Family

Abigail Smith (Adams) was born on November 11, 1744, in Weymouth, Massachusetts. She was the second child born to Elizabeth Quincy Smith and the Reverend William Smith. Her father was Pastor of Weymouth's North Parish Congregational Church and one of the best educated and most prosperous citizens of the community. As a religious man, he taught Abigail to respect God and to help others in any way she could. Abigail's mother, Elizabeth Smith, spent much of her time visiting the sick and bringing food, clothing and firewood to needy families. From the time she was a young woman, Abigail accompanied her mother on these visits and put into practice the lessons her father taught her about helping those who were less fortunate. New England schools of the time usually admitted only boys, and girls were instructed at home. Few people believed that woman needed much learning. Such limitations did not satisfy Abigail, and she began to educate herself by reading the books in her father's library. She was well versed in many subjects and was one of the most well read woman in eighteenth century America. However, Abigail regretted that she did not have the opportunity to pursue a formal education that was reserved only for men. Abigail learned a great deal during her frequent stays with her grandfather, Colonel John Quincy, who was one of the most important citizens in the colony of Massachusetts. He served in several positions throughout his career, including being a colonel in the militia, and Speaker of the House of Representatives. Colonel Quincy's sense of public service and active concern for the community helped to shape young Abigail's values and provided her with a sense of public duty. Colonel Quincy and his guests made the future first lady aware of the importance of freedom and America's aspirations to control her own destiny.

Marriage and Pre-Revolutionary Years

As a woman of the 1700's, Abigail could understand her nation's thirst for independence, because she longed for it herself. Though the future first lady knew that her life would be decided by her choice of a husband, Abigail wanted a husband who was her intellectual equal and one who would appreciate her accomplishments. It was not long before Abigail met such a man, John Adams, a young lawyer from nearby Braintree. During their two-year courtship, the young couple spent long periods apart and relied upon letter writing to keep in touch. On October 25, 1764, Abigail's father presided over the wedding of his daughter to John Adams. The young couple moved into the house John had inherited form his father in Braintree (today a part of the National Park Service, Adams National Historic Site) and began their life together. John and Abigail's marriage was successful from the outset. Abigail proved to be exceptionally capable of managing the family's finances and the household. Meanwhile, John's career took a dramatic turn for the better. He began to ride the court circuit (traveling from one district to another). John's frequent absences from home and family were prelude to more painful separations in the years ahead. However, the young couple was willing to endure personal hardships for the good of their family and the nation. On July 11, 1767 in the Adamses' little farmhouse, Abigail gave birth to John Quincy Adams. In the spring of the following year, John Adams moved his family to Boston, because his work was located there. The Adams family became a part of a social circle that included such patriots as John's cousin, Samuel Adams, John Hancock, James Otis, and Joseph Warren. But there was little time for socializing because dramatic events in Boston were overshadowing all other concerns. Abigail's loyalty to her husband was tested by one such event, the Boston Massacre, on March 5, 1770. At the risk of his own popularity and career, John Adams chose to defend eight British soldiers and their captain, accused of murdering five Americans. Although John was an ardent patriot and favored independence, he felt the soldiers had acted properly and had been provoked into firing by an unruly mob. Also, he felt it was important to prove to the world that the colonists were not under mob rule, lacking direction and principles, and that all men were entitled to due process of law. Most Americans, driven by emotion, were angry with Adams for defending the hated "redcoats," but throughout the ordeal Abigail supported her husband's decision. In the end, Adams was proven correct and all nine of the men were acquitted of the murder charges. Despite diffusing of this crisis, far greater ones were destined to be part of the course of events in the colonies.

Revolution and Time Abroad in Europe

In 1774, John went to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania as a delegate to the First Continental Congress where America made its first legislative moves towards forming its own government independent of Great Britain. Abigail remained in Braintree to manage the farm and educate their children. Again, letter writing was the only way the Adamses could communicate with each other. Now, their correspondence took on even greater meaning, for Abigail reported to her husband about the British and American military confrontations around Boston. Abigail was aware of the importance of these events, and took her son John Quincy to the top of Penn's Hill near their farm to witness the Battle of Bunker Hill on June 17, 1775. Not all Americans shared the Adamses' vision of an independent nation. To those that wavered, Abigail argued, "A people may let a king fall, yet still remain a people: but if a king lets his people slip from him, he is no longer a king. And this is most certainly our case, why not proclaim to the world in decisive terms, your own independence?" John agreed with his wife and in June of 1776 was appointed to a committee of five men to prepare a Declaration of Independence for Great Britain. Yet Abigail's vision of independence was broader that the delegates for she believed all people, and both sexes, should be granted equal rights. In her letters to John she wrote, "I wish most sincerely that there was not a slave in the province. It always seemed to me to fight ourselves for what we are robbing the Negroes (African- Americans) of, who have as good a right to freedom as we have." Later Abigail added John and his fellow delegates should "remember the ladies, and be more generous and favorable to them than you ancestors" when they enact new codes of law. She was certainly justified for asking for such rights, for women such as Abigail, by tending the fields, managing the farm, and supporting the militia and doing other jobs, made possible the U.S. military victory. Despite Abigail's best efforts to include all people in America's new system of government, her views were far too progressive for the delegates of the Continental Congress. While they did adopt the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, the document failed to guarantee the rights of blacks or women. John soon was appointed President of the Board of War, and turned to Abigail for advice on carrying out his job. She was the one person he could turn to for advice and support in politics and government. Throughout his career, Adams had few confidants, so Abigail advised her husband and John valued her judgment so much that he wrote his wife, "I want to hear you think or see your thoughts." In 1778, John Adams was sent to France on a special mission to negotiate an alliance with the French. John Adams was in Europe from 1778 to 1787 except for a three-month rest at home during which time he drafted the Massachusetts Constitution. Now separated from her husband by the Atlantic Ocean, Abigail continued to run their farm, pay their bills, and serve as teacher to their children. She labored to develop the great abilities of her son, John Quincy, who had joined his father in Europe. In one letter to her son, she inspired him to use his superior abilities to confront the challenges before him: "These are times in which a genius would wish to live...great necessities call out great virtues."

Being the First Lady

In 1784, with independence and peace secured from Great Britain, Abigail sailed to Europe to join her husband and son. Abigail spent four years in France and England while her husband served as United States Minister to Great Britain. As wife of a diplomat, she met and entertained many important people in Paris and London. While never at home in these unfamiliar settings, Abigail did her best to like the people and cities of both countries. Nevertheless, Abigail was pleased when the time came to return to Braintree in 1788. The next year, John Adams was elected first Vice President of the United States. During the course of the next twelve years as John Adams served two terms as Vice President (1789-1797) and one term as President (1797-1801), he and Abigail moved back and forth between the new home they bought in Braintree (the "Old House") and the successive political capital of the United States: New York, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C. Throughout these years, Abigail frequently made use of her writing ability in the defense of John Adams and his policies. Time began to take its toll on Abigail; she had constant recurring bouts of rheumatism, which forced her to frequently retreat to the peace of Braintree in order to recover. In 1796 after 8 years of apprenticeship as vice-president, John Adams was elected to succeed George Washington as President of the United States. While John and Abigail could be proud to reach this esteemed position, they had little time to enjoy their success, for the United States was in a very dangerous condition when Adams took office. Party lines were forming. John Adams faced dissent in his cabinet and the Vice President, Thomas Jefferson, was head of the opposition party. John Realized the problems he faced and wrote to his wife, who was in Quincy recovering form a rheumatic bout, that "I never wanted your advice and assistance more in my life." Abigail traveled to the Philadelphia to fulfill her duties as First Lady and maintained a grueling schedule of public appearances. She entertained guests and visited many people in support of her husband. The First Lady had a limited budget to carry out her duties, but she compensated for this with her attentiveness and charm. Meanwhile, Great Britain was at war with France and popular opinion held that America should aid Great Britain. The President felt that war would weaken the United States and decided upon the unpopular course of neutrality. During this time many of Adams' opponents used the press to criticize his policies. Abigail was often referred to as "Mrs. President" for it was widely believed that the President's decisions were influenced by his wife. In reality, Abigail disagreed with her husband's stand of neutrality, but people believed she was influencing his policies and this weakened John Adams politically. In 1798, with John Adams' approval, Congress passed the Alien and Sedition Acts, which were aimed at restricting foreign influence over the U.S. and weakening the opposition press. Abigail supported these measures, because she felt they were necessary to stop the press from undermining her husband. The acts proved very unpopular and Thomas Jefferson and James Madison led the protest against them. Adams' courageous yet unpopular stand on this matter led to his failure to be reelected in 1800, but he was forever proud that he prevented war. The year 1800 was bittersweet for the Adamses. In November, John and Abigail became the first occupants of the Executive Mansion in Washington, D.C. (today the White House). Meanwhile, their son, John Quincy Adams, was distinguishing himself abroad as United States Minister to Prussia. Eleven months of relative joy was soon overshadowed by a December that brought sadness to the Adams family when they suffered the untimely death of their son Charles, and John's loss to Thomas Jefferson in the Presidential Election of 1800.

Retirement to Quincy

After losing his bid for reelection in 1800, John Adams retired to life on the farm. Abigail Adams continued to keep herself busy maintaining her home. The family remained plagued with illness. Both Mary Cranch and her husband died within days of each other. Nabby Adams had been diagnosed with cancer and underwent an operation. John Adams injured his leg in an accident and was unable to walk for several weeks. As always, Abigail Adams cared for them all. In October of 1818, Abigail Adams suffered a stroke. She died quietly on October 28, 1818, surrounded by her family.


Today, nearly two centuries after Abigail's death, her legacy survives in the colorful letters she wrote which chronicled this important period of history. Adams was also an early advocate of married women's property rights and more opportunities for women, particularly in the field of education. Abigail paved the way for First Ladies in the future to speak their minds and fight for causes that they considered important.