John Adam’s Wife: Abigail Adams

Abigail Adams was the wife of the second president of the United States, John Adams. She was born on the 11th of November, 1744, in the North Parish Congregational Church in Massachusetts. Her father was William Smith, and her mother was Elizabeth Smith. Abigail had two sisters, Mary and Elizabeth. Her mother came from the Quincy family, which was prominent politically, while her father was a congregational minister who stressed morality more than original sin.

Although Abigail grew up to be an intelligent and literate woman, she never enjoyed the advantages of formal education. This may have been caused by her constantly unstable health, but she later remarked that she did not receive an education because women were often ignored when it came to their formal learning. Despite this, her mother taught all her daughters how to read and write. Abigail and her sisters were lucky enough that her father and grandfather had libraries, where they sharpened their literacy by reading French and English literature. As a result, Abigail later became one of the most learned first ladies ever.

Marriage and Children

Abigail met John Adams in 1759 when John accompanied one of his friends to Abigail’s parents’ house. The friend was engaged to Mary, who was Abigail’s sister. Eventually, Abigail and John came to like each other and eventually married on the 25th of October, 1764. After the wedding, the couple went to their new cottage in Braintree, Massachusetts. After nine months, John and Abigail had their first child, Abigail, who they nicknamed “Nabby.” She was followed by a son, John Quincy Adams, who would later be the sixth president of the United States. A third child named Grace Susanna was born in 1768, but she died before turning two years old. Abigail gave birth to three other children, Charles, Thomas, and Elizabeth, who was born dead.

Abigail was kept company by her only daughter, Nabby, during the times that her husband and sons were away from home. As a mother, she always reminded her children of the importance of living a virtuous life.

As the President’s Closest Confidant

With her husband absent from their home much of the time, the frequency of their exchange of letters had to make up for it. Historians have studied these letters for decades and noticed that she was the most intimate of his advisers. Abigail wrote several letters to her husband while he was busy throughout his political career. In these letters, her husband asked Abigail for advice regarding various subjects, and their exchanges contained political issues and concerns about the government. All these exchanges made it clear to historians that John genuinely regarded his wife’s opinions. Historians have noted, too, that Abigail more frequently used quotes from literature than her husband.

Abigail worked hard as a dutiful wife when John was elected to the presidency of the United States. She hosted a bountiful dinner each week and let herself be known as the wife of the President. When John was sworn in as the second president of the United States in 1797, Abigail was not present because she was at the bedside of her mother-in-law, who was gravely ill. As the wife of the President, she became active in politics herself, and eventually, her political rivals labeled her as “Mrs. President.” As John’s closest political adviser, she was always aware of her husband’s political troubles. As a result, her letters to John Quincy, her son, and to her sister Mary often contained issues that the public was yet unaware of. All the people involved in the politics of the day knew how important she was as the President’s wife, and so she was often approached first when they wanted to talk to John. In front of the press, she frequently talked about her husband in a good light and expressed her strong support for his political platforms.

As the United States’ first First Lady

Eventually, the capital was moved to Washington, D.C., and Abigail became the first president’s wife to ever live in the President’s House. The house later came to be called the White House, but during the time she lived there, the house was unfinished and surrounded by trees. She also expressed her dismay that, despite the abundance of trees in the area, nobody was inclined to chop firewood for them. She enjoyed the East Room of the house, though, which was where she hung up newly-washed clothes.

The family eventually left the President’s house following John’s defeat in his re-election bid. They moved to Peacefield, where Abigail closely tracked her son’s political advancement. Aside from following her son’s political life, she also continued her duties as a mother and grandmother — she brought up her granddaughter Susanna and her other grandchildren. Nabby, her daughter, died in 1813 of breast cancer when she was just 48 years old. 

Death

Abigail died of typhoid fever on the 28th of October, 1818, at the age of 73. Historians cherish the letters that Abigail and John sent to each other. In these letters, Abigail turned out to be the better writer, despite being the one who missed out on formal education. Historians also noticed in these letters that Abigail possessed more emotional strength than her husband.

Abigail’s remains were laid to rest in Quincy, Massachusetts, at the United First Parish Church.