Adams Biographical Sketches
- Abigail Adams Smith, William Stephens Smith
- John Quincy Adams, Louisa Catherine Johnson Adams
- Charles Adams, Sarah Smith Adams
- Thomas Boylston Adams, Ann Harrod Adams
JOHN ADAMS was born in the North Precinct of Braintree (now Quincy), Massachusetts, on 30 October 1735, the eldest son of John and Susanna (Boylston) Adams. He graduated from Harvard College in 1755 and for the next two years taught school and studied law under the direction of James Putnam in Worcester, Massachusetts. He returned to Braintree to launch his law practice and married Abigail Smith of Weymouth on 25 October 1764. For several years the Adamses moved their household between Braintree and Boston as warranted by John’s successful law practice and the demands of the circuit court system. Adams and Josiah Quincy, Jr. defended the British soldiers charged in the Boston Massacre Trials, successfully winning acquittals for seven of the defendants and reduced sentences of manslaughter for the remaining two.
From 1774 to 1777 Adams served in the Continental Congress. He passionately urged independence for the colonies, and in 1776 the “Atlas of Independence” was appointed to the committee to draft a declaration of independence. His copy of Thomas Jefferson’s draft of the Declaration of Independence is the earliest known draft in existence.
Appointed by Congress a joint commissioner (with Benjamin Franklin and Arthur Lee) to France, John Adams sailed from Boston with his son John Quincy in February 1778. In the summer of 1779, father and son returned to Massachusetts where Adams was elected to represent Braintree at the convention to frame a state constitution. The Constitution of 1780, drafted by John Adams, is the oldest written constitution in the world still in effect.
Elected by Congress to negotiate treaties of peace and commerce with Great Britain, Adams returned to Europe in November 1779 accompanied by his two eldest sons, John Quincy and Charles. Additional commissions to negotiate a Dutch loan and a treaty of amity and commerce with the Netherlands and election as a joint commissioner (with Franklin, John Jay, Henry Laurens, and Thomas Jefferson) to treat for peace with Great Britain soon followed.
1782 was a banner year for John Adams—he secured recognition of the United States in the Netherlands, contracted the first of four loans from Amsterdam bankers to provide crucial financial aid for the United States, and signed a treaty of amity and commerce with the Netherlands. In September 1783, after nearly a year of negotiation, Adams and his fellow commissioners signed the Definitive Peace Treaty with Great Britain. From 1785 to 1788 John Adams served as the first American minister to the Court of St. James’s in London. After eight years abroad, in France, the Netherlands, and Great Britain, where Abigail had joined him in 1784, Adams returned to the United States.
Service abroad was quickly followed by elective office at home—eight years as vice-president under George Washington and in 1796, president. The successful transfer of power was made on 4 March 1797. Adams’ presidency was fraught with difficulties: The Quasi War with France, the XYZ Affair, and the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798. American political parties were just taking shape, but Adams was not a party man. He maintained the same cabinet officers appointed by his predecessor and they continued to look to Washington and Federalist party leader Alexander Hamilton for direction instead of Adams, compounding his problems. Adams defied his cabinet, and much of the Federalist party, to conclude peace with France. Toward the end of Adams’ presidency the seat of government was transferred to Washington, D.C., and he and Abigail became the first presidential couple to live in the Executive Mansion, later called the White House.
After one term in office, Adams was succeeded as president by Thomas Jefferson. Party politics and a strong difference of opinion over national interests divided Adams and Jefferson and temporarily alienated these two men who had formed a close friendship in Europe in the 1780s. John Adams retired from public life to his farm in Quincy. He died on the fiftieth anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, 4 July 1826.
ABIGAIL SMITH ADAMS was born 11 November 1744, in Weymouth, Massachusetts, to the Reverend William and Elizabeth (Quincy) Smith. She had no formal schooling, but her education included reading works by Shakespeare, Milton, and Pope. On 25 October 1764, she married John Adams. John Adams’ protracted absences from home (first while traveling the court circuits and later while at the Continental Congress and on diplomatic assignments abroad) often left Abigail with the children to raise, a farm to manage, the household and tenants to supervise, and extended family and friends to care for—all while the Revolution in Boston unfolded on her doorstep. The letters she exchanged with John and other family members reveal her cares and worries, her frank opinions and advice, and give an extraordinary view of everyday life in 18th-century New England.
In 1784, Adams and her daughter Abigail joined John and son John Quincy in Europe. Abigail’s record of her month-long voyage from Boston to England, along with two shorter journals she kept while in England and on her return voyage to America in 1788, are printed in The Adams Papers’ Diary and Autobiography of John Adams, volume 3. During the 12 years of John Adams’ vice-presidency and presidency, Abigail moved between their home in Quincy and the national capitol in New York, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C., successively. Again, the burden of their household and personal affairs fell on her capable shoulders. She was also responsible for raising nieces and grandchildren entrusted to her care. Among her notable correspondents were Thomas Jefferson, James Lovell, Benjamin Rush, and Mercy Otis Warren. Abigail Adams died 28 October 1818, at home in Quincy.
ABIGAIL ADAMS SMITH, the oldest child of John and Abigail (Smith) Adams, was born 14 July 1765. At the age of eighteen, Abigail traveled abroad with her mother, where she met and married (12 June 1786) Col. William Stephens Smith of New York, secretary to the U.S. Legation in London. Smith had served in the Continental Army during the Revolution and had been an aide to George Washington. The Colonel’s poor judgment in business matters, especially land speculation, following the couple’s return to New York in 1788 placed their household under severe financial restraints. Abigail died of cancer in August 1813 at her parent’s home in Quincy, having survived a mastectomy in October 1811.
WILLIAM STEPHENS SMITH was born 8 November
JOHN QUINCY ADAMS, the second child and eldest son of John and Abigail (Smith) Adams was born 11 July 1767. As a young boy Adams accompanied his father on his diplomatic missions to Europe. He attended school at a private academy outside Paris, the Latin School of Amsterdam, and Leyden University. The years 1781–1782 he spent in St. Petersburg as private secretary and interpreter to Francis Dana, U.S. minister to Russia. In 1785 Adams returned to the United States to continue his formal education. He graduated from Harvard College in 1787, studied law for three years with Theophilus Parsons in Newburyport, Massachusetts, and then practiced law in Boston.
Adams’ own diplomatic career began in 1794 when President Washington appointed him minister to the Netherlands. Immediately following Adams’ arrival, French armies occupied the country. On 26 July 1797, in London, John Quincy Adams married Louisa Catherine Johnson, daughter of the U.S. consul. He was appointed minister plenipotentiary to Berlin in 1797 and recalled by his father after the elder Adams' defeat in the presidential election of 1800.
Adams served one year in the Massachusetts State Senate and in April 1803 was appointed to fill an unexpired seat in the U.S. Senate. His independent actions in the Senate, namely support for the Louisiana Purchase and the Embargo of 1807, quickly alienated him from the Federalist party in Massachusetts. When the state legislature, dominated by Federalists, prematurely named Adams’ successor in the Senate (six months before his term was to expire), Adams immediately resigned.
Commissioned minister plenipotentiary to Russia in 1809, Adams, his wife, and their youngest son Charles Francis spent five years in St. Petersburg. Adams was in a unique position to report Napoleon’s march across Europe and fatal attempt to conquer Russia. Within months of the United States’ declaration of war against Great Britain in 1812, John Quincy Adams was involved in efforts to bring about a peace—first through Russian mediation and later as a negotiator at Ghent in 1814. The Adamses’ stay in Europe was extended when John Quincy was appointed minister plenipotentiary to Great Britain (1815). Their two older sons (George Washington and John) joined the family in England.
John Quincy Adams’ eighth and final voyage across the Atlantic was made in 1817 when he returned home to become secretary of state in the Monroe administration. Significant among his many accomplishments are the negotiation of the Transcontinental Treaty of 1819 with Spain, the completion of his authoritative Report on Weights and Measures (1821), and the development of the Monroe Doctrine (1823).
Adams’ one term as president was not so successful. Although he ran second to Andrew Jackson in the 1824 election, he was chosen president by the U.S. House of Representatives when no candidate received a majority vote by the electoral college. He struggled as a minority president and received little support for an ambitious program of national improvements (federal support for the arts and sciences, creation of a Department of the Interior, and development of a system of roads and canals).
Although defeated for reelection in 1828 by rival Andrew Jackson, Adams soon returned to national politics as representative from Massachusetts’ Plymouth district. John Quincy Adams served in Congress from 1831 to 1848. He became an increasingly vocal opponent of slavery and its expansion—opposing the annexation of Texas and war with Mexico, championing the freedom of petition in defiance of the congressional gag rule, and defending the Amistad captives before the Supreme Court. On 21 February 1848, Adams collapsed at his seat in the House and was carried to the Speaker’s Room in the Capitol, where he died on 23 February.
Adams’ voluminous correspondence, both personal and public, can be found in the Adams Papers, along with the Diary that he kept for sixty-eight years (from November 1779, when he was twelve, to December 1847, just a few months before he died), and his many literary endeavors.
LOUISA CATHERINE JOHNSON ADAMS, the wife of John Quincy Adams, was born in London on 12 February 1775, the second daughter of Joshua Johnson of Maryland, and Catherine Nuth Johnson. Her father represented the Maryland firm of Wallace, Davidson, and Johnson in London. From 1778 to 1783, while England and France were at war, the Johnson family lived in Nantes, France, and Louisa and her older sister boarded at a convent school for several years. Following the peace the Johnson family returned to London where Joshua Johnson served as the first U.S. consul (1790–1797). Louisa and John Quincy Adams became engaged in 1796 when the latter, then U.S. minister to the Netherlands, was in London for the ratification of Jay’s Treaty and were married in that city on 26 July 1797, in the parish church of All Hallows Barking.
Louisa accompanied her husband on his diplomatic assignments to Berlin (1797–1801), St. Petersburg (1809–1815), and London (1815–1817). When John Quincy’s career called the couple to Washington the Adamses lived at first (1803–1808) with Louisa’s family, who had settled there following the collapse of Joshua Johnson’s London business in 1797. During their later residence at the capitol the Adamses' social life was particularly demanding. Louisa hosted weekly receptions at their home on F Street when John Quincy Adams was secretary of state and presided at dinners and levees in the White House when first lady.
Louisa stayed on at the F Street residence following John Quincy’s death in 1848. She suffered a stroke the following year and died on 15 May 1852. Of particular note in the Adams Papers are Louisa Catherine Adams’ autobiographical writings (“Adventures of a Nobody,” “Record of a Life, or My Story,” “Narrative of a Journey from Russia to France, 1815”) and her journal letters to her in-laws, John and Abigail Adams.
CHARLES ADAMS was born on 29 May 1770, the second son of John and Abigail Smith Adams.
At the age of nine he traveled with his father and older brother, John Quincy, to Europe during his father’s second trip to
The change proved beneficial to Charles and his first few years after college went well. He focused on his studies, and after passing the bar in 1792, Charles began a promising looking legal career in an office in
Charles Adams was known for possessing a very amiable and likeable personality, which likely made an impression on his sister-in-law, Sarah (Sally) Smith, sister to Nabby’s husband, William Stephens Smith, with whom he began a courtship. Despite protestations and warnings from his parents on the perils of early marriage, they acquiesced, and twenty-five-year old Charles married Sally in
The turn around in Charles’s life did not last, however, and the troubles he had experienced during his college years came back to haunt him. He squandered four thousand dollars his brother, John Quincy, had entrusted to him in land speculation and then dodged numerous letters from John Quincy who was serving as a diplomat in
SARAH SMITH ADAMS, also known as Sally, was born on 6 November 1769, one of 10 children to John Smith, a
She married her brother-in-law, Charles Adams, on 29 August
Sally watched as her husband deteriorated, finally confiding in her father-in-law, John Adams, the truth of her situation. After Charles Adams died in 1800, Sally had to rely on the care of her in-laws, who took her and her two daughters into their home. Abigail Adams, again writing to John Quincy, praised Sally in this time of trial, “She is amiable and worthy; I can lay no blame to her Charge. She attended with constant and unwearied Solisititude, to the last Scene.” (AA to JQA, 29 Jan. 1801)
After her younger daughter married Alexander Bryan Johnson in October 1814, Adams moved to
She died in
THOMAS BOYLSTON ADAMS, third son and youngest child of John and Abigail (Smith) Adams, was born 15 September 1772, and baptized in the First (Congregational) or
ANN (“Nancy”) HARROD ADAMS, daughter of Haverhill, Mass., innkeepers Joseph and Anna Harrod, was born on 25 April 1774(?). Her father ran a tavern called the Mason’s Arms, a popular local gathering site that provided lodging to prominent guests like President George Washington, who visited in 1789. Shortly after Thomas Boylston returned to
GEORGE WASHINGTON ADAMS, the son of Louisa Catherine and John Quincy Adams, was born 12 April
In 1809 John Quincy was appointed minister plenipotentiary to
John Quincy was appointed minister plenipotentiary to the Court of St. James in 1815, and in May of that year George and John 2d were reunited with their parents and Charles Francis in
George fell into alcoholism and ill health, and his dissipation was a matter of grave concern to his family. Early in April
JOHN ADAMS 2d, was born to John Quincy and Louisa Catherine Adams in
In July 1809, John Quincy accepted an appointment as minister plenipotentiary to
John 2d entered Harvard in August 1819. His academic career was marked by mediocre work and participation in student rebellions. The most serious of these occurred in 1823, shortly before he would have graduated. Along with more than half the members of his class, he was expelled. He graduated posthumously, in 1873. He spent the following summer with his grandfather in
When John Quincy became president in 1825, he appointed John 2d as his private secretary, a post he retained until 1827, when he became manager of the Columbian Mills, a flour mill in
On 23 October 1834, John 2d died in
CHARLES FRANCIS ADAMS, the third son of John Quincy and Louisa Catherine (Johnson) Adams, was born 18 August 1807, in
The early deaths of his two older brothers, George Washington Adams and John Adams 2d, meant that it was left to Charles Francis to carry on the family’s tradition of public service and prominence in American government. Adams began to take an active role in politics in the 1830s by contributing pieces on local and national affairs to
He served as a Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives from 1858 until 1861 when, on the eve of the Civil War, President Lincoln appointed him minister to the Court of St. James's. He arrived in
In 1871 and 1872, Adams was one of five arbitrators appointed to settle outstanding claims of the
Charles Francis Adams was an accomplished editor and published numerous volumes based on the family papers. These include Letters of Mrs. Adams (1840), Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States: with a Life of the Author (1850-1856), and Memoirs of John Quincy Adams, Comprising Portions of His Diary from 1795 to 1848 (1874-1877).
Charles Francis Adams died in
ABIGAIL BROWN BROOKS ADAMS was born on 25 April 1808 in
Her courtship to a nineteen-year-old Charles Francis Adams began in early 1827 while visiting her sister Charlotte, married to Edward Everett, in
After their wedding on 3 September 1829, the couple moved into a house on
Abigail Brooks Adams’s old age was one largely of poor health and decline for both her and Charles, his mentally, hers physically and emotionally. After he passed in 1886, Abigail’s health and spirits declined rapidly, until she too passed away at the Old House in