The Beehive: the official blog of the Massachusetts Historical Society

John Quincy Adams, Media Darling

Apologies for the long post, but I wanted to take a chance to round up some of the major media coverage John Quincy Adams has been getting this week, provide a little more background (and offer up the perspective that his wife had on the trip to Russia), and answer some questions we've been getting since the project launched:

When I announced that we'd be launching a Twitter feed of John Quincy Adams' line-a-day diary entries, I wrote "We certainly hope others will find JQA's journey as fascinating as we do." I think I speak for all of us here at MHS when I say that we never expected the wave of attention that this story has gotten - the last few days seem almost unreal. We began getting some local blog and press attention last Friday (Boston Globe Brainiac blog, Bostonist, Universal Hub). On Tuesday afternoon, the Associated Press went live with a story  about the project (long version; short version), which was picked up by literally hundreds of media outlets around the world. Various versions of that soon appeared in Computerworld, Switched, CNET, Tippingpointlabs, and many other technology-oriented sites. I was interviewed for WBZ, the local CBS affiliate (video) and our Librarian, Peter Drummey, talked to Fox 25's Sarah Underwood (video).

On Wednesday I spoke with Robin Young from WBUR's "Here and Now" (audio), and Thursday the project was featured in the New York Times, NPR's "Morning Edition" (audio), CNN's Political Ticker blog, ABC's "World News Tonight" (video) and by MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show (video). We got anecdotal reports from around the country that the story was covered widely on local television and radio broadcasts.

And the followers, oh the followers! The number of people who have taken the time to reach out and follow the Twitter feed has been increasing by leaps and bounds all week, with sometimes hundreds of new folks following in any given hour. On Tuesday afternoon we had just a few hundred (600 around 4 p.m.); on Wednesday morning at 8 a.m. it was 2,682; at 6 a.m. on Thursday it stood at 5,467, and as I write on Friday morning we've just passed 9.000. We intend to follow back all those who followed JQA. At first we simply couldn't keep up, and then Twitter's follow limits stymied us, but we're trying - if you are following JQA and aren't being followed back yet, don't take it personally - we hope to be able to follow you soon!

The reaction on Twitter has been positive and really fun to watch. A sampling: "extremely geeky but a great use of twitter; former prez john quincy adams to begin tweeting his original daily journal entries"; "Following celebrity tweets is soooo 19th Century! John Quincy Adams was tweeting 200 years ago"; "John Quincy Adams may be the best thing to happen to Twitter. This just made my day"; "Excellent idea to get people engaged with history- thank you and great work!"; "Now THIS is interesting, entertaining, informative, and BRILLIANT! way to go MHS!" You can follow the reaction at

You can follow JQA's diary entries here, and subscribe via RSS using the URL here. Remember, the line-a-day entries we've posted are supplemented by longer entries in JQA's other diaries; if you search by date, you'll be able to read digitized versions of the expanded entries.

Now, amidst all the excitement and turmoil of leaving for Russia, there was another side to the story. John Quincy Adams' wife Louisa Catherine was not a fan of the idea, and even less a fan of leaving two of their young children behind in America. Remembering the events in an 1840 memoir, Louisa wrote:

"This day the news arrived of Mr Adams’s appointment to Russia and I do not know which was the most stuned with the shock my Father or myself— I had been so grosly deceived every apprehension lulled—and now to come on me with such a shock!— O it was too hard! not a soul entered into my feelings and all laughed to scorn my suffering at crying out that it was affectation— Every preparation was made without the slightest consultation with me and even the disposal of my Children and my Sister was fixed without my knowledge until it was too late to Change—

Judge Adams [JQA's brother Thomas Boylston Adams] was commissioned to inform me of all this as it admited of no change and on the 4 of August we sailed for Boston I having been taken to Quincy to see my two boys and not being permited to speak with the old gentleman [John Adams] alone least I should excite his pity and he allow me to take my boys with me—

Oh this agony of agonies! can ambition repay such sacrifices? never!!— And from that hour to the end of time life to me will be a susession of miseries only to cease with existence—

Adieu to America—"

You can read more about the Adamses and their time in Russia in "The First Ambassador: John Quincy Adams in St. Petersburg, 1809-1815," an article by two of my Adams Papers colleagues (Mary Claffey and Sara Sikes) which appeared in the September/October 2008 issue of Russian Life. The article is available in PDF form here, courtesy of Russian Life.

Finally, since we've received several calls and emails about how readers and followers of JQA can support the MHS and the JQA project, I will point out our Support MHS website, which offers several options for contributing to the Society's programs. We never intended for this to be a way to raise money, and we truly appreciate the interest.

It's been quite a week - acting as John Quincy Adams' impromptu publicist has been a new experience for me, and seeing the great feedback has been very exhilarating for all of us at MHS. We're thrilled, and we hope you will all stick with us as we go forward! To Russia, with tweets!

permalink | Published: Friday, 7 August, 2009, 10:07 AM


Aug 7, 2009, 10:57 am

Lisa Francavilla

This is fabulous, Jeremy! Congratulations!

Aug 7, 2009, 11:59 am

Iris M. Gross

I've been a huge fan of the Adams family ever since the miniseries came out - had to buy it! Love that JQ's mother, Abigail, was a vehement opponent of slavery and that her eldest son fought to repeal it as a senator after his term as president was overwith. So, to be able to watch his tweets, well, as a black American I feel as if I wouldn't be here if it weren't for him and his family. A great way to pay homage.

Aug 7, 2009, 12:18 pm

Janice Fontanella

I think Tweeting JQA's diary is one of the coolest uses of Twitter I've seen. I'd mostly stopped looking a Twitter but signed up as a follower as soon as I read about it in the paper! Great great idea. Thanks!!

Aug 7, 2009, 1:00 pm


Congratulations! This is a great way to get people interested in history. I'm intrigued! JQA was ahead of his time in many ways. He knew how to keep it short and to the point!

Aug 7, 2009, 3:11 pm

Marlon Branton

Wonderful idea and love it! Look forward to read his "tweets" everyday. Thank you.

Aug 7, 2009, 4:08 pm

Beth Harrington

JQA's diaries give me a REAL reason to Twitter. Thanks.

Aug 7, 2009, 5:48 pm

Paul A. Bouchard

I love the idea of reliving history. The whole idea of receiving a "tweet" from the past is exciting, like a time machine.

Aug 7, 2009, 8:44 pm


First true historical use of twitter was Apollo 11. Now you guys. Brilliant!

Aug 7, 2009, 10:50 pm

Bill Sallee

I was pleased to see the note on my M S home page that you were twittering the travels of JQA. I read decades ago some of JQA's diaries entries and remember a mention of an air cooling system in his Congressional office and have wondered yea these many years what sort of contraption this might have been. I went back to try to find the passage I recalled this from with no luck. Was I dreaming? I know the Boston Public Libray had some sort of air cooling system but that was developed later in the century, I think. Your endeavor gives me much encouragment myself, as I am presently engaged in a narration of JQA's grandson Henry's History of the United States During the Administrations of Thomas Jefferson to be put on CDs unabridged no less. Having nearly completed this we have decided to push on to the following volumes on Madison's administration if time, cash and patience hold out. The interest in your project has had alot to do with this decision. Thanks.

Aug 8, 2009, 8:45 am

Andrew Davis

I think you guys have picked the right medium for the message. It's a great example of using Twitter to actually add value! Keep up the great work!

Aug 8, 2009, 8:52 am


Suggestion: How about a link to a map showing JQAdam's location at the end of each twitter post?

Aug 8, 2009, 12:32 pm

Harry E

You should just have the tweets by day from his journal. As it stands now, it is too messy with your comments breaking up the daily entries. You should keep it more in keeping with the way twitter is supposed to be organized.

Aug 8, 2009, 12:52 pm


Thanks for your feedback, all!

Bill, I will look into the cooling system for you - I don't know of it offhand.

Bob, when JQA provides sufficient lat/long coordinates, we will add a map showing his location (first one is tomorrow, I think)

Harry, yes, we certainly don't intend to "intrude" often, but we will occasionally need to provide some context or other information.

Aug 9, 2009, 1:33 am

Erika Mobley

This man is a relative of mine and its incredible to know of him on a more personal level. Thank you.

Aug 9, 2009, 6:50 pm

Janet Conover

Dear Twitter,
Your work with JQ Adams is wonderful. Just think what you have already started for masses of people young and old that know virtually nothing of our country's real history. Any chance John Adams (JQ's father) and Thomas Jefferson could also make their way onto your pages? They too keep diaries and logs of everything - and too, did it very succinctly.

Aug 9, 2009, 11:00 pm

Lisa Prejean

This idea is simply a stroke of genius. Very engaging, a wonderful mashup of the past, present and future!

Aug 11, 2009, 10:10 am

Joanne Riley

Wonderful to see the twittosphere a-twitter about this great project. Presence of the Past indeed... It's particularly exciting to think about the potential for extending and expanding upon the diary entries as you are with the map links. Mine it for all it's worth!

Aug 11, 2009, 7:59 pm

Dot S.

Ok, so......poor louisa Catherine......! How old were her sons when she left, and.....she really had to leave them for six years????? That hurts!!! Was it the colonial mindset of the day, or the male mindset, or the patrician mindset....or all of the above? that was so cold and unfeeling? Was she able to forgive? Come back and be with her boys? ~~~ Why were they not allowed to take the boys? ~~~ Does anyone have these answers? ~~~~
Anyway, thank you for doing this project, it's a great idea!

Aug 15, 2009, 7:59 pm

Robert in AZ

Absolutely love this initiative. Kudos and thanks for making history fun and accessible. Annotations and commentary are MOST welcome. Please keep doing more.

And I know we just started but there has to be other journals / newspapers / diaries that can benefit in the same way!

Off to contribute to MHS.

Aug 20, 2009, 1:32 pm

Dee Robertson-Lee

Our library Web Master has put a link to to JQA's Twitter page on our library website. . This is great! It has finally gotten me on to Twitter. The John Adams mini series was fabulous, and now this as a continuation for a personal peek at our historical past! Kudos to the person who came up with this idea. Fantastic!

Thomas G. Carpenter Library
University of North Florida

Aug 20, 2009, 1:42 pm

Dee Robertson-Lee

I love the inclusion of the map links. My husband, two sons and I sailed from Bermuda to Nova Scotia and then along the coast of NS. When JQA mentions fog it brings back such memories of sailing in the thick fog. (Tic a fog you? was the local greeting)

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