The Beehive: the official blog of the Massachusetts Historical Society

What did an Adams kid do for fun?

When John Quincy Adams was 59 years old, he wrote a nostalgic letter to his cousin William Cranch in which he pined for their shared childhood. This led me to wonder something—if you were an Adams kid, what did you do for fun?



John Adams’s absence from his family during this period provides a rich correspondence with their mother, Abigail, throughout which she describes the health and development of their “Little folks.” From Abigail’s letters, the children’s later reminiscences, and their skills evident as teenagers and adults, we can glean that Nabby, John Quincy, Charles, and Thomas passed most of their time with some combination of reading, shooting, chess, playing the flute, ice skating, keeping doves, and dancing.

When she wasn’t needed for household chores, Nabby could be found reading, playing cards, and gossiping with her cousins about their crushes. It is also probable that she accompanied her younger brothers when they went fishing, as she later describes fishing with John and Abigail while in England, or when they went on long walks, as her father believed in fresh air and exercise for young girls. Along the way, Nabby also must have become proficient in chess, as in 1786 her husband admitted to losing a game of chess to her. 

Like their elder sister, John Quincy and Charles loved to read. When John wrote home from Philadelphia and asked the children what presents they would like him to send home, Abigail replied, “I call[ed] them seperately and told them Pappa wanted to send them something and requested of them what they would have. A Book was the answer of them all only Tom wanted a picture Book and Charlss the History of king and Queen. It was natural for them to think of a Book as that is the only present Pappa has been used to make them.” As they grew older, John Quincy and Charles went for long walks and swims together, went shooting and ice skating, and took flute and dancing lessons.

Thomas, the youngest, enjoyed many of the same amusements of his older siblings, as evidenced by the necessity of abstaining from ice skating when he sustained a broken ankle. The “innocently playful” Thomas had an especially soft spot for animals. His aunt reported to Abigail, “Tom, a Rogue loves his Birds and his Doves, makes bad Lattin and says as he grows older he shall grow wiser.” When Thomas returned to live with Abigail, his aunt continued to send him reports of the animals. At fourteen, Thomas still appeared enamored with his pets, though John Quincy steered him towards more serious matters. His aunt wrote, “Thomas is A fine Lad, and does not run so often to look of his Doves in studying Hours, since Mr Adams has been here.”

Though it appears inconceivable to have a normal childhood when the enemy army is a few miles up the road, ten-year-old John Quincy confessed to his father that his thoughts were “running after birds eggs play & trifles,” and five-year-old Thomas couldn’t wait until his father returned home so that they could get back to playing “jail.” It seems that even when the world is turning upside down and countries are being crafted, a kid is still a kid. Even an Adams kid.



comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Wednesday, 11 October, 2017, 12:00 AM

This Week @ MHS

We start this week with a holiday but then begin rolling through programs for the rest of the month. Here is what the coming week holds:

- Monday, 9 October, 10:00AM-3:00PM :  MHS Open House. Visit the MHS and view Yankees in the West, an exhibition of letters, diaries, photographs, drawings, and artifacts that explores the ways New Englanders experienced the trans-Mississippi west in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Free and open to the public, the open house is part of the Opening Our Doors celebration in the Fenway Cultural District.

The Library is CLOSED on Monday, 9 October. Normal hours resume on Tuesday, 10 October.

- Tuesday, 10 October, 5:15PM : Come on in for an Environmental History Seminar with James Rice of Tufts University, and commentor Christopher Parsons of Northeastern University. "Early American Environmental Histories" speaks to questions raised in a recent workshop at the Huntington on early American environmental history. How do timespan and scale change our understanding of historical relationships between people and their environments? What new light does environmental history shed on topics such as race, gender, or law? What can early Americanists contribute to the field of environmental history as a whole? Seminars are free and open to the public; RSVP requiredSubscribe to receive advance copies of the seminar papers. To RSVP, click the link or call 617-646-0579.

- Thursday, 12 October, 6:00PM : Steam Titans: Cunard, Collins and the Epic Battle for Commerce on the North Atlantic is the title of a recent work by William M. Fowler, Jr., of Northeastern University, as well as this author talk with Mr. Fowler. Steam Titans tells the story of a transatlantic fight to seize control of the globe's most lucrative trade route. Two men—Samuel Cunard and Edward Knight Collins—and two nations wielded the tools of technology, finance, and politics to compete for control of a commercial lifeline that spanned the North Atlantic. This talk is open to the public and registration is required with a fee of $20 (no charge for MHS Members or Fellows). Reception begins at 5:30PM, followed by the speaking program at 6:00PM. 

- Friday, 13 October, 12:00PM : Pack up a lunch and come by at noon for a Brown Bag talk with Caylin Carbonell of the College of William and Mary. "Women and Household Authority in Colonial New England" interrogates women's vertical and horizontal relationships with other members of their household, as well as their involvement in the daily operation of their homes, to show colonial households as contested spaces wherein authority was negotiated rather than assumed. This talk is free and open to the public. 

- Saturday, 14 October, 10:00AM : The History and Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society Tour is a 90-minute docent-led walk through our public rooms. The tour is free, open to the public, with no need for reservations. If you would like to bring a larger party (8 or more), please contact Curator of Art Anne Bentley at 617-646-0508 or

While you're here you will also have the opportunity to view our current exhibition: Yankees in the West.

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Sunday, 8 October, 2017, 12:00 AM

This Week @ MHS

Here's the skinny on the public programs, events, and other happenings at the Society this week. 

- Tuesday, 3 October, 5:15PM : Join us for an Early American History seminar with Paul Finkelman of the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, and commentor R. Kent Newmyer of the University of Connecticut. "John Marshall, Slaveowner and Jurist" is a chapter from Finkelman's forthcoming book and examines the personal and professional life of Chief Justice John Marshall in the context of his relationship to slavery. Finkelman argues that Marshall as a Supreme Court justice always favored slavery over freedom, and that this reflected his emotional and economic investment in slavery. Seminars are free and open to the public; RSVP requiredSubscribe to receive advance copies of the seminar papers. To RSVP, click the link or call 617-646-0579. 

- Wednesday, 4 October, 12:00PM : "Commerce and the Material Culture of the Maritime Atlantic World" is a Brown Bag talk which focuses on the infrastructure of commercial exchanges as port cities adapted to larger ships, increased consumer goods, and productivity challenges in environments that included bays, rivers, and estuaries. J. Ritchie Garrison, University of Delaware, grounds his argument with historical documents, maps, objects, and archaeological fieldwork to show that people sought to stabilize local variables to accommodate rapid market shifts. This talk is free and open to the public. 

- Thursday, 5 October, 6:00PM : "Yankees in the West: Fellows & Members Preview & Reception." MHS Fellows and Members are invited to join us as we celebrate the arrival of Catherine Allgor, incoming president of the MHS, and open Yankees in the West. Following remarks by Sara Martin, enjoy a reception, meet our new president, and preview the exhibition. Registration is required at no cost.

- Friday, 6 October, 10:00AM : The Society's new exhibition, Yankees in the West, opens to the public! As with all others, this exhibit is open to all free of charge, Monday-Saturday, 10:00AM-4:00PM. Be sure to keep an eye on the online calendar for various events and talks centered around this show which remains on display until 6 April 2018. 

- Saturday, 7 October, 10:00AM : The History and Collections of the MHS is a 90-minute docent-led walk through our public rooms. The tour is free, open to the public, with no need for reservations. If you would like to bring a larger party (8 or more), please contact Curator of Art Anne Bentley at 617-646-0508 or

While you're here you will also have the opportunity to view our current exhibition: Yankees in the West.


Please note that the library is CLOSED on Monday, 9 October. The galleries remain open, 10:00AM-4:00PM, as part of the Fenway Alliance "Opening Our Doors" event


comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Sunday, 1 October, 2017, 12:00 AM

Gertrude Codman Carter’s Diary, September 1917

Today we return to the 1917 diary of Gertrude Codman Carter. You may read the previous entries here:

Introduction | January | February | March | April | May

June | July | August

September’s entries are heavily illustrated with drawings and photographs. Having just moved into Ilaro, Gertrude supervises continued construction at the site while managing the household in her husband’s absence. Domestic drama includes the “letting go” of a servant who “couldn’t stand the stairs” of the new residence, and the hiring of a replacement -- actions that do not endear Gertrude to her staff.

The war intrudes on the household once again as Gertrude receives a letter from the Colonial Secretary’s office with instruction for the conscription of her automobile in the event of an attack by the enemy. Amidst it all, Gertude continues to live a life of social obligation and voluntary labor as part of the Self-Help group and other island committees.

* * *

Sept 1.

Sent Barbara $50.

Moved into Ilaro. Toppin & Small, Edith & Norah & Ada, who couldn’t stand the stairs after all. We had our first dinner there on the marble verandah & it was quite lovely.


Sept 2.

Unpacked & tried to feel settled. John & I slept in the [illegible] room. Such fun.


Sept 3.

Rising bell at 7 a.m. & the house full up with very busy workmen,clanging & banging, sawing and jawing, [missing fragment], taping & scraping, patching & scratching, latching & detaching whatever was wrong, which happened after.

Our meal was rather full of coral dust but Topping was zealous & managed quite wonderfully for his age.


Sept 4.

Marked out servants quarters.

Mrs. Skeet came by to look at it.

I stopped at Charles Hayes at 6.30 and dined with Mrs. DaCosta.


Sept 5.

These little figures were made for a scale model of Ilaro, to gauge the height and width of doors.

Sept 6.

10.30 Civic Circle met at [illegible] Park.


Sept 7.

Called Chelston for washing. Gave up Ada & hired Rosina, a girl of the Cawfields. This, it appears, was considered by everyone below stairs as a fearful faux pas. I got no less than three anonymous letters on the subject, which outraged Bailey beyond measure.


Sept 8.

John began a letter & headed it “Ilaro Court limited.”

“What does it mean, John?” -- “Oh - just what it means on the honey bottle!”


Sept 9.

Laddie to tea & a little [illegible] out. He is very appreciative of my powers as an architect.


Sept 10.

Miss Hatfield called about the Easter Féte for my advice. I became a sort of unofficial Chairman of the Committee & advised in a Sybelline manner.


Sept 11.

To photographer with John. [illegible] had sticks -- both of them.


John Carter


4.30 to bathe at Mrs. Harold Whytes.


12 Sept.

Self-Help meeting

Miss [illegible] again.

Laddie later for a spin.


13 Sept.

[entry obscured by a typescript letter from the Colonial Secretary’s Office]




No. 19.


Colonial Secretary’s Office, Barbados.

14th September 1917.



I am directed by the Governor to inform you that the Defence Committee will require transport facilities for the Defence Force in case of enemy attack. On the “Alarm” being sounded you are requested to send your motor car No. M158 to [illegible] where it will be available for use in accordance with order issued by the officers of the Force.

2. A driver, and the necessary supply of Petrol, spare tyres, etc. should be available with the car.

3. The Government undertake to recommend to the Legislature that compensation be paid for damage caused by enemy action.

4. The “alarm” consists of the firing of five rockets from the Harbour Police Station, and the firing of powder charges from two 9 pounder guns, at the Garrison and the Reef respectively.

5. The Defence Committee’s recommendations are based on the assumption that you will readily co-operate with them in arranging transport facilities in case of attack. His Excellency has therefore asked me to obtain from you a statement to the effect that you have made arrangement of a kind to ensure prompt dispatch of the car whenever the “Alarm” is sounded.

I have the honor to be,


Your most obedient servant,

T.E. Fell,

Colonial Secretary.


Sept 14.


"Toppin. Five minutes before the arrival of the Gubernatorial Party."


Sept 15

The Probyns came to see the house.


Sept 16.

Mr & Mrs [illegible] to see house.

I dined at the Laurie Piles.


Sept 17.

Auction inspection.

I dined at the Harold Whytes’ - a most amusing evening. Harold Whyte & Laddy & Mr Fell played an uproarious game of bridge in which they were respectfully alluded to as the army, the vestry, and the government & every now and then a large land crab would come in & sport about the floor. I took Mr Fell & Colonel Humphreys home & my car began to wheeze just after that & I found that it was in for a long illness this time.


Sept 18.

Mrs [illegible] came & fetched up & took me back to Brittons for bitters.


Sept 19.

Hired a car & took Mrs. Carpenter to an auction in the country. We had a picnic lunch. Great fun.


Sept 27.

Mrs Humphreys & Doreen to tea. Rained heavily & we had no where to go but in & then it was only a courtyard.

I dined with the [illegible]. Jolly evening.


Sept 28.

Busy on the house.

Laddy telephoned.



Sept 29.

[illegible]. Laddy had a picnic & took me to Bleak House. Had [illegible] drove Mrs Carpenter. We had bitters & sandwiches & a great time.


Sept 30.

Laddie drove me out to the Charlie Haynes’. After dinner we worked all of us on the [illegible]. We saw Lady [illegible] toes out of the window!


* * *

As always, if you are interested in viewing the diary or letters yourself, in our library, or have other questions about the collection please visit the library or contact a member of the library staff for further assistance.


comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Friday, 29 September, 2017, 12:00 AM

This Week @ MHS

The Irish Atlantic has set sail to make way for our next exhibit, Yankees in the West, which opens to the public on Friday, 6 October. In the meantime, there are plenty of events on the agenda at the Society, including a return of our several seminar series. Here is what to expect in the coming week:

- Tuesday, 26 September, 5:15PM : The first Modern American Society and Culture seminar of the season is titled "Lost Cities of Chicago's South Side." This essay comes from a book-in-progress about Chicago's South Shore neighborhood by Carlo Rotella of Boston College. Over the past half-century, the area has gradually shifted toward a class system of haves and have-nots separated by an increasing divide. Samuel Zipp of Brown University provides comment for the discussion. Seminars are free and open to the public; RSVP requiredSubscribe to receive advance copies of the seminar papers. To RSVP, click the link or call (617)-646-0579.

- Wednesday, 27 September, 12:00PM : Pack a lunch and stop by for a Brown Bag lunch talk with Laurel Daen, MHS-NEH Fellow, as she talks about "The Constitution of Disability in the Early United States." This project examines the development of disability as a meaningful bureaucratic, legal, institutional, and cultural category in the Early Republic, rooted in ideas about work, social worth, and economic independence, and increasinly determined by the expert discourse of medicine. This talk is free and open to the public. 

- Wednesday, 27 September, 6:00PM : Donna Lucey of the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities discusses her recently published work Sargent's Women: Four Lives Behind the Canvas in this author talk of the same name. This biography illuminates four extraordinary women painted by the iconic high-society portraitist John Singer Sargent. These compelling stories of female courage connect our past with our present and remind us that while women live differently now, they still face obstacles to attaining full equality. This talk is open to the public, registration required with a fee of $10 (no charge for MHS Members or Fellows). Pre-talk reception begins at 5:30PM, followed by the speaking program at 6:00PM. 

- Thursday, 28 September, 6:00PM : Area gradute students and faculty are invited to attend our annual Graduate Student Reception. Enjoy complimentary drinks and hors d'oeuvres as you meet students and professors from other universities working in your field. In addition to networking is the opportunity learn more about the Society and its collections as well as the resources available to support your scholarship, from research fellowships to our five different seminar series. This reception is free but we ask that you RSVP by September 27 by e-mailing or calling (617) 646-0579.

- Saturday, 30 September, 1:00PM : "Begin at the Beginning - Violence, Disease, and Public Medicine during the Pequot and King Philip's Wars." This interactive talk by Kevin McBride, director of research at the Pequot Museum, and Ashley Bissonnette, Pequot Museum senior researcher, reveals how New England’s landscapes were far more heavily contested than previously thought, exploring the reality of the Pequot and King Philip's Wars. In addition, they will discuss the beginning of public health in the colonies. RSVP required for this event at no cost. 

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Sunday, 24 September, 2017, 12:00 AM

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