During much of his life, John Adams (1735-1826), kept a series of small manuscript volumes in which he described both daily activities and notable events in which he participated. Much of John Adams's life was spent in service to his country. He was a delegate to the Continental Congress, an officially appointed diplomat (who served as a commissioner in France, Great Britain, and the Netherlands, and as minister to the Court of St. James's), vice president and president of the United States.
The 51 manuscript volumes compiled by John Adams date from 1753 to 1804 (with gaps) and consist of personal diary entries, financial accounts, copies of letters, drafts of essays, and notes on books and legal cases. The earliest diaries include John Adams's descriptions of student life at Harvard College, his experiences as a teacher in Worcester, Massachusetts, and accounts as a lawyer and a member of the circuit court system. Beginning in 1774, most of the manuscript volumes describe the events Adams witnessed as a Congressional delegate and diplomat in Europe through the summer of 1786. The last diary (diary 46), is actually a series of several loose sequences of pages, and this diary contains sporadic entries from August 1787 through 1804. John Adams wrote a few entries in this diary during his vice presidency (including descriptions of Congressional debates in 1789 and entries written during the summer of 1804 about his daily activities at his farm and home in Quincy, Massachusetts), but the latest diary does not contain any entries related to Adams's presidency.
All but the earliest of the manuscript diary volumes are part of the Adams Family Papers at the Massachusetts Historical Society. These 50 diaries are for the most part very fragile. Most of them are small (4 x 6 inches) manuscript volumes (or gatherings) without covers, or with paper covers. A few of them are bound volumes. They were microfilmed by the Massachusetts Historical Society between 1954 and 1959 and the Adams Family Papers: An Electronic Archive presents grayscale images made from the microfilm.
The Vermont Historical Society owns the earliest diary volume, 1753-1754 and 1758-1759, as part of the Royall Tyler Collection (gift of Helen Tyler Brown). It is likely that Royall Tyler (1757-1826) borrowed the manuscript volume around 1782 when he was courting John Adams's daughter, Abigail (1765-1813), and received permission from the family to examine some of Adams's legal notes. In 1936, Helen Tyler Brown (a descendant of Royall Tyler) donated her great-grandfather's papers to the Vermont Historical Society in Montpelier. This collection includes the earliest diary of John Adams, but it wasn't identified as such until April 1965, when Wendell Garrett, editor, of the Adams Family Documentary Editing Project, realized the small volume (that did not contain the author's name and at one point was mistakenly attributed to "R. Tyler") was in fact the earliest diary kept by John Adams. The volume appears here courtesy of the Vermont Historical Society. The grayscale images were made from black and white photographs. The digital transcription was made from The Earliest Diary of John Adams, L. H. Butterfield, Editor, Leonard C. Faber and Wendell D. Garrett, Assistant Editors (Cambridge, Mass, 1966).
The purpose of the Adams Family Papers: An Electronic Archive is to present images of manuscripts alongside the corresponding transcriptions; this website is not intended to be an online documentary edition. For more details, please see Information about the transcriptions on this website.
For information about using this website, including a description of the display features of the online manuscripts, please refer to the About this website section.
The "About this website" page includes Tips for printing selected pages from the diaries.