Adams Family Papers

The Adams Family Papers, the most important manuscript collection owned by the Massachusetts Historical Society, contains an extensive amount of material relating to John Adams (1735–1826), Abigail Adams (1744–1818), and their descendants. The collection, dating from 1639 to 1889, includes correspondence, letterbooks, diaries, literary manuscripts, speeches, legal and business papers, and other documents.

Collection Description

Members of the Adams family were involved in many important political events, and the Adams Family Papers detail their range of activities. The papers cover the events that precipitated the American Revolution and the diplomatic negotiation of peace; the formation of the new government in 1789; the international and internal crises at the end of the century; the founding of a permanent navy; the Louisiana Purchase and the policy of neutrality by embargo; the War of 1812; the establishment of U.S. foreign policy under the terms of the Monroe Doctrine, largely written by John Quincy Adams; the expansion of the nation to continental proportions and its implications for indigenous populations; the growth of the antislavery movement; the Civil War, both in its military and diplomatic spheres; and the challenges of Reconstruction and party struggles that followed.

The collection includes papers relating to John Quincy Adams (1767–1848), Louisa Catherine Adams (1775–1852), Charles Francis Adams (1807–1886), Charles Francis Adams II (1835–1915), and Henry Adams (1838–1918) and includes a large file of incoming correspondence from hundreds of people in the United States and Europe. See the Massachusetts Historical Society's online catalog, ABIGAIL, for bibliographic descriptions of other collections relating to the Adams Family, including the Charles Francis Adams Papers and the Marian Hooper Adams Photographs.

Provenance

The Adams Manuscript Trust generously donated the manuscripts to the Massachusetts Historical Society in 1956.

Access

The Adams Family Papers are available on microfilm; see the guide to the microfilm edition for more information.  See the list of institutions that hold the microfilm in the United States and abroad. Portions of the collection are available online, including images and searchable transcriptions of the correspondence between John and Abigail Adams, the diary of John Adams, the autobiography of John Adams, and the diaries of John Quincy Adams. Most of the previously published volumes of The Adams Papers, including annotations, index, and a search tool, are also available online in the Adams Papers Digital Edition. See the Adams Papers editorial project for more information about the ongoing effort to publish the family's collected writings and papers.

Additional Manuscript Collections at the MHS Related to the Adams Family

In addition to the Adams Family Papers, the MHS holds several collections that contain historical documents and materials relating to John and Abigail Adams and their families. Researchers should search the Society's online catalog, ABIGAIL; search collection guides; and consult with the reference staff for more information. 

The papers of Adams family members that extend beyond 1889 include separate collections of Henry Adams and Charles Francis Adams II. For information about other collections containing letters written by John and John Quincy Adams, see the guide to Presidential Letters at the MHS.