Abigail (Smith) Adams, First Lady of the United States

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1st Lady Abigail Amelia Adams (Smith)

Birthdate: (73)
Birthplace: Weymouth, Norfolk County, Massachusetts
Death: Died in Quincy, Norfolk County, Massachusetts, United States
Cause of death: Typhoid Fever
Place of Burial: Quincy, Norfolk County, Massachusetts, United States
Immediate Family:

Daughter of Rev. William Smith and Elizabeth Smith (Quincy)
Wife of John Adams, 2nd President of the USA, Signer of the Declaration of Independence
Mother of Abigail "Nabby" Smith (Adams); Hon. John Quincy Adams, 6th President of the USA; Susanna Boylston Adams; Charles Francis Adams; Thomas Boylston Adams, Esq. and 3 others
Sister of Mary Smith; William Smith and Elizabeth "Betsy" Shaw-Peabody (Smith)

Occupation: First Lady of the United States (2nd)
Managed by: Perry Blackshear Flinn
Last Updated:

About Abigail (Smith) Adams, First Lady of the United States


Abigail Adams (née Smith) (November 11, 1744 – October 28, 1818) was the wife of John Adams, the second President of the United States, and mother of John Quincy Adams, the sixth, and is regarded as the first Second Lady of the United States and the second First Lady of the United States though the terms were not coined until after her death.

Adams is remembered for the many letters she wrote to her husband while he stayed in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, during the Continental Congresses. John Adams frequently sought the advice of his wife on many matters, and their letters are filled with intellectual discussions on government and politics. The letters are invaluable eyewitness accounts of the Revolutionary War home front as well as excellent sources of political commentary.

Early life and family

Abigail was born in the North Parish Congregational Church at Weymouth, Massachusetts on November 11, 1744 to Rev. William Smith and Elizabeth Quincy Smith. By the calendar used today, it would be November 22. On her mother's side, she was descended from the Quincy family, a well-known political family in the Massachusetts colony. Her father (1707-1783), a liberal Congregationalist, and other forebears were Congregational ministers, and leaders in a society that held its clergy in high esteem. However, he did not preach about predestination, original sin, or the full divinity of Christ, instead emphasizing the importance of reason and morality.

Although she did not receive a formal education, her mother taught her and her sisters Mary (1746-1811) and Elizabeth (known as Betsy) to read, write, and cipher; her father's, uncle's and grandfather's large libraries enabled them to study English and French literature. As an intellectually open-minded woman for her day, Abigail's ideas on women's rights and government would eventually play a major role, albeit indirectly, in the founding of the U.S.

Marriage and children

Abigail Smith met John Adams in 1759, and the two were exchanging love letters by 1762; They married on October 25, 1764, just five days before John's 29th birthday. John and Abigail Adams lived on a farm in Braintree (later renamed Quincy) before moving to Boston where his law practice expanded. In ten years she gave birth to five children: Abigail (1765-1813), the future President John Quincy Adams (1767-1848), Susanna Boylston (1768-1770), Charles (1770-1800), and Thomas Boylston (1772-1832). A sixth child, Elizabeth, was stillborn in 1777. She looked after family and home when he went traveling as circuit judge. "Alas!" she wrote in December 1773, "How many snow banks divide thee and me...."

In 1784, she and her daughter Abigail, who was known in the family as Nabby, joined her husband and her eldest son, John Quincy, at her husband's diplomatic post in Paris. After 1785, she filled the role of wife of the first United States Minister to the Kingdom of Great Britain. They returned in 1788 to a house known as the "Old House" in Quincy, which she set about vigorously enlarging and remodeling. It is still standing and open to the public as part of Adams National Historical Park. Nabby later died of breast cancer.

She raised her two younger sons throughout John Adams' prolonged absences; she also raised her elder grandchildren, including George Washington Adams and a younger John Adams, while John Quincy Adams was minister to Russia. Her childrearing included relentless and continual reminders of what the children owed to virtue and the Adams tradition.

Wife of the Vice President

As wife of the first Vice President, Abigail became a good friend to Martha Washington and a valued help in official entertaining, drawing on her experience of courts and society abroad. After 1791, however, poor health forced her to spend as much time as possible in Quincy. Illness or trouble found her resolute; as she once declared, she would "not forget the blessings which sweeten life."

First Lady

When John Adams was elected President of the United States, she continued a formal pattern of entertaining, becoming the first hostess of the yet-uncompleted White House. The city was wilderness, the President's House far from completion. Her private complaints to her family provide blunt accounts of both, but for her three months in Washington she duly held her dinners and receptions. She mentioned that fires had to be lit constantly to keep the cold, cavernous place warm and she describes setting up her laundry in one of the great rooms. She took an active role in politics and policy, unprecedented by Martha Washington. She was so politically active that her political opponents came to refer to her as "Mrs. President".

The Adamses retired to Quincy in 1801 after John Adams' defeat in his bid for a second term as President of the United States. She followed her son's political career earnestly as her letters to contemporaries show.


Abigail Adams died on October 28, 1818, of typhoid fever, several years before her son became president, and is buried beside her husband in a crypt located in the United First Parish Church (also known as the Church of the Presidents) in Quincy, Massachusetts. She was 73 years old; John Adams was 90 when he died.

Her last words were "Do not grieve, my friend, my dearest friend. I am ready to go. And John, it will not be long."

Political viewpoints

Women's Rights

Adams was an advocate of married women's property rights and more opportunities for women, particularly in the field of education. Women, she believed, should not submit to laws not made in their interest, nor should they be content with the simple role of being companions to their husbands. They should educate themselves and thus be recognized for their intellectual capabilities, so they could guide and influence the lives of their children and husbands. She is known for her March 1776 letter to John Adams and the Continental Congress, requesting that they

   ...remember the ladies, and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the Husbands. Remember all Men would be tyrants if they could. If particular care and attention is not paid to the Ladies we are determined to foment a Rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any Laws in which we have no voice, or Representation.[1]

John declined Abigail's "extraordinary code of laws," but acknowledged to Abigail that men "have only the name of masters," and joked that to give women political power "would completely subject us to the despotism of the petticoat."[3]


Along with her husband, Adams believed that slavery was not only evil, but a threat to the American democratic experiment. A letter written by her on March 31, 1776 explained that she doubted most of the Virginians had such the "passion for Liberty" they claimed they did, since they "deprive[d] their fellow Creatures" of freedom.[1]

A notable incident regarding this happened in Philadelphia in 1791, where a free black youth came to her house asking to be taught how to write. Subsequently, she placed the boy in a local evening school, though not without objections from a neighbor. Abigail responded that he was "a Freeman as much as any of the young Men and merely because his Face is Black, is he to be denied instruction? How is he to be qualified to procure a livelihood? ... I have not thought it any disgrace to my self to take him into my parlor and teach him both to read and write."

Religious beliefs

Abigail Adams, as well as her husband, was an active member of the First Parish Church in Quincy, which became Unitarian in doctrine by 1753. In a letter to John Quincy Adams dated May 5, 1816, she wrote of her religious beliefs:

   I acknowledge myself a unitarian—Believing that the Father alone, is the supreme God, and that Jesus Christ derived his Being, and all his powers and honors from the Father ... There is not any reasoning which can convince me, contrary to my senses, that three is one, and one three.[1]

She also asked Louisa Adams in a letter dated January 3, 1818, "When will Mankind be convinced that true Religion is from the Heart, between Man and his creator, and not the imposition of Man or creeds and tests?"

Bibliographic details for "Abigail Adams"

ABIGAIL SMITH ADAMS was born 11 November 1744 (observed on 22 November after the calendar revision of 1752), in Weymouth, Massachusetts, to the Reverend William and Elizabeth (Quincy) Smith. She had no formal schooling, but her education included reading works by William Shakespeare, John Milton, and Alexander Pope. On 25 October 1764, she married John Adams. John Adams's 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's 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.

Mrs. John Adams felt that "if we mean to have heroes, statesmen and philosophers, we should have learned women." Stuart's portrait, begun when the first lady was fifty-six, captures the patrician beauty of her straight nose and arched brows. The forthright painting also leaves little doubt about the force of character, intellect, and principles of this daughter of a Massachusetts minister.

Abigail’s plans to marry John Adams, a Harvard-educated lawyer nine years her senior, did not gain the immediate approval of Smith, who considered a lawyer’s prospects inadequate. When they married on October 25, 1764, the bride’s father, who performed the ceremony, amused the guests by citing a passage from the Book of Luke: “John came neither eating bread nor drinking wine and some say he has a devil in him.” During the first 10 years of their marriage Abigail gave birth to five children, including a daughter who died in infancy and John Quincy Adams.

She managed the second decade of her marriage on her own, as John participated in the colonial struggle for independence as a member of the Continental Congress and later as a representative of his country in France. Their correspondence during these years, especially when added to the spirited letters penned earlier during their courtship, provides a rich account of their activities and thinking as well as their love and devotion to each other. It is from these letters that historians, including the Adamses’ grandson Charles Francis Adams, have concluded that Abigail played a significant role in her husband’s career, particularly in managing the family farm and his business affairs. Because of her, the Adamses avoided the financial ruin that befell some other early presidents, such as Thomas Jefferson, after they left office.

As the revolutionary spirit swept through the colonies, Abigail firmly supported the movement for independence. In March 1776, when her husband prepared to gather with his colleagues to write a statement of principles that would soon be adopted by the Continental Congress as the Declaration of Independence, she asked him to “remember the ladies and be more generous and favourable to them than your ancestors.” Although this letter has often been cited, correctly, as evidence of her fervent desire for women’s rights, she did not champion, then or later, the right of women to vote, a position virtually unheard of at the time. She did, however, strongly support a woman’s right to education, and in 1778 she wrote her husband that “you need not be told how much female education is neglected, nor how fashionable it has been to ridicule female learning.” She also favoured the abolition of slavery.

In 1784 Abigail joined her husband in Europe, when he began serving as American minister to Britain. Her letters from Paris and London contain descriptive musings on British royalty, French customs, and the superiority of the quiet life of an American farmer. She wrote in early 1788 that she much preferred her “own little farm” to “the court of Saint James’s where I seldom meet with characters so inoffensive as my Hens and chickings.” Later that year the Adamses returned to the United States; when John assumed the vice presidency in 1789, Abigail divided her time between the capital city (first New York City and then, in 1790, Philadelphia) and the family home in Massachusetts. She missed her husband’s presidential inauguration in March 1797 in order to care for his sick mother, and during his presidency she often stayed in Massachusetts to look after family matters.

As first lady, she kept a rigorous daily schedule, rising at 5:00 am to manage a busy household and receive callers for two hours each day. Unlike Martha Washington, who had been a gracious hostess but avoided all political discussions, Abigail involved herself in the most interesting debates of the day. As the two major political factions, the Federalists and the Anti-Federalists (later the Jeffersonian Republicans), developed into political parties in the 1790s, she pointed out her husband’s friends and foes in both groups. About Alexander Hamilton, who along with Adams was a leading Federalist, she wrote that she saw in his eyes “the very devil…lasciviousness itself.” She judged Albert Gallatin, a Republican opponent of her husband, “sly, artfull…insidious.” Her critics objected that the wife of the president should not insinuate herself in political discussions; Gallatin wrote, “She is Mrs. President not of the United States but of a faction.…It is not right.”

In November 1800, just as the election that denied John Adams a second term as president was being held, Abigail oversaw the Adamses’ move from Philadelphia to the newly constructed presidential mansion in Washington, D.C. Her letters to family members showed her displeasure at finding the building roughly finished and unfurnished, but she warned her daughter not to reveal her thoughts, since people would think her ungrateful. On New Year’s Day 1801 she opened the mansion, soon to be known as the White House, to visitors, continuing a tradition begun by the Washingtons and maintained by every subsequent first lady until 1933.

After leaving office, Abigail and John retired to their home in Massachusetts. She continued a lively correspondence with many people and even resumed writing to Thomas Jefferson, from whom she had been estranged as a result of political differences. She died in October 1818 and was buried in the First Church of Quincy; her husband, who died in 1826, was buried beside her.

Until the 20th century few first ladies shared Abigail Adams’s interest in politics or in the treatment of government leaders by the press. She vigorously objected to what she considered inaccurate reporting on her husband and son. But she was not altogether surprised by the “lies [and] Falshoods,” writing in 1797 to her sister that she “expected to be vilified and abused, with my whole family.” Although her approach to the office of first lady was in many ways advanced, her fame rests primarily on her thousands of letters, which form an eloquent and evocative description of her life and times.

Betty Boyd Caroli

Abigail Adams (née Smith) (November 11, 1744 – October 28, 1818) was the wife of John Adams, the second President of the United States, and mother of John Quincy Adams, the sixth, and is regarded as the first Second Lady of the United States and the second First Lady of the United States though the terms were not coined until after her death.

Adams is remembered for the many letters she wrote to her husband while he stayed in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, during the Continental Congresses. John Adams frequently sought the advice of his wife on many matters, and their letters are filled with intellectual discussions on government and politics. The letters are invaluable eyewitness accounts of the Revolutionary War home front as well as excellent sources of political commentary.

Her last words were "Do not grieve, my friend, my dearest friend. I am ready to go. And John, it will not be long."

Wife of President John AdamsAbigail Smith was born on November 11, 1744, at Weymouth, Massachusetts – a farming community about fifteen miles southeast of Boston – to the Reverend William and Elizabeth Smith. On her mother's side, she was descended from the Quincys, a well-known political family in the Massachusetts Colony, and a cousin of Dorothy Quincy, wife of John Hancock. Her father and other ancestors were Congregational ministers, leaders in a society that held its clergy in high esteem.Young Abigail AdamsAbigail and her two sisters, Mary and Betsy, and brother, Billy, enjoyed a happy childhood in the Weymouth parsonage. The family was financially comfortable and had servants, a house full of fine furniture, and a productive farm. Their large, sprawling house sat on a hill overlooking farmland that spread across the surrounding area. The Smith home was busy and active – visitors came often and relatives lived nearby. Abigail was a sickly child and was not considered healthy enough to attend a formal school. Throughout her youth, she suffered from one minor illness after another. Her parents, especially her mother, worried about their daughter's weak constitution, fearing that some disease or infection would cut her life short, as so often happened to children of this time. Girls were taught reading and writing, primarily so that they could read the Bible and write letters. They also learned basic arithmetic to help prepare them for their role as housewives, when they would be required to balance budgets and settle accounts. Abigail's mother and grandmother Quincy taught her the social graces, as well as homemaking and handiwork skills. The Smith girls were fortunate to have a father who loved learning and reading, and who encouraged his children to share in this passion. To help with their education, William Smith gave his daughters and son full access to his extensive library of excellent books. Abigail shared her father's love of books and read widely in poetry, drama, history, theology, and political theory. Amidst the security and guidance of a loving family, Abigail developed the strict set of values and strong moral fiber that would serve as a foundation for her adult life. As she grew older, Abigail became increasingly determined to educate herself, and by the time she was an adult, she had become one of the best-read women of her time. John Adams, the eldest of three sons, was born on October 30, 1735, in Braintree, Massachusetts, to John Adams, Sr. and Susanna Boylston Adams. His father, also named John, was a fifth-generation descendant of Henry Adams, who emigrated from England to the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1638. Though John was born to a modest family, he felt acutely the responsibility of living up to his family heritage: the founding generation of Puritans who came to the American wilderness in the 1630s. Many of his relatives were well-to-do merchants and ships' captains, but John was raised in a simple, rural setting, and was not from a prominent social family. John graduated from Harvard College in 1755, and for the next two years taught school, which he soon grew tired of, and then studied law under the direction of James Putnam in Worcester, Massachusetts. John returned to Braintree to launch his law practice in 1764.Though John had known the Smith family since he was a boy, he paid no attention to Abigail, the delicate child who was nine years his junior. Abigail and John first met at her sister Mary's wedding. Abigail was fifteen, and John was a twenty-four-year old lawyer. At the time, John was interested in a franker, more straightforward girl, and was put off by the Smith sisters' reserved, somewhat aloof manner, which made it difficult for them to show or express emotion. But in 1762, when John tagged along with his friend Richard Cranch, who was engaged to Abigail's older sister Mary, he was quickly attracted to the petite, shy seventeen-year-old girl who was forever bent over some book. He was surprised to learn that she knew so much about poetry, philosophy, and politics, considered inappropriate reading for a woman at the time. He began to appreciate the special qualities in Abigail that before had escaped his notice. Now he described her as "Prudent, modest, delicate, soft, sensible, obliging, active," and addressed his letters to her as "Miss Adorable." From this second meeting and throughout their fifty-four-year marriage, a strong love, mixed with flirtatious sensuality and intellectual companionship, grew and provided a sturdy bond for their relationship. Abigail thought of John as her best friend, and as an old woman, she still remembered the thrill she felt the first time he held her hand. Although Abigail's father approved of the match, her mother was appalled that a Smith would throw her life away on a country lawyer whose manners still reeked of the farm, but eventually she gave in. Abigail Smith married John Adams on October 25, 1764, in the Smiths' home in Weymouth. Her father performed the ceremony. Abigail wore a square-necked gown of white challis; John appeared in a dark blue coat, contrasting light breeches and white stockings, a gold-embroidered satin waistcoat his mother had made for the occasion, and buckle shoes. It was a marriage of the mind and of the heart, enduring for more than half a century.


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Abigail (Smith) Adams, First Lady of the United States's Timeline

November 22, 1744
Weymouth, Norfolk County, Massachusetts
July 14, 1765
Age 20
Braintree, Norfolk County, Massachusetts
July 11, 1767
Age 22
Braintree, Norfolk, Massachusetts

Braintree is now known as Quincy.

December 28, 1768
Age 24
Boston, Suffolk County, Massachusetts
May 29, 1770
Age 25
Braintree, Norfolk, Massachusetts
September 15, 1772
Age 27
Braintree, Norfolk, Massachusetts
Age 30
July 11, 1777
Age 32
Boston, Suffolk, Massachusetts, USA