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

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Abigail Adams (Smith)

Also Known As: "Nabby Smith"
Birthplace: Weymouth, Norfolk County, Massachusetts, Colonial America
Death: October 28, 1818 (73)
Quincy, Norfolk County, Massachusetts, United States (Typhoid Fever)
Place of Burial: Adams Crypt, Quincy, Norfolk County, Massachusetts, United States
Immediate Family:

Daughter of Rev. William Smith and Elizabeth Smith
Wife of John Adams, 2nd President of the USA
Mother of Abigail "Nabby" (Adams) Smith; Hon. John Quincy Adams, 6th President of the United States; Susanna Boylston Adams (died young); Charles Francis Adams; Capt. Thomas Boylston Adams, Esq. and 1 other
Sister of Mary Cranch; Capt. William Smith; Elizabeth ‘Betsy’ Peabody and Lydia Ireland

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 (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.



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:

  1. Abigail (1765-1813),
  2. the future President John Quincy Adams (1767-1848),
  3. Susanna Boylston (1768-1770),
  4. Charles (1770-1800), and
  5. Thomas Boylston (1772-1832).
  6. 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?"


Historian Joseph Ellis has found that the 1200 letters between John and Abigail "constituted a treasure trove of unexpected intimacy and candor, more revealing than any other correspondence between a prominent American husband and wife in American history."[13] Ellis (2011) says that Abigail, although self-educated, was a better and more colorful letter-writer than John, even though John was one of the best letter-writers of the age. Ellis argues that Abigail was the more resilient and more emotionally balanced of the two, and calls her one of the most extraordinary women in American history.[13]


The Abigail Adams Cairn – a mound of rough stones – crowns the nearby Penn Hill from which she and her son, John Quincy Adams, watched the Battle of Bunker Hill and the burning of Charlestown. At that time she was minding the children of Dr. Joseph Warren, president of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress, who was killed in the battle.[citation needed]

An Adams Memorial has been proposed in Washington, D.C., honoring Adams, her husband and other members of their family. One of the subpeaks of New Hampshire's Mount Adams (whose main peak is named for her husband) is named in her honor.[15]

Popular culture

Passages from Adams' letters to her husband figured prominently in songs from the Broadway musical 1776.[2] Virginia Vestoff played Adams in the original 1969 Broadway production of 1776 and recreated the role for the film version in 1972. On television, Kathryn Walker and Leora Dana in the 1976 PBS mini-series The Adams Chronicles. In the mini-series John Adams, which premiered in March 2008 on HBO, she was played by Laura Linney. Linney enjoyed portraying Adams, saying that "she is a woman of both passion and principle."[9] Adams is a featured figure on Judy Chicago's installation piece The Dinner Party, being represented as one of the 999 names on the Heritage Floor.[16]

Portrait on currency

The First Spouse Program under the Presidential $1 Coin Program authorizes the United States Mint to issue half-ounce $10 gold coins and bronze medal duplicates[17] to honor the first spouses of the United States. The Abigail Adams coin was released on June 19, 2007, and sold out in just hours. She is pictured on the back of the coin writing her most famous letter to John Adams. In February 2009 Coin World reported that some 2007 Abigail Adams medals were struck using the reverse from the 2008 Louisa Adams medal, apparently by mistake.[18] These pieces, called mules, were contained within the 2007 First Spouse medal set.[18] The U.S. Mint has not released an estimate of how many mules were made.


Bibliographic details for "Abigail Adams"


  1. Abigail Adams: A Biography. By Phyllis Lee Levin. < GoogleBooks >
  2. https://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Smith-69 cites
    1. American Genealogist, The (subscription) Vol 21 page 169. "Some Ancestral Lines of President John Quincy Adams"
    2. Find A Grave: Memorial #4 in Adams Crypt, Quincy, Norfolk County, Massachusetts, USA
    3. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abigail_Adams
    4. http://www.biography.com/people/abigail-adams-9175670
    5. Massachusetts Vital Records to 1850 (Online Datebase), New England Historic Genealogical Society (2001-2008), Weymouth, Vol. 2, p. 11, Marriage record for John Adams and Abigail Smith.
    6. Massachusetts Vital Records to 1850 (Online Datebase), New England Historic Genealogical Society (2001-2008), Weymouth, Vol. 1, p. 276, Birth record for Abigail Smith.
    7. Quincy, MA: Vital Records to 1875, p. 2931, Death record for Abigail Adams, New England Historic Genealogical Society (Online Database).
    8. Barthelmas, Della Gray, The Signers of the Declaration of Independence: A Biographical and Genealogical Reference, Jefferson, N.C. and London: McFarland and Company, Inc., Publishers (1997), 12.
    9. Levin, Phyllis Lee, Abigail Adams: A Biography, New York: Thomas Dunne Books, An imprint of St. Martin's Press (2001), chart at front of book.
    10. McCullough, David, John Adams, New York: Simon & Schuster (2001).
    11. Roberts, Gary Boyd, The Royal Descents of 900 Immigrants to the American Colonies, Quebec, or the United States (2 vols.), Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company (2018), 375.
    12. Roberts, Gary Boyd, comp., Ancestors of American Presidents, Boston: New England Historic Genealogical Society (2009), 432, 465-466, 468-470.
    13. The Massachusetts Historical Society, "Adams Time Line (1735-1889)", (accessed 08/02/2011).
    14. Vinton, John Adams, The Vinton Memorial Comprising A Genealogy of the Descendants of John Vinton of Lynn, 1648, Boston: S.K. Whipple and Company (1858), 301, Google Books (Digital Library).
    15. Williams, Alicia Crane, ed., Mayflower Families through Five Generations: Vol. 16, Part 1, Family of John Alden, Plymouth, Massachusetts: General Society of Mayflower Descendants (1999), 492.
    16. Appleton’s Cyclodedia of American Biography; Aaron-Crandell, James Grant Wilson and John Fiske, Editors; D. Appleton & Company, New York: 1892. Vol I, Page 11


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

November 22, 1744
Weymouth, Norfolk County, Massachusetts, Colonial America
July 14, 1765
Braintree, Norfolk County, Massachusetts, Colonial America
July 11, 1767
Braintree, Norfolk County, Massachusetts, Colonial America

Braintree is now known as Quincy.

December 28, 1768
Boston, Suffolk County, Massachusetts, Colonial America
May 29, 1770
Braintree, Norfolk County, Massachusetts, Colonial America
September 15, 1772
Quincy, Norfolk County, Massachusetts, Colonial America
July 11, 1777
Braintree, Norfolk County, Massachusetts, United States
Age 45
Spencer, Worcester, Massachusetts, United States