Charles Francis Adams

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Charles Francis Adams

Birthplace: Braintree, Norfolk, Massachusetts
Death: November 30, 1800 (30)
New York, New York, New York, United States
Place of Burial: New York, New York County, New York, United States
Immediate Family:

Son of John Adams, 2nd President of the USA and Abigail (Smith) Adams, First Lady of the United States
Husband of Sarah Sally Adams
Father of Susanna Boylston Adams and Abigail Louisa Smith Johnson
Brother of Abigail "Nabby" Smith (Adams); Hon. John Quincy Adams, 6th President of the USA; Susanna Boylston Adams; Thomas Boylston Adams and Elizabeth Adams

Occupation: Adams
Managed by: Private User
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About Charles Francis Adams

CHARLES ADAMS was born 29 May 1770, the second son of John and Abigail (Smith) Adams. At the age of nine he traveled with his father and older brother to Europe, studied briefly in Passy, Amsterdam, and Leyden, and in December 1781 returned to America unaccompanied by family members. After graduating from Harvard in 1789, Adams studied law and established his practice in New York. On 29 August 1795, he married Sarah Smith, the sister of his brother-in-law, William Stephens Smith. He died of alcoholism in New York 1 December 1800. ______________________________________________________________________ Of John Adams, Benjamin Franklin said, He was always an honest man, often a wise one, but sometimes, and in some things, he is absolutely out of his senses.” Certainly historians have indicated this was often true of Adams as a father. John and Abigail Adams had three sons and two daughters, one of whom, Susanna, died in infancy. One son became president of the United States. The other two died alcoholics. esource:

On August 29, 1795, Adams married Sarah Smith, the sister of his brother-in-law, William Stephens Smith. They had two daughters, Susanna Boylston (1796 – 1884) and Abigail Louisa Smith (1798 – 1836). _____________________________________________________________________________

Tragedy and plain bad luck befell John Quincy’s younger brother Charles, however. John Adams sought to duplicate his success with John Quincy by taking Charles on a similar long mission to Europe in 1779. But Charles was only 9, younger and less robust than John Quincy was when he first went abroad, and this time the ship was in far worse shape. A series of leaks was so serious that it forced the captain to take the ship off course to reach the nearest port. But the repairs could not be made quickly, so the party endured a 1,000-mile trip by donkey to their destination in Paris. John Adams called that the worst experience of his life.

When John Adams went to Holland to secure a Dutch loan and cement diplomatic ties, he took John Quincy and Charles with him and put them in the Latin School. But John soon found out to his horror that beatings were given regularly by the Dutch teachers. Pulling the boys out of the school immediately, John vented his indignation in a letter to Abigail. “The masters are mean-spirited wretches, punching, kicking and boxing the children upon every turn,” and he had no wish to see the boys subjected to such “littleness of soul.” At the heart of Charles’ problems, though, was the fact that he did not want to be separated from his mother, who had remained in America. He had sobbed inconsolably when parted from her and suffered much homesickness.

Charles was described by everyone as a charmer, but very sensitive and small. Abigail worried over “my delicate Charles” and feared he would be “spoilt by the fondness and caresses of his acquaintance.” John eventually realized this, too, and sent him back to Abigail in 1781, writing that Charles “is a delightful child, but has too exquisite sensibility for Europe.” It was at this time that 14-year-old John Quincy, whose brilliance was recognized by his father’s diplomatic peers, went off to Russia to serve as secretary to the U.S. ambassador there. John still had business abroad, and he was going to send his 11-year-old son alone on a sailing voyage, until Abigail protested that this would not do, given Charles’ fragile health and sensitive nature.

John agreed that his son should not travel unaccompanied, and arranged for a chaperone. But now the greatest mystery of young Charles’ life began. For five months the boy disappeared. There is no account, no record of what happened to him. He would never talk about it.

Pulitzer Prize–winning biographer David McCullough treats the episode succinctly. “In mid-August, the eleven-year-old boy sailed on the South Carolina, which after a troubled voyage, put in at La Coruña, Spain, where eventually he sailed on another American ship, Cicero, a privateer, and after more delays and adventures reached home at the end of January 1782, more than five months after leaving Amsterdam.” Family historian Nagel says only that Charles “endured an almost interminable voyage alone in 1781 to be back home with his mother.” John Adams biographer John Ferling says Charles was chaperoned by a young physician and that it was “a safe crossing but terribly long.” Presidential families historian Doug Wead and others say Charles lost his chaperone and eventually came home “shaken.” An examination of the Adams family papers, collected at the Massachusetts Historical Society, shows that Charles did make it back with his chaperone — Abigail complained about the chaperone’s bill — but what exactly happened on the voyage is unknown.

Charles was sent to live with relatives in 1784 when Abigail joined John in Europe. She was away for seven years. However, Charles and his siblings continued to get hectoring letters that stressed the Adams mantra: Harvard, law and politics. Relatives tried to impress on John and Abigail that this path was not for Charles, but to no avail.

By the time he entered Harvard, sweet, personable Charles had become rebellious. His parents discovered to their horror that he was already drinking heavily. Once, he ran naked through Harvard Yard, for which he was censured by school and family.

Beyond the drinking and other escapades, Charles’ parents and siblings began making dark allusions to his keeping company with, as his father put it, unsavory men. Older brother John Quincy remained loyal but urged Charles “to be more cautious” and to conduct himself “within the limits of regularity.” Letters between father and son grew even more strained during John Adams’ vice presidency. At one point Charles wrote that “your letter, if it was intended to cause me pain had the desired effect.” Charles later wrote to his father that he should not believe what he heard from other people.

In his early 20s, Charles, who was serving as a law clerk in New York, moved in with Baron Friedrich von Steuben, the Revolutionary War hero who was 40 years older than Charles. Von Steuben had come to America in 1777, dogged by rumors that “he took familiarities with young boys.” He arrived with his handsome 17-year-old interpreter and shipmate, whom Washington soon had to replace for incompetence on military matters with his own aides, Alexander Hamilton and John Laurens. Von Steuben then formally adopted two young soldiers he was fond of: William North, who became the baron’s aide-de-camp, and Benjamin Walker.

To his mother Charles was almost rapturous in describing von Steuben as “fascinating, there is something in this man that is more than mortal.” Charles was “grief-stricken” when von Steuben moved to his farm in upstate New York, and in 1795, a year after the baron’s death, Charles married, to his family’s palpable relief. Nabby wrote that at last Charles was “safe-landed,” though his parents were not keen on his having married Sarah Smith, the sister of Nabby’s hated husband William. One can only speculate why Charles married Sarah. The union produced two daughters, but it appears that the only time Charles had been truly happy, or at least reasonably calm for any period of time, was when he was living with von Steuben.

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Some historians believe that Charles was homosexual, and that this ultimately caused an insurmountable rift with his father. In 1799 John Adams renounced his second son, ceasing all correspondence with him and describing him as “a mere rake, buck, blood and beast.” Having sunk deeper into alcoholism and debt, Charles abandoned his wife and children; his irate father wrote that he had become “a madman possessed of the devil” and began destroying Charles’ letters and papers. This was an astounding act, for John and Abigail had always insisted that their children keep diaries, and the family was renowned for their voluminous correspondence. Biographer Ferling notes that “virtually the sole portion of Adams’ vast correspondence that was apparently not preserved for posterity related to Charles.”

Charles died in 1800 at the age of 30. Younger brother Thomas wrote, “Let silence reign forever over his tomb,” and it has: Charles was not buried in the family plot, and the National Park Service, which administers the Adams National Historical Park in Massachusetts, believes he lies “somewhere in New York.” esource:

This is from the Massachusetts Historical Society. They house the entire Adams family history.

Charles Adams was known for possessing a very amiable and likeable personality, which likely made an impression on his sister-in-law, Sarah (Sally) Smith, sister to Nabby’s husband, William Stephens Smith, with whom he began a courtship. Despite protestations and warnings from his parents on the perils of early marriage, they acquiesced, and twenty-five-year old Charles married Sally in New York City on 29 August 1795, with his sister Nabby perhaps the only Adams family member present. Moving to 91 Front Street in November, his life seemed to be settled and his business good, and his parents spoke approvingly of his prospects and his choice of a wife. He had two daughters, Susanna Boylston and Abigail Louisa Smith Adams, born in 1796 and 1798 respectively.

The turn around in Charles’s life did not last, however, and the troubles he had experienced during his college years came back to haunt him. He squandered four thousand dollars his brother, John Quincy, had entrusted to him in land speculation and then dodged numerous letters from John Quincy who was serving as a diplomat in Europe. In the spring of 1800, Charles and Sally moved to 30 Broad Street as Charles’s illness intensified and as the months past the hope of recovery waned. Charles Adams died on 30 November 1800.

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Charles Francis Adams's Timeline

May 29, 1770
Braintree, Norfolk, Massachusetts
August 9, 1796
New York, New York, United States
September 8, 1798
New York, New York, United States
November 30, 1800
Age 30
New York, New York, New York, United States