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PRIMARY DOCUMENTS  |  The White House as Home and Symbol to John and Abigail Adams: Letters from 1800
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An excerpt from the letter of Abigail Adams to her sister, Mary Cranch  |  Back to Activities

Washington, Nov'br 21, 1800

My Dear Sister

I arrived in this city on Sunday the 16th ult. Having lost my way in the woods on Saturday in going from Baltimore, we took the road to Frederick and got nine miles out of our road. You find nothing but a Forest & woods on the way, for 16 and 18 miles not a village. Here and there a thatchd cottage without a single pane of glass, inhabited by Blacks. My intention was to have reachd Washington on Saturday. Last winter there was a Gentleman and Lady in Philadelphia by the Name of Snowden whose hospitality I heard much of. They visited me and were invited to dine with us, but did not, as they left the city before the day for dinner. They belong to Maryland, and live on the road to this place 21 miles distant. I was advised at Baltimore to make their House my stage for the night, the only Inn at which I could put up being 36 miles from Baltimore. . . . I sit out early, intending to make my 36 miles if possible: no travelling however but by day light; We took a direction as we supposed right, but in the first turn, went wrong, and were wandering more than two hours in the woods in different paths, holding down & breaking bows of trees which we could not pass, untill we met a solitary black fellow with a horse and cart. We inquired of him our way, and he kindly offerd to conduct us, which he did two miles, and then gave us such a clue as led us out to the post road and the Inn, where we got some dinner. . . .

I arrived about one oclock at this place known by the name of the city, and the Name is all that you can call so. As I expected to find it a new country, with Houses scatterd over a space of ten miles, and trees & stumps in plenty with, a castle of a House -- so I found it -- The Presidents House is in a beautiful situation in front of which is the Potomac with a view of Alexandria. The country around is romantic but a wild, a wilderness at present.

I have been to George Town and felt all that Mrs. Cranch described when she was a resident there. It is the very dirtyest Hole I ever saw for a place of any trade, or respectability of inhabitants. It is only one mile from me but a quagmire after every rain. Here we are obliged to send daily for marketting; The capital is near two miles from us. As to roads we shall make them by the frequent passing before winter, but I am determined to be satisfied and content, to say nothing of inconvenience, &c. That must be a worse place than even George Town, that I would not reside in for three Months.

I found your dear son here at the House to receive me. He is well and grows much like his Father. He dined with us on Sunday & yesterday, and yesterday I went to see Nancy and your dear little modest Boys. Richard is a fine Boy. William is more bashful, and Nancy is a fat little doe. They are all pretty children, and Mrs. Cranch tho thin is handsomer than she was as a Girl.

When I arrived here I found a Boston Newspaper, which containd the celebration of [President Adams's] Birthday at Quincy. It was truly gratifying to find in a world of calumny and falshood, that a Prophet could meet with honour in his own native soil. . . . Pray can you inform me by whom those passages were selected from Shakespeare which composed the Quincy toasts? The President says if his Friends intended to flatter him, they have succeeded, for he would not exchange the Quincy celebration for any other that he has heard off.

My dear Sister the few lines in your own hand writing were a cordial to my spirits. I pray most sincerely for your perfect restoration to health and my dear Mrs. Norton. I have received all the kind Letters of my Brother Cranch and thank him for them. If my future peace & tranquility were all that I considered, a release from public life would be the most desirable event of it -- I feel perfectly tranquil upon the subject, hoping and trusting that, the Being in whose Hands are the Hearts of all Men, will guide and direct our national counsels for the peace & prosperity of this great people.

Remember me affectionatly to all my Friend[s], never omitting Mrs. Black.

I have the pleasure to say we are all at present well, tho the news papers very kindly gave the President the Ague and fever. I am rejoiced that it was only in the paper that he had it.

This day the President meets the two [Congressional]Houses to deliver the speech. There has not been a [quorum in the] House untill yesterday -- We have had some very cold weather and feel it keenly. This [President's] House is twice as large as our meeting House. I believe the great Hall is as Bigg. I am sure tis twice as long. Cut your coat according to your Cloth. But this House is built for ages to come. The establishment necessary is a tax which cannot be born by the present sallery: No body can form an Idea of it but those who come into it. I had much rather live in the house at Philadelphia. Not one room or chamber is finished of the whole. It is habitable by fires in every part, thirteen of which we are obliged to keep daily, or sleep in wet & damp places.

Yours as ever

A.    A.

[Source, Mitchell, New Letters of Abigail Adams, pp. 256-260]

Image: White House design, James Diamond. Maryland Historical Society
The final page of a letter of Abigail Adams to her sister, Mary Cranch, November 21, 1800. Courtesy, American Antiquarian Society

Return to PRIMARY DOCUMENT LESSON: "Letters from 1800"

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