Inheriting New England’s strongest traditions, Abigail Smith was born on November 22, 1744 at Weymouth, Massachusetts. On her mother’s side she was descended from the Quincys, a family of great prestige in the colony; her father and other forebears were congregational ministers, leaders in a society that held its clergy in high esteem.
Although Abigail did not receive a formal education, her curiosity spurred her keen intelligence, and her mother taught her to read and write as she developed into an avid reader. Reading created a bond between her and John Adams, a Harvard graduate and lawyer. They were married on October 25, 1764. It was a marriage of the mind and of the heart, enduring for more than half a century, enriched by time.
The young couple lived on John’s small farm at Braintree or in Boston as his practice expanded. In twelve years she gave birth to three sons and three daughters; two daughters did not survive early childhood. While John Adams traveled as a circuit judge, Abigail looked after the family and home. “Alass!” she wrote in December 1773, "How many snow banks devide thee and me . . .”
Long separations kept Abigail from her husband while he served the country they loved, as delegate to the Continental Congress, envoy abroad, elected officer under the Constitution. Her letters—pungent, witty, and vivid, spelled just as she spoke—detail her life in times of revolution. They tell the story of the woman who stayed at home to struggle with wartime shortages and inflation; to run the farm with a minimum of help; to teach four children when formal education was interrupted. Most of all, they tell of her loneliness without her “dearest Friend.” That “one single expression," she said, “dwelt upon my mind and playd about my Heart.”
In 1784, she joined her husband at his diplomatic post in Paris. After 1785, she filled the role of wife of the first United States Minister to Great Britain with dignity and tact. In 1788 Abigail and John returned to their home in Quincy, Massachusetts, called Peacefield.
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 at courts and society abroad. She moved to Philadelphia when her husband became vice president, occasionally traveling back to Quincy and running the farm through correspondence with her sister. When John Adams was elected president, she continued a formal pattern of entertaining — even in the primitive conditions she found at the new capital and White House in November 1800. The city was underdeveloped, 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.
The Adamses retired to Quincy in 1801, and for 17 years enjoyed the companionship that public life had long denied them. Abigail died on October 28, 1818 of typhoid fever and is buried beside her husband in United First Parish Church. She leaves her country a most remarkable record as patriot and first lady, wife of one president and mother of another.
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