Sunday, September 27, 2015

American Biography - Judith Sargent Murray 1751-1820, author & feminist


Judith Sargent Murray (1751-1820), author & feminist, was born in Gloucester, Massachusetts, the eldest of the 8 children (4 died in infancy) of Winthrop & Judith (Saunders) Sargent. Her father was a wealthy shipowner & merchant, & both parents came from families long prominent in the town. Her brother Winthrop, Jr., born in 1753, served with distinction in the Revolutionary War, rising to the rank of major; he was later secretary of the Northwest Territory (1787) & first governor of the Mississippi Territory (1798). Another brother, Fitz-William, made a fortune in the China & India trade.


John Singleton Copley (1738–1815) Portrait of Mrs. John Stevens (Judith Sargent, later Mrs. John Murray) 1772

As a girl Judith showed such an intellectual bent, that she was allowed to share Winthrop’s lessons as he prepared with a local minister for Harvard, & during his college vacations he reportedly helped her continue her studies.

Judith Sargent was married at 18 to John Stevens, a sea captain & trader. The couple lived in the Gloucester mansion known today as the Sargent-Murray-Gilman-Hough House. It was probably built for them by her father. They had no children.

In her twenties, Mrs. Stevens was “seized with a violent desire to become a writer.” She began composing occasional verse, but as the American Revolution approached, she found her attention turning to social questions & adopted the essay form.

The talk of liberty & human rights that was rife in patriot families prompted her, like her contemporaries Abigail Adams & Mercy Warren, to challenge prevailing assumptions about the status of women. In 1779 she wrote an essay declaring that the sexes had equal minds & calling for more thorough education for girls; her first published piece was her “Desultory Thoughts of Self-Complacency, Especially in Female Bosoms,” which appeared in 1784 in the Gentlemen & Lady’s Town & Country Magazine, a short-lived Boston periodical, over the signature “Constantia.” A healthy self-respect, she argued, would prevent young women from rushing into marriage merely to gain status & avoid spinsterhood.

Meanwhile Judith Sargent Stevens, like her father, had been attracted to the liberal religious doctrines of Universalism. The Sargents had first heard of these beliefs from an English seaman who visited Gloucester in 1770. Four years later, when the itinerant preacher John Murray (1741-1815), now known as the founder of the Universalist Church in America, arrived in town, they offered such support that he decided to settle there. Murray gathered a congregation which, after being expelled from the First Parish Church, in 1780 built the first Universalist meetinghouse in America, on land donated by Winthrop Sargent. Apparently, Judith Sargent Stevens was also attracted to the preacher himself.


High-style Georgian domestic architecture, the house was built in 1782 for Judith Sargent Murray (1751-1820) The Sargent House Museum, 49 Middle Street, Gloucester, Massachusetts. Her husband left her only 4 years later, sailing for the West Indies.

The war years brought hard times to Gloucester; & in 1786, to avoid imprisonment for debt, John Stevens fled to the West Indies, where he lived only briefly before dying on the Dutch island of St. Eustatius. In 1788, his widow married her pastor, John Murray.

In her new marriage, Judith Sargent Murray had 2 children, George, born in 1789, who lived only a few days, & Julia Maria born in 1791. And, the author “Constantia” began to renew her literary efforts. Her poems, pre-Romantic in feeling & couched in Popean couplets, began to appear in the new Massachusetts Magazine, & in February 1792 this literary monthly inaugurated an essay series by “Constantia” entitled “The Gleaner.” Writing in the person of an imaginary “Mr. Vigillius,” the author expressed her opinions on religion, politics, education, & the manners & customs of the day, illustrating her points with fictional narratives. The series was a favorite with the magazine’s readers & continued until August 1794.

A frequent Murray theme was the upbringing of girls. Mrs. Murray’s longstanding opinions on this subject had been strengthened by reading the Englishwoman Mary Wollstonecraft’s Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792). Mrs. Wollstonecraft’s French Revolutionary fervor did not sit well with Judith Murray, a staunch Federalist who believed that her own country’s Revolution had carried it far enough toward democracy. She nevertheless heartily approved the Vindication’s plea that women be educated to be the “sensible & informed” companion of man & the even more radical demand that she be equipped to earn her own living. Certainly Mrs. Murry understood this need in her own marriages.  In the United States, Mrs. Murray felt, “the Rights of Women’ begin to be understood;” she was encouraged by the many female academies being established & looked forward to seeing the present generation of girls inaugurate “a new era in female history.”

In 1793, the Murrays moved to Boston. The lifting that year of the Revolutionary ban on dramatic performances gave Mrs. Murray a new outlet for her literary ambitions. Her play The Medium was probably the Federalist Street Theatre’s first production by an American author, but it played only one performance (Mar. 2, 1795). The critic Robert Treat Paine, Jr., attacked her The Traveller Returned, produced on Mar. 9, 1796, as pedantic & tedious, & it fared little better.

Once again, Judith Sargent Murry began to experience financial worries. Preacher John Murray had little head for practical affairs, & his health was failing. To increase the family income he proposed that his clever wife’s essays be published.  He guessed correctly.  More than 750 subscribers were secured, headed by George Washington, & The Gleaner appeared in 3 volumes in 1798, with an elaborate dedication to President John Adams. The series today holds a place as a minor classic in the literature of the young republic, bearing comparison with the essays of Mrs. Murray’s contemporaries Joseph Dennie, Philip Freneau, & Noah Webster.

A few of her poems were published in Boston periodicals in the early years of the new century, under the pen names “Honora-Martesia” & “Honora;” but most of her energies went into caring for her husband, who suffered a stroke in 1809, & was thereafter paralyzed, until his death in 1815.

Their financial straits were relieved by the marriage of their daughter in 1812, to Adam Louis Bingamon, son of a wealthy planter in the Mississippi Territory, whom she had met while he was a student at Harvard.

Mrs. Murray organized & edited her husband’s Letters & Sketches of Sermons (3 vols., 1812-13) & his autobiography, published in 1816, as Records of the Life of the Ref. John Murray, written by Himself, with a Continuation by Mrs. Judith Sargent Murray.

In 1816, she moved to live with her daughter in Natchez, Miss., where she died in 1820, aged 69. She was buried in the Bingamon cemetery on St. Catherine’s Creek, overlooking the powerful & poetic Mississippi River.

This posting based, in part, on information from Notable American Women edited by Edward T James, Janet Wilson James, Paul S Boyer, The Belknap Press of Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts. 1971


American Biography - Patriot Esther De Berdt (1746-1780) (Mrs. Joseph Reed) Hosts George Washington & Adams in 1774


Ester De Berdt (1746-1780) (Mrs. Joseph Reed) depicted in classical republican dress by Charles Willson Peale (1741-1827).

Ester De Berdt Reed (1746-1780), leader of women’s relief work during the American Revolution, was born in London, England, one of 2 children & the only daughter of Dennys De Berdt, a devout Congregationalist descended from Flemish religious refugees, & Martha (Symons) De Berdt. Her father, a merchant in the colonial trade, later served as agent for the colonies of Massachusetts & Delaware & in that capacity helped secure repeal of the Stamp Act.

He was host to many American at his London home & his country house at Enfield. Several of these visitors courted his daughter, a studious, pious young woman, delicate in appearance yet animated in speech & manner. The one who won her love was Joseph reed, a young lawyer from New Jersey, whom she first met in 1763. But their marriage was delayed, first by the opposition of her father & then by Reed’s absence in America for 5 years. Reed returned to England in 1770, & the wedding took place in London on May 31. The couple had planned to remain in England, but De Berdt’s death 7 weeks before the wedding left his family financially distressed; & the Reeds, accompanied by Mrs. De Berdt, sailed to American & settled in Philadelphia.

Joseph Reed quickly became a leader of the patriot movement in the growing controversy with England, & his wife also identified herself fully with the American cause. During the meeting of the First Continental Congress in 1774, she was hostess to Washington, John & Samuel Adams, & other delegates. She was glowingly referred to by a Connecticut member as “a Daughter of Liberty, zealously affected in a good Cause.” Amid growing tension in early 1775, Mrs. Reed wrote to her brother, Dennis, in England that “if these great affairs must be brought to a crisis & decided, it had better be in our time than our childrens.” Her own children were then 3 in number: Martha, Joseph, & Esther. Three others were born during the Revolution: Theodosia, Dennis De Berdt, & George Washington; Theodosia died in infancy of smallpox in 1778.

During the first 3 years of the war, Esther Reed’s husband was often away with the army as Washington’s aide. The family itself was forced to flee Philadelphia on three different occasions, as the city became a military focal point. After the British left Philadelphia, & with the subsequent election of Joseph Reed as president (governor) of Pennsylvania, the Reeds settled again in that city.

At the height of the American Revolution in May 1780, General George Washington reported to the Congress in Philadelphia, that his troops were at the point of exhaustion. Without adequate food, clothing, & pay, they needed immediate relief.

Hearing the desperation of the plea & hoping “to render themselves more really useful,” the women of Philadelphia accepted the challenge. In May & June of 1780, Mrs. Reed, only recently recovered from an attack of smallpox, served with vigor as chairman of a campaign among the women of Philadelphia & Germantown to raise funds for Washington’s soldiers. Organizing a committee of 39 women, she was able to report to Washington on July 4, that the equivalent of $7,500 in specie had been contributed. When the General asked that the money be used for linen shirts for his men, the women’s committee purchased the linen & cut & sewed the shirts themselves. Over 2,000 shirts were delivered to the army at the year’s end. Mrs. Reed also tried with some success to spread the work elsewhere, but though her letters brought into being local committees of women in other Philadelphia towns, in Trenton, N.J., & in Maryland, the initial Philadelphia endeavor was nowhere equaled in extent & results. By Independence Day, July 4, 1780, Esther Reed wrote to Washington that the women had raised more than $300,000. The women's agressive, patriotic campaign received repeated praise in the local newspaper, the Pennsylvania Packet.

Esther Reed organized & led this women's relief effort in the weeks immediately following the birth in May of George Washington Reed, her 6th baby in 10 years of marriage. She died suddenly in Philadelphia in September 1780, at the age of 33, the victim of an acute dysentery. The relief committee was carried forward under the direction of Sarah Franklin Bache, daughter of Benjamin Franklin. Mrs. Reed was buried at Philadelphia’s Second Presbyterian Church. In 1868, her remains, together with those of her husband, were moved to Laurel Hill Cemetery. Her husband would die 5 years later.

Just before she died in the late summer of 1780, Philadelphia printer John Dunlap published an anonymous broadside called the Sentiments of an American Woman, which was probably written by Esther Reed.

"THE SENTIMENTS of an AMERICAN WOMAN.

"ON the commencement of actual war, the Women of America manifested a firm resolution to contribute as much as could depend on them, to the deliverance of their country.

"Animated by the purest patriotism, they are sensible of sorrow at this day, in not offering more than barren wishes for the success of so glorious a Revolution. They aspire to render themselves more really useful; and this sentiment is universal from the north to the south of the Thirteen United States.

"Our ambition is kindled by the same of those heroines of antiquity, who have rendered their sex illustrious, and have proved to the universe, that, if the weakness of our Constitution, if opinion and manners did not forbid us to march to glory by the same paths as the Men, we should at least equal, and sometimes surpass them in our love for the public good. I glory in all that which my sex has done great and commendable. I call to mind with enthusiasm and with admiration, all those acts of courage, of constancy and patriotism, which history has transmitted to us: The people favoured by Heaven, preserved from destruction by the virtues, the zeal and the resolution of Deborah, of Judith, of Esther! The fortitude of the mother of the Massachabees, in giving up her sons to die before her eyes: Rome saved from the fury of a victorious enemy by the efforts of Volumnia, and other Roman Ladies: So many famous sieges where the Women have been seen forgeting the weakness of their sex, building new walls, digging trenches with their feeble hands, furnishing arms to their defenders, they themselves darting the missile weapons on the enemy, resigning the ornaments of their apparel, and their fortune, to fill the public treasury, and to hasten the deliverance of their country; burying themselves under its ruins, throwing themselves into the flames rather than submit to the disgrace of humiliation before a proud enemy.

"Born for liberty, disdaining to bear the irons of a tyrannic Government, we associate ourselves to the grandeur of those Sovereigns, cherished and revered, who have held with so much splendour the scepter of the greatest States, The Batildas, the Elizabeths, the Maries, the Catharines, who have extended the empire of liberty, and contented to reign by sweetness and justice, have broken the chains of slavery, forged by tryants in the times of ignorance and barbarity. The Spanish Women, do they not make, at this moment, the most patriotic sacrifices, to encrease the means of victory in the hands of their Sovereign. He is a friend to the French Nation. They are our allies. We call to mind, doubly interested, that it was a French Maid who kindled up amongst her fellow-citizens, the flame of patriotism buried under long misfortunes: It was the Maid of Orleans who drove from the kingdom of France the ancestors of those same British, whose odious yoke we have just shaken off; and whom it is necessary that we drive from this Continent.

"But I must limit myself to the recollection of this small number of achievements. Who knows if persons disposed to censure, and sometimes too severely with regard to us, may not disapprove our appearing acquainted even with the actions of which our sex boasts? We are at least certain, that he cannot be a good citizen who will not applaud our efforts for the relief of the armies which defend our lives, our possessions, our liberty? The situation of our soldiery has been represented to me; the evils inseparable from war, and the firm and generous spirit which has enabled them to support these.

"But it has been said, that they may apprehend, that, in the course of a long war, the view of their distresses may be lost, and their services be forgottten. Forgotten! never; I can answer in the name of all my sex. Brave Americans, your disinterestedness, your courage, and your constancy will always be dear to America, as long as she shall preserve her virtue.

"We know that at a distance from the theatre of war,if we enjoy any tranquility, it is the fruit of your watchings, your labours, your dangers. If I live happy in the midst of my family; if my husband cultivates his field, and reaps his harvest in peace; if, surrounded with my children, I myself nourish the youngest, and press it to my bosom, without being affraid of feeing myself separated from it, by a ferocious enemy; if the house in which we dwell; if our barns, our orchards are safe at the present time from the hands of those incendiaries, it is to you that we owe it. And shall we hesitate to evidence to you our gratitude? Shall we hesitate to wear a cloathing more simple; hair dressed less elegant, while at the price of this small privation, we shall deserve your benedictions.

"Who, amongst us, will not renounce with the highest pleasure, those vain ornaments, when-she shall consider that the valiant defenders of America will be able to draw some advantage from the money which she may have laid out in these; that they will be better defended from the rigours of the seasons, that after their painful toils, they will receive some extraordinary and unexpected relief; that these presents will perhaps be valued by them at a greater price, when they will have it in their power to say: "This is the offering of the Ladies. The time is arrived to display the same sentiments which animated us at the beginning of the Revolution, when we renounced the use of teas, however agreeable to our taste, rather than receive them from our persecutors; when we made it appear to them that we placed former necessaries in the rank of superfluities, when our liberty was interested; when our republican and laborious hands spun the flax, prepared the linen intended for the use of our soldiers; when exiles and fugitives we supported with courage all the evils which are the concomitants of war.

"Let us not lose a moment; let us be engaged to offer the homage of our gratitude at the altar of military valour, and you, our brave deliverers, while mercenary slaves combat to cause you to share with them, the irons with which they are loaded, receive with a free hand our offering, the purest which can be presented to your virtue,

By An AMERICAN WOMAN."

See: Letters of Delegates to Congress, 1774-1789, 26 vols. (Washington, Library of Congress, 1976-2000), 15:284, 287, 315-16, 329, 355; William B. Reed, Life and Correspondence of Joseph Reed, 2 vols. (Philadelphia: Lindsay and Blakiston, 1847), 2:260-71, 429-49; and Pennsylvania Packet (Philadelphia, John Dunlap), June 13, 17, 27; July 8; and November 4, 1780. This posting based, in part, on information from Notable American Women edited by Edward T James, Janet Wilson James, Paul S Boyer, The Belknap Press of Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts. 1971



John Adams & Mercy Otis Warren 1728-1814 questions Franklin's affairs with French ladies & Adams' ambitions


Mercy Otis Warren (1728-1814), poet, gossip, & chronicler of the Revolution, was born in Barnstable, Massachusetts, the 1st daughter & 3rd of the 13 children of James & Mary (Allyne) Otis. Her mother was a great-granddaughter of Edward Dotey, who had come to the colonies as a servant on board the Mayflower. A great-great-grandfather, John Otis, had settled in Hingham, Mass., early in the 17C. By the 18C, the Otis family had become established in Barnstable, on Cape Cod.


1763 Mercy Otis Warren (1728-1814) by John Singleton Copley (1738-1815)

Mercy’s father prospered as a farmer, merchant, & lawyer & served as judge of the county court of common pleas & as colonel of the local militia. The Otises made sure that their sons were prepared for college, but the daughters were given no formal education. Mercy was allowed to sit in on her brothers’ lessons, while they were being tutored by their uncle, a local minister; & she had free access to her uncle’s library.

On Nov, 14, 1754, at 26, she married to James Warren of Plymouth, a merchant & farmer & a Harvard graduate. They had 5 sons, James (1757), Winslow (1759), Charles (1762), Henry (1764), & George (1766). As the American colonies came into increasing conflict with England, her relatives’ activities drew Mercy Warren close to public affairs. Her father was a justice of the peace. Her husband was a member of the Massachusetts legislature. Her brother James initially served as a king’s advocate & then, after resigning his royal appointment, he became a leading spokesman against writs of assistance. Mrs. Warren found that her home in Plymouth, had become a meeting place of leading opponents of royal policy within Massachusetts, including, John & Samuel Adams. Her own contribution was to write in support of the revolutionary cause. She had composed poems as early as 1759, & she now turned to political satire.



Warren couched her satiric thrusts in dramatic form, written to be read, not performed. Her first play, The Adulateur, appeared anonymously in 2 installments in the Boston newspaper the Massachusetts Spy during 1772; &, with additions apparently written by someone else, was reprinted separately the following year. In it Thomas Hutchinson, royal governor of Massachusetts, was depicted in the guise of Rapatio, the ruler of the mythical country of Servia, who hoped to crush “the ardent love of liberty in Servia’s free-born sons.”

Soon afterward, she wrote The Defeat, again with “Rapatio” as villain. In her next play, The Group, published in Boston in 1755, Massachusetts Tories, as evil as ever, were disguised under such names as Judge Meagre, Brigadier Hateall, Sir Spendall, & Hum Humbug. The Blockheads (1776) & The Motley Assembly (1779) were probably also written by Warren, though the evidence of authorship is not definite.



In 1790, she published Poems, Dramatic & Miscellaneous, a collection that included 2 verse dramas, The Sack of Rome & The Ladies of Castle-each a tract on behalf of human liberty, in which the characters are handled with more subtlety & warmth than in her political satires. On the whole, Warren’s plays possess no particularly remarkable literary merit, but they are testimony to the imagination of a woman who never traveled out of Massachusetts, & who probably never saw a play performed on the stage.

During & after the Revolution, the Warrens suffered something of a political & social decline, James Warren lost his seat in the legislature in 1780, & their sons failed to obtain political preferment despite Mrs. Warren’s active intercession with their old friend John Adams & other persons in power.

Late in that decade both James & Mercy Warren were accused by local political conservatives of having been sympathetic to Shays’ Rebellion, the uprising of western Massachusetts farmers, & even of having supported it. Nowhere in her surviving letters does Warren voice any support for the rebellion. Her son Henry served with the government troops sent to suppress it; & she later, in the final volume of her history of the American Revolution, sharply criticized the Shay’s insurgents.

The accusations against Mrs. Warren may have been an attempt to discredit her because of her spirited opposition to the ratification of the federal Constitution during the winter of 1787-88, in her Observations on the New Constitution (1788). Federalist Boston was still further antagonized by her defense of the French Revolution, in the preface which she wrote in 1791, for the American edition of her friend Mrs. Catharine Macaulay Graham’s attack upon Edmund Burke.

Her letters to John Adams often contained a little gossip of the day. In a letter to him, dated October, 1778, she mentions Benjamin Franklin: "Are you, sir, as much in the good graces of the Parisian ladies, as your venerable colleague, Dr. F-? We often hear he is not more an adept in politics than a favorite of the ladies. He has too many compliments of gratulation and esteem from each quarter of the globe, to make it of any consequence whether I offer my little tribute of respect or not. Yet I would tell him as a friend to mankind, as a daughter of America, and a lover of every exalted character, that no one more sincerely wishes the continuance of his health and usefulness; and so disinterested is my regard, that I do not wish him to leave the soft caresses of the court of France; for his unpolished countrywomen will be more apt to gaze at and admire the virtues of the philosopher, than to embrace the patriotic sage."



During these years after the Revolution, Warren continued the writing of her major literary work, the 3-volume History of the Rise, Progress & Termination of the American Revolution (1805), which she had begun in the late 1770’s. Although no less reliable than other histories from the same period, her work is now useful chiefly for its vigorous personal opinions of people & events she had known firsthand.

Publication of her history brought into the open the rupture in the friendship between herself & John Adams, which had begun with the divergence of their political views & her anger at his failure to assist the Warrens’ political fortunes. Her accusations in her History that Adams had “forgotten the principles of the American revolution” & that he was guilty of “pride of talents & much ambition” piqued the ex-president, & several heated letters were exchanged between them. Eventually, in 1812, Elbridge Gerry succeeded in effecting a reconciliation of sorts. Adams still somewhat regretted, however, that he & his wife, Abigail, had been among the first to encourage Mrs. Warren to write her account. “History,” he complained to Gerry, “is not the Province of the Ladies.”

Warren would certainly have disagreed. She was something of a feminist by the standards of her time. Political or legal rights for women were not an important issue in her day, but she deplored the fact that women were not generally given formal education & felt that they could well participate in many activities customarily restricted to men. On one occasion, she advised a friend that women should accept “the Appointed Subordination,” not because of any inherent inferiority, but “perhaps for the sake of Order in Families.”

Rochefoucault, in his Travels in the United States, speaks of Mrs. Warren's extensive & varied reading. She was then 70; and he says, " truly interesting; for, lively in conversation, she has lost neither the activity of her mind, nor the graces of her person."

For many years before her death, Mrs. Warren was afflicted with the failure of her sight; but she submitted to the trial with pious resignation, continuing to receive with cheerfulness the company that frequented her house, and to correspond with her friends by means of a secretary. A passage from a letter to one of her sons, written in 1799, amidst the convulsions in Europe, shows that she still occasionally indulged in the elaborate style so much in vogue: "The ices of the Poles seem to be dissolved to swell the tide of popularity on which swim the idols of the day; but when they have had their day, the tide will retire to its level, and perhaps leave the floating lumber on the strand with other perishable articles, not thought worth the hazard of attempting their recovery."



In relatively good health to the end of her long life. Mrs. Warren continued to correspond with her political & literary friends, & visitors reported that the fashionable woman’s conversation was still vigorous, her mind active. A lady who visited Mrs. Warren in 1807, described her as erect in person, & in conversation, full of intelligence and eloquence. Her dress was a steel-colored silk gown, with short sleeves and very long waist; the black silk skirt being covered in front with a white lawn apron. She wore a lawn mob-cap, & gloves covering the arm to the elbows, cut off at the fingers. Warren died in Plymouth, Mass., where she had spent most of her married life, at the age of 86, having survived her husband by 6 years. Her remains lie at Burial Hill, Plymouth.


David Lewis Sculpture of Mercy Otis Warren dedicated July 4th, 2001, in front of the Barnstable County Superior Courthouse.


This posting based, in part, on information from Notable American Women edited by Edward T James, Janet Wilson James, Paul S Boyer, The Belknap Press of Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts. 1971


American Biography - 1784 Abigail Adams' Letter about French Women


Benjamin Blythe Portrait of Abigail Smith Adams 1766

39-year-old Abigail Adams wrote to 17-year-old Lucy Cranch on
Sunday, 5 September 1784

Written from
Auteuil, Paris, Ville de Paris, Île-de-France, France

"This lady (Mme Helvétius) I dined with at Dr. Franklin's. She entered the room with a careless, jaunty air; upon seeing ladies who were strangers to her, she bawled out: “Ah! mon Dieu, where is Franklin? Why did you not tell me there were ladies here?” You must suppose her speaking all this in French. “How I look!” said she, taking hold of a chemise made of tiffany, which she had on over a blue lute-string, and which looked as much upon the decay as her beauty, for she was once a handsome woman; her hair was frizzled; over it she had a small straw hat, with a dirty gauze half-handkerchief round it, and a bit of dirtier gauze, than ever my maids wore, was bowed on behind. She had a black gauze scarf thrown over her shoulders. She ran out of the room; when she returned, the Doctor entered at one door, she at the other; upon which she ran forward to him, caught him by the hand: “Hélas! Franklin;” then gave him a double kiss, one upon each cheek, and another upon his forehead. When he went into the room to dine, she was placed between the Doctor and Mr. Adams. She carried on the chief of the conversation at dinner, frequently locking her hand into the Doctor's, and sometimes spreading her arms upon the backs of both the gentlemen's chairs, then throwing her arm carelesly upon the Doctor's neck.

"I should have been greatly astonished at this conduct if the good Doctor had not told me that in this lady I should see a genuine Frenchwoman, wholly free from affectation or stiffness of behaviour, and one of the best women in the world. For this I must take the Doctor's word, but I should have set her down for a very bad one, although sixty years of age, and a widow. I own I was highly disgusted, and never wish for an acquaintance with any ladies of this cast. After dinner she threw herself upon a settee, where she showed more than her feet. She had a little lap-dog, who was, next to the Doctor, her favorite. This she kissed, and when he wet the floor she wiped it up with her chemise. This is one of the Doctor's most intimate friends, with whom he dines once every week, and she with him. She is rich, and is my near neighbour, but I have not yet visited her. Thus you see, my dear, that manners differ exceedingly in different countries. I hope, however, to find amongst the French ladies manners more consistent with my ideas of decency, or I shall be a mere recluse."

Lucy Cranch was the daughter of Richard Cranch (1726–1811), a manufacturer, and his wife, Mary née Smith (1741–1811), sister of Abigail Adams. In 1791, she married her cousin John Greenleaf (1763–1848), a blind musician; they had 7 children.

American Biography - Sarah Wentworth Apthorp Morton 1759-1846, poet, humiliated child, betrayed wife,



Gilbert Stuart Gilbert Stuart (American artist, 1755-1828) Mrs. Perez Morton (Sarah Wentworth Apthorp)

Sarah Wentworth Apthorp Morton (1759-1846) was an early American poet whose published work of the 1790s, received praise of her contemporaries, who called her "the American Sappho" after the Greek lyric poetess.  But her life was anything but lyrical.  She felt humiliated as a child, when her father was accused of having Tory tendencies.  Her carefully chosen, popular, politically-correct, patriotic husband had an affair with her younger sister right in their home, resulting in the birth of a little girl.  Her sister wrote her a letter of apology just before taking her own life.  Once again, Sarah was the focus of a huge scandal in her community.  John Adams chose to defend her husband from any culpability in her sister’s suicide.  And her husband was found guiltless.  Yes, the husband had an affair with her younger sister which produced a child, before she committed suicide; but the older husband should be forgiven & all should be forgotten. It was the male dominated 18C; and after-all, men will be men.  John Adams then recommended that the family -- her husband, her father, her brother, & herself  -- restore “peace & harmony between them…again to embrace in friendship & affection.”  The clever, patriot husband went on to become a political leader in the state.  Sarah did as she was told & reunited with him until his death in 1837.


Sarah was born in Boston, Mass., the 3rd daughter of 10 children of James & Sarah (Wentworth) Apthorp.  Her father, a 3rd generation British American of Welsh ancestry, was a well-to-do Boston merchant, as was her mother’s father, Samuel Wentworth, who came to Boston from a distinguished New Hampshire family. 



Gilbert Stuart (American artist, 1755-1828) Mrs. Perez Morton (Sarah Wentworth Apthorp) c 1802,

Until age 10, Sarah lived in the Charles Apthorp mansion on King Street (later State Street) in Boston.  Her parents then moved to Braintree, MA, where she lived until her marriage.  At this time, Braintree was the home community of the prominent Adams, Quincy, & Hancock families.  Braintree provided access to the social & cultural aspects of Boston, with the addition of rural beauty, which Sarah often celebrated later in poems.  


In Braintree, the Apthorps attended the Episcopal Christ Church, which was associated with Loyalists at the beginning of the Revolution. Town records of June 1777, list her father James Apthorp among persons suspected of being "inimical" to the colonial cause.  He & his family suffered great local unpopularity because of his suspected Tory sympathies.


In 1781, Sarah Apthop married Perez Morton, a popular, young, politically-correct, Boston lawyer & patriot, whose reputation would cement Sarah’s name among the patriots.  After graduating from Harvard in 1771, Perez Morton studied law & was admitted to the Massachusetts bar as an attorney in 1774. During the Revolution, he was a leading member of the Committee of Safety & the Committee of Correspondence. He was also an active Mason.  In April 1776, he was praised for his delivery of the funeral address for General Joseph Warren, a fellow Mason killed during the Battle of Bunker Hill.  John Adam's wife Abigail wrote at the time, "A young fellow could not have wished a finer opportunity to display his talents."  In 1778, Perez Morton served as major & aide-de-camp to General Hancock in the Continental Army. 

  
In 1784, just 3 years after her marriage, Sarah Morton became mistress & manager of her ancestral home, Apthorp House, on State Street.  Here she hoped to put the Loyalist whispers of her past behind her & regain her natural place in the fashionable, aristocratic social life of a younger generation of Bostonians.  


James Brown Marston (American artist from Salem, MA, 1775-1817)  Painting of State Street or The Old State House 1801 The Apthorp mansion was the 2nd building from the right.

The newlywed Sarah's wishes for elite acceptance seemed to be coming true.  The Mortons became members of a prominent social circle. Along with the James Swans, Harrison Gray Otises, Isaac Winslows, & others, the Mortons formed a club in the winter of 1784–85 for playing cards & dancing. Although bets were limited to 25 cents, the group’s activities quickly were criticized in the newspaper. 


The society Sarah so desperately wanted became the target of ridicule & sarcasm. The Massachusetts Centinel (Boston), January 15, 1785, declared that the club was deemed "an Assembly so totally repugnant to virtue, as in its very name (Sans Souci, or free & easy )," & it was encouraged to disband.  Later, the club was satirized in a play, “Sans Souci, alias, Free & Easy:–Or, an Evening’s Peep in a Polite Circle. An entirely new entertainment in 3Acts, printed in late January 1785.”  In the play, the newlywed Mortons, who were identified as Mr. & Madam Importance, were portrayed as pompous, snobbish, & exclusive.


Apparently, neither her elite social activities, however, nor the birth of 5 children prevented Sarah from pouring her emotions into verse, which she had begun to do as a shunned young girl in Braintree.   Sarah & Perez had 4 daughters & a son.  Sarah Apthorp Morton (1782–1844), Anna Louisa Morton (1783–1843), Frances Wentworth Morton (1785–1831), & Charlotte Morton (1787–1819) lived to adulthood.  The only son to live beyond infancy, Charles Ward Apthorp Morton was born in 1786, & died in 1809. Another baby boy, born in April 1789, lived only 18 hours.



Gilbert Stuart (American artist, 1755-1828) Mrs. Perez Morton (Sarah Wentworth Apthorp) c 1802,

In 1786, Sarah’s younger sister Frances "Fanny" Theodora Apthorp (1766–1788) had come to live with the Mortons in Boston. Fanny & the head of the house, Perez Morton, became lovers, while Sarah was expecting their 5th child in 6 years.  That child was Charlotte, born in September of 1787.  It would be their last.


Shortly after Charlotte's birth, in the autumn of 1787, Fanny also gave birth to a daughter of Perez Morton.  Fanny & Perez apparently carried on their affair for nearly another year.  The Apthorp family was in an uproar.  Sarah & Fanny's brother James wanted to challenge Perez Morton to a duel.


Fanny’s diary & letters from August 1788, include instructions to Perez Morton to take care of her child "for you know in the sight of heaven you are the Father of it." 


The day before Sarah's sister Fanny decided to take poison to end her life on August 28, 1788, instead of publicly confronting Perez Morton, as the sisters' father had requested, Fanny left a note begging forgiveness from her family, especially from her sister Sarah.  


Although Perez Morton was implicated by a jury in Fanny’s suicide, his friends John Adams (1735–1826) & James Bowdoin (1726–1790) defended him in the Massachusetts Centinel on October 7, 1788:  "...the accusations brought against a fellow citizen, in consequence of a late unhappy event, & which have been the cause of so much domestick calamity, & publick speculation, have...been...fully inquired into by their Excellencies James Bowdoin, &  John Adams, Esq’rs...the result of their inquiry is, that the said accusations are not, in any degree, supported.“  Criticism of Adams & Bowdoin’s defense & disregard of the jury’s findings appeared in the Herald of Freedom & the Federal Advertiser. 


The scandal gained strength with the announcement of the publication of one of the 1st American novels, The Power of Sympathy Or, the Triumph of Nature, in January 1789. Although the novel was set in Rhode Island, its plot was clearly the story of Fanny Apthorp & Perez Morton, whose name was only weakly disguised as "Mr. Martin."  The author clearly wanted to cash in on Sarah & her family’s tragedy.


The illicit affair & subsequent suicide seemed to have no ill effect on Perez Morton’s career as a professional politician. Morton, as a Democratic-Republican, was elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives in May 1794.  After he & his reunited wife Sarah moved to Dorchester, Perez was elected to the House of Representatives in 1803, & in 1806 was elected Speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representatives.  He was appointed attorney general in 1811, & held the office for 20 years.


Soon after the emotionally debilitating scandal, Sarah Morton’s 1st published poem, "Invocation to Hope," appeared in the July 1789 issue of the recently established Massachusetts Magazine under the pseudonym "Constantina." 


Her subject matter was predominately patriotic, celebrating the new nation, its ideals, & its leaders. From 1789 to 1793, she contributed to the “Seat of the Muses” in the recently established Massachusetts Magazine, 1st under the pseudonym “Constantia” & later as “Philenia,” the pen name by which many of her generation came to know her.   


The often humiliated Sarah chose to champion the plight of Native Americans & African slaves. Her 1st long poem, Ouâbi or the Virtues of Nature, An Indian Tale. In Four Cantos, published in December 1790, was even hailed in London, where it inspired a 3-act play. Though Sarah claimed to depict authentic native customs, her fictional Indians reflected the currently accepted literary view, not real life in the American forest, & the virtues her Native Americans exhibited were in the “noble savage” tradition. However, her reviewers, both English & American, were comfortable with these traditional descriptions & greeted her work favorably. In choosing a subject “wholly American” Sarah Morton hoped to tap into the patriotic urge which immediately followed the Revolution. She still longed to be identified with the patriot cause.


Sarah expressed abolitionist views about slavery in America in a few poems, including "The African Chief," which appeared in the June 9, 1792, issue of the Columbian Centinel describing a slave’s decision to die in order to escape the horrors of the Middle Passage & slavery. The last stanza reflected the poem's examination of heroic death & suicide:

Let sorrow bathe each blushing cheek,
  Bend piteous o’er the tortured slave,
Whose wrongs compassion cannot speak,
  Whose only refuge was the grave.

In November 1792, Sarah chose to become one of the founders of the Boston Library Society.  Her literary interests also extended to the theater.  Both she & her husband were involved in repealing the 1750 colonial law entitled "An Act to prevent Stage Plays, & other Theatrical Entertainments," & her husband Perez Morton was a trustee & shareholder of the resulting Federal Street Theatre.



Portrait of Perez Morton. By Charles Balthazar Julien Févret de Saint-Mémin. ca.1793-1814.

In Boston, Perez Morton, an elegant figure with polished manners, became a leader of the old Jacobin Club, which held meetings at the Green Dragon Tavern, & also became a decided Democrat. A political poet of Boston thus satirizes Perez Morton:

 " Perez, thou art in earnest, though some doubt thee ! 
  In truth, the Club could never do without thee ! 
 My reasons thus I give thee in a trice, — 
 You want their votes, and they want your advice ! 

" Thy tongue, shrewd Perez, favoring ears insures, — 

  The cash elicits, and the vote secures. 
  Thus the fat oyster, as the poet tells, 
 The lawyer ate, — his clients gained the shells." 

Contemporaries, who knew Sarah's identity, reading her 1794 poems "Marie Antoinette" & "Bativia" would know, that they were a blatant statement, that she did not share her husband’s pro-French sentiments. 

The sex, betrayal, & suicide scandal had made Sarah famous. Sarah’s verses, under a variety of loosely-held pseudonyms, continued to appear regularly in the Massachusetts Magazine’s "Seat of the Muses" column through 1793, as well as in the Boston Columbian Centinel until 1794. They were also reprinted in Philadelphia, New York, & New Hampshire journals. After the turn of the century, her poems appeared occasionally in the Monthly Anthology & Boston Review until 1807.  Hailed by fellow magazine poets as the “Sappho of America” & the “Mrs. Montagu of America,” she soon found entrée to other poetry corners in newspapers & magazines of the period.  


In 1797, Sarah Morton moved from Boston to nearby Dorchester, where she lived in the 1st house which she designed; & after 1808, the family took residence in Morton’s Pavilion, built by her husband.  During these years Sarah relished making her home a gathering place for the American literati & other distinguished visitors.  


Also in 1797, she published her poem, Beacon Hill. A Local Poem, Hsitoric & Descriptive, dedicated to the “Citizen Soldiers who fought, conquered, & retired under the Banners of Freedom & Washington.”  In the introduction to Beacon Hill, Sarah Morton defended her "application to literature...It is only amid the leisure & retirement, to which the sultry season is devoted," she wrote, "that I permit myself to hold converse with the Muses; nor does their enchantment ever allure me from one personal occupation, which my station renders bligatory; but those hours, which might otherwise be lost in dissipation, or sunk in languor, are alone resigned to the unoffending charms of Poetry & Science."


Sarah intended to publish Beacon Hill as the 1st segment of an ambitious larger work. "The apprehensive feelings of the author," Sarah Morton explained, "did not permit her at present to offer more than the first book."  The poem, dedicated to the Revolutionary soldiers who fought under George Washington, looks at the end of the Battle of Bunker Hill, the siege of Boston, & the Declaration of Independence & pays tribute to Washington & the Revolutionary leaders in each colony. 


William Bentley (1759–1819), pastor at Salem’s Second Congregational Church, wrote in his diary in November 1797, "The talk now about Mrs. Morton’s Poem, Beacon Hill, & it is said to exceed any poetic composition from a female pen. She is called the American Sappho.  Mr. Paine calls her so.  Besides Mr. Stearns is soon to publish The Lady’s Philosophy of Love, which they have begun to praise before they have seen it." 


However, The Reverend Mr. Bentley also voiced his doubts about the quality of the poetry; & it does not appear that Sarah Morton was encouraged to complete the other installments of "Beacon Hill," at least they were never found or published.  In 1799, she offered the companion piece, The Virtues of Society.  A Tale, Founded on Fact.


In 1823, Sarah Morton published a compilation of prose & poems in My Mind & Its Thoughts, in Sketches, Fragments, & Essays.   It was the 1st work to which she signed her own name.  In addition to new poems written to celebrate national & local events, the 1823 volume contained careful revisions of poems published earlier in newspapers or journals under her various pseudonyms. 


The book’s essays bounced from marriage, to physiognomy, to the sexes, to civility, & age. Sarah wrote in the introduction, "Thus occupied—with neither leisure, nor disposition, nor capacity to write a Book, there has always been opportunity to pen a thought, or to pencil a recollection." A list of subscribers at the end of the volume is topped by "John Adams, late President of the United States" & "His Excellency John Brooks, Governor of Massachusetts."  In total, 34 women & 125 men on this "subscribers" list were convinced to order copies of the book in advance of its publication. 


Many of the poems, such as "Stanzas To A Recently United Husband" or "Lamentations Of An Unfortunate Mother, Over The Tomb Of Her Only Son," are extremely personal & sad. Her "Apology" at the end of the text openly suggests that writing poetry brought her consolation from the many disappointments & grief she experienced in her life.


Perez Morton died in Dorchester on October 14, 1837, leaving all his real & personal estate to "my beloved wife Sarah Wentworth Morton."  After his death, Sarah moved from Dorcester back to the Braintree house,
 where she had lived as a child, when the family had been humiliated because of her father's Loyalist leanings.  Here she would come full circle to live out the rest of her life.

In 1846, Sarah died in Quincy, aged 86, & was buried in the Apthorp tomb in King’s Chapel, Boston.  None of her children survived her.  


Her will instructed, that she be interred in the Apthorp family vault in King’s Chapel.  She also requested that the remains of her daughter Frances Wentworth & her son, Charles, be re-interred in the family vault; so that she would have her "own remains between those of my two dearly beloved & lamented children."


By the time of her death, her fame as a poet had been mostly forgotten.  Not one of her obituaries in the Quincy Patriot, Boston Daily Mail, or Daily Evening Transcript made any mention of her literary career.  Without an ounce of compassion, they noted simply, that she was the widow of the late "Honorable" Perez Morton. The extant ledgers of the Boston Library Society attest to the numerous books she read as the years passed; & the inventory of her estate compiled at her death contains more than 250 books, including 20 volumes of Shakespeare & 9 volumes of Pope.  


During much of the 19C, she was known less for her poetry than for her supposed authorship of  The Power of Sympathy (1789). This false ascription of the book based on the domestic tragedy between her husband & her younger sister in her own home, was not understood until many years after her death.  It was was not actually proved false until 1894, when the authorship of the novel by William Hill Brown, their neighbor when the affair was taking place, was clearly established.  


Sarah Morton’s fame must rest on her poetry alone.  She was the foremost woman poet of her generation, reflecting pride in the struggles of the new American republic & melancholy about her own personal disappointments.   




This posting based in part on information from Notable American Women edited by Edward T James, Janet Wilson James, Paul S Boyer, The Belknap Press of Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts. 1971 


American Biography - John Adams on men, women, & author Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797)



Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797)

Mary Wollstonecraft, An Historical and Moral View of the Origin and Progress of the French Revolution and the Effect it Has Produced in Europe (London: J. Johnson, 1795).

John Adams wrote in his copy of this book,

"This is a lady of a masculine, masterly understanding. Her style is nervous and clear, often elegant: though sometimes too verbose. With a little experience in public affairs and the reading and reflection which would result from it, she would have produced a history without the defects and blemishes pointed out with too much severity perhaps and too little gallantry in the notes.

The improvement, the exaltation of the human character, the perfectibility of man, the perfection of the human faculties are the divine object which her enthusiasm beholds in beatific vision. Alas, how airy and baseless a fabric!

Yet she will not admit of the only means that can accomplish any part of her ardent prophecies: forms of government, so mixed, combined, and balanced as to restrain the passions of all orders of men."      (Inscribed on page [iv])


John Adams (1735-1826) by Jane & perhaps Gilbert Stuart (1755-1828) 1824-26

Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin (1759-1797), better known as just Mary Wollstonecraft, was an 18C British writer, philosopher, & advocate of women's rights. During her brief career, she wrote novels, treatises, a travel narrative, a history of the French Revolution, a conduct book, & a children's book. Wollstonecraft is best known for A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792), in which she argues that women are not naturally inferior to men, but appear to be only because they are not allowed the same education. 


Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797)

In the 1780s, life in England & the new American republic was more rigidly stratified than it is today.  Women knew where they belonged, & law and custom kept them there. Politically disenfranchised, they also were barred from many jobs. Married women had no rights to property or even to their own children. Centuries of men claimed that women were less than males in every way except in their ability to bear children. But the American & French Revolutions brought some political equality & a sexual revolution for women seemed possible. Thanks partly to Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792), the legal & social restrictions under which women lived were briefly contested into the early 19C.


American Biography - Abigail & John Adams disagreed about women's suffrage


Abigail Smith Adams (1744-1818) was a smart, independent woman who said what she believed. Although she had strong feelings about women having an equal voice in the new United States of America, women would not get the right to vote in national elections until 1920.  “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.” Abigail Adams



Even though her husband did not agree with her call for women's suffrage, she maintained a great appreciation for his work & that of his fellow patriots in helping establish a new nation.  "These are times in which a genius would wish to live. It is not in the still calm of life, or in the repose of a pacific station, that great characters are formed. The habits of a vigorous mind are formed in contending with difficulties. Great necessities call out great virtues." Abigail Adams




Even though his wife was outspoken & did not feel the need to constantly agree with him, President John Adams (1735-1826) dearly loved his partner.  In one of their many letters, he wrote,  "Miss Adorable, I hereby order you to give [me], as many kisses, and as many hours of your company...as [I] shall please to demand, and charge them to my account.”


American Biography - Abigail Smith Adams 1744-1818 at home, often without husband John


Abigail Smith was born on November 11, 1744, in Weymouth, Massachusetts, the 2nd child of Elizabeth Quincy Smith & the Reverend William Smith. Her father was pastor of Weymouth's North Parish Congregational Church.  Carrying out the practical aspects of their religion, Abigail accompanied her mother visiting the sick & distributing food, clothing, & firewood to needy families. Young Abigail educated herself in her father's library.


Abigail Adams (1744-1818)  by Gilbert Stuart (American artist, 1755-1828)

When she was 18, Abigail met John Adams, a young lawyer from nearby Braintree. Even during their 2 year courtship, the young couple spent long periods apart & relied upon writing letters to keep in touch. This pattern would continue throughout their marriage.  On October 25, 1764, the young newlyweds moved into the small house John had inherited from his father in Braintree.   Abigail managed the family's finances & household, as John began to ride the court circuit (traveling from one district to another) building his law career.  On July 14, 1765,  John & Abigail's 1st child, Abigail, was born followed by son John Quincy Adams, Susanna (who died just after her 1st year), Charles, & Thomas Boylston.  The growing family continued to live on John's small farm at Braintree or in Boston, as his practice expanded. Abigail looked after family & home; while John went traveling as circuit judge. "Alas!" she wrote in the snowy December of 1773, "How many snow banks divide thee and me...."

To spend more time with his family, John Adams decided to move them to Boston, because much of his work was there. But even in Boston, 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 detail her life in times of revolution. They tell of a woman who stayed at home to struggle with wartime shortages & inflation; to run a farm with a minimum of help; to teach 4 children, when formal education was interrupted. They tell of her loneliness without her "dearest Friend."

The Boston Massacre occurred on March 5, 1770. At the risk of his own popularity & career, John Adams chose to defend 8 British soldiers & their captain, accused of murdering 5 Americans.  Although John was an ardent patriot & favored independence, he felt the soldiers had acted properly & been provoked into firing by an unruly mob. Also, he felt it was important to prove to the world that the colonists were not under mob rule, lacking direction & principles, & that all men were entitled to due process of law. Most Americans, driven by emotion, were livid with Adams for defending the hated "redcoats," but throughout the ordeal Abigail supported her husband's decision. In the end, Adams was proved correct, as all 9 of the men were acquitted of the murder charges. The verdict helped diffuse the immediate crisis.


1798 Watercolor of the Old House of John & Abigail Adams by E. Malcom  The Old House, built in 1731, became the residence of the Adams family for 4 generations from 1788 to 1927.

In 1774, John traveled to Philadelphia as a delegate to the First Continental Congress; where the gentlemen agreed to form a government independent of Great Britain. Abigail remained in Braintree to manage the farm & educate the children. Again, letter writing was the only way the Adams could communicate with each other. Their correspondence took on even greater meaning, for Abigail reported to her husband about the British & American military confrontations around Boston. Abigail took her son John Quincy to the top of Penn's Hill near their farm to witness the Battle of Bunker Hill on June 17, 1775.

Not all Americans shared the concept of an independent American nation.  Abigail argued, "A people may let a king fall, yet still remain a people: but if a king lets his people slip from him, he is no longer a king. And this is most certainly our case, why not proclaim to the world in decisive terms your own independence?" In June 1776, John was appointed to a committee of 5 men to prepare a Declaration of Independence from Great Britain.


1820 Sketch of the Mansion by Abigail Adams Smith who lived with her grandfather John Adams in the Old House from 1818-1829

Abigail's vision of independence was broader than that of the delegates. She believed all people, & both sexes, should be granted equal rights. In a letter to John she wrote, "I wish most sincerely that there was not a slave in the province. It always seemed to me to fight ourselves for what we are robbing the Negroes of, who have as good a right to freedom as we have."  Later Abigail added that John & his fellow delegates should "remember the ladies, & be more generous & favorable to them than your ancestors," when they enact new law. Her views were far too progressive for the delegates of the Continental Congress, including John Adams. 

John soon was appointed president of the Board of War & turned to Abigail for advice on carrying out his job.  Throughout his career, Adams had few confidants. Thus Abigail advised her husband, & John wrote his wife, "I want to hear you think or see your thoughts."


1828 A drawing of The Adams Seat in Quincy by Mrs. George Whitney

In 1778,  John Adams was sent to Paris to negotiate an alliance with France. He remained in Europe from 1778 to 1787, through a succession of different appointments, except for a 3 month period at home; during which time he drafted the Massachusetts Constitution.  Separated from her husband by the Atlantic Ocean, Abigail continued to keep their farm running, paid their bills, & served as teacher to their children. She focused on encouraging the abilities of her son John Quincy, who eventually joined his father in Europe. She wrote to her son, "These are times in which a genius would wish to live. . . . Great necessities call out great virtues."


John Adams by William Joseph Williams, C. 1797.

In 1784, with independence from Great Britain at last secure, Abigail sailed to Europe to join her husband & son. Abigail spent 4 years in France & England, while her husband served as U.S. minister to Great Britain. As the wife of a diplomat, she met & entertained many people in Paris & London. While never at home in these unfamiliar settings, Abigail did her best to enjoy the people & places of both countries. However, Abigail was pleased, when the time came to return home to Braintree in 1788.


1846 Woodcut of the Residence of John Quincy Adams

The next year, John Adams was elected the 1st vice president of the United States. During the course of the next 12 years as John Adams served 2 terms as vice president (1789-1797) & 1 term as president (1797-1801), he & Abigail moved back & forth between Braintree (the "Old House") & the successive political capitals of the United States: New York, Philadelphia, & then, briefly, into the unfinished White House in Washington, D.C.


Portrait of John Adams by William Winstanley, 1798.

Abigail fought bouts of rheumatism or some autoimmune disease that forced her frequently to retreat to the peace of Braintree recover. After 1791, poor health forced her to spend as much time as possible in Quincy. Illness found her resolute; as she once declared, she would "not forget the blessings which sweeten life."  In 1796, John Adams was elected to succeed George Washington as president of the United States.  Parties were forming. John Adams faced dissent in his cabinet & the vice president, Thomas Jefferson, was head of the opposition party. John realized the problems he faced & wrote to his wife, who was in Quincy recovering from a rheumatic bout, that "I never wanted your advice & assistance more in my life."  Abigail rushed to her husband's side & maintained a grueling schedule to perform all her duties as first lady. She entertained guests & visited people in support of her husband. 


1849 Daguerreotype of the Old House of John & Abigail Adams by John Adams Whipple

Meanwhile, Great Britain was at war with France, & popular opinion held that America should jump in to aid Great Britain, especially after France demanded bribes. The president felt that war would weaken the United States & decided on an unpopular neutrality. During this time many of Adams' opponents used the press to criticize his policies. Abigail was often referred to as "Mrs. President," for it was widely thought, that the president's decisions were heavily influenced by his wife. In truth, Abigail disagreed with her husband's stand of neutrality; but people believed she was setting his policies, & this weakened John Adams politically.


1849 Painting of the Old House of John & Abigail Adams by G. Frankenstein

In 1798, with John Adams' approval, Congress passed the Alien & Sedition Acts, which were aimed at restricting foreign influence over the United States. But the acts proved very unpopular, with Thomas Jefferson & James Madison leading the protest against them. Adams' support of these acts further undermined his popular support, already suffering from his courageous but unpopular stand on war with France.  He was not elected to a 2nd term as president in 1800.


 1852 View of the Adams Mansion at Quincy by Mallory, C. 1852 from “Gleasons’ Pictorial Drawing Room Companion” Volume 3, August 21, 1852.

In March 1801, John & Abigail retired to Quincy. During her years there, Abigail occupied herself with improving her home & entertaining visiting family. She saw their son John Qunicy Adams distinguish himself as a U.S. senator, minister to Russia, & secretary of state. In October 1818, Abigail contracted typhoid fever. Surrounded by family members, she died on October 28. John Adams wrote, "I wish I could lay down beside her & die too."

John Adams. Painting by Samuel Morse.


See National Park Service Adams House


Today in 1779, John Adams was appointed to negotiate Revolutionary War peace with the British




On this day in 1779, the Continental Congress appoints John Adams to travel to France as minister plenipotentiary in charge of negotiating treaties of peace & commerce with Great Britain during the Revolutionary War.

Adams had traveled to Paris in 1778 to negotiate an alliance with France; but had been unceremoniously dismissed, when Congress chose Benjamin Franklin as sole commissioner. Soon after returning to Massachusetts in mid-1779, Adams was elected as a delegate to the state convention to draw up a new constitution; & he was involved in these duties, when he learned of his new diplomatic commission. Accompanied by his young sons John Quincy & Charles, Adams sailed for Europe that November aboard the French ship Sensible, which sprang a leak early in the voyage missing its original destination (Brest), instead landing at El Ferrol, in northwestern Spain. After an arduous journey by mule train across the Pyrenees into France, Adams reached Paris in early February 1780.

While in Paris, Adams wrote to Congress almost daily (sometimes several letters a day) sharing news about British politics, British & French naval activities and his general perspective on European affairs. Conditions were unfavorable for peace at the time, as the war was going badly for the Continental Army; and the blunt & sometimes confrontational Adams clashed with the French government, especially the powerful Foreign Minister Charles Gravier, Comte de Vergennes. In mid-June, Adams began a correspondence with Vergennes in which he pushed for French naval assistance, antagonizing both Vergennes & Benjamin Franklin, who brought the matter to the attention of Congress.

By that time, Adams had departed France for Holland, where he was attempting to negotiate a loan from the Dutch. Before the end of the year, he was named American minister to the Netherlands, replacing Henry Laurens, who was captured at sea by the British. In June 1781, capitulating to pressure from Vergennes & other French diplomats, Congress acted to revoke Adams’ sole powers as peacemaker with Britain, appointing Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, John Jay & Laurens to negotiate alongside him.

The tide of the war was turning in America’s favor, & Adams returned to Paris in October 1782 to take up his part in the peace negotiations. As Jefferson didn’t travel to Europe & Laurens was in failing health after his release from the Tower of London, it was left to Adams, Jay & Franklin to represent American interests. Adams & Jay both distrusted the French government (in contrast with Franklin), but their differences of opinion & diplomatic styles allowed the team to negotiate favorable terms in the Peace of Paris (1783). The following year, Jefferson arrived to take Adams’ place as American minister to France, forming a lifelong bond with Adams & his family, before the latter left to take up his new post as American ambassador to London & continue his distinguished record of foreign service on behalf of the new nation.

This article is from History.com.