Archive for the ‘Adams, John’ Category

The Adamses: “quite out of their element”

MARY HILL LAMAR wrote again from London to her brother Henry Hill in Philadelphia this time including a couple of catty remarks about John and Abigail Adams as well as Ann Willing Bingham and her husband, said to be the wealthiest man in America.

London, March 18, 1786. . . . Please make my affectionate compliments to my sister Mrs. Hill, with my thanks for the nice cranberries. Before this gets to hand you will probably see Mr. and Mrs. Bingham, whom I have not seen since their return from France, although I called twice after I heard of their being in London. I am told the extreme of the French fashion, or her own taste, has made great alteration, while on the continent, in her manners, &c. When I mentioned her own taste, it was because she appeared at the opera in a hat unlike anything that ever made its appearance there before or since; fond as they are here of the French fashions. She has been introduced to their majesties, by Mr. and Mrs. Adams, our American plenipo [plenipotentiary], who, by the by, the girls have been to wait on several times, with myself. We have had them to a party of cards and tea, and she has been asked a second time, but as they have not returned the compliment, I think it unnecessary to pay them any farther attention.

They seem sensible people, one and all, but quite out of their element. Mrs. Adams has been very handsome, but an indifferent figure, being very short and fat. Miss [the Adams’s daughter Nabby], by some, reckoned handsome. . . .

Excuse haste, and believe me, my dear brother,
Your sincerely affectionate sister,
MARY LAMAR

John Jay Smith, ed., Letters of Doctor Richard Hill and His Children 1798-1881 (Philadelphia: 1854), 260-61. Anne Willing Bingham (above) was the model for an early coin design. More than 23 million non-gold coins of Bingham were introduced into circulation from 1795 to 1808.

posted February 16th, 2017 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Adams, Abigail,Adams, John,Americans Abroad,Bingham, Anne Willing,Bingham, William,Fashion,Hill, Henry,Lamar, Mary Hill,London,Paris,Smith, Abigail "Nabby" Adams

“I hope and pray, I may never again be left to go to sea”

ABIGAIL ADAMS continued to describe the voyage from England to Boston in a letter written at sea {May 29, 1788) to her daughter Abigail Adams Smith. Ships met in passing are “spoken to,” that is contacted for news or an exchange of letters. The Lucretia met several en route. Normally there were doctors on board to tend to the health of the crew and passengers, to deal with accidents and with injuries sustained in wars. (Dr. Stephen Maturin in the O’Brian books). One assumes that the doctor on the Lucretia delivered Mrs. Briesler’s baby. Ships’ crews also always included carpenters to repair damage to the vessel due to battles or severe weather.

My Dear Daughter:
Tis agreed by all the hands, that they never knew so blustering a May. We have met with several ships, with which we have spoken; and one morning after a very heavy wind we espied a ship in distress, having lost her masts; we steered immediately for her, and found her to be an American ship, captain M——, called the Thomas and Sally, bound to Baltimore. We lay to, and sent hands on board of her, to assist in getting up another mast. We sent our old doctor on board to bleed two men, much hurt by the fall of their masts; and Mr. Boyd [William Boyd of Portsmouth], one of our passengers, said he would go on board and see if there were any passengers; as the sea ran high I thought it was rather dangerous, but he was young and enterprising; our mate, carpenter, doctor, and four sailors, accompanied him. It was late in the afternoon before they could get back, and really at the hazard of their lives, for the wind had increased to a storm and the sea ran mountain high; we were all very anxious for them, but happily they all returned safe; Mr. Boyd bringing us an account, that there were four passengers on board, amongst whom was poor Hindman [possibly William Hindman, an American lawyer who had studied at the Inns of Court in London], almost terrified to death; but as the ship was a very good one, and they had got up a new mast, we left them, we hope, safe. We spoke the same day with a brig from London to Virginia, and an American ship from Bordeaux to Boston. For these four days past we have had finer weather, but alas no good winds, and no prospect of reaching Boston until the middle of June, if then.

You will be anxious to know how we have done: really better than my fears. With respect to myself, I have been less seasick than when I crossed before: want of sleep I have suffered more from. Your papa has been very well. But Esther you say, what have you done with her? Yesterday at five, she had a daughter, a poor little starvling, but with special lungs, old nurse Comis is just the thing, never sick, can eat and sleep, at all times, as well as any sailor on board. We got through this business much better than I feared we should. I had for the first time in my life, to dress the little animal, who was buried in its clothes. At present, we seem to want only a good wind. I am almost exhausted, and my patience wearied out; if we had been favoured with a fair wind, we should have got home before this matter took place. Brisler has been much the sickest person on board ship. I expected him to have been half nurse, instead of which, he has wanted constant nursing. I hope and pray, I may never again be left to go to sea: of all places, it is the most disagreeable, such a sameness, and such a tossing to and fro. Our passengers are agreeable; our captain is very clever; our ship very clean. We have many things to be thankful for. Adieu!
Yours,
A. A.

The Thomas and Sally, Capt. F. Dorset (Dorsett), left London on 15 April and arrived safely in Baltimore by 24 June. The Adamses arrived in Boston Harbor on June 17 and the next day there was a public reception for them after their nine-year absence from America. Read the newspaper account here.

Source: “Abigail Adams to Abigail Adams Smith, 29 May 1788,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified July 12, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Adams/04-08-02-0130. [Original source: The Adams Papers, Adams Family Correspondence, vol. 8, March 1787 – December 1789, ed. C. James Taylor, Margaret A. Hogan, Jessie May Rodrique, Gregg L. Lint, Hobson Woodward, and Mary T. Claffey. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2007, pp. 266–269.]

“a tour of about six hundred miles”

When John and ABIGAIL ADAMS were in London—John being the American minister to England from 1785 to 1788—they lived at 9 Grosvenor Square. As an expat in London I visited the site which is on the northeast corner at the intersection of Duke Street and Brook Street. A plaque, placed by the Colonial Dames of America in 1933, includes the information that the Adams’s daughter Abigail (Nabby) was married there to William Stevens Smith.
In 1787 Abigail and John decided to see some of England outside London before they departed. They set out on a journey to the West Country; Abigail recounted some of her observations and experiences in a letter to her sister Mary Cranch.

Grosvenor Square [London], 15 September, 1787My Dear Sister,
When I wrote you last, I was just going to set out on a journey to the West of England. I promised you to visit Mr. Cranch’s friends and relatives. This we did, as I shall relate to you. We were absent a month, and made a tour of about six hundred miles. The first place we made any stay at was Winchester. There was formerly an Earl of Winchester, by the name of Saer de Quincy. He was created Earl of Winchester by King John, in 1224, and signed Magna Charta, which I have seen; the original being now in the British Museum, with his handwriting to it.

After conveying some information to her sister about the Cranch ancestry Abigail expressed curiosity about her family, the Quincys.

I have a perfect remembrance of a parchment in our grandmother’s possession, which, when quite a child, I used to amuse myself with. This was a genealogical table, which gave the descent of the family from the time of William the Conqueror. This parchment Mr. Edmund Quincy borrowed, on some occasion, and I have often heard our grandmother say, with some anger, that she could never recover it. As the old gentleman is still living, I wish Mr. Cranch would question him about it, and know what hands it went into, and whether there is any probability of its ever being recovered; and be so good as to ask uncle Quincy how our grandfather came by it, and from whence our great-grandfather came, where he first settled, and take down in writing all you can learn from him and Mr. Edmund Quincy respecting the family. You will smile at my zeal, perhaps, on this occasion; but can it be wondered at that I should wish to trace an ancestor amongst the signers of Magna Charta? Amongst those who voted against receiving an explanatory charter in the Massachusetts, stands the name of our venerable grandfather, accompanied with only one other; this the journals of the House will show, to his immortal honor. I do not expect either titles or estate from the recovery of the genealogical table, were there any probability of obtaining it. Yet, if I was in possession of it, money should not purchase it from me.

But to return to Winchester. It is a very ancient place, and was formerly the residence of the Saxon and Norman kings. There still remains a very famous cathedral church, in the true Gothic architecture, being partly built in the year 1079. I attended divine service there, but was much more entertained with the venerable and majestic appearance of the ancient pile, than with the modern, flimsy discourse of the preacher. A meaner performance I do not recollect to have heard; but, in a church which would hold several thousands, it might truly be said, two or three were met together, and those appeared to be the lower order of the people.

More to follow.

Abigail’s letter is from the volume Letters of Mrs. Adams, The Wife of John Adams With an Introductory Memoir by Her Grandson, Charles Francis Adams, Volume II, 1840. The illustration of the Adams’s Grosvenor Square House is taken from this SITE. The engraving of Winchester Cathedral can be found HERE.

posted August 4th, 2016 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Adams, Abigail,Adams, John,Americans Abroad,Britain,Cranch, Mary,London,Smith, Abigail "Nabby" Adams,Smith, William Stevens,Travel

“My Dearest Friend”

I’m putting off writing about Alexander Hamilton’s friendship(?) with his sister-in-law until next time because I want to draw your attention to a performance of an opera based on the letters of Abigail and John Adams called My Dearest Friend to be performed this weekend (July 2) at the Adams National Historical Park in Quincy, Massachusetts. I wish I were able to go but since I cannot I am hoping that some of my readers might. I have always loved the Adams correspondence and compliment Patricia Leonard for using selected letters as lyrics. Featured will be soprano Wendy Bryn Harmer as Abigail and baritone Charles Taylor as John. I was alerted to this performance by J. L. Bell’s excellent blog Boston 1775.
When my colleagues Louise North and Landa Freeman and I were mulling over titles for our book about the correspondence between John Jay and his wife Sarah Livingston Jay, we decided on My Dearest Best of Friends, a salutation frequently used in their letters. Our publisher sadly nixed it opting for the rather dull and academic Selected Letters of John Jay and Sarah Livingston Jay. We always thought that the Jay letters rivaled the Adams correspondence, a close second perhaps. Maybe someone will do an opera based on the Jay correspondence.

posted June 30th, 2016 by Janet, comments (1), CATEGORIES: Adams, Abigail,Adams, John,Jay, John,Jay, Sarah Livingston,Letter-writing,Primary sources

“As soon as I get a bonnet, I shall go to church”

President John Adams created the position of secretary of the navy and appointed Benjamin Stoddert to that post in 1798. Stoddert, a well-to-do merchant from Georgetown, near the Federal City which was being built, moved with his wife REBECCA LOWNDES STODDERT and their family to Philadelphia then the capital of the United States. In the previous post Mrs. Stoddert gave her impressions of Anne Willing Bingham in letters she wrote to her sister. Her correspondence with her niece Eliza Gannt of Graden, Maryland, includes details about the practical side of establishing themselves in Philadelphia. and what life was like there. Mrs. Stoddert wrote to Eliza in November 1798 about her arrival in Philadelphia, the boarding house in which they lived at first, and the house they rented that belonged to Major William Jackson, secretary to President Washington during his presidency and in 1798 surveyor of the port of Philadelphia. Jackson’s wife was Elizabeth Willing, sister to Anne Willing Bingham.

[The house] is roomy, and I could make it very convenient too, but I imagine it owners would think me mad if they knew that I did not think it so already. Only four of the rooms have anything in them, two down stairs and two up. The third story and garret, which are well finished, I have not the least use for. I have very little furniture, nothing but the chairs Mr. Stoddert . . . had bought, which are very pretty, their color white and a little blue. . . .
One tea-table I bought this morning, and am to give thirteen dollars for it,—a very great price, but nothing is cheap here except some few things at market—mutton and beef, I mean.
Do not suppose we have no dining-tables; luckily we have one and a sideboard of Mrs. Jackson’s, which is a great convenience, as we brought none here. I was this day going to get a set of dining-tables, but the wretch had the conscience to ask sixty dollars for them. . . .
As soon as I get a bonnet, I shall go to church. . . . Mrs. Harrison, whom I think almost perfection [the daughter of Dr. Craik, Washington’s family physician] advises me not to be in a hurry about it, as the fashions are not so well known yet. I am coming on, you see.
We lived together at Mrs. White’s [before the Stodderts found a house]. . . . Mrs. White lives charmingly . . . everything is clean, and only genteel people board there. I for the first time for twenty-odd years saw General Washington there:* it is his boarding house, too. We breakfasted together every morning, but only dined with him once, and that was last Sunday. He makes a point of not going abroad on Sundays, I am told, and I suppose that was the reason why he dined at Mrs. White’s last Sunday. He receives invitations constantly every day . . . to dine out.
I received four visits before we came to housekeeping,—I cannot call it home. . . . I have not returned [them]. I know if I was at home I would think it was time; but in this place I must consult Mrs. Harrison, whom I shall take as my preceptor in all cases. . . .
I fancy it is very much the custom here for ladies to walk. Indeed, the walking is so clean—except just where we live—that it would be extraordinary if they did not. The streets about us are not paved yet. We have very good water, I daresay the best in town.
I cannot help feeling sorry that Mrs. Adams’s health is so bad as to prevent her being in Philadelphia this winter. . . .
As to the braid that she [Miss Lowndes] desired Betsy to procure for her, I suppose the thing is impossible, for no other reason than that wigs are all the fashion. . . . I heard even General Washington talk of the ladies wearing wigs. . . . I do not feel the least partiality to this place, and I never expected I should. Perhaps when I see the river—for I am a great admirer of water—and something of the city—, for to tell the truth, I have seen nothing of it yet—I shall like it better; and I wish I may. . . .
Mr. Stoddert is at the President’s who came to town last night.
Your truly affectionate.
R. Stoddert.

*In preparation for a possible war with France President Adams had organized a provisional army and persuaded Washington to head it.

Kate Mason Rowland, “Philadelphia a Century Ago, Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine, Volume 62, 1898, 804-807.

posted April 25th, 2016 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Adams, Abigail,Adams, John,Bingham, Anne Willing,Fashion,Philadelphia,Stoddert, Rebecca Lowndes,Washington, George

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