Archive for the ‘Adams, Abigail’ 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

“who can fail from being Charmed with the Baron de Stael?”

ABIGAIL ADAMS wrote the following letter to her niece Elizabeth Cranch, whom she calls Betsy, during the Adams’s stay in France in 1785. She describes visits to the residence of the Swedish Ambassador and to a French aristocrat, including details of the furnishings and dress she knew her niece would find interesting. John and Abigail would shortly proceed to London where John Adams would be minister plenipotentiary to the Court of St. James’s.

May 12th. 1785 AuteuilDid you ever my dear Betsy see a person in real Life such as your imagination form’d of Sir Charles Grandison*? The Baron de Stael the Sweedish Ambassador comes nearest to that Character in his Manners and personal appearence of any Gentleman I ever saw. The first time I saw him I was prejudic’d in his favour, for his countanance Commands your good opinion, it is animated intelligent sensible affable, and without being perfectly Beautifull, is most perfectly agreeable. Add to this a fine figure, and who can fail from being Charmed with the Baron de Stael?

He lives in a Grand Hotel, and his suite of apartments his furniture and his table are the most Elegant of any thing I have seen. Altho you dine upon plate in every noble House in France, I cannot say that you may see your face in it, but here the whole furniture of the table was burnished and shone with Royal Splendor. Seventy thousand Livres in plate will make no small figure, and that is what his Majesty gave him. The desert was servd in the richest China with knives, forks, and spoons of Gold. As you enter his apartments you pass through files of servants into his antichamber, in which is a Throne coverd with green velvet upon which is a Chair of State over which hangs the picture of his Royal Master. These thrones are common to all Ambassadors of the first order as they are the immediate representatives of the king. Through his antichamber you pass into the grand Saloon which is elegantly adornd with architecture, a Beautifull Lusture hanging from the middle. Settees Chairs and hangings of the richest Silk embroiderd with Gold, Marble Slabs upon fluted pillars round which wreaths of artificial flowers in Gold entwine. It is usual to find in all houses of fashion, as in this, several dozen of Chairs, all of which has stuft backs and cushings standing in double rows round the rooms. The dinning room was equally beautifull, being hung with Gobelin tapestry the coulours and figures of which resembled the most elegant painting. In this room were hair bottom mahogony back chairs and the first I have seen since I came to France, two small statues of a venus de Medicis and a venus de bel . . . were upon the Mantle peice, the latter however was the modestest of the kind, having something like a lose robe thrown partly over her.
From the Sweedish Ambassadors we went to visit the Dutchess of D’Anville, who is Mother to the Duke de Rouchfoucault.* We found the old Lady sitting in an Easy chair, around her set a circle of Academicians and by her side a young Lady. Your uncle presented us, and the old Lady rose and as usual gave us a Salute. . . . The dutchess is near 80, very tall and lean. She was drest in a silk chimise with very large sleaves comeing half way down her arm, a large cape, no stays a black velvet Girdle round her waist. Some very rich lace in her chimise round her neck and in her sleaves, but the lace was not sufficient to cover the upper part of her neck which old time had harrow’d. She had no cap on, but a little black gauze Bonet which did not reach her Ears and tied under her chin, her venerable white hair in full view. The dress of old women and young girls in this Country is detestable to speak in the French stile. The latter at the age of Seven being cloathed exactly like a woman of 20 and the former have such a fantastical appearance that I cannot endure it. The old Lady has all the vivacity of a Young one. She is the most learned woman in France. Her house is the resort of all Men of literature with whom she converses upon the most abstruse subjects. She is [of] one of the most ancient as well as richest families in the kingdom. . . .

Thus you have my yesterdays entertainment. The only pleasure which I shall feel to day, is that which I have taken in writing you this morning. I forgot to mention to you that several persons of high rank dined with us yesterday, but not one of them can claim a stroke of my pen after the Baron de Stael.
Adieu my dear Betsy . . . . Yours affectionately
A. A

* Abigail is referring to the character in an epistolary novel by Samuel Richardson first published in 1753 that both she and her niece would have read.
** The Duchess’s son, Louis Alexandre, Duc de La Rochefoucauld, was a leading philosophe and friend of America with a keen interest in American state constitutions. He was killed by a Revolutionary mob in 1792.

The Baron de Stael married the daughter of the French Minister of Finance Jacques Necker, Anne Louise Germaine Necker, who was to achieve fame as “Madame de Staël”. His portrait by the Swedish painter Adolph-Ulrich Wertmüller shows him at the age of thirty three.

The letter can be found at the Massachusetts Historical Society; see this LINK.

posted January 12th, 2017 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Adams, Abigail,Cranch, Elizabeth "Betsy",Paris

“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.]

“on Board the ship Lucretia

My husband has macular degeneration that has affected his ability to read. But we have found ways of working around this. He listens to books borrowed from the library via the Overdrive app on our iPad. He also has earphones which he can use so as not to disturb others. Right now I can say that he is one of the best read men of my acquaintance. He reads at least one book a week ranging from spy novels to the history of the Middle East.

Added to these are the books I read aloud to him. I have always enjoyed reading aloud and we both like the sea tales of Patrick O’Brian. The high point of our day is the hour before dinner devoted to the adventures of Captain Jack Aubrey and Dr. Stephen Maturin. The word pictures O’Brian paints of life at sea on a sailing vessel are technically accurate in their depiction of seamanship, the vagaries of the weather and the terrors of battle. And they are often poetic in their evocation of beauty.

In this blog I have recounted the experiences of several women who crossed the Atlantic. See a few here, here, and here. After reading O’Brian I have a better understanding of the perils they faced at sea.

ABIGAIL ADAMS kept a diary (April 20 to May 1, 1788) during her return trip from England. Herewith an excerpt from that diary. Once on board, passage was delayed by unfavorable weather and the ship was obliged to lay to. Some gentlemen and sailors daily went ashore and returned to the ship at night. Abigail was concerned about her maid [Mrs. Briesler] who was due to give birth and was seasick. As was usual, there were Sunday services on deck for all crew members, as well as passengers who wished to attend. Abigail is critical of the sermon she heard.

[O]n Sunday the 20 of April we embarked on Board the ship Lucretia Captain Callihan. . . .
The wind with which we saild scarcly lasted us 5 hours, but we continued our course untill Monday Evening when it blew such a gale that we were driven back and very glad to get into Portland Harbour. Here we have lain ever since, now 8 days, a Situation not to be desired, yet better far than we should have been either at Sea or in the downs. Whenever I am disposed to be uneasy I reflect a moment upon my preferable Situation to the poor Girl my maid, who is very near her Time, in poor Health and distressingly Sea sick, and I am then silent. I Hush every murmer, and tho much of my anxiety is on her account, I think that God will suit the wind to the shorn Lamb, that we may be carried through our difficulties better than my apprehensions. Trust in the Lord, and do good. I will endeavour to practise this precept. My own Health is better than it has been. We fortunately have a Doctor on Board, and I have taken an old woman out of kindness and given her a passage who seems kind, active and cleaver, is not Sea sick and I hope will be usefull to me. I am much better accommodated than when I came and have not sufferd so much by Sea Sickness. Want of Sleep is the greatest inconvenience I have yet sufferd but I shall not escape so. This day 3 weeks Mr. and Mrs. Smith [Nabby Adams and her husband] saild and my dear Grandson just one Year old for New York in the Thyne packet. I fear they will have a bad time as the Westerly Winds have been so strong. God protect them and give us all a happy meeting in our Native Land. We Lie Here near the Town of Weymouth, and our Gentlemen go on shore almost every day which is an amusement to them and really some to me, as they collect something or other to bring Back with them either Mental or Bodily food. This is Sunday 27 April. Mr. Murry preachd us a Sermon. The Sailors made them-selves clean and were admitted into the Cabbin, attended with great decency to His discourse from these words, “Thou shalt not take the Name of the Lord thy God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him Guiltless that taketh His Name in vain.” He preachd without Notes and in the same Stile which all the Clergymen I ever heard make use of who practise this method, a sort of familiar talking without any kind of dignity yet perhaps better calculated to do good to such an audience, than a more polishd or elegant Stile, but in general I cannot approve of this method. I like to hear a discourse that would read well. If I live to return to America, how much shall I regreet the loss of good Dr. Prices Sermons. They were always a delightfull entertainment to me. I revered the Character and Loved the Man. Tho far from being an orator, his words came from the Heart and reached the Heart. So Humble, so diffident, so liberal and Benevolent a Character does honour to that Religion which he both professes and practises.

On Sunday Eve the wind changed in our favour, so much as to induce the Captain to come to sail. This is Thursday the first of May, but we have made very small progress, the winds have been so light; yesterday we past Sylla and are now out of sight of Land. The weather is very fine and we only want fresher winds. The confinement of a Ship is tedious and I am fully of the mind I was when I came over that I will never again try the Sea. I provided then for my return in the Resolution I took, but now it is absolute. Indeed I have seen enough of the world, small as [it?] has been, and shall be content to learn what is further to be known from the page of History. I do not think the four years I have past abroad the pleasentest part of my Life. Tis Domestick happiness and Rural felicity in the Bosom of my Native Land, that has charms for me. Yet I do not regreet that I made this excursion since it has only more attached me to America.

The above is a fragment. Abigail continued her description of the voyage in a letter to her daughter Nabby written at sea. Some of that letter in the next post. Of note: the Adamses paid ƒ200 for their passage and for the transport of their furniture.

Source: The Founders Archive.

posted September 8th, 2016 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Adams, Abigail,Ocean Voyages

“the Thoat distemper . . . . a terrible disease”

In a letter from London prior to the Adams’s trip to the West Country ABIGAIL ADAMS gives her sister Elizabeth Smith Shaw advice on how to deal with an outbreak of throat distemper. The term referred to infections of the throat, which were very contagious sometimes reaching epidemic proportions. Could have been diphtheria or strep throat. Women of that time were the ones who dealt with illness and nursed the sick. The go-to medical reference was Dr. Buchan’s Domestic Medicine, a copy of which Abigail had carried with her to Europe.

London july 20 [19] 1787my dear sister
I will not plead in excuse that I have not by any of the late vessels received a Line from my Sister, and on that account omit writing to her. I know she would have written to me if she had known early enough of the opportunity I hope she has before this time received all the Letters I have written to her, & the little matters I have sent her— Mrs Cranch wrote me that the Thoat distemper had broken out, with great voilence in Haverhill it is a terrible disease & frequently Baffles the Skill of the Physician. it is so infectious as to expose every person who attends the sick to it, and therefore taking large doses of the Bark in powder is considerd as a good antidote & preservative, but smoking airing washing & cleansing ever article as after the Small Pox in the natural way, is considerd here as absolutely necessary. it has been known to break out in families after the disease had quitted it, only from some infectious garment. I should have advised my sister to have Sent her children immediately out of Town. as she would from the Small Pox in the natural way burning pitch & Tar, Hot viniger, are all good purifiers of the air; I pray Heaven preserve you & yours— I want, yet feel affraid to hear, from you. I hope the warm weather will be the means of abating and removeing the disease. I am something relieved by a Letter from Dr Tufts of the 15 of june if any of my Friends had been sick, he would have mentiond it. . . .
I am my dear Sister with Sincere wishes for / your Health & happiness / your ever affectionate / Sister
A Adams

Source: Founding Families: Digital Editions of the Papers of the Winthrops and the Adamses, ed.C. James Taylor. Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society, 2016.

posted September 1st, 2016 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Adams, Abigail,Illness,Shaw, Elizabeth Smith

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