Archive for the ‘Smith, Abigail “Nabby” Adams’ Category

“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 (Smith),London,Smith, Abigail "Nabby" Adams,Smith, William Stevens,Travel

“Mrs. Adams’s drawing room”

ELIZABETH STODDERT, the daughter of Rebecca and Benjamin Stoddert, President Adams’s secretary of the navy, wrote to her aunt in January 1800 from Philadelphia describing the memorial held there for George Washington who had died in December.

There was a funeral eulogium last Thursday pronounced by General Lee, and the most splendid procession ever seen in America. . . . Mamma was not well enough to go to the procession. . . .
I must not omit to tell you, that though mama has not been as yet to wait on Mrs. Adams, that good and handsome old lady called to see her this afternoon, with her daughter Mrs. Smith, and brought more plum-cake for the children than all of them could eat. You may be sure after this she is a great favorite of the whole family.

REBECCA STODDERT wrote to her sister on February 23, 1800 of her visit to Mrs. Adams levée.

. . . . I have been to . . . Mrs. Adams’s drawing room, which was a very full one, and well worth going to . . . . Mrs. Adams was extremely kind. . . . she not only desired me to move from a window where I was sitting, but in the course of the evening sent to me to know if I would have some drops. From my pale looks she took it in her head that I was going to faint, which brought a little red to my cheeks. . . .
I have been kindly and prettily asked by both Mr. and Mrs. Liston [Robert Liston was the British minister plenipotentiary to the United States] to go to their house the public day of having company, which is something like Mrs. Adams’s drawing room, only that Mrs. Liston sometimes has dances and at others cards. She mentions in the winter when they commence, and that is looked upon as an invitation, and all of her acquaintances go that choose it or that wish to show her respect. I go because I respect them both extremely.

Mrs. Stoddert wrote again in April 1800:

I saw Mrs. Washington when she was in Philadelphia for the first time in my life. I visited her in the morning at Mrs. Powell’s where she stayed, and in the evening she very politely called on me, but I could not prevail on her to stay to tea. She left the city the next morning, and is expected to return the first of May, when I hope I shall see her again. She appears to be a mild, lady-like woman. I should like to hear her sing. I am sure I have heard she excelled in both playing and singing.

Congress met in Washington for the first time in the fall of 1800. In 1791, it had passed the Residence Act designating an area along the Potomac River as the site of the capital of the United States. (It was in the center of the country at that time.) Land was donated from both Maryland and Virginia and the city to be built there was called Washington, often referred to as the “Federal City.” It was in an unfinished state when Abigail Adams took up a brief residence in the president’s house. See her amusing description of its condition she penned to her daughter Nabby.
When Thomas Jefferson took office in 1801, Mrs. Stoddert briefly returned to her home in Georgetown but she and her husband shortly moved to Bostwick in Maryland which Rebecca had inherited from her father. She died there in 1802. The family’s finances were much reduced by Benjamin Stoddert’s speculation in land by the time he died in 1813. Husband and wife are buried in Addison Chapel in St. George’s County, Maryland.

Kate Mason Rowland, “Philadelphia a Century Ago, Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine, Volume 62, 1898, pages 815, 817-18. Henrietta Liston’s portrait is by Gilbert Stuart, 1800. My colleague and friend Louise North has compiled and edited The Travel Journals of Henrietta Marchant Liston (Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books, 2014). It is a great read.

posted May 16th, 2016 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Adams, Abigail,Capital of the United States,Philadelphia,Smith, Abigail "Nabby" Adams,Stoddert, Benjamin,Stoddert, Elizabeth,Stoddert, Rebecca Lowndes,Washington, George

“too much dissipation and frivolity of amusement”

An article by Margaret L. Brown on Mr. and Mrs. William Bingham in The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography includes several impressions of ANNE WILLING BINGHAM by women that give a good idea of what she was like. Anna Rawle wrote to her mother shortly after the Bingham wedding in 1780:

Speaking of handsome women brings Nancy [a nickname for Anne] Willing to my mind. She might set for the Queen of Beauty, and is lately married to Bingham, who returned from the West Indies with an immense fortune. They have set out in highest style; nobody here will be able to make the figure they do; equipage, house, cloathes, are all the newest taste,—and yet some people wonder at the match. She but sixteen and such a perfect form. His appearance is less amiable.

The Binghams traveled to London in 1783 and Anne had her second child there. When the family went to Paris in 1784 the Adamses—Abigail, John, and daughter Abigail called Nabby, were often in their company. Mrs. Adams described Anne in a letter to her friend Mercy Otis Warren as “a very young lady, not more than twenty, very agreeable, and very handsome. . . .” Nabby noted in her journal after a dinner party her parents gave which included the Binghams:

Mrs. Bingham . . . is pretty, a good figure, but rather still. She has not been long enough in this country to have gained that ease of air and manner which is peculiar to the women here; and when it does not exceed the bounds of delicacy, is very pleasing. . . . I admire her that she is not in the smallest degree tinctured with indelicacy. She has, from the little acquaintance I have had with her, genuine principles; she is very sprightly and very pleasing.

The Adams family were invited to dinner at the Binghams some time later after which Nabby wrote:

{Mrs. Bingham] is possessed of more ease and politeness in her behaviour, than any person I have seen. She joins in every conversation in company; and when engaged herself in conversing with you, she will, by joining directly in another chitchat with another party, convince you that she was all attention to everyone. She has a taste for show, but not above her circumstances.

The Adamses did not regard William Bingham so highly and became rather critical of the lavish life style of the Binghams in Paris. Mrs. Adams was quite shocked when Anne confessed that she was so delighted with Paris that she preferred to stay there rather than return home. In a letter to her niece Mrs. Adams wrote that Mrs. Bingham “was too young to come abroad without a pilot, [and] gives too much into the follies of this country. . . . ” In the following year she wrote to her sister:

The intelligence of her countenance, or rather, I ought to say animation, the elegance of her form, and the affability of her manners, convert you into admiration; and one has only to lament too much dissipation and frivolity of amusement, which have weaned her from her native country, and given her a passion and thirst after all the luxuries of Europe.

The Binghams returned to Philadelphia in 1786 and Anne brought with her clothing in the latest Paris styles. Molly Tilghman remarked on her appearance at a party given by Mary White Morris and her husband Robert. Mrs. Bingham appeared

in a dress which eclips’d any that has yet been seen. A Robe a la Turke of black Velvet, Rich White sattin Petticoat, body and sleeves, the whole trim’d with Ermine. A large Bouquet of natural flowers supported by a knot of Diamonds, Large Buckles, Necklace and Earrings of Diamonds, Her Head ornamented with Diamond Sprigs interspersed with artificial flowers, above all, wav’d a towering plume of snow white feathers.

The Binghams in Philadelphia wanted to impress and entertain in style. To do so they had built a large, and some said, pretentious home. In the next post read what a visitor had to say about it.

Margaret L. Brown, “Mr. and Mrs. William Bingham of Philadelphia: Rulers of the Republican Court”, The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, Vol. 61, No. 3 (July 1937), 286, 290, 291, 293, 294. Sources include William Brooke Rawle, “Laurel Hill,” The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography (1911), XXXV. 398, Anna Rawle to Mrs. Samuel Shoemaker, November 4, 1780; Charles Francis Adams (ed.), Letters of Mrs. Adams, the Wife of John Adams (Boston, 1848, 4th ed.), 203, September 5, 1784; C. A. S. DeWindt (ed.), Journal and Correspondence of Abigail Adams Smith (N.Y. 1841), I. 19, September 25, 1784 and I. 28-29, October 26, 1784; Letters of Mrs. Adams, 207-208, December 3, 1784 and September 30, 1785; “Letters of Molly and Hetty Tilghman,” Maryland Historical Magazine (1926), XXI. 145-46, Molly Tilghman to Polly Pearce, February 18, 1787.

posted April 19th, 2016 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Adams, Abigail,Americans Abroad,Bingham, Anne Willing,Bingham, William,Fashion,France,London,Morris, Mary White,Paris,Philadelphia,Rawle, Anna,Smith, Abigail "Nabby" Adams,Tilghman, Molly,Warren, Mercy Otis

“Nabby” Adams’ Ordeal

In Recognition of Breast Cancer Awareness Month this post recounts the experience of Abigail Adams Smith with breast cancer. Nabby, as she was called (featured in the last post), developed a tumor in her breast at the age of 45. She journeyed, from upstate New York where she was living, to her parents’ home in Massachusetts. She wrote a letter to the famous doctor Benjamin Rush describing her condition and requesting his advice. Her letter was enclosed with one from her father to Rush on September 12, 1811. She wrote:

… about May 1810 I first perceived a hardness in my right Breast just above the nipple which occasioned me an uneasy sensation, like a burning some times an itching & at time a deep darting pain through the Breast, but without any discolouration at all. it has continued to Contract and the Breast has become much smaller than it was. the tumor appears now about the size of a Cap, and does not appear to adhere but it be loose.… I applied to a Physician and he recommended me to apply a Plaister of the cicuta*.… I have also taken a considerable of cicuta in Pills, but I thought they produced a heaviness in my head…. I have consulted several Physicians upon the Subject they have all advised me not to make any outward application to it…. Still I am uneasy upon the Subject—for I think I observe it becoming harder and a little redness at times on the skin…. Dr Warren who has seen it told me that in its present state he would not advise me to do anything for it….

* Hemlock: a poultice prepared with the leaves of the plant was applied topically to treat tumours.

Doctor Rush chose to reply to his old friend John Adams, rather than writing to Nabby herself about such a sensitive topic. Below are excerpts from Rush’s letter to John Adams:

… After the experience of more than 50 years in cases similar to hers, I must protest against all local applications and internal medicines for her relief. They now and then cure, but in 19 cases out of 20 in tumors in the breast they do harm or suspend the disease until it passes beyond that time in which the only radical remedy is ineffectual. The remedy is the knife. From her account of the moving state of the tumor, it is now in a proper situation for the operation. Should she wait till it suppurates or even inflames much, it may be too late. The pain of the operation is much less than her fears represent it to be …. I repeat again, let there be no delay in flying to the knife. Her time of life calls for expedition in this business, for tumors such as hers tend much more rapidly to cancer after 45 than in more early life. I sincerely sympathize with her and with you and your dear Mrs. Adams in this family affliction, but it will be but for a few minutes if she submit to have it extirpated, and if not, it will probably be a source of distress and pain to you all for years to come. It shocks me to think of the consequences of procrastination in her case.

Following the reply from Rush, dated September 20, Nabby had the breast removed. Read the distressing account of the surgery performed on Nabby in James Olson’s book, Bathsheba’s Breast, (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002) Nabby hoped she had been cured. But her mother wrote to her brother John Quincy on October 22, 1813:

we are all well, except your Sister Smith, who has had a very sick winter, she has so far recovered, as I hope, to be upon her journey here again, John has undertaken to get her here at her most earnest request. I fear it will be, to be laid by her Ancestors. Such are her complaints; that I fear I shall have one of the distressing and trying scenes of my Life to go through To heaven I submit, trusting that as my trials are, so will my strength be—

Nabby died in 1813 from a recurrence and spread of the cancer.

For Nabby’s description of her problem and her mother’s comments see a presentation made on November 4, 2013 at the South Shore Hospital on Long Island, New York, sponsored by the Abigail Adams Historical Society. For Rush’s reply see “Benjamin Rush on Cancer,” by Michael Shimkin in Cancer Research, 1976; 36:2117-2118.

posted October 30th, 2014 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Adams, Abigail,Adams, John,Death,Health,Medicine,Smith, Abigail "Nabby" Adams

“I was never so well at sea before.”

Abigail Adams, called Nabby, was the eldest child of John and Abigail Adams. She had married Colonel William Stephen Smith in London in 1786 while Smith was serving on the staff of John Adams, the American minister to the Court of St. James’s at the time. The next year Nabby had her first child William Steuben. The Smiths returned to America in 1788 and settled in New York where Nabby had two more children, the younger of whom died shortly before his first birthday. Nabby’s father, John Adams, became vice president in 1789 when a new government was formed after the ratification of the Constitution. Smith’s business ventures took the family back to London between 1790 and 1793. In the following letter written to her mother upon their return to New York in 1793, Nabby describes their voyage, undertaken in the winter when the trip could be expected to be difficult, and the reason for their departure from London.

New-York, Feb. 9th, 1792. [1793]It is with very great pleasure that I address you, my dear mamma, from this place again. You will be as agreeably surprised as our friends here were, the evening before the last, to see us, and find us safe at New-York; for our arrival was wholly unexpected to them. We avoided informing our friends of our intentions, knowing that their anxious solicitude for our safety would render them unhappy. We left England the 23d of December, in the Portland packet, at a season when our friends there thought we were almost out of our senses. But we have been highly favoured, having had a very pleasant passage—not knowing what cold weather was until a day or two before we landed; we neither saw nor experienced the want of a fire during our passage; and for three weeks had such warm weather that we were obliged to sleep with our windows open in the cabin. Our course was to the southward as far as the latitude of 30 degrees, and we were greatly favoured in coming upon our own coast. I can scarcely realize that it was mid-winter. We have all been very well upon our passage; the children look finely, and Col. Smith is very well; for myself, I was never so well at sea before. We had an excellent ship and a good captain; our accommodations were convenient; we had four poor expatriated French priests, on their route to Canada, as fellow-passengers, but they did not incommode us, we having two cabins. We had a passage of 45 days, and feel ourselves quite at home again. . . . But it is time to tell you the cause of our leaving England, which was the prospect of a war on the ocean in the spring, and we did not like the idea of crossing it with bullets whizzing round our heads. Some business, also was an inducement.

England informs France that if they attempt to open the navigation of the Scheldt, that they shall join the Dutch; this is the ostensible cause for arming, which they are doing with great vigour. But they dread internal commotions, and are fortifying the Tower, directing the guns upon the city, preparing to build barracks in the Royal Exchange—placed a double guard at the Bank; breaking up all societies for reforms of Parliament, and forbidding, by proclamations, the meeting of all societies who call themselves republicans; burning Tom Paine in almost every capital town in England in effigy, with the rights of man in one hand, and a pair of old stays in the other. In short, doing just what he wishes, I presume, making him of more consequence than his own writings could possibly effect. He is falling off pretty much in France.

Col. Smith sets off on Tuesday for Philadelphia. I shall remain here. I shall have a strong inclination to make you a visit, for I must be a visiter until May, as we have no house. We think to take one in the country for the summer. If you were in Philadelphia, I should soon be with you. I hear my father has quite renewed his youth, and that he is growing very popular; that the abuse is directed to another quarter.
Remember me to my brother, and all other friends, and believe me, / Your affectionate daughter,
A. Smith.

The letter can be found in the Adams Papers Digital Edition online HERE.

posted October 27th, 2014 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Adams, Abigail,Adams, John,Ocean Voyages,Smith, Abigail "Nabby" Adams,Travel

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