Louisa Catherine Adams: “Record of a Life”

Louisa Catherine Adams was the wife of President John Quincy Adams, the only foreign-born First Lady. In the summer of 1825, a few months after moving into the White House, she began a memoir for her three children—George Washington, John 2nd, and Charles Francis. In “Record of a Life” she recalled events of her childhood and young adulthood, breaking off shortly following her marriage to John Quincy Adams. Louisa did not resume her narrative until 1840 when she began writing “Adventures of a Nobody.” A new volume designed to make her writings and observations more easily accessible was published earlier this year. It is from this volume (see below) that the quoted passages are taken.

Louisa Catherine was the daughter of an English mother, Catherine Nuth, and an American merchant, Joshua Johnson from Maryland who was representing an American firm in London. An intelligent and gifted child she adored her parents and they doted on her. One of eventually nine children—eight sisters and one brother—she enjoyed a close relationship with her older sister Anne and a younger sibling named by her parents in a fit of patriotism Carolina Virginia Marylanda. When the American Revolution was imminent, for safety’s sake, her father moved his family to Nantes in France when Louisa was about three. This early period of her life she considered her happiest: the scenes of her childhood Louisa recalls as “visions of delight in which all was joy and peace and love.”

From portrait painted when she was eighteen, she appears to have been petite, with a fair complexion, hazel eyes, and red hair.

As I am interested in Sarah Livingston Jay I was delighted to discover Louisa’s impression of the Jays who were living in Paris at the same time as the Johnsons. (Nabby Adams described what Madame de Lafayette thought of Mrs. Jay in an earlier post.)

Of our journey I do not remember any thing until we arrived in Paris. There we had elegant Apartments in one of the best hotels, and a day or two after our arrival the Children at the request of Mr. & Mrs. [John] Jay were all sent to pay their respects. Mr. Jay was then in Paris I believe as Minister [peace commissioner]. Mrs. Jay was a very Lady like looking woman and she had two daughters children like ourselves but dressed in the plain English fashion white Frocks and Pink Sashes which appeared to me much prettier than the silk dress and hoop which I was used to wear. Their establishment was handsome and their kindness unbounded and I have always looked back with pleasure to this visit which is the only thing that occurred in my stay in Paris which had stamped itself upon my mind.

The painting of Louisa Catherine Adams is by Edward Savage c. 1794. It is at the Adams National Historical Park and can be seen HERE. The information and quoted passages are from A Traveled First Lady: Writings of Louisa Catherine Adams edited by Margaret A. Hogan and C. James Taylor (Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2014), pages 1-5.

posted October 2nd, 2014 by Janet, CATEGORIES: Americans Abroad, Children, Clothes, France, London, Paris


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