Before They Became Sister-in-laws: Louisa and Nabby

Interesting in the light of the subsequent connection between Louisa Catherine Johnson and Abigail “Nabby” Adams as sister-in-laws is their relationship before the family tie was even dreamed of. In 1783 the Johnsons returned to London where Louisa’s father became the American consul. Nabby married Colonel William Stephens Smith in London in 1786, and when she and her husband, after an absence, returned to London in 1792, they socialized with the Johnsons, and Nabby and Louisa became good friends. See a post by Nabby Adams here.

Our acquaintance was enlarged and I will say improved—the very familiar footing on which we lived made their society delightful to us. Whenever the Col dined from home Mrs. S. would bring her Children early in the morning and pass the day with us and as this happened very frequently it brought us together continually—It was my delight to dress her and I was often employed in making up Articles of Millinery which I used to insist upon her wearing and in which she looked beautiful—She was one of the most placid quiet beings I ever saw; very cold in her general manners; but when she laughed or entered into the spirit of gaiety which was very often, she seemed to be the life of the party—She would romp or dance and partake of all the jokes like one of us and she was perfectly adored by the family—The Col’s manners . . . were irrisistable and we seldom sat down to our favorite Suppers without him—

Thus years rolled on and we were too happy to think of the lapse of time. In the Summer the Col and my father took a house between them at Brighton where we lived together six weeks but the air disagreed so much with my Mother we were obliged to leave it and we all returned to Town together—

Mrs. Smith was one of the most really amiable women I ever saw, and under the appearance of coldness and reserve was very affectionate in her disposition—. . . . I loved her then and still better after I became her Sister [in-law]. At that period we had little idea that such a circumstance would ever happen—

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 19-20. The illustration of Louisa was created between 1834 and 1860 and is from the United States Library of Congress’s Prints and Photographs division under the digital ID cph.3a16702.


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