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Abigail Adams - One of America's Founding Mothers

Posted on Friday, January 17, 2020

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Birth: November 22, 1744
Death: October 28, 1818 (age 73)
Colony: Massachusetts
Occupation: Advisor to John Adams
Significance: Served as first Second Lady of the United Sates (1789-1797); and served as the second First Lady of the United States (1797-1801)

Abigail Adams Portrait

Abigail Adams was born Abigail Smith in Massachusetts in 1744. Born to a prominent family in the Boston area, Abigail nonetheless never received a formal education, but she was taught to read and write by her mother, and Abigail read extensively. Abigail met her future husband John Adams at a young age and married him a few years later in 1764 at age 20. Abigail had six children with John, three of whom survived to adulthood. Abigail cared for the couple's children while John became a prominent Boston lawyer and was increasingly involved in politics. When John traveled to Philadelphia for the Continental Congresses, Abigail stayed behind and managed the family farm and controlled the family's finances.

Although John did not realize it at the time, when he left for the Second Continental Congress in Philadelphia in 1775, he would not return home for more than a few months stay for over a decade. During the extensive time apart, Abigail and John exchanged and incredible number of letters. Abigail's letters detailed the situation in the Boston area throughout the Revolutionary War and John's letters discussed some of the most important decisions in American history. Together, their letters stand as some of the most important contemporaneous writings to paint a picture of the time period with the American Revolution. In these writings, Abigail's influence over John is clear, and Abigail was unafraid to debate John and discuss the important topics of Continental Congress. In her writings, she was particularly vocal about her distaste for slavery and her support of women's rights. Famously Abigail wrote to John in March of 1776 the following:

“I long to hear that you have declared an independency. And, by the way, in the new code of laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make, I desire you would remember the ladies and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the husbands. Remember, all men would be tyrants if they could. If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation.”

In 1783, John Adams helped to negotiate the Treaty of Paris which ended the American Revolutionary War and subsequently it was decided that it was safe enough for Abigail to travel to France to join her husband while he continued in his diplomatic role in France. Abigail then traveled with John to London when he was named Ambassador to Great Britain in 1785. Abigail finally returned home in 1788. In 1789, John Adams was elected Vice President of the United States.

Abigail, as the first Second Lady of the United States, traveled with John to New York and then to Philadelphia when the Capital of the United States was relocated to Philadelphia. In 1797, John was elected President of the United States and so Abigail stayed in Philadelphia and served as the second First Lady of the United States. While Abigail continued the traditions of the First Lady established by Martha Washington as the primary host of state dinners and events, Abigail also took an active role in the governing of the country as one of John's most trusted advisors, a stark contrast from Martha who did not participate in politics at all. When the Capital of the United States moved to Washington D.C. in 1800, Abigail became the first First Lady to live at The White House.

Like Martha Washington and Betsy Ross, for example, Abigail Adams represents the feminine face of the American Revolution.

After Adams' presidency ended, the Adams moved back to Massachusetts where they lived in retirement for many years. Abigail died in 1818 at the age of 73.

Abigail Adams in Philadelphia

Adams lived in Philadelphia for a decade from 1790 until 1800 while the city served as the Capital of the United States. For seven years, she served as the Second Lady (the wife of the Vice-President), and then in 1797, she became the nation's second First Lady. While First Lady, Adams lived in Philadelphia at the corner of 6th and Market Streets in a mansion known as the President's House, the predecessor to The White House. While the President's House no longer stands today, there is an exhibit at the location where the house once stood that contains some of the original foundation of the house. Today, the President's House site is one of the stops on The Constitutional Walking Tour!

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