John Quincy Adams (JQA) grows up in the northern part of the small rural town of Braintree, Massachusetts, now Quincy. On horseback it takes the better part of a day to ride into and back from Boston, a chore young JQA often performs to send and pick up mail (his father being the most important correspondent) and to fetch supplies. His love of this rocky seaside landscape of open vistas and forests remains with him even after extensive travels in Europe and North America.

JQA’s mother, born Abigail Smith, is the daughter of a prominent minister from neighboring Weymouth. Although she receives no formal schooling, she is an avid reader who develops a powerful and distinct style of writing. She has four children who survive to adulthood. The oldest, Abigail 2d, is followed by three brothers: John Quincy, Charles, and Thomas Boylston.

JQA’s father, who will become the second president of the United States, is a practicing attorney. He rides the court circuit from Maine (then part of Massachusetts) to Cape Cod, but until JQA turns seven, he is usually home with his family in Boston or on their family farm. In 1774, the family routine changes forever. John Adams leaves for Philadelphia as a delegate to the congress that will take a united stand against British policies. John Adams will spend the rest of his career embroiled in the politics of independence and of establishing a new nation. As he helps fill in for his missing father, JQA will assume a number of adult chores and responsibilities.

While often separated from one another by great distances, the Adamses "listen" carefully to one another in their correspondence, and their commitment to family shines through their letters. The letters of section 1 are among the earliest surviving writings of John Quincy Adams. They reveal a great deal about the emerging personality of a young boy who will grow up to become a secretary of state, the sixth president of the United States, and later an influential congressman.

Image credits:

Birthplaces of John Adams and John Quincy Adams. Watercolor by G. N. Frankenstein, 1849.
Courtesy of the Adams National Historic Site, National Park Service.
Abigail Adams. Pastel on paper by Benjamin Blyth, ca. 1766. Massachusetts Historical Society.
John Adams. Pastel on paper by Benjamin Blyth, ca. 1766. Massachusetts Historical Society.