By Nancy Heywood
On 12 August 1811 in St. Petersburg, Russia, where John Quincy Adams (JQA) was posted as a diplomat, his wife, Louisa Catherine, gave birth to a daughter. This baby, their first daughter, was named after her mother. The couple already had three sons– George Washington Adams (born 1801), John Adams (born 1803), and Charles Francis Adams (born 1807)—although only their youngest son had accompanied them to Russia. Their two older sons were left in the care of relatives in Massachusetts. Louisa Catherine was anguished about leaving two of her children behind, but JQA felt it was the best decision given the circumstances of a long transatlantic journey and the daunting logistics of setting up diplomatic operations as well as a household in a foreign country.
JQA’s succinct line-a-day diary entry for 12 August 1811 (“My wife gave me a daughter. Galloway came. Montreal here, and Hall. Patterson. Plummer, Ashton, Marks &c. “) doesn’t convey much about his thoughts regarding the arrival of young Louisa. However, based on other documents JQA wrote on the same day, it appears that he was indeed happy, a bit awestruck, but also very concerned about the welfare of his wife, who was in labor for a long time.
JQA’s full diary entry for 12 August 1811 begins, “I bless God, for the birth of a daughter this Evening at 7. O’Clock- My wife had been taken with short pains from 7 in the morning…” and indicated that after the birth (during which Louisa was probably tended to by a nurse) JQA sent for Dr. Galloway who arrived at 9:00 in the evening and made sure “Mrs. Adams was as well as the circumstances admitted.”
JQA also wrote two letters after the birth of his daughter. (JQA kept copies of these letters in a letterbook volume 11, part of the Adams Family Papers, available on microfilm, reel 135.) One letter was sent to his mother-in-law in which he communicated “the joyful tidings.” The other letter was sent to his mother, Abigail Adams, and not only does he describe his new child as his “charming daughter,” he also expresses some humor–“I think this will convince you that ‘the climate of St. Petersburg is not too cold to produce an American.’” JQA was quick to explain his humorous remark: “I hope that you will not think a little levity in this manner of stating to you the fact, incompatible with a heart overflowing with gratitude to God for this new blessing that I have received at his hands.” JQA also writes of “the deep anxieties of my own heart” regarding his wife’s difficult labor and towards the end of the letter he refers to his wife as his “dearest friend” (a term that his parents often used when writing to each other). The passage reads: “To the tender mercies of that Being from whom every good and perfect gift proceeds I commit the Mother and the child, imploring the aid of his Spirit, that my dearest friend may … be restored to health….”
[Warning to JQAdams_MHS Twitter followers–spoiler alert:] Tragically, young Louisa Catherine only lived thirteen months, and died on 15 September 1812 following a severe infection. Her death devastated her parents. Not only had they welcomed their daughter while they were living in St. Petersburg, Russia, but they also had to say goodbye and bury her there.
Sources for further reading:
Allgor, Catherine. “A Republican in a Monarchy: Louisa Catherine Adams in Russia” from Diplomatic History, volume 21 (Winter 1997): pp. 15-43.
Butterfield, L. H. “Tending a Dragon-Killer: Notes for the Biographer of Mrs. John Quincy Adams” from Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, v. 118, no. 2 (Apr. 1974), pp. 165-178.
Nagel, Paul C. John Quincy Adams: A Public Life, A Private Life. (NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 1997).