The Beehive: the official blog of the Massachusetts Historical Society

Fathers’ Day: Louisa Catherine Adams and Joshua Johnson

Fathers have a tremendous impact on the lives of their children; and this is quite evident in the case of the Adams family. While John Adams and John Quincy Adams clearly and significantly influenced their children, I want to highlight the relationship of Louisa Catherine Adams with her father, Joshua Johnson. This relationship not only shaped Louisa’s upbringing, but indeed colored her entire life, and her relationship with the Adamses.

Joshua had moved to London before the Revolutionary War to forward his business interests, and during the 1790s served as the U.S. consul at London. Marrying an English woman, and raising his children in France and England, led some to question his patriotism and Louisa’s need to protect and defend her father’s honor and reputation is evident throughout her writings. This need not only grew out of Joshua Johnson’s long foreign residence but more especially because of her father’s financial circumstances at the period when she married John Quincy Adams. Just as she and John Quincy were married, her father’s business failed. Unable to provide the dowry he had promised and in debt, Joshua Johnson quickly took his family from London back to the United States to attempt to recover his losses. Louisa entered her marriage with the anxiety and shame that her husband and others would think that she and her father had conned John Quincy into marrying her with false promises; it was a sensitivity that never went away.

But for Louisa, her father had been entirely blameless, and this belief she also carried throughout her life. Fortune was unkind. His partners had cheated him. In her Autobiography, “Adventures of a Nobody,” Louisa reminisced:

The qualities of the heart and of the mind, excited a higher aim; and a romantic idea of excellence, the model of which seemed practically to exist before my eyes, in the hourly exhibition of every virtue in my almost idolized Father; had produced an almost mad ambition to be like him; and though fortune has blasted his fair fame; and evil report has assailed his reputation; still while I live I will do honour to his name, and speak of his merit with the honoured love and respect which it deserved— As long as he lived to protect them, his Children were virtuous and happy—amidst poverty and persecution.

Like many adults in times of sorrow or hardship, even at the age of 64, in her Diary in July 1839, she looked back with fondness and nostalgia for her childhood:

My Father! my Dear my honoured my revered Father! In the hour of sickness, of sorrow, of disappointment; memory carries me back to the days of my youth; when on the slightest complaint, I met thy sympathising tenderness, anxious solicitude, and affectionate indulgence to suffering and weakness; and the soothing encouragement which braced the nerves to fortitude, and the spirit to courage! Where in this world is thy likeness to be found! Thou wert not great, but thou wert good!!!

As we celebrate Fathers’ Day, this is yet another reminder that the emotions and relationships, particularly those of parent and child, remain familiar across the centuries.


permalink | Published: Wednesday, 24 June, 2015, 1:00 AM


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