The Beehive: the official blog of the Massachusetts Historical Society

An Anxious Christmas

Christmas 1798 was an anxious one for the Adams family. President John Adams faced a new congressional session and the continued threat of war with France, a presidential cabinet of unknown loyalty, and a fiercely partisan Congress. The situation in his personal life was scarcely more cheery—John marked the day alone in Philadelphia as his dearest friend, Abigail, recuperated from a life-threatening illness in Quincy, and winter weather making her joining him unsafe. Moreover his youngest son, Thomas Boylston, was overdue to arrive in a winter voyage across the Atlantic home to the United States after over four years in Germany.

John had already written to Abigail once on Christmas morning, but picked up his pen a second time later in the day. While the upcoming volume of Adams Family Correspondence will include the first of these letters as it is more detailed and substantial, this second letter will be omitted. In his brief second letter, he told her about the ride he took through what he describes as a picturesque winter wonderland around Philadelphia on a sunny day. He also tried to reassure Abigail from afar that there was no need to worry if no news of their son’s arrival had yet reached her:

I have rode in the Coaches with Mr [William Smith] shaw over Grays Ferry and round by Hamiltons Woodlands over the Upper Ferry home, about ten miles [James] Kiggin says. more beautifull Slaying never was seen. The snow not as with you excessively deep, but enough to cover all the Earth and deep enough to afford a very smooth path and beautifully white as Innocence itself. Yet the sun melts the snow and it runs from the Roofs and fills the air with a Chilly Vapour which destroys the Comforts as well as beauty of Winter in this place.— How soon a warm rain and thorough Thaw may happen to break all up & make the Roads impossible, none can tell.

Christmas is arrived but I dont hear of T. B. Adams’s Arrival at Newbury Port. I hope you have before this: but if you have not dont be anxious—long Passages very long are very frequent at this season.

Although the Adamses did not celebrate Christmas the way it is commonly celebrated today, it was still a day that brought a short respite from work if not from worry with an eye toward an approaching new year.


permalink | Published: Wednesday, 21 December, 2016, 12:00 AM


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