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.


comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Wednesday, 24 June, 2015, 1:00 AM

This Week @ MHS

It is another quiet week at the MHS with only two items on the calendar. First up, on Wednesday, 24 June, is the MHS Fellows Annual Meeting & Reception. MHS Fellows are invited to the Society's annual business meeting and reception. The meeting begins at 5:00PM and registration is required at no cost. Plesae call 617-646-0572 with any questions. This event is open only to MHS Fellows

And on Saturday, 27 June, if you find yourself strolling about the city and enjoying the new summer, why not stop by for a free tour? The History and Collections of the MHS is a free, docent-led, 90-minute tour that exposes visitors to all of the public spaces at the Society, while providing information about the art and architecture, history, and collections here. The tour is open to the public. Larger parties (8 or more), please contact Curator of Art Anne Bentley in advance at or 617-646-0508.

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Saturday, 20 June, 2015, 5:00 PM

Doctor & Artist Samuel W. Everett

The Everett-Boyle papers fill only half of a narrow box here at the MHS, but they include a lot of terrific material from these two interrelated families. One of the family members represented in the collection is Samuel Williams Everett (1820-1862), who served during the Civil War as a surgeon in the Illinois Infantry and later as brigade surgeon. (The Everett family is originally from Boston, which is why their papers happen to be here.)

Unfortunately, we don’t have any of Everett’s war-time correspondence—at least not intact. Some letter fragments obviously date from that time, but the only complete letters by him were written between 1835 and 1851. What the collection does contain, however, are many of his fantastic drawings, beginning when he was a teenager and continuing into the war years. Here are some of my favorites:

“Camp at Lamine river, near Otterville.”

“View up the Ohio at Cairo.”

“Fort Prentiss. Cairo.”


“Military Ball.”


It’s not just Everett’s artwork that makes his letters so entertaining. He was also a gifted storyteller. Even when narrating the mundane happenings of his life, he elaborated and exaggerated for comedic effect. In one letter from early 1851, he wrote about how his coat and some surgical instruments were stolen from his room, and the whole thing reads like a whodunit, complete with a whimsical “royal we”: “On that evil day the sun shone brightly, & we were tempted out to our dinner without a coat, which garment was left sweetly slumbering with the Case of Instruments in its pocket.” The story is illustrated in several panels, ending with an image of two empty nooses captioned: “View of the gallows, upon which the thieves are yet unhung.”

Everett’s description of his brother’s wedding is hilarious:

 The parson retreated to avoid being knocked over in the rush of congratulation and kissing. The latter part, it was previously agreed, was to have been omitted at the particular request of the mother, the bride and the bridesmaids; but as in several rehearsals of the performance the rule had been relaxed, so it was at the ceremony and was extended to every young lady present; and repeated upon the discovery that one had been omitted.

(It was either at this wedding or shortly before that he met the bride’s cousin, his future wife, Mary Smith. He described her this way: “In spite of her common name, an uncommonly pretty girl.”)

In another letter, Everett related a humorous—though frightening—incident involving a runaway carriage, when he lost control of his horse’s reins as it raced down the street and sent bystanders scurrying for cover: “Sounds of ‘woe’ were raised from all quarters & sundry individuals appeared willing to sacrifice their lives in trying to stop the runaway, but they only stopped themselves upon re-considering the question.”

Other creative touches make his letters a real pleasure to read. When writing to his family, he addressed different paragraphs to different family members with headings like: “The Misses E.” “Anybody.” “Mrs. E.” “Ditto.” Along the top of one letter, he wrote a note that actually made me laugh out loud: “Nothing worth stopping to read in the street.”

Everett also had a talent for rebuses. Anyone care to take a stab at solving either of these in the comments section below? (Hint: the second snippet is from a published work not original to Everett.)

Everett was shot and killed at the Battle of Shiloh in Tennessee on 6 Apr. 1862, not even one year into his military service. Multiple sources, including The Medical and Surgical History of the War of the Rebellion, identify him as the first Union medical officer killed in action. His “talent for drawing” was noted in his obituary in the 1864 Transactions of the American Medical Association (pp.212-4).


comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Wednesday, 17 June, 2015, 1:00 AM

This Week @ MHS

As our season of programs winds down, there is but a single lonely item on the calendar this week. Join us on Saturday, 20 June, for the History and Collections of the MHS. This free tour, open to the poublic, is led by a docent and lasts about 90 minutes. Visitors will tour the public spaces at the Society while learning about the art, architecture, history, and collections held here. No need for reservations for individuals and small groups. However, large parties (8 or more) should contact Curator of Art Anne Bentley in advance at 617-646-0508 or

And do not forget to come in and view our current exhibition. Open to the public and free of charge, "God Save the People!: From the Stamp Act to Bunker Hill" features documents, images, art, and artifacts from the Society's holdings to illustrate this turbulent time in the city's (and the nation's) history. The exhibit is open Monday-Saturday, 10:00AM-4:00PM.

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Saturday, 13 June, 2015, 5:00 PM

Sneak Peek! The Inaugural GLCA Boston Summer Seminar

Eighteen months ago, I sat down for lunch with former MHS research fellow Dr. Natalie Dykstra (Hope College), author of Clover Adams: A Gilded and Heartbreaking Life (Houghton Mifflin, 2012). Over the meal, Natalie mentioned that she had been offered the opportunity to develop a faculty-student collaborative research program here in Boston for the Great Lakes Colleges Association (GLCA). From this seed of an idea, over the past year and a half, we have grown the GLCA Boston Summer Seminar, hosted here at the MHS this June.

Between June 1-18 we have three research teams in residence here in Boston, conducting research at five partner institutions: the MHS, the Center for the History of Medicine at Countway Library, Houghton Library, Northeastern University Archives & Special Collections, and Schlesinger Library. We are also offering behind-the-scenes archives tours and evening seminars with guest speakers who share their own experiences working with a wide range of archival materials. You can follow the Seminar in progress @GLCABOSTON.

Over the past five years, the MHS library has seen a dramatic increase in the number of undergraduate students who come through our doors or contact us remotely looking for sources to complete projects in various disciplines from architecture to English to history and political science. As a historian and librarian, I am excited to both observe and support these young researchers as they learn to navigate special collections material.

Some of these students will go on to careers in academic and public history or library science; hopefully all of them will develop a better appreciation for how historical sources can contribute to contemporary understanding. The six students participating in this inaugural Boston Summer Seminar are engaged in original, thoughtful research and I look forward to seeing where their projects take them!


comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Friday, 12 June, 2015, 12:00 AM

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