Adams Family Correspondence, volume 2

Abigail Adams to John Adams, 14 August 1776 AA JA Abigail Adams to John Adams, 14 August 1776 Adams, Abigail Adams, John
Abigail Adams to John Adams
August 14 1776 1

I wrote you to day by Mr. Smith but as I suppose this will reach you sooner, I omitted mentioning any thing of my family in it.

Nabby has enough of the small Pox for all the family beside. She is pretty well coverd, not a spot but what is so soar that she can neither walk sit stand or lay with any comfort. She is as patient as one can expect, but they are a very soar sort. If it was a disorder to which we could be subject more than once I would go as far as it was possible to avoid it. She is sweld a good deal. You will receive a perticuliar account before this reaches you of the uncommon manner in which the small Pox acts, it bafels the skill of the most Experience'd here. Billy Cranch is now out with about 40, and so well as not to be detaind at Home an hour for it. Chariy remains in the same state he did.

Your Letter of August 3 came by this days Post. I find it very conveniant to be so handy. I can receive a Letter at Night, sit down and reply to it, and send it of in the morning.

You remark upon the deficiency of Education in your Countrymen. It never I believe was in a worse state, at least for many years. The Colledge is not in the state one could wish, the Schollars complain that their professer in Philosophy is taken of by publick Buisness to their great detriment.2 In this Town I never saw so great a neglect 94of Education. The poorer sort of children are wholly neglected, and left to range the Streets without Schools, without Buisness, given up to all Evil. The Town is not as formerly divided into Wards. There is either too much Buisness left upon the hands of a few, or too little care to do it. We daily see the Necessity of a regular Government.—You speak of our Worthy Brother.3 I often lament it that a Man so peculiarly formed for the Education of youth, and so well qualified as he is in many Branches of Litrature, excelling in Philosiphy and the Mathematicks, should not be imployd in some publick Station. I know not the person who would make half so good a Successor to Dr. Winthrope. He has a peculiar easy manner of communicating his Ideas to Youth, and the Goodness of his Heart, and the purity of his morrals without an affected austerity must have a happy Effect upon the minds of Pupils.

If you complain of neglect of Education in sons, What shall I say with regard to daughters, who every day experience the want of it. With regard to the Education of my own children, I find myself soon out of my debth, and destitute and deficient in every part of Education.

I most sincerely wish that some more liberal plan might be laid and executed for the Benefit of the rising Generation, and that our new constitution may be distinguished for Learning and Virtue. If we mean to have Heroes, Statesmen and Philosophers, we should have learned women. The world perhaps would laugh at me, and accuse me of vanity, But you I know have a mind too enlarged and liberal to disregard the Sentiment. If much depends as is allowed upon the early Education of youth and the first principals which are instilld take the deepest root, great benifit must arise from litirary accomplishments in women.

Excuse me my pen has run away with me. I have no thoughts of comeing to Philadelphia. The length of time I have and 4 shall be detaind here would have prevented me, even if you had no thoughts of returning till December, but I live in daily Expectation of seeing you here. Your Health I think requires your immediate return. I expected Mr. Gerry would have set off before now, but he finds it perhaps very hard to leave his Mistress—I wont say harder than some do to leave their wives. Mr. Gerry stood very high in my Esteem—what is meat for one is not for an other—no accounting for fancy. She is a queer dame and leads people wild dances.5

But hush—Post, dont betray your trust and loose my Letter.

Nabby is poorly this morning. The pock are near the turn, 6 or 7 95hundred boils are no agreable feeling. You and I know not what a feeling it is. Miss Katy can tell. I had but 3 they were very clever and fill'd nicely. The Town instead of being clear of this distemper are now in the height of it, hundreds having it in the natural way through the deceitfulness of innoculation.

Adieu ever yours. Breakfast waits. Portia

RC (Adams Papers); endorsed: “Portia ans. Aug. 25.”


This letter was written on more than one day, since there is an earlier letter of the same day, preceding, and yet at the end AA says that “Breakfast waits.” Moreover, AA says in her letter of the 17th, below, that she “wrote” (i.e. sent?) JA “two Letters yesterday,” and so probably the present letter was actually written on 15–16 Aug. and sent by post on Friday the 16th.


John Winthrop was Hollis professor of mathematics and natural philosophy at Harvard, but he was also a member of the Massachusetts Council and had other public duties.


Richard Cranch.


MS: “I.”


Gerry's “Mistress” of the moment was Catherine, daughter of Squire John Hunt, Harvard 1734, a Watertown storekeeper, distiller, excise collector, and sometime representative in the General Court, on whom see Sibley-Shipton, Harvard Graduates , 9:414–418. According to the gossipy recollections of Mrs. Royall Tyler (the former Mary Hunt Palmer), her grandfather John Hunt believed that “girls knew quite enough if they could make a shirt and a pudding,” and so Catherine and her sisters were never taught to read or write. This proved a handicap to Catherine in her affair with Elbridge Gerry, who was a notable man with a pen and addressed long letters to her from Congress which she could neither read nor answer. Gerry eventually married a New York girl, and Catherine Hunt “lived and died at Watertown an old maid,” a victim of “Grandpa's system of female education.” See Grandmother Tyler's Book , p. 7, 9, 13–14.

John Adams to Abigail Adams, 14 August 1776 JA AA John Adams to Abigail Adams, 14 August 1776 Adams, John Adams, Abigail
John Adams to Abigail Adams
Philadelphia 14. August 1776

This is the Anniversary of a memorable day, in the History of America: a day when the Principle of American Resistance and Independence, was first asserted, and carried into Action.1 The Stamp Office fell before the rising Spirit of our Countrymen.—It is not impossible that the two gratefull Brothers may make their grand Attack this very day: if they should, it is possible it may be more glorious for this Country, than ever: it is certain it will become more memorable.

Your Favours of August 1. and 5. came by Yesterdays Post. I congratulate you all upon your agreable Prospects. Even my pathetic little Hero Charles, I hope will have the Distemper finely. It is very odd that the Dr. cant put Infection enough into his Veigns, nay it is unaccountable to me that he has not taken it, in the natural Way 96before now. I am under little Apprehension, prepared as he is, if he should. I am concerned about you, much more. So many Persons about you, sick. The Children troublesome—your Mind perplexed—yourself weak and relaxed. The Situation must be disagreable. The Country Air, and Exercise however, will refresh you.

I am put upon a Committee to prepare a Device for a Golden Medal to commemorate the Surrender of Boston to the American Arms, and upon another to prepare Devices for a Great Seal for the confederated States. There is a Gentleman here of French Extraction, whose Name is Du simitiere, a Painter by Profession whose Designs are very ingenious, and his Drawings well executed. He has been applied to for his Advice. I waited on him yesterday, and saw his Sketches. For the Medal he proposes Liberty with her Spear and Pileus, leaning on General Washington. The British Fleet in Boston Harbour, with all their Sterns towards the Town, the American Troops, marching in.2 For the Seal he proposes. The Arms of the several Nations from whence America has been peopled, as English, Scotch, Irish, Dutch, German &c. each in a Shield. On one side of them Liberty, with her Pileus, on the other a Rifler, in his Uniform, with his Rifled Gun in one Hand, and his Tomahauk, in the other. This Dress and these Troops with this Kind of Armour, being peculiar to America—unless the Dress was known to the Romans. Dr. Franklin shewed me, yesterday, a Book, containing an Account of the Dresses of all the Roman Soldiers, one of which, appeared exactly like it.

This Mr. Du simitiere is a very curious Man. He has begun a Collection of Materials for an History of this Revolution. He begins with the first Advices of the Tea Ships. He cutts out of the Newspapers, every Scrap of Intelligence, and every Piece of Speculation, and pastes it upon clean Paper, arranging them under the Head of the State to which they belong and intends to bind them up in Volumes. He has a List of every Speculation and Pamphlet concerning Independence, and another of those concerning Forms of Government.3

Dr. F. proposes a Device for a Seal. Moses lifting up his Wand, and dividing the Red Sea, and Pharaoh, in his Chariot overwhelmed with the Waters.—This Motto. Rebellion to Tyrants is Obedience to God.

Mr. Jefferson proposed. The Children of Israel in the Wilderness, led by a Cloud by day, and a Pillar of Fire by night, and on the other Side Hengist and Horsa, the Saxon Chiefs, from whom We claim the Honour of being descended and whose Political Principles and Form of Government We have assumed.

I proposed the Choice of Hercules, as engraved by Gribeline in some 97Editions of Lord Shaftsburys Works. The Hero resting on his Clubb. Virtue pointing to her rugged Mountain, on one Hand, and perswading him to ascend. Sloth, glancing at her flowery Paths of Pleasure, wantonly reclining on the Ground, displaying the Charms both of her Eloquence and Person, to seduce him into Vice. But this is too complicated a Group for a Seal or Medal, and it is not original.4

I shall conclude by repeating my Request for Horses and a servant. Let the Horses be good ones. I cant ride a bad Horse, so many hundred Miles. If our Affairs had not been in so critical a state at N. York, I should have run away before now. But I am determined now to stay, untill some Gentleman is sent here in my Room, and untill my Horses come. But the Time will be very tedious.

The whole Force is arrived at Staten Island.

RC and LbC (Adams Papers).


For the events in Boston on 14 Aug. 1765, which put an end to any possibility of carrying out the Stamp Act in Massachusetts, see JA, Diary and Autobiography , 1:259–261.


It was JA who, on 25 March, had proposed that a medal be presented to Washington for his victory at Boston ( JCC , 4:234). For Congress' action, Du Simitière's sketches, and the long-delayed result, see JA, Diary and Autobiography , 3:xii, 375–376, and the illustrations facing p. 257; also Jefferson, Papers, ed. Boyd, 16:xxxvi, 69–70, and No. I among the illustrations of medals following p. 52.


These materials gathered and compiled by the Swiss-born artist and antiquary Pierre Eugène Du Simitière survive at least in part among the portion of his papers now in the Library of Congress. Other papers and miscellanies of his are calendared in Historical Records Survey, Descriptive Catalogue of the Du Simitière Papers in the Library Company of Philadelphia, Phila., 1940. See also Hans Huth, “Pierre Eugène Du Simitière and the Beginnings of the American Historical Museum,” PMHB , 69:315–325 (Oct. 1945).


On 4 July Congress had voted that Franklin, JA, and Jefferson “be a committee, to bring in a device for a seal for the United States of America” ( JCC , 5:517–518). Somewhat variant versions of Franklin's, Jefferson's, and Du Simitière's proposals, together with the committee's report of 20 Aug., prepared by Jefferson, are printed in Jefferson, Papers, ed. Boyd, 1:494–497. It is there pointed out that, the report being at once tabled, it was not revived until 1780, when another committee tried but failed to satisfy Congress, and that not until June 1782 was the Seal of the United States, essentially in the form we know it, adopted. Du Simitière's pencil sketch for the obverse, with the motto E Pluribus Unum (which JA does not mention but which is almost all that survived in 1782 from the various proposals of 1776), is illustrated in same, facing p. 550. See also Gaillard Hunt, The History of the Seal of the United States, Washington, 1909.

JA's proposal for the design of the seal, though it was put forward diffidently and came to nothing, was a revealing and interesting one. The Greek fable of the Choice (or Judgment) of Hercules between Virtue and Vice (or Pleasure) was a popular theme for painters in the 18th century, in part, certainly, because the Earl of Shaftes-bury had devoted to it a short but influential treatise on esthetics in the third volume of his Characteristicks as collected in 1714. Simon Gribelin's engraving of the allegory is reproduced as an illustration in the present volume from the fifth edition of the Characteristicks, printed by Baskerville, Birmingham, 981773. JA's own copy of this edition remains among his books in the Boston Public Library. See Descriptive List of Illustrations.