Adams Family Correspondence, volume 6

Elizabeth Smith Shaw to Abigail Adams, 7 September 1785 Shaw, Elizabeth Smith Peabody, Elizabeth Smith Shaw AA Elizabeth Smith Shaw to Abigail Adams, 7 September 1785 Shaw, Elizabeth Smith Peabody, Elizabeth Smith Shaw Adams, Abigail
Elizabeth Smith Shaw to Abigail Adams
My Dear Sister Haverhill August September 7th. 1785

The long looked for, the modest, the manly, the well accomplished Youth, is come at last. And had he needed any thing to have made 348him doubly welcome to our House, but his own agreeable Behaviour, the evident Credentials he bears in his Eyes, about his Mouth, and in the Shape of his Face of being the Son of my excellent, and much loved Brother and Sister, would alone have gained him a most hearty Reception.

I must beg your pardon Mr. Adams, for looking at you so much.

Indeed my Aunt said he, I must ask the same Favour for myself.

Never was a youth that bore a greater resemblance to both Parents.

“The Father's lustre and the Mothers bloom.” His looks, and some particular Actions, strongly recall to my mind the happy Days I spent with you, when you first kept House.1 Before my Brother had assumed the Austerity, and dignity of the Statesman, and the Republican.

I hope my Cousin Charles has informed you himself of his favourable, and gracious acceptance at the University. He promised me he would write to you the first Opportunity. As he was now conscious he should obtain his parents favour, he thought he should write with a better grace, and with greater ease, than he could while a matter of so much importance to his Happiness was depending. When Mr. Shaw and my Cousin Charles, returned from Cambridge, they put on long Faces, and attempted to look very trist when they rode into the yard, but I could easily discern by their? Countenances, (which seldom fails of being the medium of Truth) that Joy, and satisfaction, played sweetly at their Heart. Samuel Walker thinks Mr. Shaw his best Friend, for paying so much attention to him, as to gain him honorable admitance, and he is now the Classmate and the Chum of your Son. They have obtained the Chamber they pettioned for, and I hear are very happy together. They are both at present pleasant and lovely in their Lives, and I hope, will be kept pure, and unspotted from the guilty World. I miss them both exceedingly. Tommy dear Boy, I know must be lonly. But he is of such a pleasant Temper, and happy turn of Mind, that he is loth to own it. He is really an exceeding good Child, and we all love him and his obliging Temper, will forever gain the esteem, and good wishes of every-body.

Mr. JQA has been soliciting Mr. Shaw to undertake the direction of his Studies. However pleasing it may be to have so amiable a Youth as he appears to be in his Family, yet he feels fearful, how he may acquit himself of the Charge. To qualify a young Gentleman to enter the University as Junior Sophister, is not what is commonly practiced in the Schools, and must needs peculiar application, and attention, both in the Pupil, and in the Preceptor. By my Cousin Billy's2 dili-349gence he was advanced half a year, and so escaped Six months freshmanship. The Books he was? Mr. Shaw was then obliged to look into, will make it much less dificult for him now to teach my Cousin John. And should he engage in it, I believe I may venture to say, that no one would with greater fidelity, and pleasure discharge their Office.

As to me, I feel no Qualms of Conscience, that I have not done for your Children, what in an exchange of Circumstances, I could have wished for mine. Indeed I take a particular pleasure in serving them, as I consider it, as a medium, through which I am happy to convey my Love, and Gratitude.

I have now my Dear Sister to acknowledge the Receipt of yours dated May the 8th. and 10th. handed me by your Son Yesterday. My Sister and he, are both here, and intend spending a Week with us, and I have stolen from their Loved company to write a few Lines to you, by a Vessel which was built in our River, and is to sail very soon. I will wish it good speed, as it will convey to you an account of your Children, and will bear a testimonial of my Love. What though I cannot give you a Discription of Kings, Queens, Counts, and Countesses, which afford me so much entertainment, yet I can inform you, of that, which is of ten-fold more importance to your Happiness—the Health, and good Behaviour of your Children.

I think Mr. Adams has conffered great Honour upon the University at Cambridge, by chusing his Son should complete his Education there. I wish that all his Sons by their application to their Studies, their amiable, and virtuous Deportment, may follow the Example of their Father, and do likewise.

My Cousin says he will go back with his Aunt, and visit a few of his Friends, and return here as soon as possible. We have a very easy, and fine Conveyance in our Haverhill Post Coach, for him, or for any baggage he may chuse to bring. He need not fear any black Dust, nor the woeful Consumption of an elegant band Box—which to a mind a little less improved than yours, might have produced a fatal Catastrophe.3

My paper is so bad, and the Time is so short that I have to write, that I hope you will excuse its ill Look. I shall send this Letter by James Wilson, who was brought up in Master Whites Store, whom if you see, you will treat as an American, I dare say. If I can possibly get time before Mr. Whites's Vessel sails I shall write to my Cousin. Mr. Shaws and my kindest wishes ever attend you all.

Eliza Shaw 350

The Lace you was so kind as to procure, is a very nice one, and much cheaper than I could get in Boston—8 Dollars is given credit for.4

RC (Adams Papers); endorsed: “Mrs Shaw Septer 7 1786.”


AA records that Elizabeth Smith (Shaw) spent considerable time with the Adamses in the summer and fall of 1766, and paid them a brief visit in Jan. 1767, all before JQA's birth. She also helped them move to Boston in April 1768 (vol. 1:54, 55, 57, 61, 65).


Elizabeth Shaw's nephew, William Cranch, had studied with Rev. John Shaw from April 1783 to February or March 1784, when he entered Harvard (AA to JA, 7 April 1783; CA to William Cranch, 14 March 1784, both above).


In her letter to Elizabeth Shaw of 8 May, above, AA had described the destruction of a her bonnet, caps, and handkerchiefs and their box by a bag of coins that she had placed in her baggage near them, on her journey from London to Paris in August 1784.


This sentence was written in the margin of the first page, but clearly as a postscript; AA mentions the lace at the end of her letter of 8 May, above.

John Quincy Adams to Abigail Adams 2d, 8 September 1785 JQA AA2 John Quincy Adams to Abigail Adams 2d, 8 September 1785 Adams, John Quincy Adams, Abigail (daughter of JA and AA)
John Quincy Adams to Abigail Adams 2d
N: 9: Haverhill September 8th. 1785

All this day has been employ'd in answering Questions respecting you, and all is not over yet. I must mention one Circumstance, although it may appear too trifling. You may Remember, that in your Letters by me, you gave an Account of the Ceremony at Nôtre Dame.1 All the family, were very much entertained, by your Relation, but there was a Question arose to day, what, the Ring was. One supposed the Ring, was a technical term, meaning the Court; another, that it was a band of music, and another, that it was some great personage, present at the time. While the debate lasted I could not conceive what the Subject of Conversation was. At length I was applied to, to inform what the Ring you mentioned was. When I came to see the letter I found it was only a mistake of the R. instead of the K. but had I not been used to your hand writing, I should certainly have read it Ring too. It needed no further explanation to perceive what was meant, by the Ring's being dressed so and so, walking, somewhat, carelessly &c. Mr. Thaxter has been with us a great part of the day. Business and so forth, has dried up all his epistolary ink.


I went in the forenoon with Mr. Thaxter, and was by him introduced to Mr. White, and his family. We can seldom, at first sight form an opinion of any thing more, than the outward appearance of a Person: You have seen more of this family, than I have as yet; so that 351I can only say what my thoughts are, after such a transitory glance. Mr. White appears a very hospitable man; and has much more of the reality, than the show. Benevolence, and Politeness are written too plainly in the Countenance of Mrs. White, to leave any doubt, of their being a Characteristic of her. Peggy did not answer my expectations, as a Beauty. She is uncommonly fair, and has a good set of features, but there is something harsh, if I mistake not in her Countenance. She has grown very fat of late, and is perfectly recovered, of the melancholy disorder she was afflicted with last Summer, and now enjoys it is said, a fine flow of Spirits. A number of young Ladies, were here at tea, and part of the Evening. Among the rest Miss Duncan, Mr. Thaxter's reputed belle.2 She is celebrated for her personal and mental accomplishments. But I shall wait before I give you my opinion of any of the Ladies here, till I have a better acquaintance with them.


We dined at Mr. White's, in Company with Mr. Smith the Minister, of the Baptist Congregation here, and Mr. Bartlett.3 We propose leaving this place in the beginning of the Week, and I hope to be here again by the first of next Month.

12th. Monday

This forenoon I was invited and went to an Entertainment, which was quite a Novelty to me, and I know not by what name to call it. Dr. Woodbury of this town, was yesterday publish'd, to Miss Hannah Appleton, (I suppose you know neither of the persons,) and in Consequence of this, was given this breakfast, or dinner, or whatever it is. There were a great number of People, there, all men, but I knew only two or three persons present: I was out a great part of the Evening Afternoon, when I return'd, I found Mr. Thaxter, the two Miss Duncan's, and Mr. Allen, here.4 They were engaged in curious Conversation. Mr. Collins the Minister of a neighbouring Town, with his wife, have been here all the Afternoon; it seems one of the young Ladies, thought he had not paid sufficient attention to his wife;5 he had been the whole afternoon with her, and had not said a single word to her, nor so much as look'd at her. Mr. Thaxter thought he had with great propriety taken no Notice of her; there were many things said on both sides, concerning the proper attentions due to a wife; but it was observed that Mr. Allen, suddenly rose, in the midst of the Conversation and took his leave. Mr. Collins soon after 352return'd, and will lodge here to Night. He appears to me, to be at least of a very phlegmatic, cold, dutchman like disposition, incapable of feeling the pleasures that are derived by persons of sensibility from those minute attentions, which it seems he makes but little use of.

13th. Tuesday. Lincoln

Your aunt and I, left Haverhill, this morning between 8 and 9. About 7 miles this side the River we stopp'd a few minutes at Mr. Symmes's, one of the ministers of Andover.6 You have perhaps been at the house. His wife is one of the sprucest, nicest tidiest persons I have seen this long while. I almost thought myself in Holland, when I went into the house. A little further forward we stopp'd at Mr. French's, and there was a contrast. Mr. French as soon as I was introduced to him asked me, how the Doctor did; I knew not what he meant, and was going to ask him, what Doctor; but he repeated his question immediately how does Doctor Adams. He is very solicitous that the title should be given him, for the honour of our University, and never calls him otherwise himself, than Doctor Adams.

After riding, till near 6 this evening, through, very tedious disagreeable roads, we at length arrived at Aunt Smiths where we now are. They are all well; but what think you were my feelings, when I saw those five charming Children, and reflected upon the Prospects before them. I must not dwell upon this subject; it would only raise useless sighs, upon Circumstances, which have too often already pained you.

14th. Wednesday Boston

We dined to day at Lincoln and soon after, continued our Journey, drank tea at Cambridge with our brother and Cousin, and got in Town just at Dusk. You know on this Road, you pass through Lexington and Concord. These places will be looked upon with great veneration by Posterity; and if ever the Spirit of Pilgrimage seizes our Country men, I hope, these will may be the places, they will resort to. Si l'apothéose est dû à l'homme, (says the Abbé Raynal, who has often noble thoughts) c'est à celui qui combat pour defend sa patrie.

Charles and our Cousin are both well, and happy in their Situation. I intended to visit Mr. Dana, but he is not at home now. Your Cousin Betsey has been very unwell since, we went from here but is now recovering. Uncle and aunt Smith went yesterday, with the Governor, Lieutt. Governor, and their Ladies, to Mr. Gill's seat at Princeton, 353about 50 miles from town. I have been with Mr. Isaac Smith this Evening to a Club; there were present, Dr. Welch, Dr. Dexter, Dr. Appleton, and Mr. Brewster. It was at Mr. Clarke's; the Colleague of Dr. Chauncy.7 This gentleman, has a reputation as a speaker in the Pulpit, and is called a man of genius and learning: you know him perhaps; he holds his head I think about 3 inches too high. Dr. Appleton, is not so handsome a man, as either of his brothers, but has something in his Countenance, and in his Conversation very pleasing; Dr. Dexter you are acquainted with, and used to like him hugeously I am told. The old gentleman does not appear to have such designs as you supposed, or at least if he has does not pursue them with great ardour. I shall not have that rival to fear, I believe. You will perhaps be surprized to see I have found out who the old Gentleman is: but such things will happen now and then. So you see my Prospect of success is much better than you would have thought; strange things may happen yet, and you must be prepared for such.8 The other gentlemen that were present, you know.

15th. Boston Thursday

I intended to have return'd this day to Braintree; but it threatened to rain, and I was advised to stay. Charles and William, have been in town all day, but we did not dine together. We spent the afternoon at Dr. Welch's. Mrs. W. has not said a word to me, about french fashions, or indeed any other fashions, so I have not yet had an opportunity to display my learning on that subject. The fondness for show, and dress, here, is carried to a greater pitch, than I had an Idea of, but I imagine it will decrease, for although the will is by no means wanting, the power is, and that is a Capital point: Not a few persons have been like the silk worm, first a mean insect, then a tawdry butterfly, and at length again, a worm of the dust. I hope a reform will take place, but absolute Necessity alone can bring it about.

16th. Braintree. Friday

Cousin Betsey came up from Boston with me to day. The air of a City does not agree with her, and she has been very unwell for several days. She is much better now, and I doubt not but the clear unpolluted element, that is breathed here will soon entirely recover her health. She has spent most of the Summer in Boston, to take Lessons at the harpsichord. We found Cousin Lucy all alone; she had been so the whole week.

354 17th. Saturday

I have been all day reading, and writing, without stirring out of the house; Uncle and Aunt return'd from Boston this Evening, as did also Mr. Tyler. I have been looking over all the books that were sent from the Hague. They were very carefully put up, and none of them are damaged at all. I perceive there is one wanting, or perhaps I forgot to send for it. It is a Plautus.9 If I mistake not there is only one, in your Pappa's Library in Europe, and there is none, in the one here.

18th. Sunday

After attending Mr. Wibird twice to day, I went down with Mr. Tyler to pay my devoirs to Madam Quincy, and afterwards, at Mr. Alleyne's, we found Mr. and Mrs. Guild, with the former: they both look very much out of health. They have been very unfortunate; but I know of no persons in the same situation, that are so universally well spoken of. Mrs. Guild, has behaved upon the occasion, admirably, and what commonly greatly injures persons, in the opinion of the world seems to have been attended with effects directly contrary, with regard to her. Mrs. Quincy inquired particularly concerning Mamma and you: and Miss Nancy often smiled with all imaginable sweetness. At Mr. Alleyne's we found Mr. Boyce, the admirer of Miss Hannah Clarke, and an old gentleman, by the name of Hutchinson; but that is all I know of him.10 I was ask'd, as I often am what part of Europe, I prefer'd to the rest. I think this Question is not fair, in a mixed Company. It has several times embarassed me; for fear I might offend some person present; you remember, how the Chevr. de Caraman, looked, when after he had declared his partiality for Boston, Mrs. B. told him she had never been there.11 I am often exposed to the same danger, but I generally either give an evasory answer, or own my fondness for France, observing, that as it is the part of Europe, which I have seen the most of, my partiality may be owing to that. As yet I hope I have offended no body, and I wish I may always have the same success. Adieu my Sister, Adieu,

J. Q. Adams

RC (Adams Papers); written on small pages numbered 73 through 80, and 1 through 8; see JQA to AA2, 12 May, descriptive note, above.


AA2's letter describing this event, presumably written either to one of the Cranches or to Elizabeth Shaw, has not been found. It probably dated from about 6 May, when AA2 wrote to both Elizabeth and Lucy Cranch (both above). The event was probably the Te Deum of 1 April, which AA2 describes in Jour. and Corr. , 1:65–68; and JQA in Diary , 1:242–244.


Elizabeth Duncan, daughter of James Duncan Sr. and his first wife, Elizabeth Bell Duncan, would marry John Thaxter in 1787 (JQA, Diary , 1:321, note 1).


For Rev. Hezekiah Smith, and Bailey 355Bartlett, who would marry Peggy White in 1786, see same, 1:322.


Elizabeth and Margaret Duncan; and probably Rev. Jonathan Allen of neighboring Bradford, Mass. Allen was a native of Braintree. See JQA, Diary , 1:336, 350; William B. Sprague, Annals of the American Pulpit, N.Y., 1857, 2:483, note; Braintree Town Records , p. 795.


JQA's Diary suggests Nancy Hazen as Collins' critic; the Rev. Samuel Collins of nearby Sandown, N.H., is probably meant here ( Diary , 1:322).


This was William Symmes, Harvard 1750; he married his second wife, Susannah Powell of Boston, in 1774 ( Sibley's Harvard Graduates , 12:582–587).


This was apparently the Wednesday Evening Club, founded in 1777, a small gathering of clergymen, lawyers, physicians, and merchants. JQA was a member of the club from 1791 to 1809. Here he names three of the four physicians who are listed in club records as members at this date. Neither “Mr. Brewster,” nor Isaac Smith Jr. is recorded as a member, but a “William Smith,” probably Isaac's brother, is listed. With the exception of Brewster, each of these men is identified in JQA, Diary . See same, 1:324, and notes 2–5; and The Centennial Celebration of the Wednesday Evening Club: Instituted June 21, 1777, Boston, 1878, p. 48–49, 51–52, 142–145.


Neither the “old gentleman” nor the woman whom AA2 evidently thought was the object of his and JQA's interest has been identified.


MQA eventually contained nine editions of the comedies of the 3d-2d century B.C. dramatist Plautus, in Latin, French, and English, and one Latin edition of Plautus' “Lectiones,” all published before 1785, in France, Holland, Germany, or England. Six of these editions show some mark of JQA's ownership.


Mr. Hutchinson has not been identified. “Mr. Boyce” was Jeremiah Smith Boies of Milton, who in September announced his intention to marry Sarah Hannah Clark. See Braintree Town Records , p. 887; Pattee, Old Braintree and Quincy , p. 59.


See AA2 to JQA, 26 Aug., note 7, above.