Adams Family Correspondence, volume 8

John Adams to Abigail Adams Smith, 16 July 1788 Adams, John Smith, Abigail Adams
John Adams to Abigail Adams Smith
Braintree, July 16, 1788. My Dear Child:

Your mamma's hand has been wholly unable to hold a pen, without exquisite pain, from the time of our arrival; and I am afraid your brothers have not done their duty in writing to you. Indeed, I scarcely know what apology to make for myself. Would you believe this is the first day that I have taken a pen into my hand since I came ashore?


I am happy to hear from all quarters a good character of all your brothers. The oldest has given decided proofs of great talents, and there is not a youth of his age whose reputation is higher for abilities, or whose character is fairer in point of morals or conduct. The youngest is as fine a youth as either of the three, if a spice of fun in his composition should not lead him astray. Charles wins the heart, as usual, and is the most of a gentleman of them all.

You, my dear daughter, are in new scenes, which require new duties. Mr. Smith's mother has a right to all the dutiful filial respect, affection, and attention, that you can show her; and his brothers and sisters you ought to consider as your own. When I say this, I say no more than what I know must long ago have occurred to a lady of your reflection, discretion, and sensibility.

I wish to be informed, as fully as may be with propriety, of Mr. Smith's views. My desire would be to hear of him at the bar, which, in my opinion, is the most independent place on earth. A seeker of public employments is, in my idea, one of the most unhappy of all men. This may be pride; but if it is, I cannot condemn it. I had rather dig my subsistence out of the earth with my own hands, than be dependent on any favour, public or private; and this has been the invariable maxim of my whole life. Mr. Smith's merit and services entitle him to expect employment under the public; and I know him to be a man of too much spirit as well as honour, to solicit with the smallest degree of meanness for any thing. But I would not be dependent; I would have a resource. There can be none better than the bar. I hope my anxiety for his and your welfare, has not betrayed me into any improper expressions, or unbecoming curiosity.

You may be anxious, too, to know what is to become of me. At my age, this ought not to be a question; but it is. I will tell you, my dear child, in strict confidence, that it appears to me that your father does not stand very high in the esteem, admiration, or respect of his country, or any part of it. In the course of a long absence his character has been lost, and he has got quite out of circulation. The public judgment, the public heart, and the public voice, seem to have decreed to others every public office that he can accept of with consistency, or honour, or reputation; and no other alternative is left for him, but private life at home, or to go again abroad. The latter is the worst of the two; but you may depend upon it, you will hear of him on a trading voyage to the East Indies, or to Surrinam, or Essequibo, before you will hear of his descending as a public man beneath himself.


Write me as often as you can, and believe me / Your ever affectionate father,

John Adams.

MS not found. Printed from AA2, Jour. and Corr. , 2:87–89.

Elizabeth Smith Shaw to Abigail Adams, 26 July 1788 Shaw, Elizabeth Smith Adams, Abigail
Elizabeth Smith Shaw to Abigail Adams
Haverhill July 26th.1788 My Dear Sister—

I got home the Friday-noon after I left you, & had the great satisfaction of finding all well—my little Daughters humour much abated, & was going of without a sore forming under her chin, as the Dr feared— But I soon had a bitter ingredient thrown into my lap, by hearing the complaints of my faithful Servant Lidia, who had every Symtom of a voilent fever coming upon her—1 The Dr thinks her fever is come to the height, but she cannot set up more than ten minutes at a time now—

We ought to prize a good Girl, for we miss & feel the want of them, when taken from business most terribly— Your Family has been sick, as well as mine, & we know how to pity each other, for one we are used to, is worth ten new Servants—

I was fearful Ester would give you trouble when I left you— Her Step, & motions were much too quick for Stability,— I think it was very lucky for Cornish that she was taken sick just as she was— though I presume you do not think it so for yourself— I am sorry you have so much trouble, for Sickness throws everything into confusion—& brings ten thousand wants & cares with it—

I rejoice to hear of your increasing health—may it still keep on, in a happy progression— Cares if not too great, I have often thought were pleasures— Exercise of Body is absolutely necessary to our health— But few (my Sister) like you, can figure in the higher walks of Life, & with so much ease descend to the every concern, & business of your Family— It is happy when Americans can so do—

Peter was taken sick yesterday, but I hope it is nothing more than eating too much green fruit— Betsy Smith came home to me, with her Uncle from Commencement— Dear good Girl she is I am sure I do not know what I should do now without her—

Mr J Q A— went to Newbury a Thursday My Nephews have been rather unfortunate in this visit, on account of our Sickness—2 But I tell them they never found us so before, & they must take us for better, & for worse—


They do not know half the pleasure, & satisfaction they give their uncle, & Aunt when they make us those visits— They would never fail of coming if they did— I am glad to hear of the health & welfare of Mr & Mrs Smith— I hope to have a Letter from her myself soon—

I hope our Family will soon be well, & yours too—that we may have the pleasure of seeing, & welcoming to our habitation my Dear Brother & Sister—

adieu most affectionately Your / Sister

E Shaw—

RC (Adams Papers); addressed: “Mrs A Adams. / Braintree”; endorsed: “Mrs Shaw / july 26th 1788.”


Lydia Springer (b. 1762) of Haverhill was Elizabeth Smith Shaw's long-time servant, first in Haverhill and later in Atkinson, N.H. (Vital Records of Haverhill Massachusetts to the End of the Year 1849, 2 vols., Topsfield, Mass., 1910–1911, 1:283; Paul C. Nagel, The Adams Women: Abigail and Louisa Adams, Their Sisters and Daughters, N.Y., 1987, p. 65, 69–70).


JQA and TBA rode together from Braintree to Haverhill on Monday, 21 July, and stayed with the Shaws until 23 July, when JQA returned to Newburyport (JQA, Diary , 2:433–434).