Adams Family Correspondence, volume 9

Abigail Adams to Abigail Adams Smith, 8 January 1791 Adams, Abigail Smith, Abigail Adams
Abigail Adams to Abigail Adams Smith
My Dear Mrs. Smith, Philadelphia, 8 January, 1791.

I received, by Mr. King, your letter of December 30th. I am uneasy if I do not hear from you once a week, though you have not any thing more to tell me than that you and your little ones are well. I think you do perfectly right in refusing to go into public during the absence of Colonel Smith. The society of a few friends is that from which most pleasure and satisfaction are to be derived. Under the wing of parents, no notice would be taken of your going into public, or mixing in any amusement; but the eyes of the world are always placed upon those whose situation may possibly subject them to censure, and even the friendly attentions of one's acquaintance are liable to be misconstrued, so that a lady cannot possibly be too circumspect. I do not mention this to you through apprehension of your erring, but only as approving your determination.

I should spend a very dissipated winter, if I were to accept of one half the invitations I receive, particularly to the routes, or tea and cards. Even Saturday evening is not excepted, and I refused an invitation of that kind for this evening. I have been to one assembly. The dancing was very good; the company of the best kind. The President and Madam, the Vice-President and Madam, Ministers of State, and their Madams, &c.; but the room despicable; the etiquette,—it was difficult to say where it was to be found. Indeed, it was not New York;1 but you must not report this from me. The managers have been very polite to me and my family. I have been to one 178play, and here again we have been treated with much politeness. The actors came and informed us that a box was prepared for us. The Vice-President thanked them for their civility, and told them that he would attend whenever the President did. And last Wednesday we were all there. The house is equal to most of the theatres we meet with out of France. It is very neat, and prettily fitted up; the actors did their best; “The School for Scandal” was the play. I missed the divine Farren; but upon the whole it was very well performed.2 On Tuesday next I go to a dance at Mr. Chew's, and on Friday sup at Mr. Clymer's; so you see I am likely to be amused.3

We have had very severe weather for several weeks; I think the coldest I have known since my return from abroad. The climate of Old England for me; people do not grow old half so fast there; two-thirds of the year here, we must freeze or melt. Public affairs go on so smoothly here, that we scarcely know that Congress are sitting; North Carolina a little delirious, and Virginia trying to give law.4 They make some subject for conversation; but, after all, the bluster will scarcely produce a mouse.

Present me kindly to your mamma and sisters. How I long to send for you all, as in days past; my dear little boys, too. As to John, we grow every day fonder of him. He has spent an hour this afternoon in driving his grandpapa round the room with a willow stick. I hope to see you in April. Congress will adjourn in March, and it is thought will not meet again till December.5

Good night, my dear. Heaven's blessings alight on you and yours,

A. Adams.

MS not found. Printed from AA, Letters, ed. CFA, 1848, p. 352–353.


The relative merits of the cultures of New York and Philadelphia had been a subject of public debate since the Residence Act was signed by George Washington on 16 July 1790. Discussion generally focused on New York as a more sophisticated city but also one subject to European influence (Margaret M. O’Dwyer, “A French Diplomat's View of Congress, 1790,” WMQ , 3d ser., 21:441 [July 1964]; Rush, Letters , 1:568; New York Weekly Museum, 30 Oct. 1790).


AA and AA2 had both likely seen Elizabeth Farren when she appeared as Lady Teazle in Richard Brinsley Sheridan's The School for Scandal at Drury Lane in London in 1785 and 1786 (London Daily Universal Register, 14 Feb. 1785, 4 May 1786; vol. 6:185; 7:145).


Philadelphia merchant George Clymer (1739–1813) had served with JA in the Continental Congress (JA, D&A , 2:149; JA, Papers , 4:398; DAB ).


On 6 Jan. 1791 Congressman John Steele of North Carolina threatened secession if the proposed Duty on Distilled Spirits Act was passed, stating that because more spirits were consumed in the South, the bill would place an undue burden on his constituents. AA's comment on Virginia likely refers to the passage of a bill in the Virginia legislature approving the separation of the District of Kentucky previous to the debate of a bill in Congress on statehood. Both federal bills became law, on 3 March and 4 Feb., 179respectively ( First Fed. Cong. , 1:522; 3:827, 835; 14:243–246). See also TBA to JA, 30 Oct. 1792, and note 4, below.


Congress adjourned on 3 March 1791 and reconvened on 24 Oct. ( Biog. Dir. Cong. ).

Abigail Adams to Mary Smith Cranch, 9 January 1791 Adams, Abigail Cranch, Mary Smith
Abigail Adams to Mary Smith Cranch
my dear sister Philadelphia Janry 9th 1791

I received your kind Letter of December 12th with one from my Nephew inclosing 4 Portraits1 I instantly recognized my worthy Brother Cranch and my dear sister together with our venerable uncle Quincy. the other not one of us have skill enough to find out, by which I judge it is not a likness the three first are admirably executed and I have to request that the same hand would take my Mother and send it without letting mr Adams know for whom it is designd. you inquire how I like my situation. I answer you the one I removed from, was in Burks stile, the sublime. this is the Beautifull2 the House is better, that is the work within is superiour. the Architecture of the other House was Grand and the Avenue to it perfectly Romantick. the British Troops rob'd this place of its principal Glory by cutting down all the Trees in front of the House and leaving it wholly Naked. behind the House is a fine Grove; through which is a gravell walk; which must in summer add greatly to the delight of the place. I am told for 8 months this place is delicious. in winter the Roads are bad and we are 2 miles & a half from the city. I have received every attention and politeness from the Gentlemen and Ladies which I could either expect or wish. Living here is more expensive than in N york, Horse keeping in particular, which we sensibly feel, as we are obliged to keep four, for during the sitting of Congress they frequently go six times to the city in the course of the day. we cannot purchase any marketting but by going into the city. we have had very Severe cold weather from the begining of December till the week past; when the snow has chiefly left us I am thinking seriously of making arrangments to come to Braintree early in the spring as the Roads will permit, for it is generally believed that Congress will not sit after march if so I hope to be with you by the last of April or begining of May and as I must leave Brisler and his Family here, I would look out early for some person in his stead. can you inform me where Nathan Tirril is, and whether he was last summer engaged.3 he is a good Hand in a Garden and on many other accounts usefull. there are some articles which I shall want in 180the kitchin way, but it will be time enough to think of these things some months hence

I feel the loss of mrs smith and Family and it pains me daily that I could not have her with me this winter it is in vain to say what we ought to have been able to do, I feel what I cannot do. the Cols Family are all very kind to mrs Smith and treat her like a child, but a Fathers House is still the most desirable place. I hear every week from her. I have John with me a fine Boy he is and the enlivener of the whole Family we are a scatterd family, and I see no prospect of our ever being otherways. mr durant was here last week and said he was going to Boston in order to sail from thence for st croix, the River here being frozen up. I thought the Letter you sent to the care of Thomas would go best & soonest by him, so we gave it to him. Thomas is much better tho he does not yet go out except to ride. I have had a succession of sickness in my Family when we have been well ourselves, our servants have been laid up. when I come to this place again I am determined to bring a decent woman who understands plain cooking with me. Such a vile low tribe, you never was tormented with & I hope never will be. I brought all my servants from N york, cook excepted and, thought I could not be worse of than I had been. I have had in the course of 18 months Seven, and I firmly believe in the whole Number, not a virtuous woman amongst them all; the most of them drunkards. I recruited with a new one last monday, who brought written recommendations with her, and who to all appearence is very capable of her buisness, but on thursday got so drunk that she was carried to Bed, and so indecent, that footman Coachman & all were driven out of the House, concequently she has turnd herself out of doors. we know little of vileness in our state when compared to those cities who have Such Numbers of Foreigners as N york and Philadelphia— I thank you my dear sister for your kind care of your Nephew. he wanted it I believe. he mourns a want of employ, but all young men must have patience, especially in his profession. [“]there is a tide in the affairs of men” our young folks must watch for it.

I would ask dr Rush about a certain affair if I had a short detail of Names circumstances and time. if cousin Lucy thinks it worth her time to give me some account of the affair, I am upon such an intimate footing with the dr since his practise in our Family that I could easily assertain all he knows about it, but the story was so complicated that I am by no means mistress of the Subject.


my Love to mrs Norten & my young Nephew. I anticipate the pleasure of meeting you all. pray heaven nothing may arrise to prevent my realizing the Satisfaction. Let me hear from you as often you can and / believe me at all times most / affectionatly yours

A Adams

RC (MWA:Abigail Adams Letters); addressed by TBA: “Mrs: Mary Cranch / Braintree”; endorsed by Richard Cranch: “Letter from Mrs / A Adams (Pha:) / Jany. 9th. 1791.”


For William Cranch's letter of 11 Dec. 1790, see Mary Smith Cranch to AA, 12 Dec., and note 5, above.


Edmund Burke, A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and the Beautiful, London, 1757.


Nathan Tirrell (ca. 1754–1814) was the second son of Joseph Tirrell of Braintree (Sprague, Braintree Families ).