Col. William Stephens Smith, by Mather Brown, 1786 219
When Col. William Stephens Smith (1755–1816) introduced himself to Abigail Adams in May 1785 as the secretary to the American legation in London, she thought him “a Modest worthy Man.” The 29-year-old decorated veteran of the Revolution took an immediate interest in her daughter, Abigail Adams 2d, who at the age of nineteen was nearing the end of a troubled engagement to Royall Tyler. By the middle of the summer, the senior Abigail hinted to Smith that her daughter's engagement might be broken, and Smith withdrew for a tour of Prussia. Abigail 2d dismissed Tyler in August, and in December Smith returned to initiate a courtship. To the great happiness of all the Adamses, the couple wed on 11 June 1786 (Abigail Adams to Thomas Jefferson, 6 June 1785
, vol. 6:170; vol. 5:xxxviii–xxxix
; Abigail Adams to Mary Smith Cranch, 13 June 1786
, and note 4
Smith was the son of a wealthy New York merchant and graduated from the College of New Jersey (Princeton) in 1774. During the Revolution, he rose through the ranks, serving with distinction at Harlem Heights, Throgs Neck, and Trenton. As an aide to George Washington, he supervised the 1783 British evacuation of New York. In the spring of 1785, Congress appointed him to the
London diplomatic post, and he arrived in the city one day before the Adamses arrived from Auteuil on 26 May (
; vol. 5:xxxix
; vol. 6:172–173
In the summer of 1785 the Adamses sat for portraits by artist Mather Brown, an American studying in the London studio of Benjamin West. Abigail 2d was particularly pleased with the one of herself, describing it to John Quincy as “a very tasty picture.” After Abigail 2d and Smith married, Smith sat for a companion portrait to that of his wife. Both paintings now belong to the Adams National Historical Park (Dorinda Evans, Mather Brown: Early American Artist in England
, Middletown, Conn., 1982, p. 195, 228–229; Abigail Adams 2d to John Quincy Adams, 4 July 1785
, and note 29
, vol. 6:216, 222).
Courtesy of the United States Department of the Interior, National Park Service, Adams National Historical Park, Quincy, Massachusetts.