4. This letter begins the historical record of Royall Tyler's long and ultimately futile courtship of AA2. Almost everything known about this romance appears both in long passages and oblique references scattered through the letters that are or will be published in the Adams Family Correspondence,
extending from 1782 to early 1786, and concluding just beyond the boundary of the present volumes. Taken together, this evidence is extensive, but remarkably indirect. Nearly every statement of AA2's feelings toward Tyler is by AA, and most personal assessments of Tyler in this period are by either AA or Mary Cranch. Only one brief letter from AA2 to Tyler (
[ca. 11 Aug. 1785]
, below) survives, and that only in a printed and possibly abridged form. No extant letters from Tyler to AA2 are known to the editors, although several survive from Tyler to either AA or JA (all printed below). Finally, only one direct expression of AA2's opinion of Tyler, her first and perhaps most negative one, preceding Tyler's courtship of her, has survived (AA2 to Elizabeth Cranch, June 1782
, vol. 4:335–336, and note 5
From this unsatisfactory evidence, a rather curious tale emerges. Royall Tyler (1757–1826), Harvard 1776, author of The Contrast
(1787)—said to be the first play by an American produced on the American stage (in which certain characters drawn on the Adamses appear in a rather negative light)—and later chief justice of the supreme court of Vermont, came to Braintree about April 1782 to start his law practice. He took a room in the home of Richard and Mary Cranch. At first viewed with distrust by both AA and AA2 (vol. 4:335
), Tyler began his courtship of AA2 sometime between June and December, and quickly charmed the mother, and more gradually the daughter. His suit was initially opposed by JA with as much passion as he had expressed on any occasion (JA to AA, 22 Jan. 1783
, below), but eventually JA, too, came around. In early 1784, Tyler evidently reached an understanding with AA2, with the approval of her parents, that she would marry him upon the Adams' return from Europe. According to AA and Mary Cranch, however, between June 1784 and August 1785 Tyler was either too lazy or too perverse to write AA2 regularly, and too dishonest to admit his error, and in August AA2 summarily dismissed him (AA2 to Tyler,
[ca. 11 Aug. 1785]
, below). Later justifications of her own role in the affair by Mary Cranch, and of AA2's conduct by AA, which add considerable detail to the story, ran into 1786.
What is most striking from this lopsided record is the active role of AA in this first courtship of her daughter, and the apparent passivity of AA2, and perhaps also, after his first outburst, of JA. Recent interpretive treatments include those of Paul C. Nagel, in Descent from Glory
, N.Y., 1983, and The Adams Women: Abigail and Louisa Adams, Their Sisters and Daughters
, N.Y., 1987; and Richard Alan Ryerson, “The Limits of a Vicarious Life: Abigail Adams and Her Daughter,” MHS, Procs.
, 100 (1988):1–14. See also JA, Earliest Diary
, p. 18–30.