Massachusetts Historical Society

Adams Biographical Sketches





First Generation


JOHN ADAMS was born in the North Precinct of Braintree (now Quincy), Massachusetts, on 30 October 1735, the eldest son of John and Susanna (Boylston) Adams. He graduated from Harvard College in 1755 and for the next two years taught school and studied law under the direction of James Putnam in Worcester, Massachusetts. He returned to Braintree to launch his law practice and married Abigail Smith of Weymouth on 25 October 1764. For several years the Adamses moved their household between Braintree and Boston as warranted by John’s successful law practice and the demands of the circuit court system. Adams and Josiah Quincy, Jr. defended the British soldiers charged in the Boston Massacre Trials, successfully winning acquittals for seven of the defendants and reduced sentences of manslaughter for the remaining two.

From 1774 to 1777 Adams served in the Continental Congress. He passionately urged independence for the colonies, and in 1776 the “Atlas of Independence” was appointed to the committee to draft a declaration of independence. His copy of Thomas Jefferson’s draft of the Declaration of Independence is the earliest known draft in existence.

Appointed by Congress a joint commissioner (with Benjamin Franklin and Arthur Lee) to France, John Adams sailed from Boston with his son John Quincy in February 1778. In the summer of 1779, father and son returned to Massachusetts where Adams was elected to represent Braintree at the convention to frame a state constitution. The Constitution of 1780, drafted by John Adams, is the oldest written constitution in the world still in effect.

Elected by Congress to negotiate treaties of peace and commerce with Great Britain, Adams returned to Europe in November 1779 accompanied by his two eldest sons, John Quincy and Charles. Additional commissions to negotiate a Dutch loan and a treaty of amity and commerce with the Netherlands and election as a joint commissioner (with Franklin, John Jay, Henry Laurens, and Thomas Jefferson) to treat for peace with Great Britain soon followed.

1782 was a banner year for John Adams—he secured recognition of the United States in the Netherlands, contracted the first of four loans from Amsterdam bankers to provide crucial financial aid for the United States, and signed a treaty of amity and commerce with the Netherlands. In September 1783, after nearly a year of negotiation, Adams and his fellow commissioners signed the Definitive Peace Treaty with Great Britain. From 1785 to 1788 John Adams served as the first American minister to the Court of St. James’s in London. After eight years abroad, in France, the Netherlands, and Great Britain, where Abigail had joined him in 1784, Adams returned to the United States.

Service abroad was quickly followed by elective office at home—eight years as vice-president under George Washington and in 1796, president. The successful transfer of power was made on 4 March 1797. Adams’ presidency was fraught with difficulties: The Quasi War with France, the XYZ Affair, and the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798. American political parties were just taking shape, but Adams was not a party man. He maintained the same cabinet officers appointed by his predecessor and they continued to look to Washington and Federalist party leader Alexander Hamilton for direction instead of Adams, compounding his problems. Adams defied his cabinet, and much of the Federalist party, to conclude peace with France. Toward the end of Adams’ presidency the seat of government was transferred to Washington, D.C., and he and Abigail became the first presidential couple to live in the Executive Mansion, later called the White House.

After one term in office, Adams was succeeded as president by Thomas Jefferson. Party politics and a strong difference of opinion over national interests divided Adams and Jefferson and temporarily alienated these two men who had formed a close friendship in Europe in the 1780s. John Adams retired from public life to his farm in Quincy. He died on the fiftieth anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, 4 July 1826.

Children of John Adams


ABIGAIL SMITH ADAMS was born 11 November 1744, in Weymouth, Massachusetts, to the Reverend William and Elizabeth (Quincy) Smith. She had no formal schooling, but her education included reading works by Shakespeare, Milton, and Pope. On 25 October 1764, she married John Adams. John Adams’ protracted absences from home (first while traveling the court circuits and later while at the Continental Congress and on diplomatic assignments abroad) often left Abigail with the children to raise, a farm to manage, the household and tenants to supervise, and extended family and friends to care for—all while the Revolution in Boston unfolded on her doorstep. The letters she exchanged with John and other family members reveal her cares and worries, her frank opinions and advice, and give an extraordinary view of everyday life in 18th-century New England.

In 1784, Adams and her daughter Abigail joined John and son John Quincy in Europe. Abigail’s record of her month-long voyage from Boston to England, along with two shorter journals she kept while in England and on her return voyage to America in 1788, are printed in The Adams Papers’ Diary and Autobiography of John Adams, volume 3. During the 12 years of John Adams’ vice-presidency and presidency, Abigail moved between their home in Quincy and the national capitol in New York, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C., successively. Again, the burden of their household and personal affairs fell on her capable shoulders. She was also responsible for raising nieces and grandchildren entrusted to her care. Among her notable correspondents were Thomas Jefferson, James Lovell, Benjamin Rush, and Mercy Otis Warren. Abigail Adams died 28 October 1818, at home in Quincy.

Children of Abigail Adams

Second Generation


ABIGAIL ADAMS SMITH, the oldest child of John and Abigail (Smith) Adams, was born 14 July 1765. At the age of eighteen, Abigail traveled abroad with her mother, where she met and married (12 June 1786) Col. William Stephens Smith of New York, secretary to the U.S. Legation in London. Smith had served in the Continental Army during the Revolution and had been an aide to George Washington. The Colonel’s poor judgment in business matters, especially land speculation, following the couple’s return to New York in 1788 placed their household under severe financial restraints. Abigail died of cancer in August 1813 at her parent’s home in Quincy, having survived a mastectomy in October 1811.


WILLIAM STEPHENS SMITH was born 8 November 1755 in New York City to John Smith, a merchant, and Margaret Stephens, the daughter of a British army officer. Smith graduated from the College of New Jersey (Princeton) in 1774 and briefly studied law before joining the Continental Army in 1776. On 1 January 1777 Smith was promoted to lieutenant colonel for his actions during the Battle of Trenton, and served under Sullivan, Lee, Lafayette, and Washington, supervising the 25 November 1783 evacuation of New York City by the British before leaving the military. In 1785 he was appointed by Congress to serve as secretary to the American legation in England headed by John Adams as U.S.minister. While there he met and married Abigail “Nabby” Adams on 11 June 1786 in London. The Smiths returned to America in 1788 and settled in New York where he held several federally appointed positions: US Marshal of the District of New York, then Supervisor of the Revenue, and finally surveyor of the Port of New York in 1800. After his return to America, Smith became a land speculator and purchased extensive property in upstate New York, both for himself and for a syndicate of English investors. He periodically resided in England between 1790 and 1793 in an effort to sell the New York lands. In 1795 his sister Sarah married Nabby’s brother Charles Adams, and Smith began construction on a mansion located on the East River in New York City. Smith soon had to abandon the building project due to financial difficulties; during the 1790s several ships in which he had invested were seized by privateers. In 1806 Smith financially assisted the Venezuelan revolutionary Francisco de Miranda with his venture to free his country from Spanish rule, including allowing Smith’s nineteen-year-old son, William Steuben, to accompany Miranda. Smith was indicted for his role in the Miranda affair and lost his customs post but was acquitted of the charges against him. In 1808 the Smith family moved to upstate New York where he began farming. He served one term in Congress from 1813 to 1815. Towards the end of his life Smith was impoverished by his earlier reckless speculative activities. He died 10 June 1816 in Lebanon, NY.


JOHN QUINCY ADAMS, John Quincy Adams was born 11 July 1767, the second child and eldest son of Abigail Smith Adams and John Adams. As a young boy Adams accompanied his father on his diplomatic missions to Europe. He attended school at a private academy outside Paris, the Latin School of Amsterdam, and Leyden University. The years 1781–1782 he spent in St. Petersburg as private secretary and interpreter to Francis Dana, U.S. minister to Russia. In 1785 Adams returned to the United States to continue his education. He graduated from Harvard College in 1787, studied law for three years with Theophilus Parsons in Newburyport, Massachusetts, and then practiced law in Boston.

Adams entered into diplomatic service in 1794 when President George Washington appointed him as minister to the Netherlands. While in London in 1795 he met Louisa Catherine Johnson, daughter of the U.S. consul Joshua Johnson and his wife, Catherine Nuth Johnson. The couple married on 26 July 1797 and together welcomed four children—George Washington Adams (1801–1829), John Adams 2d (1803–1834), Charles Francis Adams (1807–1886), and Louisa Catherine Adams (1811–1812).

During his father John Adams’ presidency (1797–1801), John Quincy was appointed minister plenipotentiary to Berlin in 1797, where he served until being recalled after the elder Adams’ defeat in the presidential election of 1800.

John Quincy Adams returned to the United States in 1801. He made his first foray into politics with the Massachusetts Senate before being elevated in April 1803 to fill a vacant seat in the U.S. Senate. Adams’ independent actions in the Senate, namely support for the Louisiana Purchase and the Embargo of 1807, alienated him from the Federalist Party in Massachusetts. When the state legislature, dominated by Federalists, named Adams’ successor six months before his Senate term was to expire in 1808, Adams resigned.

He returned to diplomatic service the following year. Commissioned minister plenipotentiary to Russia in 1809, Adams, Louisa, and their son Charles Francis spent five years in St. Petersburg. Adams’ post placed him in a unique position to report on Napoleon’s march across Europe and disastrous attempt to conquer Russia. Within months of the U.S. declaration of war against Great Britain in 1812, Adams was involved in efforts to bring about peace—first through Russian mediation and later as a negotiator at Ghent in 1814. The Adamses extended their stay in Europe after John Quincy was appointed minister plenipotentiary to Great Britain in 1815, a position both his father and son Charles Francis also held. George Washington Adams and John Adams 2d joined their parents and younger brother in England.

Adams’ eighth and final voyage across the Atlantic came in 1817 when he returned home to serve as secretary of state in President James Monroe’s administration. Significant among his many accomplishments were the negotiation of the Transcontinental Treaty of 1819 with Spain, the completion of his authoritative Report on Weights and Measures (1821), and the development of the Monroe Doctrine (1823).

Adams succeeded Monroe as president in 1825 after a contentious election. He ran second to rival Andrew Jackson in the 1824 election but was chosen president by the U.S. House of Representatives when no candidate received a majority vote by the electoral college. Adams struggled as a minority president and received little support for an ambitious program of national improvements (federal support for the arts and sciences, creation of a Department of the Interior, and development of a system of roads and canals).

Although defeated by Jackson for reelection in 1828, Adams returned to national politics in 1831. He served as a representative from Massachusetts in the U.S. House from 1831 to 1848. He became an increasingly vocal opponent of slavery and its expansion—opposing the annexation of Texas and war with Mexico, championing the freedom of petition in defiance of the congressional Gag Rule, and defending the Amistad captives before the U.S. Supreme Court. Adams also served for 10 years on the House committee overseeing the bequest of Englishman James Smithson, working to apply those funds to a legitimate scientific purpose: the establishment of the Smithsonian Institution. On 21 February 1848, Adams collapsed at his seat in the House chamber. He was carried to the Speaker’s Room in the Capitol, where he died on 23 February.

Children of John Quincy Adams


LOUISA CATHERINE JOHNSON ADAMS, the wife of John Quincy Adams, was born in London on 12 February 1775, the second daughter of Joshua Johnson of Maryland, and Catherine Nuth Johnson. Her father represented the Maryland firm of Wallace, Davidson, and Johnson in London. From 1778 to 1783, while England and France were at war, the Johnson family lived in Nantes, France, and Louisa and her older sister boarded at a convent school for several years. Following the peace the Johnson family returned to London where Joshua Johnson served as the first U.S. consul (1790–1797). Louisa and John Quincy Adams became engaged in 1796 when the latter, then U.S. minister to the Netherlands, was in London for the ratification of Jay’s Treaty and were married in that city on 26 July 1797, in the parish church of All Hallows Barking.

Louisa accompanied her husband on his diplomatic assignments to Berlin (1797–1801), St. Petersburg (1809–1815), and London (1815–1817). When John Quincy’s career called the couple to Washington the Adamses lived at first (1803–1808) with Louisa’s family, who had settled there following the collapse of Joshua Johnson’s London business in 1797. During their later residence at the capitol the Adamses' social life was particularly demanding. Louisa hosted weekly receptions at their home on F Street when John Quincy Adams was secretary of state and presided at dinners and levees in the White House when first lady.

Louisa stayed on at the F Street residence following John Quincy’s death in 1848. She suffered a stroke the following year and died on 15 May 1852. Of particular note in the Adams Papers are Louisa Catherine Adams’ autobiographical writings (“Adventures of a Nobody,” “Record of a Life, or My Story,” “Narrative of a Journey from Russia to France, 1815”) and her journal letters to her in-laws, John and Abigail Adams.

Children of Louisa Catherine Johnson Adams


CHARLES ADAMS was born on 29 May 1770, the second son of John and Abigail Smith Adams.

At the age of nine he traveled with his father and older brother, John Quincy, to Europe during his father’s second trip to France and studied briefly in Passy, Amsterdam, and Leyden. He soon became homesick however, and in December 1781, Charles returned to America unaccompanied by other family members.

Charles entered Harvard College in August 1785. His years there were troubled ones as he got involved with a campus disturbance, and began to drink often. As he approached graduation from Harvard in 1789, John Adams set Charles up in New York to study law and establish his practice under the supervision of his father as the Vice President joined the newly formed federal government.

The change proved beneficial to Charles and his first few years after college went well. He focused on his studies, and after passing the bar in 1792, Charles began a promising looking legal career in an office in Hanover Square in New York.

Charles Adams was known for possessing a very amiable and likeable personality, which likely made an impression on his sister-in-law, Sarah (Sally) Smith, sister to Nabby’s husband, William Stephens Smith, with whom he began a courtship. Despite protestations and warnings from his parents on the perils of early marriage, they acquiesced, and twenty-five-year old Charles married Sally in New York City on 29 August 1795, with his sister Nabby perhaps the only Adams family member present. Moving to 91 Front Street in November, his life seemed to be settled and his business good, and his parents spoke approvingly of his prospects and his choice of a wife. He had two daughters, Susanna Boylston and Abigail Louisa Smith Adams, born in 1796 and 1798 respectively.

The turn around in Charles’s life did not last, however, and the troubles he had experienced during his college years came back to haunt him. He squandered four thousand dollars his brother, John Quincy, had entrusted to him in land speculation and then dodged numerous letters from John Quincy who was serving as a diplomat in Europe. In the spring of 1800, Charles and Sally moved to 30 Broad Street as Charles’s illness intensified and as the months past the hope of recovery waned. Charles Adams died on 30 November 1800.


SARAH SMITH ADAMS, also known as Sally, was born on 6 November 1769, one of 10 children to John Smith, a New York merchant, and Margaret Stephens Smith, the daughter of a British army officer.

She married her brother-in-law, Charles Adams, on 29 August 1795 in a double ceremony with her sister Margaret Smith who married Felix Leblond de St. Hilaire at the First Presbyterian Church in New York. The couple moved to 91 Front Street in November and had two children, Susanna Boylston, born in 1796, and Abigail Louisa Smith Adams, born in 1798, while Charles worked as an attorney. Charles’s parents had originally been hesitant about the match given Charles’s youth, and a concern that an early marriage would hurt his career prospects, but eventually consented. Abigail Adams wrote to her son John Quincy, “Your Brother Charles writes me that he is very happy in his connection. Sally is an amiable virtuous Girl, with every disposition to make him a good wife and it will be his fault, if he is not in future what he now is.” (AA to JQA, 29 Feb. 1796)

Sally watched as her husband deteriorated, finally confiding in her father-in-law, John Adams, the truth of her situation. After Charles Adams died in 1800, Sally had to rely on the care of her in-laws, who took her and her two daughters into their home. Abigail Adams, again writing to John Quincy, praised Sally in this time of trial, “She is amiable and worthy; I can lay no blame to her Charge. She attended with constant and unwearied Solisititude, to the last Scene.” (AA to JQA, 29 Jan. 1801)

After her younger daughter married Alexander Bryan Johnson in October 1814, Adams moved to New York to live with her daughter and son-in-law.

She died in Utica, N.Y. on 3 August 1828.


THOMAS BOYLSTON ADAMS, third son and youngest child of John and Abigail (Smith) Adams, was born 15 September 1772, and baptized in the First (Congregational) or North Precinct Church in Quincy five days later. Named for his great-great-grandfather, young Thomas Boylston impressed the family with his early talent for Latin and what his aunt Elizabeth Smith Shaw called “a more martial, and intrepid Spirit.” Early on, she wrote to Abigail, Thomas Boylston showed “a love for Buisiness, and an excellent faculty in dispatching it. Indefatiguable in every-thing that shall render him a useful member of Society, and independant of the World” (Elizabeth Smith Shaw to AA, 18 March 1786, AFC7:94). Another aunt, Mary Smith Cranch, described the teenager as a “fine shap’d youth” who closely resembled his mother, and had a real “Talant for satire” (Mary Smith Cranch to AA, 22 April 1787, AFC 8:16). Thomas Boyslton graduated from Harvard in 1790, and studied law with Jared Ingersoll in Philadelphia. He accompanied his brother John Quincy on his first diplomatic mission to Europe as secretary in 1794. The two brothers made excellent co-workers, and although he often suffered from bouts of acute rheumatism, Thomas Boylston found time for ice-skating, museum trips, and a steady whirl of social engagements during his brief diplomatic career. “He has ever been a faithful friend, and kind companion, as well as an industrious and valuable assistant to me,” John Quincy wrote of Thomas Boylston when his brother departed for America in 1798. Like many of the Adamses, Thomas Boylston faithfully kept a record of his experiences abroad, gathering impressions for what was later published as Berlin and the Prussian Court in 1798: Journal of Thomas Boylston Adams, Secretary to the United States Legation at Berlin (ed. Victor Hugo Paltsits, 1915).

Back in Philadelphia, Thomas Boylston continued to practice law, exchanging views on the profession with his father and eldest brother. He was greatly concerned with his prospects for success, given the lack of patronage and the “oppressing” expense of living in Philadelphia (TBA to JA, 22 Oct. 1799, Adams Papers). Then serving as president, John Adams advised a “total Sacrifice of Pleasures and Amusements” and an “an assiduous Attendance” to solidify his youngest son’s standing in the field of law (JA to TBA, 19 Oct. 1799, Adams Papers). Between 1802 and 1803, Thomas Boylston pursued his literary ambitions, secretly teaming with Joseph Dennie to edit the national magazine Port Folio and recruiting John Quincy as the main contributor. By 1805, Thomas Boylston’s professional success at the bar allowed him to support a family, and he married Ann (Nancy) Treat Harrod of Haverhill on 16 May 1805. They settled in Quincy, which he represented in the Massachusetts legislature from 1805 to 1806. They had four sons and three daughters, but none of them had children. Like the rest of his family, Thomas Boylston cultivated deep civic ties, variously serving as member of the Quincy town and school visiting committees, town treasurer, supervisor of schools, director of the Boylston Market Association, and trustee of Derby Academy in Hingham. In 1811 he was appointed chief justice of the circuit court of common pleas for the southern circuit of Massachusetts. Thomas Boylston’s plan to combine legal work and farming was largely unsuccessful, due to his frequent illness and struggles with alcoholism. He left Quincy with his family in the spring of 1829, but he remained involved in preserving the family legacy. From 1827 to 1830, he served as clerk, secretary, and chairman of the Adams Temple and School Fund Supervisors. Thomas Boylston Adams died on 13 March 1832, in Quincy.


ANN (“Nancy”) HARROD ADAMS, daughter of Haverhill, Mass., innkeepers Joseph and Anna Harrod, was born on 25 April 1774(?). Her father ran a tavern called the Mason’s Arms, a popular local gathering site that provided lodging to prominent guests like President George Washington, who visited in 1789. Shortly after Thomas Boylston returned to America in 1798, he struck up a correspondence with Ann, and by 1802, Abigail Adams felt she knew Ann well enough to approve of the match. “She is a serious, solid, sensible, amiable woman, qualified I think to make a good wife,” Abigail wrote. “You will never meet with any obsticals from me whenever you can see your way clear to support a family” (AA to TBA, 27 Jan. 1803, Adams Papers). Ann and Thomas Boylston married on 16 May 1805. They had seven children: Abigail Smith, Elizabeth Coombs, Thomas Boylston, Frances Foster, Isaac Hull, John Quincy, and Joseph Harrod. While many Adamses kept diaries, literary miscellanies, or farm books, Ann Harrod Adams briefly kept another unique kind of historical record, a journal of her young children’s health. Most of them suffered through the same series of illnesses: whooping cough, scarlet fever, kinepox, and measles. In her “little journal,” Ann also set down happier moments: first words, first teeth, first steps. Coming across her mother’s record in 1894, an elderly Elizabeth Coombs looked over her own entry closely, scribbling: “This is rather a curiosity and a good plan for Mothers to keep the like” (AHA, Miscellany, 2). Like other Adams women, Ann also tried her hand at literary pursuits. A small New Year’s gift book featuring her handwritten, original story, “Advenutures of a Ruffle,” is held in the Adams Papers. Ann’s morality tale advised readers that “vanity is always sure to defeat its own plans,” observing that “when we are no longer admired for our beauty, we generally strive to be for our usefulness.” Ann Harrod Adams died of complications from breast cancer on 3 September 1845.

Third Generation


GEORGE WASHINGTON ADAMS, the son of Louisa Catherine and John Quincy Adams, was born 12 April 1801 inBerlin, during his father service as U.S. minister plenipotentiary to Prussia. The family returned to the U.S. later that year, and George was raised in Massachusetts and Washington D.C., as John Quincy took his place as a state and then a U.S.senator. In October 1807 George went to live with his great-aunt and uncle Elizabeth Smith Shaw and Rev. Stephen Peabody, in Atkinson, New Hampshire, where he attended the school of John Vose.

In 1809 John Quincy was appointed minister plenipotentiary to Russia. Despite Louisa’s objections, John Quincy and his parents decided that George and his younger brother John 2d would remain at home to be educated. Only the youngest son, Charles Francis, would accompany his parents to Russia. The separation lasted for nearly six years, during which time Louisa gave birth to a daughter, Louisa Catherine, who died in infancy. George and John 2d boarded with their great-aunt and uncle, Mary Smith and Richard Cranch, in Quincy. With the death of both Mary and Richard in 1811, the two boys went to live with the Peabodys, and a year later they entered Derby Academy in Hingham, Massachusetts, residing with the school’s preceptor, Daniel Kimball.

John Quincy was appointed minister plenipotentiary to the Court of St. James in 1815, and in May of that year George and John 2d were reunited with their parents and Charles Francis in London. The family resided in Ealing where the boys attended David Nicholas’ school, George as a day student. With John Quincy’s appointment as secretary of state in 1817, the family returned to the U.S. In August George enrolled at Harvard, and although he was disciplined for taking part in a student rebellion, he received his degree in August 1821. He then studied law with his father, and in October 1823 he entered his third year of legal education in Daniel Webster’s Boston law office. The following October, after being admitted to the Suffolk County Bar, George began to practice law in Boston. He was elected to the Massachusetts house of representatives in 1826, serving for one year, and in 1828 he won election to the Boston Common Council for Ward 7.

George fell into alcoholism and ill health, and his dissipation was a matter of grave concern to his family. Early in April 1829 a child he had fathered was born to Eliza Dolph, a chambermaid in the home of Dr. Thomas Welsh. On 30 April, while traveling to Washington to assist his parents in their move to Quincy after John Quincy’s defeat for reelection to the presidency, George drowned after either falling or jumping from the steamboat Benjamin Franklin in Long Island Sound.


JOHN ADAMS 2d, was born to John Quincy and Louisa Catherine Adams in Boston on 4 July 1803. Three months later the family moved to Washington, so that John Quincy could serve in the Senate. They lived in the home of Louisa’s sister Nancy and her husband, Walter Hellen. In 1805, the family traveled to Quincy. John spent the summer there with his parents, and in November, when they returned to Washington, he and his older brother, George, remained behind. Both boys spent most of their childhood away from their parents. Until he was twelve, John lived with his parents only sporadically, spending more time with his grandparents or other relatives

In July 1809, John Quincy accepted an appointment as minister plenipotentiary to Russia. Against their mother’s wishes, the two older boys remained in America to continue their education, boarding first with Richard and Mary Cranch in Quincy and later with the Rev. Stephen and Elizabeth Peabody in Atkinson, N.H. In 1812, the two boys moved to Hingham, where they studied at Derby Academy and lived with the school’s preceptor, Daniel Kimball. They were not reunited with their parents until 1815, when James Madison appointed John Quincy minister plenipotentiary to Great Britain. John attended a boarding school near his parents’ home in Ealing. In 1817, when John Quincy became secretary of state, the family lived in the Old House with John 2d’s grandparents for the summer. In September, when their parents moved to Washington, John 2d and Charles enrolled in the Boston Public Latin School and boarded with Dr. Thomas and Abigail Kent Welsh.

John 2d entered Harvard in August 1819. His academic career was marked by mediocre work and participation in student rebellions. The most serious of these occurred in 1823, shortly before he would have graduated. Along with more than half the members of his class, he was expelled. He graduated posthumously, in 1873. He spent the following summer with his grandfather in Quincy and in October moved to Washington to study law with his father. He stayed with his parents in their house on F Street, along with his cousin Mary Catherine Hellen, who had been living with the Adamses since 1817.

When John Quincy became president in 1825, he appointed John 2d as his private secretary, a post he retained until 1827, when he became manager of the Columbian Mills, a flour mill in Washington that John Quincy had owned since 1823. He remained in this position until his death.

On 25 February 1828, John 2d and Mary Catherine Hellen were married in the White House. Their first child, Mary Louisa, was born on 2 December, and Georgeanna Frances was born on 10 September 1830. John 2d’s family and his parents lived together in Washington and Quincy for the rest of his life.

On 23 October 1834, John 2d died in Washington, from complications of alcoholism. John Quincy became guardian of his two granddaughters, and the families continued to live together in Washington and Quincy.


CHARLES FRANCIS ADAMS, the third son of John Quincy and Louisa Catherine (Johnson) Adams, was born 18 August 1807, in Boston. His early childhood was spent, for the most part, abroad—six years in St. Petersburg (1809-1815) and two in England (1815-1817)—where his father had diplomatic appointments. He graduated from Harvard in 1825 and spent two years in Washington during his father's presidency. Following his engagement in 1827 to Abigail Brown Brooks of Medford, Massachusetts, Adams returned to Boston to read law in Daniel Webster's office. He and Abigail were married 3 September 1829. 

The early deaths of his two older brothers, George Washington Adams and John Adams 2d, meant that it was left to Charles Francis to carry on the family’s tradition of public service and prominence in American government. Adams began to take an active role in politics in the 1830s by contributing pieces on local and national affairs to Bostonnewspapers and the North American Review. His next step was election to the Massachusetts legislature, serving three years in the House (1841-1843) and two in the Senate (1844-1845) and emerging as a recognized antislavery leader in the state and among the Conscience Whigs. In 1846 he became the editor and a proprietor of the Boston Daily Whig, the unofficial voice of the Conscience Whigs. Although he was the vice-presidential candidate of the newly formed Free Soil Party in 1848, a decade passed before he held elected office again. 

He served as a Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives from 1858 until 1861 when, on the eve of the Civil War, President Lincoln appointed him minister to the Court of St. James's. He arrived in London on the very day Great Britain recognized the Confederacy as a belligerent. In 1863 Adams convinced the British government to prevent Confederate ironclad ships, built in Liverpool, from leaving port, thereby maintaining British neutrality. He resigned his post in 1868. 

In 1871 and 1872, Adams was one of five arbitrators appointed to settle outstanding claims of the United States against Great Britain. The "Alabama claims" concerned damages to American shipping by Confederate raiders, such as the Alabama, built in Britain. Adams successfully argued the American cause for direct damages and the United Stateswas awarded $15,500,000.

Charles Francis Adams was an accomplished editor and published numerous volumes based on the family papers. These include Letters of Mrs. Adams (1840), Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States: with a Life of the Author (1850-1856), and Memoirs of John Quincy Adams, Comprising Portions of His Diary from 1795 to 1848 (1874-1877).

Charles Francis Adams died in Boston on 21 November 1886.


ABIGAIL BROWN BROOKS ADAMS was born on 25 April 1808 in Medford, MA, the youngest of the three daughters of Peter Chardon and Ann Gorham Brooks. The Brookses were a wealthy family, highly regarded in Bostonsociety. The family’s status was solidified, not only by its wealth, but by ancestral connections to families such as the Boylstons, Cottons, Gardners, and Saltonstalls.

Her courtship to a nineteen-year-old Charles Francis Adams began in early 1827 while visiting her sister Charlotte, married to Edward Everett, in Washington. The couple fell in love quickly upon meeting and within a month Charles had proposed, and she accepted, pending her father’s approval. Peter Chardon Brooks doted on this youngest daughter, and was at first reluctant to give his consent when news of the courtship reached him in Boston. After consulting with then President John Quincy Adams, Brooks gave his consent for Abigail “to act at her pleasure” provided that the couple wait two years for Charles to reach the age of 21 and establish his law practice. As they waited, Abigail and Charles exchanged numerous love letters, expressing heartfelt sentiments and tenderness as they anticipated their life together.

After their wedding on 3 September 1829, the couple moved into a house on Hancock Avenue in Boston to begin what was a happy and affectionate marriage. While Abigail sometimes struggled with her health and spirits, particularly while their seven children were small, she was lively and social, and prevented Charles from becoming the social recluse he might otherwise have become. She also took interest in civic service. A notice in the Quincy Patriot of 13 November 1858 shows her serving as the county manager for the Mount Vernon Ladies Association, calling for subscriptions to help preserve George Washington’s Mount Vernon mansion for future generations.

Adams supported Charles in his political endeavors and when he was sent as Minister to the Court of St. James at the onset of the Civil War, Abigail accompanied him. Her nephew, William Everett described those years in her obituary printed in the New England Historic and Genealogical Register of July 1889 praising her for “maintaining her country’s honor in the most trying circumstances of English social life, where the aristocratic sentiment was notoriously hostile, with a combination of generosity, playfulness, frankness, constancy, culture and dignity.”

Abigail Brooks Adams’s old age was one largely of poor health and decline for both her and Charles, his mentally, hers physically and emotionally. After he passed in 1886, Abigail’s health and spirits declined rapidly, until she too passed away at the Old House in Quincy on 6 June 1889.


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