Of Adamses & Ancestry

By Sara Georgini, The Adams Papers

John A. Grace, Memoranda Respecting the Families of Quincy and Adams, 1841

For historian Henry Adams, the morning mail meant a fresh round of research questions. “Here comes your troublesome genealogical cousin again,” Elizabeth Coombs Adams wrote in early 1893. Paging through the Adams archive and sweeping up reminiscences to file, Elizabeth was laboring to compile the family history. She joined a long train of Adamses who devoted time and money to polishing up new accounts of their genealogy. Knee-deep in piles of stray notes and record scraps before the likes of research hubs like Ancestry.com, they turned to wheels, charts, and trees to draft the presidential family’s Anglo-American origins story. Today, let’s take a quick look at the Victorian Adamses’ adventures in genealogy, and who they thought they were.

John Adams and son John Quincy picked through family memories and town records to uncover and curate their version of the early American past. Piecing together shared evidence did not yield the same story. Father and son split over the exact region of their English roots. But both presidents staked claim to a Puritan lineage that played well with constituents. Highlighting their role in the Puritan ordeal of suffering, immigration, and settlement, the Adams statesmen linked themselves to a history of religious toleration and political dissent. When it came to genealogical pursuits, their methods varied, too. The elder Adams’ approach to genealogy was impulsive. He dashed off “minute” memoranda of random finds, listing births and deaths as he encountered them in odd pages of his father’s books. Strategically, he wove Puritan family ties into the revolutionary rationale that powered his Dissertation on the Canon and the Feudal Law (1765).

John A. Grace, Memoranda Respecting the Families of Quincy and Adams, 1841

His son, John Quincy, approached the task with trademark rigor and a passion for verification. Highly scientific and systematic in his effort, the sixth president scoured town records and newspapers, copied out church membership lists, and checked material in his family papers against those of other early Americans. John Quincy’s scholarly bent for fact-checking was aided by a rising set of organizations that steered the antebellum practice of personal history, like the Massachusetts Historical Society (1791), the Boston Athenaeum (1807), and the New England Historic Genealogical Society (1845). More than a hobby to fill the diplomat’s rare downtime, genealogy was a way for John Quincy to exercise his skills as a gentleman scholar. It was a task to pass along across the generations, and so he handed it off to his son, Charles Francis, with the family’s large set of seals and copper bookplates. On 28 Feb. 1831, he laid down what he knew of the Adams ancestry and colorful heraldry in a detailed missive. “File this letter away,” John Quincy instructed, “for the age when the passion of genealogy shall take possession of you.”

Stoked by his highly successful publication of Abigail Adams’ letters in 1840, Charles’ interest in the family past blossomed steadily throughout his life. Like many Americans, he invested in Lemuel Shattuck’s Family Register book. The blank album featured tidy charts and wheels to organize the machinery of family for presentation. Stocked with a template narrative for each ancestor and stern guidelines for nascent family historians, Shattuck’s book commanded that facts–and not opinions–must guide the process. There were, Shattuck lectured, many kinds of facts to collect, and they should be updated on a monthly basis. His categories veered from the mundane to the moral: health, religious tendencies, phrenological oddities, children’s expenses, real estate descriptions, vaccinations, public offices held, and “plans for private intellectual improvement.” Dutifully, Charles began the book, making lists and skipping the intricate wheels. He never finished it, likely thinking that the family’s cache of letterbooks, correspondence, and diaries filled in the rest.

Charles Francis Adams, entries in Family Register, 1841

Or maybe Charles realized he didn’t need to do all the research alone. Genealogy had, after all, evolved into a new American pastime. By 1841, at least one reader of Abigail’s published letters reached out (from Havana!) with new clues to the more distant Adamses. John A. Grace delved into the complex English roots of the Adams, Quincy, and Boylston lines. To Charles, he sent a vivid, hand-colored memorandum of the Adamses’ related heraldic arms with details cobbled together from foreign records. Grace put forth an idea that Charles and his children, including Henry, came to champion: that the family descended from the Welsh baronial clan of ap-Adams. Over time, more Adamses went on to swarm the archives, eagerly hunting for familiar faces in history’s mirror. Henry Adams, holding his cousin’s query, sniffed that he did not “invest in the genealogy.” But, as the Adams Papers reveal, Henry made just as many charts as others did, diligently tracing out his great grandparents’ lines on graph paper (see Reel 603 of P-54, the Adams Family Papers microfilm). Even Henry Adams could not resist family history forever.

A Genealogical Tree of the Adams, Cranch, & DeWindt Families, 1928

John Quincy Adams and the Allens

By Lindsey Woolcock, Adams Papers Intern

In October 1837, John Quincy Adams was reading the newspaper, when he came across an advertisement for a slave sale.

There was in the National Intelligencer this morning an advertisement, signed James H. Birch … headed Sale of Slaves—A sale at public auction at 4 O’Clock this afternoon, of Dorcas Allen, and her two surviving children aged about 7. and 9. years (the other two having been killed by said Dorcas in a fit of insanity as found by the jury who lately acquitted her)… (23 October 1837)

Dorcas Allen was promised her freedom multiple times by her owners, the Davises. Though informally released from slavery, after multiple deaths and remarriages in the Davis family, Allen was left without the papers she needed to legally secure her freedom. Allen and her four children were taken from the District of Columbia to a slave prison in Alexandria, Virginia; there Allen killed her two youngest children and attempted unsuccessfully to commit suicide. She was put on trial for murder but acquitted on grounds of insanity.

This story deeply affected John Quincy. In his later years, he began taking more of an active stance against slavery. He presented dozens of antislavery petitions to an unresponsive House of Representatives, leading to the establishment of the House’s “gag” rule, where all petitions relating to slavery were laid aside without discussion.

His succeeding diary entries talk about visiting the auction house where Dorcas was to be sold in order to discover more information. He met with Nathan Allen, Dorcas’s husband, who was trying to raise enough money to purchase his wife and the two children from Birch. He also met with Dorcas, who came with her husband to ask for the $50 that John Quincy promised to contribute toward her purchase.

After that meeting, Dorcas and Nathan Allen and their children disappear. John Quincy seems to have never met with them again. We don’t know what happened to Dorcas and her children, yet these brief moments in Adams’s voluminous diary offer small glimpses into the parallel worlds of the black and white communities of Washington, D.C.

Over the summer that I’ve transcribed John Quincy’s diary, I’ve watched many seemingly random people show up in his parlor: a Quaker woman who gave a sermon and advised him to maintain a steady course in the House of Representatives; men visiting “out of curiosity”; a Scottish silkworm breeder who spoke so long about his worms that John Quincy didn’t have time to write letters of introduction for an earlier visitor. You never know who’s going to show up, and these meetings always struck me as odd. How do you just show up at the home of the former President of the United States? Do you just knock on the front door?

But a story like the Allens’s in particular struck me: what was that meeting like? How did Dorcas and Nathan feel? And what happened to their family afterward?

John Quincy Adams’ 1794 London Interlude

By Neal Millikan, Adams Papers

When John Quincy Adams arrived in London on October 15, 1794, on his way to The Hague to become minister resident to the Netherlands, he was a 27-year-old beginning his new life as an American statesman. We know much about his two week stay in London because he recounted his visit in his diary, transcriptions of which will eventually be available through The John Quincy Adams Diary Digital Project website.

John Quincy purposefully stopped in London to deliver important government documents; however, he almost lost these papers. “Just before we got to the London Bridge we heard a rattling before us and immediately after a sound as of a trunk falling from the Carriage. I instantly looked forward and saw that both our trunks were gone. One of them contained all the public dispatches which I brought for the American Ministers here … For a moment I felt sensations of the severest distress.” Luckily his brother, Thomas Boylston Adams, who accompanied him as his secretary, jumped out of the carriage and located the trunks. John Quincy noted how detrimental their loss would have been to American diplomacy and his career: “Entrusted with dispatches of the highest importance … particularly committed to my care, because they were highly confidential,” he questioned how he could have ever “presented myself” to the men for whom they were intended, only to inform them “that I had lost” their documents. He believed the trunks had been purposefully cut loose and considered their quick recovery “as one of the most fortunate circumstances that ever occurred to me in the course of my life.”

It was during this visit that John Quincy participated in one of his first diplomatic activities. He, Chief Justice John Jay, and U.S. minister to Great Britain Thomas Pinckney discussed the document that would become known as the Jay Treaty, which sought to settle outstanding issues between America and Great Britain left unresolved after the Revolutionary War. That Jay and Pinckney included Adams in these deliberations demonstrated the young man’s status among the American diplomatic corps. The three men held lengthy conversations during which the draft treaty was “considered Article by Article.” Adams commented on the treaty in his diary: “it is much below the standard which I think would be advantageous to the Country, but … it is in the opinion of the two plenipotentiaries, preferable to a War: and when Mr Jay asked me my opinion I answered that I could only acquiesce in that idea.” John Quincy’s inclusion in these discussions proved prescient, for in 1795 he received instructions to return to London to exchange ratifications of the Jay Treaty.

The Adams Papers Digital Edition Turns Ten!

By Amanda M. Norton, Adams Papers

On July 1, 2008, the Massachusetts Historical Society launched the Founding Families Digital Editions, the home of the Adams Papers Digital Edition. This resource converted 45 years’ worth of published material, comprising 32 volumes and three generations of Adamses, and made them more accessible than ever with keyword searching, a cumulative index, and hyperlinked cross references on a freely available website. This massive multi-department undertaking took three years, financial support from the National Endowment for the Humanities and Harvard University Press, as well as technical support from Rotunda, the electronic imprint of the University of Virginia Press. Using a defined subset of the Text Encoding Initiative, an XML-based tagging language designed for the digital markup of various kinds of texts in the humanities, the website retains the editorial standards of the original letterpress volumes, while making the presentation more flexible for the digital environment. As originally conceived, this Founding Families project was to house both the Adams Papers and the seven volumes of the Winthrop Family Papers; however, over time, the projects were separated and the Founding Families page was renamed to simply the Adams Papers Digital Edition.

Over the last ten years, the website has only increased in its value to scholars and the public as thirteen more volumes have been made available, additional search and browse features were added, and displays were updated.

This summer we are pleased to announce that to celebrate its tenth anniversary, the Adams Papers Digital Edition has undergone a complete redesign. The all new web platform enhances not only its readability but also its usability, with more tailored search options, the ability to save your most recent search, and a better mobile experience. Last, but certainly not least, the relaunched website benefits from the addition of a new volume, Papers of John Adams, Volume 17. This volume includes a momentous occasion for both the Adamses and the nation—John Adams greeting King George III as the first minister from the newly independent United States. John’s detailed account of this dramatic meeting, written in code to the secretary of foreign affairs, John Jay, is just one highlight from a volume that also includes the first substantial correspondence between Adams and Thomas Jefferson and the beginnings of treaty negotiations with the Barbary States of North Africa.

While some of the Adams Papers volumes are also available on both the National Archives’ Founders Online and Rotunda’s Founding Era sites, only the Adams Papers Digital Edition website includes all of the historical documents and editorial content from all of the digitized volumes in one place; and the Adams Papers Editorial Project with the Massachusetts Historical Society is committed to continuing to expand its digital offerings. Visit our new site at www.masshist.org/publications/adams-papers.

Introducing John Adams, Vice President

By Sara Georgini, The Adams Papers

“Huzza for the new World and farewell to the Old One,” John Adams wrote in late 1787, wrapping up a decade of diplomatic service in Europe and packing for his new farm, Peacefield. “For a Man who has been thirty Years rolling like a stone,” his recall was welcome news indeed. After completing several missions in Paris, The Hague, and London, Adams was eager to head home in order to witness the progress of the ratification of the U.S. Constitution and the establishment of the federal government. His last 28 months abroad, chronicled in the Adams Papers’ newest release, Volume 19 of the Papers of John Adams, were busy. The Massachusetts lawyer-turned-statesman secured American credit in Europe. He fought his way through the delicate etiquette of resigning his diplomatic commissions to Great Britain and the Netherlands. He wrote the second and third volumes of his landmark work on tripartite federalism, A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America. With wife Abigail, he made plans for a quiet retirement in leafy Braintree. So long a citizen of the world, John Adams pondered his role in shaping the young nation’s progress. “Shall I feel, the Stings of Ambition, and the frosts of Neglect?” he wrote. “Shall I desire to go to Congress, or the General Court, and be a Fish out of Water? I Suppose so, because, other People have been so. but I dont believe So.”

Papers of John Adams, Volume 19

Volume 19, which stretches from February 1787 to May 1789, marks a transitional period in John Adams’ public career and personal life. Through the window of 341 documents, we watch a rich trove of stories unfold: the United States’ uneasy peace with Britain; the risky state of American credit abroad; the political fallout of popular uprisings like Shays’ Rebellion; the crafting of the federal Constitution; a surge in the British impressment of American sailors; and the monumental effort to form a cohesive federal government. Meanwhile, Adams settled into rural retirement with Abigail and watched the Constitution’s ratification evolve. His respite was cut short in April 1789. By volume’s end, John Adams returned to the adventure of public life, preparing to serve as America’s first vice president.

From Europe, Adams reported on a high tide of political crises. Piecing together Thomas Jefferson’s and the Marquis de Lafayette’s accounts of the reforms unspooling at the Assembly of Notables in 1787, and again at the convening of the Estates General two years later, Adams perceived France’s prerevolutionary peril. Adams, from his perch at No. 8 (now No. 9) Grosvenor Square, longed to go and see the “Illustrious” group. “I wish I could be a Sylph or a Gnome & flit away to Versailles on a sun-Beam—to hear your August Debates,” he wrote to Lafayette. To Adams’ mind, the late eighteenth century heralded both an age of revolutions and an age of constitutions that realigned the continent’s balance of power. “England will rise in Consideration and Power, and France will Fall, in the Eyes of all Europe,” he wrote.

John Adams portrait

John Adams spent his last summer in Europe traveling with family—including his first grandchild, William Steuben Smith—in rural Devonshire, compiling the second volume of his Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America, and mulling his legacy. He answered reference questions about the Revolution from scholars such as Philip Mazzei, Mercy Otis Warren, David Ramsay, and Reverend William Gordon. Retirement beckoned, but Adams was conflicted about trading the public stage for the solitude of Peacefield. Reflecting on his service, Adams claimed two wins: the ratification of the Moroccan-American Treaty of Peace and Friendship; and the progress of a proposed Portuguese-American Treaty of Amity and Commerce. The Adamses’ exit saddened friends like Jefferson, who wrote: “I shall now feel be-widowed.” Adams packed up his papers, including the letterbooks where he kept a close financial record of what it cost to be an American diplomat in Europe–a fascinating (and frugal!) report of expenditures that appears in the Appendix of Volume 19. He sold his chariot at The Hague. He closed up the London legation. “And now as We Say at Sea,” Adams wrote to Jefferson, “huzza for the new World and farewell to the Old One.”

S.E. Prospect

Home at last in June 1788, Adams briefly settled into the life of a gentleman scholar. Throughout the autumn, a stream of support for Adams’ political ascent materialized in the mail. Reverend Jeremy Belknap, later a founder of the Massachusetts Historical Society, and Dr. Benjamin Rush conveyed support for Adams as a contender for the vice presidency. On 6 April 1789, senators began counting votes from the Electoral College. George Washington was the unanimous choice for president. Adams, who received 34 out of 69 votes, was elected as the first vice president. Basking in ceremonial fanfare, Adams traveled to New York City. To the ever-candid Adams, the Federalists’ victory felt bittersweet. The 54-year-old statesman now faced an unprecedented task in shaping the largely undefined office of the vice presidency. Adams’ days became a whirlwind of meetings, visits, and reunions. He was flooded with requests for patronage. Many Americans hoped to earn jobs as port collectors, naval officers, or customs inspectors. Office seekers appealed to Adams’ Federalist views, Harvard College roots, or New England connections. Within the Adams Papers, these letters form a unique genre documenting patronage in early American politics. Moved by the sentiment but bound by the Constitution, Adams rejected many pleas. Early on, he staked out strict constitutional boundaries for the vice president’s powers. Looking out from his seat in a Senate increasingly riven by regional factions, Vice President John Adams wondered: What came next for the new nation?

John Quincy Adams’ Would-be Assassin: George P. Todsen

By Neal Millikan, Adams Papers

On November 30, 1826, President John Quincy Adams learned that Dr. George P. Todsen (Todson) wanted to assassinate him. A native of Denmark, Todsen immigrated to St. Louis in 1817 where he established a medical practice. In 1824 he became an assistant surgeon in the U.S. Army but was cashiered out of service by sentence of a court martial in 1826 for embezzling public stores. Adams had reviewed the sentence and declined renominating Todsen for a military position.

Adams recorded in his diary that Dr. Henry Huntt “came very seriously to put me on my guard against” Todsen, who “had determined to murder me, for revenge.” Col. Thomas Randall, Todsen’s legal counsel, informed Adams that Todsen “had avowed to him his determination to assassinate me; and that he believed it was no idle menace— That the man was desperate, and upon this subject perfectly mad.” The news of Todsen’s hostility did not, however, impact the president’s daily schedule—Adams continued his solitary early morning walks around Washington, D.C.

The following month, on December 16, Todsen himself called at the White House. Adams recorded the visit in detail in his diary, noting that Todsen “demanded that I should nominate him for reappointment.” Adams informed Todsen that “there was no more painful duty within the compass of my service, than that of confirming a sentence of dismission; and it had been peculiarly painful to me in his case— But after the maturest consideration I had deemed it to be my duty, and I had seen no ground upon which I could retract that decision.” Adams stated he “was perfectly willing to consider the threats” of assassination “as the effect of a momentary alienation of mind,” and Todsen then “said he had given up the idea” since Adams “had expressed sentiments of compassion upon his case.”

George P. Todsen to John Quincy Adams, March 16, 1827, Adams Family Papers, microfilm edition, 608 reels (Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society) reel 479.

 

On March 15, 1827, Todsen returned to ask for remission of a $47 payment from his court martial sentence, to which Adams assented; Todsen subsequently wrote Adams a letter of thanks. On June 2, Adams recommended Todsen to serve as doctor on an American vessel, and when Todsen came to thank Adams for the position, the president “observed to him that his future destiny would depend very much upon the propriety of his conduct under this appointment, and that I hoped it would be such as to justify the Government in appointing him, and as entirely to retrieve his character.” Even after Adams left the presidency the two men still kept in touch. As late as January 28, 1845, Todsen, then employed making translations for the U.S. State Department, visited congressman Adams in Washington, D.C.

What did an Adams kid do for fun?

By Gwen Fries, Adams Papers

When John Quincy Adams was 59 years old, he wrote a nostalgic letter to his cousin William Cranch in which he pined for their shared childhood. This led me to wonder something—if you were an Adams kid, what did you do for fun?

 

John Adams’s absence from his family during this period provides a rich correspondence with their mother, Abigail, throughout which she describes the health and development of their “Little folks.” From Abigail’s letters, the children’s later reminiscences, and their skills evident as teenagers and adults, we can glean that Nabby, John Quincy, Charles, and Thomas passed most of their time with some combination of reading, shooting, chess, playing the flute, ice skating, keeping doves, and dancing.

When she wasn’t needed for household chores, Nabby could be found reading, playing cards, and gossiping with her cousins about their crushes. It is also probable that she accompanied her younger brothers when they went fishing, as she later describes fishing with John and Abigail while in England, or when they went on long walks, as her father believed in fresh air and exercise for young girls. Along the way, Nabby also must have become proficient in chess, as in 1786 her husband admitted to losing a game of chess to her. 

Like their elder sister, John Quincy and Charles loved to read. When John wrote home from Philadelphia and asked the children what presents they would like him to send home, Abigail replied, “I call[ed] them seperately and told them Pappa wanted to send them something and requested of them what they would have. A Book was the answer of them all only Tom wanted a picture Book and Charlss the History of king and Queen. It was natural for them to think of a Book as that is the only present Pappa has been used to make them.” As they grew older, John Quincy and Charles went for long walks and swims together, went shooting and ice skating, and took flute and dancing lessons.

Thomas, the youngest, enjoyed many of the same amusements of his older siblings, as evidenced by the necessity of abstaining from ice skating when he sustained a broken ankle. The “innocently playful” Thomas had an especially soft spot for animals. His aunt reported to Abigail, “Tom, a Rogue loves his Birds and his Doves, makes bad Lattin and says as he grows older he shall grow wiser.” When Thomas returned to live with Abigail, his aunt continued to send him reports of the animals. At fourteen, Thomas still appeared enamored with his pets, though John Quincy steered him towards more serious matters. His aunt wrote, “Thomas is A fine Lad, and does not run so often to look of his Doves in studying Hours, since Mr Adams has been here.”

Though it appears inconceivable to have a normal childhood when the enemy army is a few miles up the road, ten-year-old John Quincy confessed to his father that his thoughts were “running after birds eggs play & trifles,” and five-year-old Thomas couldn’t wait until his father returned home so that they could get back to playing “jail.” It seems that even when the world is turning upside down and countries are being crafted, a kid is still a kid. Even an Adams kid.

John Quincy Adams and the Education of a “Warrior Patriot”

By Rhonda Barlow, Adams Papers

When President John Quincy Adams delivered his first annual message to Congress on December 6, 1825, he noted that “the want of a naval school of instruction, corresponding with the Military Academy at West Point, for the formation of scientific and accomplished officers, is felt with daily increasing aggravation.” But Congress was not sufficiently aggravated to establish a school. Because young naval officers could learn to handle a ship only at sea, it seemed reasonable for all their education to be conducted aboard ship.

On December 4, 1827, Adams gave his third annual message to Congress, and for the third time, recommended the establishment of a naval academy similar to West Point, which Thomas Jefferson had established twenty-five years earlier. But this time, Adams explained his view of naval education in detail.

Adams held high standards for the “enquiring minds” of “the youths who devote their lives to the service of their country upon the ocean.” In his 1827 message, he explained that the academy he envisioned needed teachers, books, equipment, and a permanent location on shore. Subjects should include not only shipbuilding, math, and astronomy, but also literature, “which can place our officers on a level of polished education with the officers of other maritime nations,” and knowledge of foreign laws. As a former diplomat, and secretary of state from 1817 to 1825, Adams recognized that naval officers were a special class of American ambassadors.

But this combined scientific, technical, and liberal education was not enough. “Above all,” Adams continued, a young naval officer needed to learn “principles of honour and Justice” and “higher obligations of morals.” For John Quincy Adams, an American naval officer was a “Warrior Patriot,” equipped with a moral education that distinguished him from a mere pirate.

An entry in Adams’ Diary, made a few days after his 1827 speech, sheds light on his understanding of the role of morality in officer education. In his Diary, Adams reflected on the court martial of Master Commander William Carter for drunkenness.

Although he was reluctant to end Carter’s naval career, he wrote that “such enormous evils from intemperance demanded a signal example.” While intoxicated, the master commander twice was guilty of giving orders that almost caused the ship to founder, endangering both the valuable warship and her crew. On another occasion, he had been rude to a British officer. On another, he had engaged in disorderly conduct on shore, observed by, among others, a British officer. Adams’ Diary reveals that moral education was about self-control and responsibility, and the reputation of America’s fledgling navy abroad, especially among the British, whose Royal Navy was the envy of the world.

Adams failed to convince Congress to establish a naval academy. But eighteen years later, Adams, then a congressman, met with George Bancroft, the new secretary of the navy. In his Diary, Adams recorded that Bancroft “professes great zeal to make something of his Department.” A few months later, on October 10, 1845, Bancroft opened the Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD.

“An Amusing Journey”: John Quincy Adams Explores Silesia

By Hobson Woodward, Adams Papers

On 17 July 1800 John Quincy Adams and his wife Louisa Catherine embarked on an extended tour of Silesia, now southwest Poland. John Quincy chronicled their tour in a series of letters to his brother Thomas in the United States. The letters provide a rich description of a European excursion at the dawn of the nineteenth century. They also provide a rare look at a relaxed John Quincy Adams, unfettered by the demands of his diplomatic duties in Berlin.

John Quincy Adams to Thomas Boylston Adams, 20 July 1800, letterbook copy (Adams family papers, Massachusetts Historical Society)

John Quincy prefaced his first letter to Thomas by advising him to send his correspondence to their mother Abigail if his extended descriptions of the Silesian countryside and people proved a bore:

I cannot promise you an amusing journey, though I hope it will prove so to us; & if at the sight of this my first letter on this occasion, you think it looks too long, & appears likely to prove tiresome, seal it up, unread, & send it to Quincy, where a mother’s heart will fill it with all the interest of which it may be destitute in itself

Thomas Boylston Adams to John Quincy Adams, 15 January 1801 (Adams family papers, Massachusetts Historical Society)

Thomas found the letters anything but boring, however, and he was so entranced that he gave them to a newspaper editor friend for publication. John Quincy graciously accepted their printing for the public, even though he had not been told in advance. He was less happy when the articles were later published in an unauthorized 1801 London edition.

John Quincy’s travel accounts are indeed vivid. In a 3 August letter he described an ascent of a mountain near Schreiberhau (now Szklarska Poreba, Poland). The hike began easily enough, he reported, traversing a grade “about equal to the steepest part of Beacon hill in Boston.” The difficulty increased, however, and the party finally emerged to a dramatic sight:

Instantly a precipice nearly fifteen hundred feet deep opened its gastly jaws before us— A sort of isthmus, or tongue of land however allowed us to proceed about an hundred rods further, untill we could fix ourselves against the side of a rock, & look over into the tremendous depth— We had then the precipice on both sides of us, & it passes by the respective names of the great & the small snow-pit— They are so called because generally the snow at the bottom remains unmelted the whole round, although this has not been the case for the last two summers, & at present they contain no snow at all

Later John Quincy and Louisa visited the Zackenfall waterfall. One is almost brushed by the leafy mist when reading John Quincy’s description:

At this place you stand upon one side of the cleft & see the water dash down from the other; upon a level with yourself; between you & the stream is an abrupt precipice, which seems the more profound, for being so narrow; about an hundred yards— With the help of a ladder I descended to the bottom, & walked partly over the rocks, & partly over the billets of wood lying in the bed of the stream to the spot from which the water falls— We likewise went round by a winding foot path on the top, to the spot from which the streams launches itself

John Quincy also described a visit to a coal mine near Waldenburg (now Walbrzych, Poland). The mine was accessed by a small boat navigated over a subterranean stream.

You go down in a boat, flat bottom’d, about a yard wide, & ten feet long. The canal is not more than four wide, & equally deep, & over it is an arch about as high, hew’d in many places through the solid rock. It is nearly an english mile long, & strikes deeper & deeper under ground, untill the surface of the earth over head is more than 150 feet above you. The boat is pushed along through the canal, by two men, one standing at each end, who with a short stick in the hand press it against the sides of the arch that goes over the canal.

John Quincy further commented on churches, factories, and estates, and the peasants, craftsmen, and soldiers who occupied them. Thomas called his brother’s travel accounts a “rich feast of epistolary excellence.” The letters survive today in the Adams Papers collection of the Massachusetts Historical Society. In 2019 a selection of them will be annotated and published in volume 14 of Adams Family Correspondence, providing unprecedented access to a luminous portrait of an excursion through central Europe in an age gone by.

George Washington: John Quincy Adams’s “great Patron”

By Gwen Fries, Adams Papers

For as long as teenagers have had bedrooms, they’ve been pinning their role models up on the wall—a favorite singer, a beloved actor, the best ball player. When John Quincy Adams was fifteen, his bedroom at The Hague held a gilded framed picture of General George Washington. Like many of his contemporaries, John Quincy had the deepest respect for the “truly great and illustrious” Washington, a respect that endured throughout his life.

John Quincy’s portrait was likely a copy of John Trumbull’s 1780 portrait of Washington. 

[Accessed on 29 August 2017 at: http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/24.109.88/]

Twelve years after the portrait of Washington was removed from the wall, John Quincy Adams discovered he would be returning to The Hague thanks to the general’s orders. On May 27, 1794, John Adams wrote to his wife that, “the President has it in contemplation to Send your son to Holland.” When he wrote to his son, he discussed the appointment at The Hague in vague terms, calling the nomination “the Result of the Presidents own Observations and Reflections.” The next day, John Adams penned, “The Senate have this Day unanimously advised and consent to the Appointment of John Quincy Adams to the Hague.”

Just at the beginning of his law career in Boston, John Quincy felt too young and inexperienced to deserve the honor. Nevertheless, he did not believe his father would have suggested it to the president. When he next met his father in Quincy, John Adams confirmed his hunch. “I found that my nomination had been as unexpected to him as to myself,” JQA recorded in his diary. “His satisfaction at the appointment is much greater than mine,” he confessed, writing, “I wish I could have been consulted before it was irrevocably made. I rather wish it had not been made at all.”

Despite his hesitation at being separated from his family and sent halfway across the world for a then-undisclosed purpose, the day before his 28th birthday, JQA was in Philadelphia being introduced to President Washington. “He said little or nothing to me upon the subject of the business on which I am to be sent,” JQA noted. That night JQA was invited to dine with the president, and he paid his respects to Martha Washington, delivering her a letter from his mother. Abigail wanted to acknowledge “the honor done him by the unsolicited appointment conferd upon him by the President.” She continued, “I hope from his Prudence honour integrity & fidelity that he will never discredit the Character so honorably conferd upon him. painfull as the circumstance of a Seperation from him will be to me Madam I derive a satisfaction from the hope of his becomeing eminently usefull to his Country whether destined to publick, or to Private Life.”

A week after receiving Abigail’s letter from John Quincy’s hand, Martha responded. “The prudence, good sence and high estamation in which he stands, leaves you nothing to apprehend on his account from the want of these traits in his character;—whilst abilities, exerted in the road in which he is now placed, affords him the fairest prospect rendering eminent services to his country; and of being, in time, among the fore most in her councils.— This I know is the opinion of my Husband, from whom I have imbided the idea.”

Washington may have felt confident in John Quincy’s diplomatic abilities, but the young man was less sure. As he waited for Alexander Hamilton to return to Philadelphia to deliver instructions relevant to his mission, JQA wrote to his father, expressing doubt about his unfolding career: “I have abandoned the profession upon which I have hitherto depended, for a future subsistence . . . At this critical moment, when all the materials for a valuable reputation at the bar were collected, and had just began to operate favourably for me, I have stopped short in my career; forsaken the path which would have led me to independence and security in private life; and stepped into a totally different direction.” John Quincy ended his letter by telling his father that he determined to return home and to private life in no more than three years, if Washington had not already recalled him by then. John Adams replied urging patience and flexibility. “As every Thing is uncertain and Scænes are constantly changing I would not advise you to fix any unalterable Resolutions except in favour of Virtue and integrity and an unchangeable Love to your Country.”

In 1796 John Quincy learned that his father had been elected to succeed Washington. He wrote to his mother, assuring her that he would never solicit an office from his father. He discussed the devotion he felt to his country and his plans for a private life back in Massachusetts. John Adams was so touched by the letter that he shared it with Washington. Washington communicated his reflections on the private letter to John Adams: “if my wishes would be of any avail, they shd go to you in a strong hope, that you will not withhold merited promotion from Mr Jno. Adams because he is your son.” Washington declared it his “decided opinion” that John Quincy was “the most valuable public character we have abroad,” a man who would “prove himself to be the ablest, of all our diplomatic Corps.”

When George Washington died on December 14, 1799, John Quincy received many letters offering condolences from his family, closest friends, and foreign dignitaries. Poignantly, his father, though overworked in the office of president, sent him a short note on February 28, 1800, acknowledging that John Quincy was mourning the loss of his “great Patron.” Just over a year later, John Quincy welcomed his first son, George Washington Adams.