Adams Family Correspondence, volume 1

John Adams to Abigail Smith

John Adams to Abigail Smith

Abigail Smith to Isaac Smith Jr., 16 March 1763 AA Smith, Isaac Jr. Abigail Smith to Isaac Smith Jr., 16 March 1763 Adams, Abigail Smith, Isaac Jr.
Abigail Smith to Isaac Smith Jr.
Dear Cousin1 Weymouth March 16 1763

Tis no small pleasure to me, to hear of the great proficioncy you have made in the French tongue, A Tongue Sweet, and harmonious, a Tongue, useful to Merchants, to Statesmen; to Divines, and especially to Lawyers and Travellers; who by the help of it, may traverse the whole Globe; for in this respect, the French language is pretty much now, what I have heard the Latin formerly was, a universal tongue.

By the favor of my Father I have had the pleasure of seeing your Copy of Mrs. Wheelwrights Letter, to her Nephew, and having some small acquaintance with the French tongue, have attempted a translation; of it, which I here send, for your perusal and correction.2


I am sensible that I am but ill qualified for such an undertaking, it being a maxim with me that no one can translate an author well, who cannot write like the original, and I find by Experience that tis more difficult to translate well, than to write well.

You will see that I have endeavourd to translate the letter as literally as I could, without treading on the heels of my Lady abbess, Esteeming literal translations to be the best as well as truest. Should be glad if you would favor me with your translation, for you, being taught the French language by one of the greatest masters, I make no doubt but that your performance shines in all the beauty and perfection of Language.

That you may daily grow in virtue and useful Learning, and be a bright Orniment in Church or State is the sincere wish of Dear Cousin Your affectionat Friend, Nabby Smith

N B. How the Lady abbess came to subscribe herself Serviteur, which you know is of the masculine Gender I cannot devise unless like all other Ladies in a convent, she chose to make use of the Masculine Gender, rather than the Feminine.

Excuse the writing for tis late at night.

RC (MHi: Smith-Carter Papers); addressed: “To Mr. Isaac Smith junr. Boston”; endorsed: “Nabby.” Enclosure missing; see note 2.


Isaac Smith Jr. (1749–1829), son of AA's uncle Isaac Smith (1719–1787) of Boston; later a clergyman and loyalist; see Adams Genealogy. AA and her cousin had begun a literary correspondence in 1762.


“Mrs. Wheelwright” is Esther Wheelwright (1696–1780), who had been captured by Indians in Wells, Maine, in 1703 and taken to Canada, where she became a nun and eventually, in 1760, Mother Superior of the Ursuline Convent in Quebec. She kept in periodic touch with her family in New England, and very likely her “Letter, to her Nephew,” here discussed, was written to her sister's son, Joshua Moody, who visited Quebec in 1761 and brought back a portrait of his aunt. See Emma Lewis Coleman, New England Captives Carried to Canada ... during the French and Indian Wars, Portland, Maine, 1925, 1:425–435, with portrait of Esther Wheelwright reproduced facing p. 428. Another nephew, Nathaniel Wheelwright, recorded his visits to the Convent during 1754 in a diary recently edited by Edward P. Hamilton and published in Fort Ticonderoga Museum, Bull., 10:259–296 (Feb. 1960); see especially p. 275, 291–292.