Adams Family Correspondence, volume 6

Abigail Adams to Elizabeth Smith Shaw, 8 May 1785 AA Shaw, Elizabeth Smith Peabody, Elizabeth Smith Shaw


Abigail Adams to Elizabeth Smith Shaw, 8 May 1785 Adams, Abigail Shaw, Elizabeth Smith Peabody, Elizabeth Smith Shaw
Abigail Adams to Elizabeth Smith Shaw
My Dear Sister Auteuil May 8th. 17851

I do not expect to date you any more letters from this place. Delighfull and blooming Garden, how much shall I regreet your loss. The fish pond and the fountain is just put in order, the trees are in blossom, and the flowers are comeing on in succession. The forest Trees are new clad in Green, several beautifull rows of which form arched bowers, at the bottom of our Garden, the tops being cut, so that they look like one continued plain. Their leaves and branches entwine and shade you intirely from the Rays of the sun. It will not be easy to find in the midst of a city so charming a scene.2 I shall quit it however with less reluctance on account of my sons absence 133which would be more urksome to me here, than in a Country the language of which I shall be able to speak without an interpreter, or so much twisting and twirling of my tongue, and then pronouncing badly at last.3 I expect to be more Scrutinized in England than here.4 I said I will take heed to my ways5 is a text of holy writ fruitful! of instruction in all Situations of Life, but speaks more loudly to those who sustain publick Characters.

Your Nephew returns with some expectation, if you give him leave; of becomeing an inhabitant in your family for six months, or more: I hope he will render himself agreable to you and all his Friends. Charles I suppose will have left you before his Brothers return. Tho absent from your family I trust he will not be so from your care, but that both his uncle and you will advise him as you find necessary.6 I feel myself happy that I have Friends so kind and attentive to my Children that I am not anxious but what they will find good care either in Sickness or Health.7

It is so long since I heard from my American Friends that I begin to grow impatient. I had hopes that an other Years wandering would have put an end to our pilgrimage. You can hardly form an Idea how difficult, and expensive it is, to be house keeping, a few Months at a time in so many different Countries. It has been Mr. Adams's fortune ever since he came abroad, not to live a year at a time in one place. At the Hague he has a House and furniture, but they could not be removed 500 miles. Therefore it was necessary to hire a house and furniture here, to buy table linnen; bed linnen, China Glass and plate. Here we have resided 8 months and now we must quit this for England; removals in these Countries is not so easy a matter as in ours, for however well you may pack up your things for the purpose they must undergo so many Scrutinizes, besides paying heavy Duties for passing from one Country, to an other, of which I can give you one instanc which happended a few moments ago. A Gentleman in one of the provinces8 sent Mr. Adams a present of 5 bottles of wine which he wisht recommended in America, and this was to serve as a sample. The duties which we had to pay upon only those five bottles mounted them up to 3 livres a peice, and the real value of the wine might be nine or ten coppers a bottle, be sure not more. The injury which cloathing sustains in such long journeys upon paved roads is incredible. I fancy I never related to you a droll adventure which happen'd to me on my journey here. My Friends advised me when I came abroad to take my money in Crowns and Dollors, as being the most advantageous for me, but when arrived; I found I could not part 134with them without much loss, so I concluded to take them with me to France. There were about 200 which I had put into a strong bag and at the bottom of my travelling trunk, they were placed, in the middle of which I had put a large Band Box in which I had packd a very nice Gauze Bonnet 4 Caps hankerchiefs &c. to the amount of about 5 Guineys, which I had made for me, whilst I was in London. The 3d day of our journey I had occasion to open the trunk. I found a prodigious black Dust upon the top. I directed it to be taken out, when o! terible to behold, Dust to Dust, and ashes to ashes, nothing was left of all my riging but a few black rags,9 so that when I got to Paris, I could not bee seen untill I had sent to the Millinars and bought me a cap. You can carry nothing with any safety but what is upon the top of the carriage.10

I hope my Nephew and Niece are well, when I get to England I will send them some Books.11 I hope I shall be able to suit you in your lace, but fear you will think you could have done better in Boston. You will not fail writing by every good opportunity.

May 10th

Tomorrow morning my son sets out for L'orient from whence he will embark on Board a French pacquet for his Native Land, where I hope he will happily arrive. And next week we commence our journey for England. I mourn more and more leaving this place, for it is daily more Beautifull, and I find too that six months more would make me tolerably expert in the Language. But all things must Yeald to Buisness. The weather continues very dry, and not the least symptom of a change. We hear it is still worse in England where the provisions have risen to an enormus price.

I received a Letter from uncle Smith last week dated 25 of Febry12 and was happy to find by it, that my Friends were all well. About this season of the Year you used to visit your Braintree Friends. When You meet be sure to talk about us, and that Idea will give me no small pleasure. I send Your lace and hope it will be agreeable to you. There are 10 yard/4. I gave Eight Dollors for it, for which if you please you may give credit. I hope the little peice of blew silk came safe to your hand which I sent by Capt. Young. If you wish me to get you any shoes in England write me word. There are none good under 2 dollors.

Remember me to Mr. Shaw and all my Haverhill Friends, Good Madam Marsh if she is still living,13 and be assured of the affectionate Regards of Your Sister

Abigail Adams

RC (DLC: Shaw Family Papers) Dft (Adams Papers); incomplete and undated, with the material arranged quite differently from the RC (dated and filmed under [May 1785], Adams Papers, Microfilms, Reel No. 364). The editors have noted a few instances of interesting additional material in the Dft.


The “8th” and “1785” appear to have been added later; see AA to Mary Cranch, ante 5 May, note 1, above.


In the draft AA concludes her description of Auteuil with the sentence: “I must not expect for 5000 a Year to be so well situated in London. I hope our Country will think that without any extravagance our expenses are necessarily very great.”


At the beginning of the draft, well before giving this same reason for regretting JQA's departure, AA remarks: “A few days more will Seperate my Son from us. On that account I shall less reluctantly quit Paris, for we should find a vacuity in his absence which will call for much amusement to supply his place.”


In the draft AA writes more forcefully: “Yet I shall never feel a real freedom of speach whilst I am an Appendage of a publick Character, and I expect to be more scrutinized in England than here.”


Psalms 39:1: “I said, I will take heed of my ways, that I sin not with my tongue: I will keep my mouth with a bridle, while the wicked is before me.”


The draft adds here: “I hope Tommy is attentive to his Books. Tis probable he will remain with you for several years.”


This paragraph is omitted from AA, Letters, ed. CFA.


Gazaigner de Boyer, who wrote to JA about wine on 7 and 21 April (Adams Papers). De Boyer lived in Gaillac, probably the town on the river Tarn, about thirty miles northeast of Toulouse.


In the draft AA explains the misfortune more fully: “the Silver had worn through the bag and into the side of the Box and then had mortised to rags every attorn of my Gauze.”


All the text from this point to the signature is omitted from AA, Letters, ed. CFA.


The draft has AA inquiring after her sister's health in the next sentence, and then briefly after her friends, before closing. The material under “May 10th,” below, does not appear in the draft.


Not found.


Mrs. Mary Marsh was still alive; JQA would visit her on 3 Feb. 1786 (JQA, Diary , 1:397).

Abigail Adams to Isaac Smith Sr., 8 May 1785 AA Smith, Isaac Sr.


Abigail Adams to Isaac Smith Sr., 8 May 1785 Adams, Abigail Smith, Isaac Sr.
Abigail Adams to Isaac Smith Sr.
Dear Sir Auteuil May 8th. 1785

Your Letter by way of Bilboa dated February 25,1 did not reach me until the 2d. of this Month, yet it was 2 Months later date than any I have received from my Friends, and I feel myself much obliged to you for your information. We had heard by way of New York of the resignation of your Governour, and we have had many conjectures, who amongst all the Canditates will succeed him. We rather thing it will fall upon the Gentleman you named2 especially if the late Governour gives him his influence. Mr. Adams has written you by this opportunity,3 and my son will give you all the News. We shall set for London as soon as we possibly can, but what success Mr. Adams will meet with time can only determine; the mission is a very delicate and difficult one.

You did not write me wheather you was a Grandfather. I suppose by this time I may congratulate you upon that event.4 We have had a mild winter here, but a very dry Spring. There has been no rain 136worth mentioning for more than 3 Months, which has brought upon this County a serious calamity and such a scarcity of Herbage that the poor people in many places have been obliged to kill their cattle to prevent them starving. But as it must be an ill wind which blows no good to any one, the drought will contribute to silence the provinces and the Clamours which they are making against the commerce of America with the French West India Islands. Supposing that they could supply them themselves, the price of provision is much raisd by the dry season. We should have been very glad of some of the fat Turkies you mention, for a fat one I have not seen since we left America. Geese Ducks and Turkies are very indifferent here, but poor as the latter are we have given more than a Guiney a peice for them stuft with truffels which is the only fashionable way of dressing them here. Poultry and fish are excessive high here as well as in London. We have given three Louisdore's for a turbut, and 10 livres for an Ell. The Capons and poulards of this Country are the best in world. Vegetables and fruit are not so high as in London, but all enormus when compared to Boston Market. The expences of persons in publick Life in Europe even upon the frugal plan in which we live, are beyond the conception of those who have not tried it, and what is worse is, that the importanc of persons is Estimated by the show they make. The inquiry is not, whether a person is qualified for his office, but how many domesticks and horses does he keep? If he is not able to support an army of them, all of whose buisness it is to rob and plunder, he is considerd as a very small person indeed.

Mr. Brantzin the Dutch Minister dined here not long since. He was himself the plainest drest of all the company, but he had an Equipage of six Horses5 and 5 liveried servants to attend him. An attendance upon Courts cannot be done in the small way, unless a person will submit to be the object of universal Ridicule.

I have no ambition for a Life of this kind and I am sure our Country can have no Idea of the expences. It is my wish to return to America, where frugality and oconomy are, or ought to be considerd as virtues.6

Pray sir present my duty to my Aunt in whose better Health I rejoice, and my Regards to My cousins, as well as to Mr. Otis's family and believe me most affectionately Yours

A Adams

RC (MHi: Smith-Carter Papers); addressed by JQA: “Isaac Smith Esqr. Merchant. Boston.” Copy (MHi: Smith-Townsend II, E. H. Smith Scrapbook). The copy has several strike-outs and alterations characteristic of a draft, but it is dated “May 9th”; it also has less text than the RC, with two exceptions noted below.

137 1.

Not found.


Presumably Thomas Cushing, the lieutenant governor and Hancock supporter who replaced Hancock when he abruptly resigned the governorship in January.


Dated 6 May (MHi: Smith-Carter Papers).


See Mary Cranch to AA, 16 Jan., note 7, above.


The copy finishes this sentence: “. . . six Horses, none but the Royall family are allowed to ride with 8, and four livered servants to attend him.”


The copy adds: “and to which necessity will compell us to the practise of them.”