Adams Family Correspondence, volume 7

Elizabeth Smith Shaw to Abigail Adams, 18 March 1786 Shaw, Elizabeth Smith Peabody, Elizabeth Smith Shaw AA


Elizabeth Smith Shaw to Abigail Adams, 18 March 1786 Shaw, Elizabeth Smith Peabody, Elizabeth Smith Shaw Adams, Abigail
Elizabeth Smith Shaw to Abigail Adams
Haverhill March 18th 1786

Should I my Dear Sister, too much alarm the Heart of an affectionate Mother, solicitous for the welfare of her Children if I were to say plainly, that I wish Mr JQA had never left Europe. That he had never come into our Family. Then we should not have known him. Then we should not have been so grieved. Then we should not have this ocasion of Sorrow.

His leaving it.—Indeed my Sister, our House looks gloomy now he has left it. Mr Shaw and I feel the loss of him more than of any Pupil that has ever lived with us. He used to read to me in the Evening in his leisure Moments, which always gave me pleasure, for his manner of reading was a good comment upon the Subject, and did honour to his Author. He had imbibed some curious Notions, and was rather peculiar in some of his Opinions, and a little to decisive, and tenacious of them. Mr Thomas said to him one Day, “I think Brother you seem to differ most always from every one else in company.” And I used to tell him that I had seen People, while they thought they were possessed of, and adopting the most liberal Sentiments grow contracted and illiberal. And that though I was willing to allow him every advantage, which I knew he was possessed of above his cotemporaries, yet there was more than a probability that he would think differently, at different periods of Life. Most young People of his Age, are apt to think they are certainly right. It is a Fault which at the early period of eighteen, (if I may be allowed the expression) that generally arives at its greatest perfection. But it is what good-sense, Time, and Experience will naturally expell.

In company Mr JQA was always agreeable, pleasing, modest, and polite, and it was only in private Conversation, that those imperfections of Youth, were perceivable,1 and I should not have mentioned them now, if I had not have supposed you would wish to know every thing about him.


His Father is his Delphic Oracle. There never was a Son who had a greater veneration for a Father, and none (perhaps) who have more reason than yours.

I think my sisters very happy in their Children for they all appear to be blessed with Talentes, superior to what we commonly meet with in those of their Age. It is our wish that they may improve them to their honour, their own real good, and to their Countries Service.

In Mr JQA, I see an high sense of honor, great Abilities well cultivated, and improved by critical Observation, and close attention to the Tempers, and dispositions of People, the Laws, the Customs, and the Manners of those Countries where he has travelled.

In him I see the wise Politician, the good statesman, and the Patriot in Embrio.

In Charles I behold those Qualities that form the engaging, the well accomplished Gentleman, the Friend of Science, the favorite of the Muses, and the Graces, as well as of the Ladies.

In Thomas B A, I discern a more martial, and intrepid Spirit. A fine natural Capacity, a love of Buisiness, and an excellent faculty in dispatching it. Indefatiguable in everything that shall render him a useful member of Society, and independant of the World.

And as to my Dear, dear lovely Niece, I consider her, as a mere Phoenix, as exhibiting to the world greatness, and strength of Mind, and coolness of Judgment which has few examples. Possessed with those Sentiments, with which she left America, her Conflict must have been great.

Mr Atkinson, Mr Storer, and Mr Smith kept Sabbath here, this winter,2 and brought with them your Letter dated October 2d. which you sent by Callihan,3 accompanied with a kind present of a pair of Shoes, which are full large, and fit me very well. I receive every Token of Love, from my Sister, to me, or mine, with more than a grateful Heart.

I wrote Mr Storer a Billet upon his arrival, begging the favour of a Visit from him. I wanted to ask questions, to hear him talk about you and yours. He was so good as to gratify me, and I think him a fine agreeable, sociable, modest Man.

Your Son Charles, and Cousin William Cranch made us a Visit in the Winter Vacation. They both are studious, behave well, and have the approbation of their Tutors, and the love of their Classmates.

I assure you it made us happy to see your Children. They chose to lodge together in our great Bed, though there was another in the 95Chamber. I went up after they were abed to see if they were warm, and comfortable as I told them, but really to enjoy the satisfaction of seeing the three Brothers embracing each other in Love, Innocence, Health, and Peace. All my Sister rose within me—Joy—Love—Gratitude, and maternal Tenderness sparkled in my Eye.

“What said I, would your Mother give to look upon you all, and see you happy as I do.”

Would she were here.

I know that you can have no greater pleasure, than to hear that your “Children walk in the Truth.”4

Mr JQA was accepted by the Proffessors without the lest dificulty, and Mr Shaw procured him a Chamber in the University with a Graduate, with whom he is to live till after Commencment. Mr Thomas B A, the Dr says, must enter the University next July. He has been with us so long that it hurts me to think of parting with him. But his advantage must be consulted more than my pleasure.5

Both my Children always ask me, whether I am writing to their Aunt Adams, and beg I would give their Love to you, for they have no Idea of any-thing better.

Mr Shaw best, kindest wishes attend you. He feels not a little proud of his Pupils I assure you.

Thomas presents his Duty, has nothing new to tell you, and so omits writing.

Betsy Smith wishes she may have a few Lines from her cousin Nabby, and begs her Duty and Love may be accepted.

My Dear Sister, believe me most affectionately yours.

Eliza Shaw

This Letter I intended to have sent by the first Opportunity this Spring, but was not apprized of Callihans sailing soon enough for the purpose.

I will send it to Mr Smith however, to go by the first Vessel, hoping it will be accepted, because I know it was dictated by the greatest Love, and Affection of Your Sister

Eliza Shaw

I am impatient to hear from you.

RC (Adams Papers). Dft (DLC: Shaw Family Papers).


In the Dft Shaw concludes this paragraph: “ . . . and I know not whether I have done right in mentioning it now—only as I thought you would wish to know our opinion of him.” For JQA's perspective on this subject see his Diary , 1:398.


John Atkinson, Charles Storer, and William Smith visited Haverhill in January. Atkinson married Elizabeth Storer, the half-sister of Charles, in 1773 (JQA, Diary , 1:387–388; Sibley's Harvard Graduates , 12:213).


Not found.

96 4.

A reference to 3 John, 1:4: “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth.”


TBA began his studies with Rev. John Shaw in April 1783 (vol. 5:105–107, 118).

John Adams to John Quincy Adams, 19 March 1786 JA JQA


John Adams to John Quincy Adams, 19 March 1786 Adams, John Adams, John Quincy
John Adams to John Quincy Adams
My dear son Grosvenor Square March 19. 1786

This Letter, I presume, will find you at the University, where I hope you will pass your time both pleasantly and profitably. Let Us know how you find Things, and take care of your health. You have in your Travels had so much Exercise, that it is not Safe to discontinue it, and indulge your self too much in a Sedentary Life. Never fail to walk an hour or two every day.

I have read the Conquest of Canaan and Vision of Columbus, two Poems which would do honour to any Country and any Age. Read them, and you will be of my mind.1 Excepting Paradise lost, I know of nothing Superiour in any modern Language. What Success they will have in England is uncertain, at least for some years.

I will Say thus much in favour of our Country that in Poets and Painters, She is not at present outdone by any nation in Europe.

Your Letters to your sister are a great Refreshment to Us. Continue the Correspondence as often as you can without interfereing with your Studies.

I am my dear son, with the tenderest Affection your Father John Adams

RC (Adams Papers).


Timothy Dwight, The Conquest of Canäan, Hartford, 1785; Joel Barlow, The Vision of Columbus, Hartford, 1787. For further commentary on how JA had access to these works and on his involvement with attempts to publish them in London, see JA, D&A , 3:189.

Abigail Adams to John Quincy Adams, 20 March 1786 AA JQA


Abigail Adams to John Quincy Adams, 20 March 1786 Adams, Abigail Adams, John Quincy
Abigail Adams to John Quincy Adams
My Dear Son March 20th 1786 London

Altho I have written you a very long Letter by way of Newyork,1 yet should one vessel go to Boston without a few lines from me, I flatter myself you would be dissapointed.

Captain Cushing and Lyde both dined here yesterday. Each of them expect to sail in all this month, but Cushing in the course of the present week. By him I send you a set of shirts, as we had your measure I supposed it was as well to send them made up, as to 97trouble our Friends to do it for you. I have also sent a peice of linen which mr Jenks has engaged to pack up with some things which he is sending to mr Tufts, and which is to be deliverd to your Aunt Cranch for the use of your Brothers. By mrs Hay I have sent several little bundles to my Friends (She is gone in a British bottom by way of Newyork,) amongst which is silk for a waistcoat for you and your Brother Charles, which you are to have made for commencment day. The Books you requested are also sent by Captain Cushing. If there is any thing more you wish, write me word and I will procure it for you, because I know you will circumcribe your wish to my ability. If that was more ample, many should I rejoice to benefit by it. But if we are not the favorites of fortune, let us be; what is of much more importance to us, the Votaries of Virtue, and consider that being denied the former we are secured from many temptations that always attend upon that fickle Dame. The Prayer of Augur, was that of a wise Man, who was aware that Poverty might expose him to acts of injustice towards his fellow creatures, and riches, to ingratitude towards his Maker. He therefore desird that middle state which would secure him from the temptation of the first, and Gaurd him from the impiety of the latter.2 And in that middle State, I believe the largest portion of Humane happiness is to be found. Riches always create Luxery, and Luxery always leads to Idleness Indolence and effeminacy which stiffels every noble purpose, and withers the blossom of genious which fall useless to the ground, unproductive of fruit.

Your Sister has written you so many pages that I suppose she has not left me any thing material to write to you but as I am very rarely honourd with a sight of any of them I shall venture, tho I repeat what has already been written, to inform you that mr Jefferson is here from Paris, and that the treaty with portugal will be compleated in a few days.3 Conferences have been held with the Tripoline minister who is here. The subject terms of Treaty &c been all transmitted to Congress,4 and it is for them to decide whether they will purchase a Peace, or whether they will submit to a War which will cost them 3 times as much as a peace, provided they had Ships for the purpose, and after all, will be obliged to make a peace, redeem their prisoners, and pay a still larger tribute than is at present demanded, tho that is very great, or will they take an other whole year to decide upon the subject. This month compleats one, since the appointment of Lamb, who is not yet got to Algiers and when he 98does, get there, by all accounts, he will not find a greater Barbarian than himself. Is this for the Honour of our Country to send such characters as a specimin of our Nation!

Do the united States wish to become the Scorn of Europe and the laughing Stock of Nations, by withholding from Congress those powers which would enable them to act in concert, and give vigor and strength to their proceedings. The states dishearten many able Men from joining in their counsels, whose years and experience teach wisdom, and send their beardless Boys to cavil at words, with all the pedantick and shallow Pierian draughts which intoxicate the Brain, who know perhaps how to place their comas and points, but to the weighty matters of the State are quite incompetent, who know no more of the nature of Goverment, or possess any clearer Ideas of the politicks of nations than the Member of Parliament understood of the Geography of America when he talkd of the Island of Virginia.5

Heaven forgive me if I form too unfavourable an opinion of them, but many of the states do not certainly attend sufficiently to the experience and abilities of those to whom they commit, not only their own most important Interests, but those of generations yet to come. Nor are the states fully represented, seven are not competant to Money Matters. Nor do they chuse to transact any buisness of importance. By this means their affairs lag on from Month to Month, even when their is the greatest call for desicion. To those who love their Country and wish to serve her, this conduct becomes burdensome and puts them out of all Patience. But why should I preach, it will do no good. As to this Country—

“Full soon, full soon their envious minds shall know our Growth their ruin, and our Peace their woe”6

and thus I take my leave of them.

With respect to the conference with the Tripoline, you will mention that circumstance cautiously. Write me as often as possible & believe me ever Your affectionate Mother


PS. inclosed is a triffle.7

RC (Adams Papers); addressed by AA2: “Mr John Quincy Adams Cambridge”; endorsed: “Mamma. March 20th: 1786.”; docketed: “My Mother. 20. March 1786.”; and “Mrs: A. Adams. March 20th: 1786.”


Probably that of 16 Feb., above.


A paraphrase of Proverbs, 30:8–9: “Give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with food convenient for me: lest I be full, and deny thee, and say, Who is the Lord? or lest I be poor, and steal, and take the name of my 99God in vain.”


The treaty was not signed until 25 April. See AA2 to JQA, 25 April, below.


American commissioners to John Jay, 28 March (Jefferson, Papers , 9:357–359).


AA may have been referring to a comment by John Fothergill in his “An English Freeholder's Address to His Countrymen” in which he writes, “The Island of Virginia has been spoken of in a Court of Judicature, by a learned pleader; and similar instances of a general ignorance, a criminal one, of this vast region, pervaded the Country, the Universities, the Courts of Law, the Legislature in too general a manner, and even Administration itself” (John Coakley Lettsom, The Works of John Fothergill, M.D. . . . with Some Account of His Life, London, 1784, p. 478).


Timothy Dwight, The Conquest of Canäan, Book 1, lines 621–622.


Not found.