Adams Family Correspondence, volume 7

Abigail Adams to Elizabeth Smith Shaw, 15 October 1786 AA Shaw, Elizabeth Smith Peabody, Elizabeth Smith Shaw


Abigail Adams to Elizabeth Smith Shaw, 15 October 1786 Adams, Abigail Shaw, Elizabeth Smith Peabody, Elizabeth Smith Shaw
Abigail Adams to Elizabeth Smith Shaw
London october 15 1786

And so my dear Sister all your Nephews have quitted your Hospitable Mansion for the university of cambridge but tho they have quitted your House; I know they Still possess a share of your Maternal care and tenderness, in a degree they have been “Plants of your Hand, and children of your care.”

As they rise in Life, may they increase in knowledge and virtue, and never be unmindfull of the good examples and Friendly admonitions of those who have their best interests at Heart. I hope their places will be supplied to you by a like Number of virtuous Youths; the Success your Worthy Partner has met with in prepareing Youth for their admission at the university, shews him to be peculiarly 373adapted to “rear the tender Thought, and teach the Young Idea how to shoot”1 whilst the benevolent Heart, and amiable Manners of his help Mate, by her precepts, and example confirms and Seconds the good advice and Maxims of her Friend. What are common Schools compared to a family where Manners and Morals are equally an object of attention, where Love, and not Morossness is the Preceptor. Mr Adams frequently wishes that he had Tommy here,2 but this is rather the wish of a parent desiring to see a Son long Seperated from him; than his real judgment; for we are daily more and more confirmed in the opinion, that the early period of every Americans Education, during which the mind receives the most lasting impressions; ought to be in his own Country, where he may acquire an inherent Love of Liberty and a thorough acquaintance with the Manners and taste of the Society and country of which he is a Member. He will find a purity in the Government and manners, to which Europe has been long a stranger. He will find that diligence integrity Genius and Spirit, are the true Sources of Superiority, and the Sure and certain means of rising in the estimation of his fellow citizens; instead of titles Stars and Garters. Far removed be those pests of Society; those Scourges of a free Government, from our happier land. His object should be the Hearts of his Countrymen, which is of more importance to a youth, than the good opinion of all the rest of Mankind, without the first the Second is very rarely obtained. When the judgment is ripened and taste and habits formed, when the heyday of the Blood, as shakspear terms it,3 is abated, then may a Gentleman visit foreign countries with advantages. But so forcible is custom So tyrannical fashion, so Syren like vice, “when Lewdness courts them in the shape of Heaven” which is too, too often the case, that a Youth must be something more or less than Man; to escape contamination. Chastity Modesty decency, and conjugal Faith are the pillars of society; Sap these, and the whole fabrick falls sooner or later; sixty Thousand prostitues in one city, Some of them; the most Beautifull of their Sex!!!4 “take of the Rose From the fair forehead of an innocent love, and Set a Blister there; make Marriage vows as falce as dicers' oaths.”

Such with shame be it spoken, is the picture of Europe. Alass how many victims have I seen, sent here without Guide or Gaurdian, to improve their Manners, but disgracing their country, ruining their Health, waisting their fortunes,5 till from Kings bench, or Newgate, a supplication comes to help them to their own Country; 374the picture which Richardson drew of Mrs Sinclair he drew from Life, horid as it was.6 What I once read as Romance I no longer conceive as a fiction.

The only News which I can write you from this quarter of the World, will be a phenominon indeed should it take place. I mean that France and England should from Natural Enemies become very good Friends, as the court runners give out, the late treaty of commerce Signed between the two powers is to have a wonderfull effect by cementing the two Nation in bonds of lasting peace and union. With regard to America, she has got her answer from this court, that when the Treaty shall be fully complied with on our part, then the post shall be evacuated the Negroes payd for &c. The conduct of our Country makes their service abroad very unpleasent, dignified conduct, and united measures, is the only basis of National Respectibility: and honesty is the best policy for a Nation, as well as an individual.7

Your Neice is very well and very happy, as she has every reason to be, from manly tenderness and unfeigned affection, from kind and assidious attention, from all those virtues of the heart which constitue a good Husband, from all those qualifications of the mind which form the Gentleman, the Man of letters the Patriot and the Citizen.

Present my Love to my dear Friend mr Thaxter with whom I most sincerely Sympathize,8 remember me to Mrs Allen and to every inquiring Friend. Accept a triffel9 for my little Neice to whom and her Brother give a kiss which tell them I sent in my letter. To mr Shaw, you may give an other if you please, from your ever affectionate Sister

A Adams

RC (DLC: Shaw Family Papers); endorsed: “October 15. 1786.” Dft (Adams Papers), filmed at 1787, Adams Papers, Microfilms, Reel No. 370.


James Thomson, The Seasons: Spring, lines 1152–1153.


In her Dft, AA writes, “but in this wish I cannot join him for I am more and more persuaded that the early period of every Americans Education. . . .”


Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act 3, scene iv, line 69. AA's subsequent two quotations in this paragraph are likewise from Hamlet: Act 1, scene v, line 54, and Act 3, scene iv, lines 42–45, respectively.


AA probably refers to Paris, where she had been offended by the large number of prostitutes (to Mary Smith Cranch and to Mercy Otis Warren, both 5 Sept., vol. 5:443, 447) .


AA's Dft finishes the paragraph: “and their Morals. These are chiefly southern Youth whose minds are Naturally more elevated than those of our cold Northern climate. They have been usd to cringing slaves. This gives them a Hateur not alltogether adapted to Republican Governments.”


Mrs. Sinclair was the madam of a brothel in Samuel Richardson's Clarissa.


AA's Dft extends this paragraph considerably, adding: “and no Country or Person will Succeed long where this essential prop-375erty is lost in selfishness and tricking. It is the talant of Humane Nature to run from one extreem to an other. Those who read our publick papers, more particularly some of the instructions to the Representitives and the county conventions will be led to think that our Liberty is become licentiousness. Publick principal and publick ends cannot be promoted by these illegal assemblies. There must be some crafty leader, some sly insinuating Serpent difusing his venom upon a deceived multitude for common Sense and plain Reason could not pervert and mislead my countrymeen thus.” This is AA's first extended comment on the unrest in Massachusetts that gave rise to Shays' Rebellion.


In her Dft AA wrote, “Mr Thaxter, I sympathize with him. It is the first near affliction Stroke he ever experienced. The circumstances of it render it still more so. Such is Humane life we ought to know the tenure by which we hold it, and let nothing surprize or amaize us, happy for those who can attain this christian Resignation.” The “Stroke” was the death, following childbirth, of John Thaxter Jr.'s sister Lucy Thaxter Cushing in June.


The Dft identifies this as “a peice of calico for a Slip.”

Abigail Adams Smith to Lucy Cranch, 15 October 1786 AA2 Cranch, Lucy Greenleaf, Lucy Cranch


Abigail Adams Smith to Lucy Cranch, 15 October 1786 Adams, Abigail (daughter of JA and AA) Cranch, Lucy Greenleaf, Lucy Cranch
Abigail Adams Smith to Lucy Cranch
London October 15th 1786

Your Letter my Dear Cousin from Haverhill1 I received a few weeks since, and hearing of an opportunity to Boston I embrace it to acknowledge the receipt of and answer your Letter.

I think myself very unfortunate respecting my Letters which went by Mrs Hay, that by their very long delay I was prevented hearing from my friends, and Still more that those friends should imagine themselvs forgotten. It Convinces me that Candor is wanting amongst them, that they should all make observations so much to my disadvantage for One supposed omission towards them. If they had each lookd Back to the Numbers of my Letters and Compared them with their own, they might rather have Condemned themselvs, for I beleive I have written two to one to most of my Correspondents Since I left America. From such and other instances of want of Candor I have some times half a mind to place dependance upon, a very few.

I am quite of your opinion my Cousin that you nor I should derive no happiness with our present Sentiments from Birth or Titles. But we are so very incompetent to form any judgment of others that I would not venture to decide from what scource anyone could ensure it to themselvs. It is a general foult that we too often take upon us to judge for other People, where we can have no Laudable motive for so doing.

The Idea of Mammas returning so early as the spring is I imagine rather premature. My Pappa has talkd of the next Spring for his return every season since I have been in Europe. I now Consider it only as his wish which may for many Successive seasons prove in 376Compatible with his actions. Therefore my Dear I would advise you and all other Friends who feel interested in their return, not to place such a dependance upon it as to be disappointed should it not take place for several years. It may so happen that you may see your Cousin before your Aunt, for whenever I return to America, I hope it will be in my power to pay you an early visit. But I know of nothing at present to Ground a Supposition of my speedy return, nor is it probable that it will be within a year or two perhaps more.

I regret my seperation from my Brothers more than any other Circumstance, and there are times when it makes me unhappy, but I indeavour again to reconcile myself to it as the result of inevitable necessity.

You my Dear Lucy are happy in never having been Seperated from any of your family for any length of time. It is an happiness which you cannot Sufficiently prize without having been deprived of it, and may you enjoy it for many Successive years. We may Congratulate ourselvs my Cousin that the Behavour of our Brothers has been thus far unexceptionable, that their Conduct is not marked with any of those youthfull follies which would tarnish the Brightest tallents. This is a Sattisfaction which I find superior to every other Consideration.

I thank you my Cousin for your wishes for my Happiness, and I doubt not but it will give you pleasure to hear from me that I am so. You justly observe that happiness depends upon the peace of our minds. I beleive mine to arrise in some degree from this scource for I know of no present couse to interrupt its tranquility. Connected by ties of Honour delicacy and affection to a Gentleman fully deserving my Confidence, who is esteemd and respected by all to whom he is known, the first wish of Whose Heart is to render your Cousin Happy. She cannot be otherwise, every principle and Sentiment Conspires to establish it upon a basis that Cannot be overthrown.

Mr Smith desires to be remembered to you as my friend and relation. Write me whenever you can find an oppertunity. Remember me to your Sister and family and beleive me at all times your friend and Cousin

A Smith

RC (MWA: Abigail Adams Corr.); addressed: “Miss Lucy Cranch Braintree near Boston.”


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