Diary of John Adams, volume 3

1784 i.e. 1804. Aug.

Parents and Boyhood

John Adams.<a xmlns="http://www.tei-c.org/ns/1.0" href="#DJA03d270n1" class="note" id="DJA03d270n1a">1</a> JA


John Adams. Adams, John
John Adams.1

Begun Oct. 5. 1802.

As the Lives of Phylosophers, Statesmen or Historians written by them selves have generally been suspected of Vanity, and therefore few People have been able to read them without disgust; there is no reason to expect that any Sketches I may leave of my own Times would be received by the Public with any favour, or read by individuals with much interest. The many great Examples of this practice will not be alledged as a justification, because they were Men of extraordinary Fame, to which I have no pretensions.2 My Excuse is, that having been the Object of much Misrepresentation, some of my Posterity may probably wish to see in my own hand Writing a proof of the falsehood of that Mass of odious Abuse of my Character, with which News Papers, private Letters and public Pamphlets and Histories have been disgraced for thirty Years. It is not for the Public but for my Children that I commit these Memoirs to writing: and to them and their Posterity I recommend, not the public Course, which the times and the Country in which I was born and the Circumstances which surrounded me compelled me to pursue: but those Moral Sentiments and Sacred Prin-254ciples, which at all hazards and by every Sacrifice I have endeavoured to preserve through Life.

The Customs of Biography require that something should be said of my origin.3 Early in the Settlement of the Colony of Massachusetts, a Gentleman from England arriving in America with Eight Sons, settled near Mount Wollaston and not far from the ancient Stone Building erected for the double Purpose of Public Worship and Fortification against the Indians. His House, Malthouse and the Lands belonging to them still remain in the Possession of his Posterity.4

Of the Eight Sons, one returned to England: four removed to Medfield: two are said to have removed to Chelmsford: One only Joseph remained at Braintree.5 He had three sons Joseph, Peter and John. Joseph and Peter remained in Braintree: John removed to Boston and 255 was the Father of Samuel Adams and Grandfather of the late Governor of the State of Massachusetts.

Joseph my Grandfather had ten Children, five sons and five daughters, all named in his Will which I now have in my Possession.6

John my Father had three Sons, John, Peter Boylston, and Elihu. Peter Boylston is still living my Neighbour, my Friend and beloved Brother.7 Elihu died at an early Age in 1775. His Life was a Sacrifice to the Cause of his Country, having taken, in our Army at Cambridge in which he commanded a Company of Volunteers from the Militia, a contagious distemper, which brought him to his Grave leaving three young Children John, Susanna and Elisha.

In 1629 October the twentieth, a Choice was made, at a General Court of the Company in London, of Governor and Assistants, consisting of such Persons as had determined to go over to America, with the Patent of the Massachusetts Colony, and Thomas Adams was chosen as one of the Assistants. By this it appears that Thomas Adams had declared his intention of removing to the new World, and We are informed in Mr. Prince's Chronology, that this Gentleman was one of the most active and zealous in promoting the design to transport the Patent across the Seas: Yet it does not appear that he ever arrived in America. It is not improbable that his Brother, or some other Relation, with his numerous Family, might be sent over, to reconnoitre the Country and prepare a Situation: and that death, or some unfavourable report brought back by the Eighth Son who returned to England, might prevent his pursuing his former intention of following the Charter to this Country. But this is mere Conjecture.8

9 engaged and while him in his Writings learned his 256Trade. My Father by his Industry and Enterprize soon became a Person of more Property and Consideration in the Town than his Patron had been. He became a Select Man, a Militia Officer and a Deacon in the Church. He was the honestest Man I ever knew. In Wisdom, Piety, Benevolence and Charity In proportion to his Education and Sphere of Life, I have never seen his Superiour. My Grandmother was a Bass of Braintree: but as she died many Years before I was born, I know little of her History except that I have been told by an ancient Lady the Relict of our ancient Minister Mr. Marsh a Daughter of our more ancient Minister Mr. Fiske, that she was a Person possessed of more Litterature than was common in Persons of her Sex and Station, a dilligent Reader and a most exemplary Woman in all the Relations of Life. She died of a Consumption and had Leisure to draw up advice to her Children, which I have read in her handwriting in my Infancy, but which is now lost. I know not that I have seen it for sixty Years, and the Judgment of a Boy of seven Years old is not worth much to be recollected, but it appeared to me then wonderfully fine. From his Mother probably my Father received an Admiration of Learning as he called it, which remained with him, through Life, and which prompted him to his unchangeable determination to give his first son a liberal Education.

My Mother was Suzanna Boylston a Daughter of Peter Boylston of Brooklyne, the oldest son of Thomas Boylston a Surgeon and Apothecary who came from London in 1656, and married a Woman by the Name of Gardner of that Town, by whom he had Issue Peter my Grandfather, Zabdiel the Physician, who first introduced into the British Empire the Practice of Inocculation for the Small Pox, Richard, Thomas and Dudley and several Daughters.10

My Grandfather married Ann White, a daughter of Benjamin White who lived on the South Side of the Hill in Brooklyne as you go to little Cambridge, known by the name of Whites Hill, which he owned.11 My Grandmother was the Sister of Edward White Esqr. the[facing 256] [facing 257] 257 Father of Benjamin White, a Councillor and Representative for several Years, both of whom possessed in succession the Family Estate. She had several Sisters, one of whom married a Minister of Rochester of the name of Ruggles, by whom she had Timothy Ruggles a Lawyer, Judge, Member of the Legislature and a Brigadier General in the Army in the War with the French of 1755 in which he conducted with Reputation. Another of her Sisters married a Mr. Sharp and was the Mother of Mrs. Sumner of Roxbury the Mother of the late Governor Sumner, whose praises are justly celebrated in this State.


This is JA's own title for the first part of his Autobiography, dealing with his life up to the beginning of Oct. 1776. For a description of the MS as a whole, an account of its composition, and the editorial treatment now given it, see the Introduction to the present work. As preserved by the family, the MS of the Autobiography is preceded by two undated holograph fragments. The first, entitled “The Life of John Adams,” is a two-page folio MS that was undoubtedly composed earlier than the Autobiography as it now stands; it is a false start or rough draft, much crossed out and interlined, that summarizes the early history of the Adams family in America and breaks off after a paragraph or two on JA's boyhood; see notes 2 and 3 immediately below. The second fragment, entitled “Sketch,” consists of three quarto pages in JA's later hand, and is a very condensed summary of JA's whole life, ending: “On the day of blank in the Year he died, and is buried on Shepards Hill heretofore called Mount Wollaston. What Fortune had he pray? His own and his Fathers.


In the rough draft this sentence begins: “The Examples of De Thou, Clarendon, Hume, Gibbon &c., will not be alledged....” The entire sentence was subsequently crossed out.


In the rough draft JA added here the following sentences:

“Although this Investigation will present nothing on the one hand to excite the pride of my Successors or the Envy of others, Yet on the other, it will discover no causes for blushes or regret. My Father, Grandfather, Great Grandfather, and Great Great Grandfather all lived and died in this Town of Quincy, for so many Years the First Parish in the Ancient Town of Braintree, and are buried in the Congregational Church Yard. They were all in the middle rank of People in Society: all sober, industrious, frugal and religious: all possessed of landed Estates, always unincumbered with debts, and as independent as human nature is, or ought to be in the World.”


The immigrant was Henry Adams (ca. 1583–1646), a farmer and maltster of Barton St. David and Kingweston, Somersetshire, who married Edith Squire in 1609 and came with a numerous family to Massachusetts Bay in 1638 (Bartlett, Henry Adams of Somersetshire , p. 46–72). In an epitaph composed for the progenitor of his line in America, JA said that Henry Adams “took his flight from the Dragon persecution in Devonshire” (Wilson, Where Amer. Independence Began , p. 301). He was mistaken about Henry Adams' place of origin (though it was not until the publication of Bartlett's researches in 1927 that the true place of origin was known), and there is only family tradition to support the belief that the Adamses were driven from Somersetshire to the Bay Colony by “the Dragon persecution.” On 24 Feb. 1639/40 Henry Adams was granted forty acres, for a family of ten heads, “at the mount” (Mount Wollaston), and he settled there in what became in 1640 the town of Braintree (Boston Record Commissioners, 2nd Report , p. 49). The site of his farm and malthouse is on the north side of present Elm Street about opposite the head of South Street in modern Quincy, which was taken off from Braintree in 1792 (HA2, Birthplaces , p. 1). The occupation and the property stayed with the family into the 19th century; for JA's recollections of boyhood visits to his “Great Uncle, Captain and Deacon Peter Adams,” at the malthouse, see JA to Benjamin Rush, 19 July 1812 (MB; Biddle, Old Family Letters , p. 413). Henry Adams' highly revealing will and inventory are printed from the Suffolk co. Probate Records in Bartlett, Henry Adams of Somersetshire , p. 67–68.


Joseph Adams (1626–1694), seventh son of Henry Adams and great-grandfather of JA, inherited his father's property and trade in Braintree, married in 1650 Abigail Baxter of Roxbury, and served from time to time as selectman, constable, and surveyor of highways (Bartlett, Henry Adams of Somersetshire , p. 80, 90–93; Braintree Town Records , p. 13, 14, 27, 28). A copy of his will, 18 July 1694, with comments by JA, is in the Adams Papers, Wills and Deeds (Microfilms, Reel No. 607).


The second Joseph Adams of Braintree (1654–1737), eldest son and second child of the first Joseph, married three times; his second wife was Hannah Bass of Braintree, a granddaughter of John and Priscilla Alden of Plymouth, whom he married in 1688 and by whom he had eight of his eleven children, including Deacon John, father of JA (Bartlett, Henry Adams of Somersetshire , p. 93, 94–95). He served in the same town offices his father had held ( Braintree Town Records , p. 39, 46, 83, 87, 90, 99). A copy of a draft of his will dated 23 July 1731, with comments by JA, is in the Adams Papers, Wills and Deeds (Microfilms, Reel No. 607).


Born in 1738, Peter Boylston Adams died in 1823 (Quincy, First Church, MS Records).


No evidence is known indicating that the Thomas Adams who was one of the proprietors of the Massachusetts Bay Company under its royal charter of 4 March 1629, but who did not come to America, was connected with the Henry Adams of Somersetshire who came to Boston in 1638.


At least half a line of text is missing here. The missing matter occurs at the top of a second folded sheet of the MS which is larger than the preceding and following sheets and has thus become brittle and is worn away. Several other oversize sheets in the Autobiography have suffered similar damage, but the present passage is the only one the text of which is not wholly recoverable by one means or another.


For a brief genealogy of the Boylston family of Muddy River (later Brookline) and Boston, see NEHGR , 7 (1853): 145–150.


By “little Cambridge” JA meant what is now Brighton (formerly part of Cambridge). The house on White's Hill, built before 1736, rebuilt by Dr. Zabdiel Boylston after he purchased it in 1737, and owned successively by Boylstons, Hyslops, Lees, and Richardsons, still stands on Boylston Street in Brookline, overlooking the Reservoir; see Nina Fletcher Little, Some Old Brookline Houses, Brookline, 1949, p. 115–118; Frances R. Morse, Henry and Mary Lee: Letters and Journals, Boston, 1926, p. 297 ££.). In a letter to Ward Nicholas Boylston, 15 Sept. 1820 (Tr, Adams Papers), JA recalled his childhood visits to his mother's Brookline homestead.