Diary of John Adams, volume 3

253 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.

[Parents and Boyhood] JA


[Parents and Boyhood] Adams, John
Parents and Boyhood

My Father married Susanna Boylston in October 1734, and on the 19th of October 17351 I was born. As my Parents were both fond of reading, and my father had destined his first born, long before his birth to a public Education I was very early taught to read at home and at a School of Mrs. Belcher the Mother of Deacon Moses Belcher, who lived in the next house on the opposite side of the Road. I shall not consume much paper in relating the Anecdotes of my Youth. I was sent to the public School close by the Stone Church, then kept by Mr. Joseph Cleverly, who died this Year 1802 at the Age of Ninety. Mr. Cleverly was through his whole Life the most indolent Man I ever knew excepting Mr. Wibirt though a tolerable Schollar and a Gentleman. His inattention to his Schollars was such as gave me a disgust to Schools, to books and to study and I spent my time as idle Children do in making and sailing boats and Ships upon the Ponds and Brooks, in making and flying Kites, in driving hoops, playing marbles, playing Quoits, Wrestling, Swimming, Skaiting and above all in shooting, to which Diversion I was addicted to a degree of Ardor which I know not that I ever felt for any other Business, Study or Amusement.2

My Enthusiasm for Sports and Inattention to Books, allarmed my Father, and he frequently entered into conversation with me upon the Subject. I told him I did not love Books and wished he would lay aside the thoughts of sending me to Colledge. What would you do Child? Be a Farmer. A Farmer? Well I will shew you what it is to be a Farmer. You shall go with me to Penny ferry tomorrow Morning and help me get Thatch. I shall be very glad to go Sir.—Accordingly next morning he took me with him, and with great good humour kept me all 258day with him at Work. At night at home he said Well John are you satisfied with being a Farmer. Though the Labour had been very hard and very muddy I answered I like it very well Sir. Ay but I dont like it so well: so you shall go to School to day. I went but was not so happy as among the Creek Thatch. My School master neglected to put me into Arithmetick longer than I thought was right, and I resented it. I procured me Cockers3 I believe and applyd myself to it at home alone and went through the whole Course, overtook and passed by all the Schollars at School, without any master. I dared not ask my fathers Assistance because he would have disliked my Inattention to my Latin. In this idle Way I passed on till fourteen and upwards, when I said to my Father very seriously I wished he would take me from School and let me go to work upon the Farm. You know said my father I have set my heart upon your Education at Colledge and why will you not comply with my desire. Sir I dont like my Schoolmaster. He is so negligent and so cross that I never can learn any thing under him. If you will be so good as to perswade Mr. Marsh to take me, I will apply myself to my Studies as closely as my nature will admit, and go to Colledge as soon as I can be prepared. Next Morning the first I heard was John I have perswaded Mr. Marsh to take you, and you must go to school there to day. This Mr. Marsh was a Son of our former Minister of that name, who kept a private Boarding School but two doors from my Fathers. To this School I went, where I was kindly treated, and I began to study in Earnest.4 My Father soon observed the relaxation of my Zeal for 259my Fowling Piece, and my daily encreasing Attention to my Books. In a little more than a Year Mr. Marsh pronounced me fitted for Colledge. On the day appointed at Cambridge for the Examination of Candidates for Admission I mounted my horse and called upon Mr. Marsh, who was to go with me. The Weather was dull and threatened rain. Mr. Marsh said he was unwell and afraid to go out. I must therefore go alone. Thunder struck at this unforeseen disappointment, And terrified at the Thought of introducing myself to such great Men as the President and fellows of a Colledge, I at first resolved to return home: but foreseeing the Grief of my father and apprehending he would not only be offended with me, but my Master too whom I sincerely loved, I arroused my self, and collected Resolution enough to proceed. Although Mr. Marsh had assured me that he had seen one of the Tutors the last Week and had said to him, all that was proper for him to say if he should go to Cambridge; that he was not afraid to trust me to an Examination and was confident I should acquit my self well and be honourably admitted; yet I had not the same confidence in my self, and suffered a very melancholly Journey. Arrived at Cambridge I presented myself according to my directions and underwent the usual Examination by the President Mr. Holyoke and the Tutors Flint, Hancock, Mayhew and Marsh.5 Mr. Mayhew into whose Class We were to be admitted, presented me a Passage of English to translate into Latin. It was long and casting my Eye over it I found several Words the latin for which did not occur to my memory. Thinking that I must translate it without a dictionary, I was in a great fright and expected to be turned by, an Event that I dreaded above all things. Mr. Mayhew went into his Study and bid me follow him. There Child, said he is a dictionary, there a Gramar, and there Paper, Pen and Ink, and you may take your 260own time.6 This was joyfull news to me and I then thought my Admission safe. The Latin was soon made, I was declared Admitted and a Theme given me, to write on in the Vacation. I was as light when I came home as I had been heavy when I went: my Master was well pleased and my Parents very happy. I spent the Vacation not very profitably chiefly in reading Magazines and a British Apollo. I went to Colledge at the End of it and took the Chamber assigned me and my place in the Class under Mr. Mayhew. I found some better Schollars than myself, particularly Lock, Hemmenway and Tisdale.7 The last left Colledge before the End of the first Year, and what became of him I know not. Hemmenway still lives a great divine, and Lock has been President of Harvard Colledge a Station for which no Man was better qualified. With these I ever lived in friendship, without Jealousy or Envy. I soon became intimate with them, and began to feel a desire to equal them in Science and Literature. In the Sciences especially Mathematicks, I soon surpassed them, mainly because, intending to go into the Pulpit, they thought Divinity and the Classicks of more Importance to them. In Litterature I never overtook them.

Here it may be proper to recollect something which makes an Article of great importance in the Life of every Man. I was of an amorous disposition and very early from ten or eleven Years of Age, was very fond of the Society of females. I had my favorites among the young Women and spent many of my Evenings in their Company and this disposition although controlled for seven Years after my Entrance into College returned and engaged me too much till I was married. I shall draw no Characters nor give any enumeration of my youthfull flames.8 It would be considered as no compliment to the dead or the living: This I will say—they were all modest and virtuous Girls and always maintained this Character through Life. No Virgin or Matron ever had cause to blush at the sight of me, or to regret her Acquaintance with me. No Father, Brother, Son or Friend ever had cause of Grief or Resentment for any Intercourse between me and any Daughter, 261Sister, Mother, or any other Relation of the female Sex. My Children may be assured that no illegitimate Brother or Sister exists or ever existed. These Reflections, to me consolatory beyond all expression, I am able to make with truth and sincerity and I presume I am indebted for this blessing to my Education. My Parents held every Species of Libertinage in such Contempt and horror, and held up constantly to view such pictures of disgrace, of baseness and of Ruin, that my natural temperament was always overawed by my Principles and Sense of decorum. This Blessing has been rendered the more prescious to me, as I have seen enough of the Effects of a different practice. Corroding Reflections through Life are the never failing consequence of illicit amours, in old as well as in new Countries. The Happiness of Life depends more upon Innocence in this respect, than upon all the Philosophy of Epicurus, or of Zeno without it. I could write Romances, or Histories as wonderfull as Romances of what I have known or heard in France, Holland and England, and all would serve to confirm what I learned in my Youth in America, that Happiness is lost forever if Innocence is lost, at least untill a Repentance is undergone so severe as to be an overballance to all the gratifications of Licentiousness. Repentance itself cannot restore the Happiness of Innocence, at least in this Life.


According to the “old style” calendar. According to the “new style,” his birth date was 30 Oct. 1735, which, after the adoption of the Gregorian calendar in England in 1752, JA always regarded as his birthday. See his Diary entry of 19 Oct. 1772.


This sentence and that which follows are partly worn away in the MS, but the missing matter has been supplied from JA's rough draft, which has virtually identical phraseology (and ends at this point).


JA's own copy of (Edward) Cocker's Decimal Arithmetick ..., 3d edn., London, 1703, has survived and is among his books in the Boston Public Library. It bears the marks of hard use, if not abuse, and its magnificently descriptive titlepage is reproduced as an illustration in the present volume.


Fragments of the text now worn away in the two preceding sentences have been restored from the text of JA's narrative of his entrance to Harvard contributed by CFA2 to MHS, MHS, Procs. , 2d ser., 14 (1900–1901):200–201.

Some fragmentary notes taken down by Harriet Welsh from JA's conversations in 1823 slightly amplify JA's recollections of his school days. (The Welsh notes survive chiefly in the form of a copy by CFA in his literary miscellany, Adams Papers, Microfilms, Reel No. 327. Suspension points in the passages quoted below indicate omissions by the present editors.)

JA loquitur.... I was about nine or ten years old at that time and soon learn'd the use of the gun and became strong enough to lift it. I used to take it to school and leave it in the entry and the moment it was over went into the field to kill crows and squirrels and I tried to see how many I could kill: at last Mr. Cleverly found this out and gave me a most dreadful scolding and after that I left the gun at an old woman's in the neighborhood. I soon became large enough to go on the marshes to kill wild fowl and to swim and used to beg so hard of my father and mother to let me go that they at last consented and many a cold boisterous day have I pass'd on the beach without food waiting for wild fowl to go over—often lying in wait for them on the cold ground—to hide myself from them. I cared not what I did if I could but get away from school, and confess to my shame that I sometimes play'd truant. At last I got to be thirteen years of age and my life had been wasted. I told my father if I must go to College I must have some other master for I detested the one I had and should not be fitted ever if I staid with him but if he would put me to Mr. Marsh's school I would endeavor to get my lessons and make every exertion to go. He said I knew it was an invariable rule with Mr. M. not to take any boys belonging to the town—he only took eight or ten to live with him. However I said so much to him that he said he would try, and after a great deal of persuasion Master Marsh consented. The next day after he did so I took my books and went to him. I fulfill'd my promise and work'd diligently and in eighteen months was fitted for college. He lived where Hardwicke now keeps a shop opposite to where the Cleverlys live.... Mr. Marsh was a good instructor and a man of learning. The house I learn'd my letters in was opposite my father's nearly and I have pulled it down within this twenty years.”


Edward Holyoke, Henry Flynt, Belcher Hancock, Joseph Mayhew, Thomas Marsh.


Several words now missing in the MS have been supplied in this sentence from CFA2's text cited in note 6 4 , just above.


All members of the class of 1755: Rev. Samuel Locke, president of Harvard, 1770–1773; Rev. Moses Hemmenway, minister at Wells, Maine, for many years; William Tisdale of Lebanon, Conn., who stayed in college only a year and then dropped from sight (Weis, Colonial Clergy of N.E. ; Harvard Quinquennial Cat. ; information from Harvard University Archives).


Several words now missing from the MS have been supplied in this sentence from CFA's text in JA's Works , 2:145. The present paragraph, with some omissions, is the earliest passage printed by CFA in his combined edition of the Diary and Autobiography.