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Abigail Adams (1744–1818)

Biography | Timeline of the Adams Family | Words of Abigail Adams | Fascinating Facts About Her |
See also John Adams 

by Judy Luo

Abigail Adams helps prove the saying, “Behind every great man is a great woman.” 

abigail_adamsWife of John Adams, Abigail supported her husband during the Revolutionary War while raising their five children on her own in Massachusetts. She is well-known for her speaking out on behalf of women and slaves.

Abigail Smith was born in 1744 in Weymouth, Massachusetts. Her father, William Smith, was a preacher. Her mother Elizabeth came from the well-known Quincy family. Well-educated at home by her parents and grandparents, Abigail was intelligent and strong-willed. She attracted the interest of John Adams, a family friend. Her mother thought John was just a “country lawyer” and not good enough for Abigail. But her father approved of John, and the couple was married in 1764.

John and Abigail were clearly in love, but the comfortable life Abigail expected to lead as the wife of a successful lawyer soon changed. Active in politics and eventually the Revolutionary War, John was often away from the family. Adams had five children that she raised mostly alone in the small town of Braintree, Massachusetts. (Later, part of the town was renamed Quincy.) Adams cultivated her own farm and grew her family’s food. She also raised and home-schooled all of her children.

This was lonely and grueling work, but she was proud of her sacrifices and accomplishments. Due to her revolutionary fervor and support for her husband’s work, her farmhouse in Braintree became a center for revolutionary activity. She allowed Patriots to hold meetings there, and she fed soldiers and cared for injured soldiers. Adams even made her own gunpowder when supplies fell short.

abigail_adams_coinThough Abigail and John were prevented from spending much time together, they constantly wrote letters to each other. She told him about the war’s effect on everyday people. In a way, Abigail acted as John’s eyes and ears on the ground while he kept pushing for a declaration of independence in the Continental Congress.

Adams also urged her husband to advance women’s rights. Women at that time could not vote and married women could not even own property. She especially thought it unfair that women could not get the same education as men. She compared men’s power over women to Britain’s power over the colonies. She playfully hinted to her husband that women might one day overthrow their husbands’ rule also.

Like her husband, Abigail hated slavery and believed it was an evil that should be ended. She believed that all black people deserved a proper education. Because she stood up for herself, her family, and her country, John called her “a heroine.”

Her husband, John, became the second U.S. president. She did not live to see her oldest son, John Quincy Adams, become the sixth U.S. president in 1825. 

Biography | Timeline of the Adams Family | Words of Abigail Adams | Fascinating Facts About Her | See also John Adams 

Timeline of John and Abigail Adams’ Lives

1735

Oct. 30

John Adams is born in Braintree, Mass. (According to the calendar of the time, he was born on Oct. 19, but the old calendar was changed.)

1744

Nov. 22

Abigail Smith is born in Weymouth, Mass. (According to the calendar of the time, she was born on Nov. 11, but the old calendar was changed.)

1751 

John enters Harvard College.

1755

John becomes a teacher.

1756

John starts studying law.

1758

John become a lawyer.

1759

John and Abigail first meet.

1761

John’s father dies.

1764

John and Abigail get married.

1765

Parliament passes the Stamp Act.

Abigail Amelia Adams, their first child, is born.

John begins writing against the Stamp Act.

1766

John is elected to office in Braintree.

1767

John Quincy Adams is born.

1768

Susanna Adams is born. She dies a year later.

1770

Boston Massacre

John agrees to defend the soldiers.

Charles Adams is born.

1772

Thomas Boylston Adams is born.

1774

John is a delegate to the Continental Congress.

1775

John publishes essays against British taxation.

Revolutionary War breaks out.

Second Continental Congress meets. John is a delegate.

1776

Abigail writes a letter to John asking him to make sure Congress includes the rights of women in its laws.

John is named to the committee to write the Declaration of Independence, but he lets Jefferson write it.

July 4

Congress approves the Declaration of Independence.

1779

John writes the Constitution of Massachusetts.

John goes to Europe as the U.S. diplomat. He lives in Paris and Amsterdam.

1783

Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and John Jay sign the Treaty of Paris, ending the war.

John travels to London.

1784

Abigail joins John in London.

1785

Congress names John the first U.S. ambassador to Britain.

1787

New U.S. Constitution is written.

1788

John and Abigail return to the United States.

1789

John Adams is sworn in as the first vice president of the United States.

1792

The northern section of Braintree becomes the town of Quincy, where Abigail and John live.

Washington and Adams are re-elected.

1796

John runs for president and defeats Thomas Jefferson.

1800

The Adamses move into the newly finished White House, the first to occupy it.

Jefferson defeats Adams in his bid for re-election.

1809

John Quincy Adams leaves his father’s party, the Federalists and joins the Democratic Republican Party, the party of Thomas Jefferson.

1812

John begins exchanging letters with his rival Jefferson. They keep writing until they die.

1817

John Quincy Adams begins serving as President James Monroe’s secretary of state.

1818

Abigail Adams dies of typhoid fever.

1825

After the election of 1824 is deadlocked, the House of Representatives votes to make John Quincy Adams president.

1826

July 4

John Adams dies on the 50th anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence. His last words are “Thomas Jefferson survives.” He does not know that Jefferson had died hours before on the same day.



Biography | Timeline of the Adams Family | Words of Abigail Adams | Fascinating Facts About Her | See also John Adams 

Words of Abigail Adams

We have too many high sounding words, and too few actions that correspond with them.
—Letter (1774)

I am more and more convinced that man is a dangerous creature; and that power, whether vested in many or a few, is ever grasping, and, like the grave, cries, “Give, give!” The great fish swallow up the small; and he who is most strenuous for the rights of the people, when vested with power, is as eager after the prerogatives of government. You tell me of degrees of perfection to which human nature is capable of arriving, and I believe it, but at the same time lament that our admiration should arise from the scarcity of the instances.
—Letter (1775)

In the new code of laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make I desire you would remember the ladies, and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the husbands. Remember all men would be tyrants if they could. If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice, or representation.
— Letter (1776)

If you complain of neglect of Education in sons, what shall I say with regard to daughters, who every day experience the want of it? With regard to the Education of my own children, I find myself soon out of my depth, destitute and deficient in every part of Education.
—Letter (1776)

I most sincerely wish that some more liberal plan might be laid and executed for the Benefit of the rising Generation, and that our new Constitution may be distinguished for encouraging Learning and Virtue.
—Letter (1776)

If we mean to have heroes, statesmen and philosophers, we should have learned women.
—Letter (1776)

It is really mortifying, sir, when a woman possessed of a common share of understanding considers the difference of education between the male and female sex, even in those families where education is attended to . . . Nay why should your sex wish for such a disparity in those whom they one day intend for companions and associates.
—Letter (1778)

I regret the trifling narrow contracted education of the females of my own country.
—Letter (1778)

If we do not lay out ourselves in the service of mankind whom should we serve?
—Letter (1778)

These are times in which a genius would wish to live. It is not in the still calm of life, or in the repose of a pacific station, that great challenges are formed. . . . Great necessities call out great virtues.
—Letter (1780)

Learning is not attained by chance, it must be sought for with ardor and attended to with diligence.
—Letter (1780)

Patriotism in the female sex is the most disinterested of all virtues. Excluded from honors and from offices, we cannot attach ourselves to the State or Government from having held a place of eminence. Even in the freest countries our property is subject to the control and disposal of our partners, to whom the laws have given a sovereign authority. Deprived of a voice in Legislation, obliged to submit to those Laws which are imposed upon us, is it not sufficient to make us indifferent to the public welfare? Yet all history and every age exhibit instances of patriotic virtue in the female sex; which considering our situation equals the most heroic of yours.
—Letter (1782)

Knowledge is a fine thing, and mother Eve thought so; but she smarted so severly for hers, that most of her daughters have been afraid of it since.
—Letter (1791)

 

Biography | Timeline of the Adams Family | Words of Abigail Adams | Fascinating Facts About Her | See also John Adams 

Fascinating Facts About Abigail Adams

         Abigail Smith was the daughter of a Congregationalist minister who later performed the ceremony when she married John Adams. 

         She had six children in a 12-year span from 1765 to 1777. Sadly, her sixth child was stillborn.

         Most of her thoughts about independence, the Revolutionary War, and her husband’s presidency are captured in the letters she exchanged with John. The two of them wrote more than 1,100 letters from 1762 to 1801.

         The Amazons were a nation of female warriors in Greek mythology. In 1774, while John was away in Philadelphia, she wrote to him, “If our men are drawn off and we should be attacked, you will find a race of Amazons in America!”

         While John was a delegate at the Continental Congress, Abigail wrote him letters with personal messages of love and affection. These same letters also contained news and information about the progress of the rebellion in Boston.

         In March 1776, Abigail wrote John a famous letter urging more equality for women. She wrote that Congress should “remember the ladies, and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the Husbands. Remember all Men would be tyrants if they could.” Somewhat in jest she added, “If particular care and attention is not paid to the Ladies we are determined to foment a Rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any Laws in which we have no voice, or Representation.”

         Because John was away from home for so long, Abigail managed the farm and the education of their several children by herself.

         She allowed Patriots to use her farmhouse in Braintree, Massachusetts, as a place where they could plan raids on British supply lines.

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