Paying the Viking's Price

Friday, September 26, 2008

Founding Father romances -- John and Abigail Adams

As Michelle Willingham asked, I thought I would do a brief bit on the romances of the Founding Fathers. Thereby revealing my geekier side and the fact I do love this period.
First up John and Abigail Adams. Because over 1000 letters survive, we actually know a lot about the relationship between John and Abigail. Above everything, it was a good marriage and the warmth of the relationship comes through in the letters.
The artist Gilbert Stuart once remarked that he wished he could have painted Mrs Adams in her youth as she must have been a perfect Venus, and John Adams wholeheartedly concurred.
They first met when Abigail Smith was a frail 15 year old and married when she was not quite 20.
Abigail had been considered too delicate for school and was taught at home by her mother. She also had access to her father's vast library and developed a love of learning. Her letters are sprinkled with quotes from her favourite poems etc. There are often slight mistakes as she is most probably quoting from memory.
When they met, John was a short, stout young lawyer. His first impression of her was not favourable. Saying the Smith daughters were not 'fond nor frank, nor candid.' However, because his good friend Richard Cranch married Abigail's elder sister --Mary Smith, they became more better acquainted and found much to like about each other. Adams' family legend has it that Abigail's mother opposed the match, thinking her daughter could do better. But it is John Adam's great heart that called to her. Both were strong minded as both had views on nearly everything. Once John calls her parrot-toed and she replies he is too severe in his judgements of people and besides 'a gentleman has no business to concern himself about the legs of a lady.'
Abigail became Diana after the goddess of the moon in their private correspondence and John became Lysander after the Spartan hero. Their letters to each other begin My Dearest Friend.
Interestingly in the final year of their courtship,John has almost no diary entries and only refers to her once before their marriage and then only in code. 'Di was a constant feast. Tender, feeling, sensible, friendly. A friend.'
It was a marriage of equals and a partnership. It was this marriage that enabled John to go off and achieve. Abigail, for all her frailty as a child became a robust woman who managed the house with classic New England good sense. She kept hens and ducks,sewed, baked and churned her butter. She believed that her butter was vastly superior.
Anyway, the letters between John and Abigail shine with their love for each other. And she was the constant good in his life.

2 comments:

Michelle Willingham said...

It's always interesting to read old letters--it really gives you an insight to the time period. Thanks for sharing!

Michelle Styles said...

Yes, what is great about old letters is how they would use code and allusion to create the romance.
You get the feeling of inside jokes, and shared amusement. The respect.
Anyway, the Adams letters are a fun read.