Abigail and John: A Window into American History
Written by David Bruce Smith and illustrated by Clarice Smith
Author and publisher David Bruce Smith is the founder of the Grateful American Foundation and co-founder of the Grateful American Book Prize. David's mother, Clarice Smith, was an internationally renowned artist who exhibited her paintings all over the world.
Reading Rockets is pleased to offer this exclusive digital version of Abigail & John. This beautifully illustrated book offers young readers a look at American history through the remarkable lives of one of the country’s most beloved couples — Abigail and John Adams. Exploring the historical significance of a partnership that spanned over five decades, the book details the love they shared for each other and the country. You can purchase Abigail & John on Bookshop or Amazon.
Abigail & John is featured on our booklist, From the American Revolution to a New Nation.
The Grateful American Book Series offers rich educational materials to support the use of Abigail & John in classrooms. To access the curriculum materials, and learn how to strengthen critical-thinking skills, deepen content knowledge, and spark a love and appreciation for our nation’s history, visit Teaching Abigail & John.
Abigail & John: the digital book
Abigail & John
Written by David Bruce Smith
Illustrated by Clarice Smith
Abigail & John
Written by David Bruce Smith
Illustrated by Clarice Smith
Grateful American Book Series
Abigail and John
Cover & book design by Carol Sullivan
This edition published in 2019
Copyright © David Bruce Smith
Library of Congress Control Number: 2019946086
Bibliographical References and Index
1. Biography & Autobiography 2. Presidents & First Families 3. Colonial & Revolutionary
All rights reserved
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The Grateful American Foundation was founded in 2014 to restore enthusiasm about American history for kids–and adults–via videos and podcasts. Abigail & John is the inaugural book of the Grateful American Book Series, which focuses on the presidential and historical marriages that influenced the nation’s history.
An Independent Nation Is Born
The American colonies longed for liberty. Amidst anger and frustration, they banded together. The result was a revolution—the American Revolution!
Years of fighting with both pen and sword ensued, but when the cannons calmed and the gunpowder smoke settled, America had won. With democracy as its foundation and a president—not a monarch—as its leader, the United States had officially become an independent nation. A constitution was written, rights were established, and change was constant!
It was during this extraordinary time in America’s history that Abigail and John Adams lived, loved, and wrote many letters. This collection of correspondence paints a vivid picture of two remarkable people and the incredible love they had for each other—and their country.
On November 22, 1744, a child was born to Elizabeth and William Smith in Weymouth, Massachusetts. She was the second of five children. Her name was Abigail. As a little girl, Abigail was spirited and curious. She loved to learn! Back then, girls usually did not attend school, but Abigail’s parents were different. They wanted her to receive an education, and so Abigail’s mother taught her how to read and write at home. It was not long before Abigail was devouring any book she could find! Luckily, her father and grandfather had large libraries. They ardently encouraged Abigail’s love for reading.
During this time, most schools did not allow girls to attend. Instead, they were educated at home.
Years before Abigail was born, John Adams could be found playing outdoors. He was born on October 30, 1735, on his family’s farm in Braintree, Massachusetts. As a boy, John was rambunctious! He would often skip school to swim, fly kites, and shoot. He loved getting dirty and helping on the farm. John wished to become a farmer just like his father, but Mr. Adams had bigger plans for John. He wanted John to attend college. Little did his father know that John would not only go to college but he would also become the second president of the United States!
As Abigail and John grew, they continued their educations. Abigail expanded her knowledge through reading. She also learned by listening and conversing with others. Her father, a preacher, allowed her to attend his meetings with church leaders. Even though Abigail was strictly forbidden to speak at these meetings—because she was a girl—she still absorbed a great deal of information about politics and religion.
Often, Abigail would travel to the bustling and exciting city of Boston to visit her aunt and uncle. There, she engaged in lively talks with her cousin and his friends. She became well versed in literature, poetry, and world events. Soon, Abigail matured into a well-spoken and well-informed young woman.
John’s education was more traditional. He attended a boarding school under the tutelage of Joseph Marsh. It was there that John became inspired and—for the first time—valued learning. He was focused and determined. He wanted to succeed in his studies. At just 15 years of age, John headed to Harvard College. In 1755, he graduated and became a teacher; however, what John truly longed for was to become a lawyer. So, John taught during the day and studied law at night. After two years of hard work, John became a practicing lawyer.
With roughly two teachers, four tutors, and about 100 students, Harvard was small when John attended.
It Was Not Love at First Sight
When Abigail met John in 1759, it was not love at first sight. John had come to Abigail’s father’s home with a friend, who was courting Abigail’s sister, Mary. To fourteen-year-old Abigail, John was small in stature and big in personality. He was also openly opinionated and assuredly argumentative. Abigail was uninterested in the arrogant young lawyer. Likewise, John was unimpressed with Abigail. To him, she was uncaring, guarded, and reserved.
Over time, John became a regular visitor to the Smith family home. He would come with friends to engage in enthusiastic talks, or to borrow books from the Reverend’s sizable library. The more Abigail and John saw each other, the more their feelings changed. Abigail started to respect John for his ambitious nature. She appreciated his openness, and his quick wit made her laugh. John discovered that Abigail had strong opinions, and he liked the confidence with which she would express them. He also admired Abigail’s intellect and willfulness. He had never met a woman quite like her.
Their Courtship Begins
As Abigail and John focused on their similarities instead of their differences, they discovered common interests, especially when it came to politics. It wasn’t long before the two were courting and writing letters to each other.
In one letter, John informed Abigail that he was purchasing a leather binder to keep all her letters safe. He implored her to do the same.
A Strong Bond
John traveled regularly to establish his career in law. The more letters Abigail and John exchanged during John’s time on the court circuit, the more they fell in love. Their handwritten correspondences were passionate and poetic. John affectionately referred to Abigail as “Miss Adorable,” while Abigail penned John as her “Dearest Friend.” Other times, the couple borrowed names from mythology—a custom in those days. Abigail was “Diana,” the Roman goddess of the moon, and John became “Lysander” after the Spartan war hero.
ADMIRERS OF SHAKESPEARE
Abigail and John admired Shakespeare and referred to his works in their letters.
A Growing Family
John compared his relationship with Abigail to that which the bond steel has with a magnet. An equal and loving partnership built on admiration and respect had fully blossomed. In 1764, they were married. The newlyweds moved to a humble home in Braintree where they soon welcomed a daughter, Abigail Amelia, or “Nabby” for short.
When John was not traveling for work, he farmed the acres of land that surrounded their home. This filled him with great joy and satisfaction. Abigail’s time was occupied with daily domestic duties such as growing vegetables, preserving fruit, and churning butter. John and Abigail doted on baby Nabby, and when they managed to have some time for themselves, the couple loved nothing more than walking, reading, or talking together.
The Family Moves to Boston
To be closer to his law practice, John moved his family, which now included son John Quincy, to Boston in the spring of 1768. Abigail was thrilled to be back in the bustling city. Boston brought excitement that Braintree couldn’t, including diverse shops, frequent newspapers, and a flurry of political debates. But Boston was on the brink of change.
Taxation Without Representation
In 1767, the British Parliament had enacted the Townshend Duties, which placed taxes on items such as glass, tea, and paper. Colonists were livid! They were tired of being taxed without fair representation in Parliament. Taxation without representation was in direct violation of the law. To retaliate, the colonists boycotted the taxed goods and organized protests. Some went so far as to tar and feather those who were loyal to the British.
TARRED & FEATHERED
As a form of protest, an angry mob would pour boiling hot tree sap all over a person’s body, and then cover it with feathers.
In response to the unrest, King George sent more British soldiers to Boston. The redcoats arrived just six months after Abigail and John, increasing the indignation amongst Bostonians. Tensions erupted in March of 1770 when an angry crowd heckled a British soldier. At first, just insults and snowballs were hurled, but when reinforcements arrived, shots were fired into the crowd, and five Boston residents were killed. A British officer and eight of his men were arrested and would face trial for what would be known as the Boston Massacre.
John Defends British Soldiers
John made the controversial decision to defend the British soldiers on trial for the Boston Massacre. John, who respected the law, knew that every person had the right to a fair trial. Abigail knew this was a dangerous endeavor for John. She was also aware that it put her and the children in danger. Even so, she wholly supported her husband’s decision.
During this time, John and Abigail faced a personal tragedy. The month before the Massacre, their second daughter, Susanna, died. She was just over a year old. Susanna’s death devastated Abigail and John. Abigail stopped writing letters during this time, and John sought distraction in the patriotic upheaval taking over Boston. The birth of their second son, Charles, helped ease some of the grief.
The trials for the Boston Massacre started in October 1770. John was exceptional during each of the trials. He skillfully argued that Britain was to blame for sending over the soldiers in the first place. John believed the soldiers did not intend to kill the five men; they were simply trying to defend themselves against what they perceived as an attack. The jury agreed.
ARGUMENT FOR THE DEFENSE
During the trial, John told the court, “Facts are stubborn things ; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts.”
John Is Exhausted
The trials weakened John, physically and mentally. He experienced chest pains and suffered from extreme fatigue. Although his moods had always fluctuated—John would be happy one day and sad the next—he now described his emotional stability as swaying with “every breeze.” Fortunately, Abigail was there to steady his nerves and strengthen his spirits. The family returned to their farm in Braintree where a third son, Thomas, was added to the family.
The Boston Tea Party
Toward the end of 1772, with John’s health restored, the family went back to Boston; however, they would not stay for long. In 1773, a mob of angry colonists, dressed as Mohawk Indians, boarded three British ships and dumped more than 300 chests of tea into Boston harbor. They were protesting the Tea Acts. The Boston Tea Party marked a turning point in America’s history. Abigail wrote to a close friend that “the flame is kindled and like Lightning it catches from soul to soul.”
IN JOHN’S WORDS
About the Tea Party, John wrote, “There is a dignity, a majesty, a sublimity, in this last effort of the patriots that I greatly admire.”
A Storm Is Coming
John was now needed in Philadelphia. As a delegate from Massachusetts, he was to attend the First Continental Congress. To keep his family safe from “the Storm that was coming,” he moved them back to the family farm in Braintree. Although Abigail did not wish to be separated from her husband, she fully supported him and the needs of the country.
While John was in Philadelphia, Abigail wrote to him about the confrontations occurring between the colonists and the British around Boston.
America Remains Loyal
The First Continental Congress assembled in September 1774. It had the daunting task of plotting America’s next steps. The colonial leaders were divided. Some felt separation from Britain was essential and inevitable. Others believed the colonies should remain loyal to the British crown, but agreed that changes must be made. After almost two months of tedious debates, Congress decided to remain loyal to the crown, but would cease importing goods from Britain until an agreement could be reached with King George regarding the taxation of the colonies. With a decision reached John returned home.
John had kept Abigail apprised of all the happenings of Congress through his letters, and now Abigail sensed that war was on the horizon. She wrote to a close friend that the “Sword is now our only, yet dreadful alternative.” Although Abigail feared war, she yearned for America to be free from British rule. She felt this was the only the way the country would succeed. In April 1775, just a month after writing that letter, shots were fired in Lexington and Concord. The American Revolution had begun.
Sacrifices Are Made
Once more, John departed for Philadelphia—there was to be a Second Continental Congress. Abigail stayed with the children and managed the farm. There she would be safe, despite being surrounded by the sounds of war. Gunfire and cannon blasts were ever-present reminders of the sacrifices being made in an attempt to secure America’s freedom.
On June 17, 1775, Abigail took her seven-year-old son, John Quincy, to a hill near their farm to witness the Battle of Bunker Hill.
The Continental Army
In Philadelphia, John was more fired up than he had ever been. He would fervently pound the floor of Independence Hall with his walking stick as he spoke, adding an audible emphasis to important points. He, along with his cousin Sam Adams, called for America’s independence. A consensus could not be reached, but the men did decide to raise a continental army to keep the colonists safe. John proposed that George Washington be the commander of that army. The leaders in Congress agreed.
WORDS OF PRAISE
John wrote Abigail that the “modest and virtuous, the amiable, generous and brave George Washington” would be leading the army.
Remember the Ladies
John and Abigail continued with their letter writing. Abigail described in great detail the war she saw being fought all around her. She urged John to declare independence soon. Although John adamantly agreed with Abigail, getting the other delegates to comply was the problem.
Abigail did not stop there. If the country did gain its freedom, she wanted women to have freedom, as well. In a famous letter to John, written on March 31, 1776, Abigail pleaded with her influential husband to “Remember the Ladies” and not give “unlimited power” to the husbands. She wanted women to have rights. She warned that women might even rebel.
EDUCATION FOR GIRLS
Abigail was in favor of public schools for girls. She once wrote to John, “You need not be told how much female education is neglected.”
A New Nation Is Born
Abigail’s wish for women’s rights would not be granted for nearly 150 years; however, the men in Congress did finally agree on one thing. On July 2, 1776, the Declaration of Independence was approved. It was formally adopted on the Fourth of July, and a new nation was born.
Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence, but before he presented it to Congress, he sent it to “Dr. Franklin and Mr. Adams requesting their corrections.”
The War Is Over
One of the most important roles John played during the war was that of diplomat. In February 1778, Congress sent John to France to join Benjamin Franklin and negotiate a much-needed alliance. It was feared that without French money and troops, America would lose the war. Luckily, the overseas mission was successful, and he was able to come home in the summer of 1779, but come November, John would return to Paris. This time, it would be to discuss peace treaties with England. Many years later, in 1783, the Treaty of Paris was signed, formally ending the long war and firmly establishing the United States as an independent nation.
A Joyful Reunion
Five years had passed since John and Abigail had last seen each other. The couple that had endured so much separation during their 20-year marriage would finally be reunited in London in the summer of 1784. Nabby and John Quincy would also join them. Abigail described the joyful time in a letter to her sister: “We are indeed a very, very happy family once more.”
John and Abigail remained in Europe four more years, with John serving as America’s first ambassador to Great Britain. The two delighted in each other’s company and spent their free time sightseeing, attending lectures, and meeting new people—including the king and queen of England.
John Becomes Vice President
On June 17, 1788, Abigail and John arrived home to a hero’s welcome. Thousands of people awaited them on the docks of Boston Harbor, cheering their arrival. Church bells rang, and cannons fired—it was quite the pomp and circumstance.
A little less than a year later, John was greeted once again by gleeful crowds as he was sworn in as the first vice president of the United States under President George Washington. John and Abigail moved to New York, and then later to Philadelphia, as the nation changed the location of its capital.
Abigail Fulfills Her Obligations
John did not like being the vice president. His duties were insignificant, and he played only a minor role in the nation’s politics during that time. Abigail, meanwhile, fulfilled her many societal obligations: hosting formal dinners, balls, and teas; however, her health was waning. Abigail’s rheumatism had taken quite a hold. In 1792, she went back to Braintree, while John remained in Philadelphia to serve his second term as vice president.
John wrote that the vice presidency is “the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived or his imagination conceived.”
John Hesitates to Run for Office
When it became clear that George Washington would retire at the end of his second term, John was hesitant to run for the office. He turned to Abigail for advice, but she was uncertain, as well. John was getting older, and Abigail’s health was still a concern. They had already sacrificed so much of their lives for their country; did they have anything left to give?
In her heart, Abigail knew John longed to be president. He ached for the admiration and distinction associated with the office. And so, with her blessing and support, John became a presidential candidate in 1796.
From Ally to Enemy
The election that followed would be heated. John was running against Thomas Jefferson. While the two had always been the closest of allies, they now belonged to opposing political parties and had become bitter enemies. John was a Federalist who believed in a strong federal government. Jefferson was a Democratic-Republican who argued for a less-powerful central government and more rights for states.
John would win the election by three votes. Jefferson, the runner-up, would be his vice president. John’s inauguration was held on March 4, 1797. Unfortunately, because of the winter weather, Abigail was unable to attend. John impatiently awaited her arrival. He wrote, “I never wanted your advice and assistance more in my life.”
The signing of the Alien and Sedition Acts along with the XYZ Affair made John very unpopular with his opponents and supporters.
The White House
Abigail finally arrived in Philadelphia in May. The couple remained there a few years before moving to the nation’s new capital—Washington, DC. Abigail and John Adams would be the first presidential couple to live in the President’s House—later known as the White House.
John Keeps the Peace
During his presidency, John faced the daunting task of keeping his young nation out of the war between Great Britain and France. Although he succeeded in keeping the peace, many of the decisions he made were heavily criticized and cast an unfavorable light on John’s presidency.
John Loses the Presidency
In 1800, John would lose the election to his former friend and current foe, Thomas Jefferson. John did not stay for Jefferson’s inauguration. He and Abigail left the President’s House at 4 o’clock in the morning on March 4, 1801—the day Jefferson took office.
Abigail was disappointed that John had lost the election, knowing how badly he wanted to stay in office, but she was also extremely relieved. She had been unhappy during John’s presidency. The continuous job of hosting state dinners, entertaining guests, and supervising a large staff of workers was overwhelming and exhausting.
John’s retirement did not start off well. Trying to cope with being out of the national spotlight, and the recent death of his son Charles had severely depressed John, but Abigail was there to calm his mood swings and help ease John into a peaceful life on the farm.
After some time had passed, Abigail and John found serenity in their retirement. The death of their daughter, Nabby, was a shock, but Abigail and John came to appreciate and enjoy the remainder of their days. They loved watching their grandchildren grow, and took great pleasure in staying informed about current political affairs. They even reconciled with Thomas Jefferson, renewing a friendship that would be treasured for the rest of their lives.
After the election of 1800, Thomas Jefferson and John did not speak for 12 years. Their correspondence was renewed when Abigail sent a letter of condolence upon the death of Jefferson’s daughter.
Abigail ’s Final Days
On October 28, 1818, Abigail Adams passed away, with her beloved John at her side. She was 73.
John lived another eight years, during which time he would see his son, John Quincy Adams, become the sixth president of the United States.
John’s Final Days
In July 4, 1826, John Adams spoke his last words, “Thomas Jefferson survives.” Unbeknownst to John, Thomas Jefferson had passed away earlier that same day.
John was buried next to his “Dearest Friend” and wife of 54 years, Abigail, in Quincy, Massachusetts.
An Equal Partnership
Abigail and John exchanged more than 1,000 letters during their lives. Their firsthand accounts of the revolution, the birth of a nation, and the forming of ideals that would shape America’s future are unparalleled. Moreover, their words reveal an exceptional love story—one for the ages—in which they demonstrate how an equal and caring partnership, built on respect, can result in a love that lasts a lifetime.
About The Author & Illustrator
David Bruce Smith and Clarice Smith have been collaborating more than 30 years.
David Bruce Smith is the founder of the Grateful American Foundation and co-founder of the Grateful American Book Prize. He is also the author of 11 books.
Please visit gratefulamericanfoundation.com and gratefulamericanbookprize.com for more information.
Clarice Smith is an internationally renowned artist who has exhibited her paintings all over the world.
Please visit claricesmith.com for more information.