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John Adams and his Homes

 By John T. Marck


           John Adams, second president of the United States, was born on October 31, 1735, in Braintree, Massachusetts, in what is today the town of Quincy. In 1636, John's great-grandfather, Henry Adams, received a grant of approximately 40 acres of land in Braintree, and soon thereafter immigrated from Devonshire, England with his eight sons. The saltbox house in which he was born still stands today and is a part of the National Historic Site in Quincy.  

John Adams, (the future president) was the son of John Adams and Susanna Boylston, the daughter of Peter Boylston of Brookline, Massachusetts. The future president's father, John, was well thought of in the community, and was a part-time shoemaker, a farmer, deacon of the church, and upon his death in 1760, had an estate appraised at 1,330 pounds 9shillings 6pense, which at the time was regarded as a moderate competence. 

In these days it was the custom of the family to send the eldest sons to college, and Adams attended Harvard, graduating in 1755.  While deciding on a profession, Adams taught at a grammar school in Worcester. His family however, thought that by sending him to college he would become a clergyman, but Adams found he was a “free thinker,” and thus was not at home in the pulpit. He turned from the ministry and began to study law at Worcester, and in 1758, opened his own practice in Suffolk County. 

While still a struggling small-town lawyer of 29, in 1764, Adams married Abigail Smith of Weymouth; a 19 year-old daughter of a clergyman and a lady of social position higher than his own.

          Abby as she was known was a lively and intelligent lady, and one of the most distinguished First Ladies. She was a writer of countless letters which are a treasure of information for the times, and was the only wife of a President and mother of another (John Quincy) for years, until the election of George W. Bush. 

John Adams became known for the fierceness in which he attacked anything he strongly disapproved of. This trait became apparent when the British Parliament imposed the Stamp Act on the colonies in 1765.  Along with Samuel Adams, a second cousin, he stirred up a mob action against the British. Adams introduced successful anti-tax resolutions and wrote articles of protest in the Boston Gazette.  After moving his law practice to Boston in 1766, Adams demonstrated his moral courage in his most famous case, defending the British captain and soldiers who had fired into a mob in the Boston Massacre. While Adams believed that this case might cost him popularity, he still believed that the crime lay with British authorities rather than the troops who were simply carrying out their orders.  Although Boston patriots denounced him for defending Englishmen, he won the case and also wide respect for his sense of justice. 

In his political career prior to serving as President, Adams proved to be eloquent and forceful as a member of the Continental Congress from 1744-1778. It was he that proposed George Washington as Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army, and helped draft the Declaration of Independence.

           During the Revolutionary War he served in France and Holland in diplomatic roles, and helped negotiate the treaty of peace and helped draft the Treaty of Paris that ended the war. From 1785 to 1788 he was minister to the Court of St. James's, returning to be elected Vice President under George Washington.  He also served as the Minister to the Netherlands in 1780, and Minister to Great Britain in 1785. It was also Adams, and others, who wrote the Massachusetts State Constitution, which Madison used as a model in writing the Constitution of the United States.

In 1789, John Adams entered “the most significant office that ever was the invention of man contrived or his imagination conceived,” --- that of the Vice-Presidency.  During his terms with George Washington, two distinct political groups emerged; the conservative Federalists and the Democratic-Republicans.  Nominally a Federalist himself, and partial to the “rich, the well-born, and the able,” Adams nevertheless feuded with Federalist leader Alexander Hamilton. 

In the presidential election, Adams defeated Thomas Jefferson (who became his vice-president) by 71 to 68 electoral votes in 1796 when Washington refused to serve a third term.  Opponents to Adams, disappointed by the election, disparaged him as “President by 3 votes. When Adams suggested establishing an elaborate title for the Presidency, like that of European royalty, he was mocked as "His Rotundity.”  

Still, when the 61 year-old Adams was sworn in on March 4, 1797 at Philadelphia, then the nations capital, the ceremony demonstrated to the world that the new republic could change chief executives in an orderly, peaceful manner. 

One of Adams' greatest mistakes was that he carried over into his administration all the members of Washington's Cabinet; men not of his choosing or he theirs. Consequently, his four years in office were scarred by intrigues, which embittered all his later life. Some of his Cabinet members turned to Hamilton rather than to him for political leadership, deepening the breach. 

The most serious was the crisis in relations to France. In an undeclared warfare action, the U.S. Constitution ("Old Ironsides"), the United States and the Constellation, cleared the sea-lanes of French privateers. The Alien and Sedition Acts empowered the federal government to imprison aliens and citizens who threatened or opposed it.  When Adams used these acts as an opportunity to frustrate his enemies at home, and especially when he made peace overtures to France, Hamilton circulated a letter to Federalist leaders declaring Adams to be unfit to continue in office. This certain sabotage along with Jefferson's popularity ended Adams' chance for a second term. 

In spite of the controversy, Adams can be respected as a President who steadfastly did what he believed was right, regardless of popularity, and who saved the United States and France from the devastation of a full-scale war.  

John Adams lived 90 years and 8 months, longer than any other President until Ronald Reagan surpassed him recently.   In retirement Adams spent much of his time writing.  He penned many an elaborate letter to Thomas Jefferson, his rival but close friend. John Adams died on the Fourth of July, 1826, and (some say) from his deathbed whispered, “Jefferson lives.” However, unknown to Adams, Thomas Jefferson had died earlier this same day, on the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. 

The Homes of John Adams

 The Adams National Historic Site  

John Adams, the second President, and his son, John Quincy Adams, the sixth President, both were born in adjacent houses on Franklin Street in Quincy, which at the time of their births was known as Braintree. 

The house at 133 Franklin Street, shown herein, is a New England “saltbox” building with multiple fireplaces around a central chimney. 

Originally it consisted of two upper and two lower rooms, but rooms were added to both floors.  The house dates to about 1680 and thus is the oldest existing of all the Presidential birthplaces. 

Upon his father's death, John Adams (the future President) inherited a similar house next door that became his home and law office, and the birthplace of his son, John Quincy as well as the Massachusetts State Constitution.  Both houses are typical of those built in the late 17th century by New England carpenters. The houses were framed with huge beams that were secured with wooden pegs, floored with wide planks, and covered with clapboard siding over brick-filled walls to help with the cold New England winters.  

John Adams spent much of his time in Europe in his various diplomatic positions.  During this time, his wife, Abigail, purchased, sight unseen, a farm and house less than two miles away from Franklin Street. Major Leonard Vassall, a wealthy West India sugar planter, had built this house in 1731. 

This house, called Peacefield, or commonly known as The Old House, consisted of six rooms and a kitchen wing. Just as Adams was preparing to settle into his new home, he was called away by George Washington to serve as his vice president.  Thus, it would be twelve years before he would retire there, serving eight years with Washington, and another four as president.  During the twelve years he was away, his wife Abigail was busy overseeing major improvements to the house that included doubling the capacity with an addition of an east wing in 1800. Years later, her great grandson Henry Adams recalled the following about The Old House: 

“The Old House at Quincy was 18th century.  What style it had was its Queen Anne mahogany panels and its Louis XV chairs and sofa. The panels belonged to an old colonial Vassall who built the house; the furniture had been brought back from Paris in 1789 or 1801 or 1817, along with porcelain and books and much else of an old diplomatic remnants; and neither of the two 18th century styles...was comfortable for a boy, or for anyone else.  The dark mahogany had been painted white to suit daily life in winter gloom.”

Finally at long last, John joined Abigail and he began to enjoy the gardens, his books, and his children and grandchildren.   

Over the years since he lived there, much has changed at Peacefield, but the present-day garden and beauty offer a link to the serenity of the earlier times. A white York rose brought to Peacefield from England in 1788 survived and still thrives today. As one walks the gravel paths through the orchards and gardens today give a renewed sense of the history, tradition and quietude of Peacefield.

Although John Quincy Adams loved The Old House and inherited it from his parents, he was too busy with politics to pay any attention to it.  Consequently he left the supervision and maintenance of Peacefield to his son, Charles Francis Adams. In the middle of the 19th century, Charles converted the property from a farm to a country gentleman's home as well as added a separate building, which became The Stone Library. It was here that John Adams extensive collections were kept.  

For generations, the Adams's remained in The Old House, until 1927 when the Adams Memorial Society was formed and took possession of the home. In 1946 the Society deeded Peacefield to the federal government.  The birthplaces of John and John Quincy, owned by the city of Quincy were also given to the federal government.  These two areas, separated by less than two miles are today considered a single National Historic Site, controlled by the national Park Service. The Adams National Historic Site is open from April to November each year. A splendid time is guaranteed for all. 

The United First Parish Church (Unitarian) Of Quincy is considered the finest existing Greek revival church in New England. The dominant interior feature is the decorative plaster dome. The church is the burial place of Presidents John and John Quincy Adams and their wives. John Quincy was instrumental in its erection in 1827‑28.

Quick Biographical Facts


2nd President 

Term- March 4, 1797 to March 4, 1801

Federalist Party

Birth: Braintree (Quincy), Massachusetts, October 30, 1735.

Ancestry: English

Father: John Adams

Mother: Susanna Boylston Adams

Marriage: Weymouth, Massachusetts, October 25, 1764 to Abigail Smith, who was born in Weymouth, Massachusetts, November 11, 1744. Abigail died in Quincy, Massachusetts on October 28, 1818 and is buried at the First Parish Church, Quincy, Massachusetts.

Children: Abigail Amelia (1765-1813); John Quincy (1767-1848); Susanna (1768-1770); Charles (1770-1800) and Thomas Boylston (1772-1832).

Home: Peacefield, Quincy, Massachusetts.

Education: Attended private schools in Braintree; received B.A. (1775) from Harvard.

Religion: Unitarian

Occupation before Presidency: Teacher, farmer, lawyer.

Pre-Presidential Offices: Representative to Massachusetts General Court; Delegate to First and Second Continental Congresses; Member of Provincial Congress of Massachusetts; Delegate to Massachusetts Constitutional Convention; Commissioner to France; Minister to Netherlands and England; Vice-President.

Age at Inauguration: 61

Adams Administration: Vice-President: Thomas Jefferson, Inauguration March 4, 1797, Federal Hall, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Occupation after Presidency: Writer

Death: Quincy, Massachusetts, July 4, 1826 

Cause of Death: Debility at age 90

Place of Burial: United First Parish Unitarian Church, Quincy, Massachusetts.

Interesting Facts: 

The White House was first known as the Presidential Palace, and was unfinished when Adams moved in. The Adams' were the first residents of the White House. They moved in in November 1800 while the paint was still wet. Mrs. Adams would hang her laundry in the East Room to dry. 

The 44-gun frigate USS Constitution was first launched during Adams Presidency, in 1797. She was nicknamed “Old Iron Sides” because of the strength of her oak timbers. 

Adams was one of three presidents not to attend the inauguration of his successor. Not only was Adams disappointed in losing to Jefferson; he was also grieving the death of his son Charles. 

Adams was the great‑great‑grandson of John and Priscilla Alden, Pilgrims who landed at Plymouth Rock in 1620. 

The only presidents to sign the Declaration of Independence, Adams and Jefferson both died on its 50th anniversary, July 4, 1826. Adams' dying words were "Thomas Jefferson lives.” Jefferson, however, had passed on a few hours earlier. 

 John Adams was a second cousin to Samuel Adams, and a third cousin to his own wife, Abigail Smith Adams. 

Adams was one of three presidents to live beyond his 90th birthday. 

When Adams and his family moved to Washington to live in the White House, they got lost in the woods north of the city for several hours.

Copyright © John T. Marck.  All Rights Reserved. Grateful appreciation and informational assistance from the Adams National Historic Site.  Photographs compliments of the Adams National Historic Site. Information in part on The Homes of John Adams from “Homes and Libraries of The Presidents,” by William G. Clotworthy, 1994, McDonald & Woodward Publishing, Blacksburg, Virginia. Henry Adams quotation passage from “The Homes and Libraries of the Presidents,” by William G. Clotworthy, 1994, McDonald & Woodward Publishers, Blacksburg, Virginia. Quick Biographical Facts from “The Presidents of the United States,” by John T. Marck, Copyright©1993,1997.                                                                                                                                                                                                          

  A Splendid Time Is Guaranteed For All