They are, perhaps, the best American love story I know of. John and Abigail Adams were a matched set. Both had incredible minds and were in favor of declaring independence from Great Britain before nearly anyone else in the colonies thought it was a good idea. He was the politician and she was the one who kept him grounded, took care of their family and farm while he was away, and even pushed him to think about issues relating to women and slaves. The Adamses spent many long years apart as John worked for independence and then was an ambassador to Europe. As hard as that was for them, we get the benefit of it today in the form of their letters, which have been preserved. In those letters they discuss their children, the new country, independence, old friends, their love life, farm life and thousands of other things. [Abigail even wrote one letter while in the process of giving birth]
I have several things for you to examine regarding the Adamses.
First, two actual letters that have been transcribed. They are easy to read in typed form, but if you want you can click on the images along the right side and see the original pages. Each letter is several pages and each page is separated by a solid line. The spellings and capitalization are a bit off for some words; try not to let that throw you.
A little background info on this letter:
- Abigail is writing from the family farm in Braintree, Massachusetts just outside Boston.
- The British army has recently left Boston after many months occupying the city
- Salt Peter is an ingredient in making gun powder, which the American forces (Continental Army) lacked severely.
- She switches topics with nearly ever paragraph; try to keep up.
A little background info on this letter:
- John is writing from Philadelphia, where he is part of the Continental Congress.
- He has been trying for quite a while to get all the colonies to vote for independence from Great Britain, but many of them are afraid or unwilling to do so.
- Independency is another word for independence.
Some Questions Regarding the Letters – Answer these before going on to part two below
- Abigail mentions their second house in Boston. What does she say of it? What is John’s response?
- How does John respond to Abigail’s request that he ‘remember the ladies’?
- Who do you suppose the ‘solicitor general’ is?
- What do John and Abigail think of the colony of Virginia?
- What do these letters tell us about the character of the Adamses? What kind of people were they? Can you get an idea of their personality through the letters?
Next, two sound recordings from a musical called 1776. The main character is John Adams and Abigail appears on stage only when John is writing letters to her. She stands at one side of the stage and he at the other, and they talk/sing to each other through their letters. Sorry I couldn’t find a good video of it, but you’ll be able to picture it if you’ve read the above letters and give it a little imagination. You’ll also hear a few other actors interrupting John once in a while with their lines. Make sure you listen to these in order.
[Important: This musical is a work of fiction. It is based on real events and some of the lines are actual quotes, but by no means is it all completely true]
Also beware there are some minor expletives. If you don’t want to hear them skip this section.
- This begins with John ‘praying’ to God after being very frustrated with Congress, which he thinks isn’t getting anything done.
- This begins with John writing to Abigail after all the southern colonies walked out of Congress because of a disagreement over slavery. John Adams was in favor of ending slavery while in the deep south the economy and way of life of many depended on it.
Questions about the Musical – Answer these on the same paper/email that you used for the questions above
- What similarities and differences exist between John and Abigail as they are portrayed in the musical as opposed to their own letters?
- What do you think the writer of the musical was trying to say about the character of Abigail and John Adams?
You can write the answers to these questions out by hand or type them and email them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org