J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Monday, June 25, 2007

Fun with John Quincy Adams's Diary

“Fun” may not be the right word for any document young John Quincy Adams created. He seems to have written very self-consciously, often apologetically, with his parents looking over his shoulders.

But here’s an interesting passage from his diary for 18 Dec 1779, put online by the Massachusetts Historical Society. On that date twelve-year-old John was in Spain with his father, who was on a diplomatic mission for the Continental Congress. Also in the party were John’s tutor; his younger brother Charles; an eleven-year-old boy from Boston; and some other American men. This journal entry starts on this page and continues here.

I look’d this morning out of our chamber window and saw a beautiful sight the waves all foaming upon the Beach & Breaking made a terrible noise and as beautiful a sight as I ever saw in my life.

We expected to see a Nun made to day, but we were disappointed the Nuns are shut up in Convents & never see any men but Except the friars.
John wrote eight more lines, but later crossed them out more thoroughly than any other words in his journal. Did he write more about nuns and friars? A dirty joke? A prejudiced remark? Something his father or tutor corrected, or something his mother would dislike when word got back to her?

The diary entry resumed:
this afternoon the Gentlemen all went to see the armory but I was writing a Letter & therefore could not go.
I wish I knew what letter was so important that it kept a twelve-year-old boy from going to the armory with the men. I suspect John was writing to Mama or one of her sisters back home in Massachusetts.

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