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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Sunday, September 16, 2007

John Quincy Adams Goes to Russia

When John Quincy Adams came to Harvard College in 1785, he was eighteen, a couple of years older than the usual entrant. At that time, boys tended to go off to college at age fourteen or fifteen. John Quincy was so mature and did so well on his entrance exams that he was immediately ranked as a junior.

John Quincy had spent those extra years serving as his father’s assistant on missions to France, Holland, and Britain, and as American diplomat Francis Dana’s secretary and French interpreter in the court of Catherine of Russia in 1781 and 1782. The second job was rather frustrating since the empress never actually received the American minister, not being ready to recognize the new republic. The handsome embroidered waistcoat Dana apparently commissioned for the trip remains well preserved in the collections at Longfellow House. Later the two countries formalized their diplomatic relations, and John Quincy Adams returned to St. Petersburg as the U.S. of A.’s minister in his own right for five years (1809-1814).

On Thursday, 20 September, at 6:30 P.M., Old South Meeting-House will host an event titled “John Quincy Adams in Russia,” featuring biographer Lyn Parsons and actor Jim Cooke. They will “explore how Adams’s years as a diplomat shaped his notions of liberty for years to come.” This free program is a collaboration with the American Antiquarian Society in a series called “Partners in Public Dialogue.”

Starting on 27 September and running through to the end of October, every day from 1:00 to 4:00 P.M., the Massachusetts Historical Society will welcome visitors to an exhibit titled “Moments of Destiny: Two Centuries of Russian-American Diplomatic Relations from the Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society.” The free exhibition will feature John Quincy’s diary as a teen-aged diplomat, his wife Louisa’s account of traveling across the war-torn empire after the Napoleonic wars, and documents from more recent events in U.S.-U.S.S.R./Russian relations.

From the M.H.S., here’s a selection of letters to John Quincy from his father while they were stationed at separate courts. Here are some of John Quincy’s observations about traveling through Europe. And here is the volume of his diary in which he first visited Russia. It starts characteristically on 19 June 1781:

Got up in the morning about 6 o’clock, & set myself to work; breakfasted at half past seven on tea. At about 1 o’clock Poppa came from the Hague; and ask’d me if I wou’d go to Amsterdam with him; I told him I wou’d, with all my heart.
This burst of interest in John Quincy’s first job observes “the bicentennial of formal diplomatic relations between the United States and Russia.”

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this piece.
I leave for Russia this Saturday, October 13 for ten days. JQA is one of the characters I portray; I much enjoyed and profited from the several presentations you describe that I shared with Dr. Lynn Hudson Parsons, last month.
This month, as Mr. Adams, I'll visit Moscow, Ykaterinburg and St. Petersburg where my man spent his days. I am as excited as a reticent Yankee could reasonable expect to be -- given the circumstances.
I've only just returned from South Dakota where, in the persona of 30th President Calvin Coolidge, I addressed the Mount Rushmore Memorial Society. I anticipate the chapter in my unauthorized biography: "From Rushmore to Russia!"
Jim Cooke