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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Wednesday, February 13, 2019

“No objection to going where Your Husband does”

By 1789, John George Briesler had been working for John Adams (who always spelled his name “Brisler”) for five years.

The newly elected Vice President had Briesler accompany him to New York and then Philadelphia during the Washington administration. It looks like Briesler’s wife Esther stayed with Abigail Adams in Braintree (or its 1792 spin-off, Quincy).

That didn’t stop the couple from having their third child, John George, Jr., in 1794. (The first, Elizabeth, had been born at sea in 1788, as described yesterday. Then came a little girl nicknamed “Nabby” who died “with a putrid disorder” in 1796.)

As George Washington retired from the Presidency, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson competed to succeed him. Folks in Philadelphia expected Briesler would become the steward of the Presidential household if Adams won. As a result, Adams wrote, the Washingtons’ steward, Frederick Kitt, “was very active and busy for Jefferson.”

Adams won the election of 1796. In January 1797 Abigail told John, “Mrs Brisler will go to Philadelphia when I do and make part of our Family.” On 1 February Abigail repeated the same assurance to John Briesler:
I last Evening received a Letter from You in which You express an anxiety at the prospect of being seperated from Your Family. I know too well how painfull a situation that is, to have any desire, to inflict so great an hardship upon any one, unless through necessity.

The uncertainty how the Election would terminate, has prevented me, from saying any thing to You, or to your Wife upon the Subject, untill this week, when I said to her, I suppose you will have no objection to going where Your Husband does, to which She answerd, certainly She Should not.

I consider you as quite necessary to me, and Mrs Brisler, tho her Health will not allow her to take so active a part, as May be required of a person whose business it is to Superintend so large a Family. I doubt not she can be usefull to me, with her care, with her needle, and as an assistant to you, and in my absence, as having in Charge those things which I should place particularly under her care.
As for Frederick Kitt, he ended up working at the Bank of the United States for a couple of years until he died. Which frankly doesn’t seem very Jeffersonian.

The Brieslers were thus the first couple to manage the President’s mansion in Washington, D.C. The Adams and Briesler families all returned to Quincy in 1801. John and Esther Briesler had two more children: Abigail, born by 1801 in either Pennsylvania or Massachusetts, and George Mears, born by 1804. John Briesler started a retail business of some sort in Quincy, which he passed on to his eldest son.

In 1833 John Briesler applied for a Revolutionary War pension based on eight months of service in the Massachusetts militia during the siege of Boston. He died in Quincy on 28 Apr 1836.

Two years later, Esther Briesler applied for a widow’s pension. In her application, she stated that she had married John in London in September 1787—at least four months before the recorded date but about the right time for her May 1788 baby. Former President John Quincy Adams sent a certificate carefully stating that John Briesler and Esther Field had lived with his parents in London “in 1787 and 1788, [and] were during that period married.” He saved his remark about the shifting marriage date for his diary.

Esther Briesler died in Quincy on 12 Nov 1854 at the age of ninety, well outlasting all of Abigail Adams’s concerns about her health.

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