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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Thursday, August 20, 2020

When John Adams Gave Away His Library

In the summer of 1822, John Adams was feeling generous toward his home town and considering his legacy. The ex-President was then eighty-six years old.

On 25 June, Adams deeded to the town of Quincy two tracts of land to fund a stone “Temple” for the town’s Congregational Society, under certain conditions. On 8 July, a town meeting accepted that gift.

On 25 July, President Adams deeded more land to build a stone schoolhouse for an academy. He noted that his long-gone colleagues John Hancock and Josiah Quincy, Jr., had grown up in part on that land. On 6 August, the town accepted that gift and its conditions.

Finally, on 10 August the former President made a third gift:
KNOW all Men by these Presents, That I, John Adams, of Quincy, in the County of Norfolk, Esquire, in further consideration of the motives and reasons enumerated in my two former Deeds, do hereby give, grant convey and confirm to the inhabitants of the town of Quincy in their corporate capacity, and their successors, the fragments of my Library, which still remain in my possession, excepting a few that I shall reserve for my consolation in the few days that remain to me, on the following conditions, viz.

Condition first, That a Catalogue of them be made, recorded in the town books and printed, together with the three Deeds, in sufficient numbers to perpetuate the remembrance of them.

Condition second, That those books be deposited in an apartment of the building to be hereafter erected for a Greek and Latin School or Academy.

Condition third, That these books be placed under the direction of the five gentlemen mentioned in my former deeds as supervisors of the Temple and School Fund, with the addition of the Rev. Mr. [John] Whitney and the successive settled Ministers of the Congregational Society, and also of the future settled Ministers of the Episcopal Society, while they shall remain such.

Condition fourth, That none of the books shall ever be sold, exchanged or lent, or suffered to be removed from the apartment, without a solemn vote of a majority of the superintendents.

Condition fifth, The books may be removed to any place the Committee of the town shall direct, or remain where they are, at the pleasure of the Committee of the town; locked up and the keys held by the Committee during my life, and the pleasure of my Executors afterwards.

Article sixth, I make no condition of this, but submit it to the consideration of the town whether it may be expedient to build the Temple on the Hancock Lot near the Academy? Nothing would be a higher gratification to me or more honorable to my memory; and I could wish that the triangle on which the present Temple stands should be left forever as a common Training Field, and for other accommodations of the inhabitants of the town.

Article seventh, Though I presume not to dictate to the town, yet it is my wish, that the building of the Academy and the establishment of a classical master should be provided for before the Temple, of which I see no present necessity, and I cannot think that this can ever be construed a deviation from the plan and intentions of the Donor, notwithstanding any thing in the two former deeds; and if any descendant of mine should ever presume to call it in question, I hereby pronounce him unworthy of me; and I hereby petition all future Legislators of the Commonwealth to pass a special law to defeat his impious intentions, and this I think can never be adjudged an Ex post facto law.

Article eighth, It is not my intention or desire to make any condition of what follows; but I ask leave to suggest to the town the propriety of applying the income of the Coddington School lands to the uses of this Academy, and to give authority to the superintendents of the Library to apply such parts of it, as they shall judge expedient, to the purchase of books annually to augment and increase this Library. Those books to be kept by themselves in separate alcoves to be denominated the Coddington Alcoves. That gentleman’s first residence was in this town, and he [William Coddington] was an honor to it. He was a man of large and liberal mind. He removed with the excellent Roger Williams to Rhode Island, and became the father, founder, and first Governor of that colony. This will be a proper memorial of respect and gratitude for that very ancient and noble donation.
Adams signed that document in the presence of his nephew William Smith Shaw and his late colleague’s son and grandson, now Josiah Quincy and Josiah Quincy, Jr.

The Quincy town meeting had already voted to authorize a committee to express thanks for “the gift of his very valuable library” on top of everything else.

A catalogue of Adams’s books was published in 1823 along the transcriptions of the deeds, town meeting resolutions, and other legal documents connected with his gift. That slim book listed 2,756 volumes in all. There were twenty-three pages of English books, nineteen pages of French books, five pages of Latin books, two of Greek, and two of Italian and Spanish. They were still in the former President’s possession as the committee worked on funding the academy and church.

TOMORROW: What happened to that library?

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