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, November 07, 2007

Free Public Reading from My Dearest Friend

On 19 November 2007, the Massachusetts Historical Society and Harvard University Press will launch a new edition of the letters of John and Abigail Adams with an unusual public event at Faneuil Hall. Apparently taking a cue from performances of A. R. Gurney’s Love Letters, the event will feature three modern political couples reading from the book:

The event starts at 7:00 P.M., and is free and open to the public.

There have been previous editions of the Adams letters, but My Dearest Friend is said to be “the first collection of their letters that is selected from the entire forty years span of their correspondence,” and to contain “several letters never before published.”

These letters provide an especially revealing look at the two Adamses, making their relationship more vivid and approachable, for a variety of reasons:
  • John Adams seems to have been unusually frank in expressing his emotions, judging by how his diary compares to those of other men. His private letters can be equally open—which occasionally got him in trouble.
  • Abigail Adams was unusually smart, knowledgeable, and politically minded for a woman of the time—though even she felt inadequate when she compared herself to Mercy Warren.
  • The Adamses happened to live apart in some momentous periods: during the Continental Congresses, when John was first a diplomat in Europe, and at times during his Presidency. That means issues and news they would have normally discussed over the dinner table got put down on paper for us to read.
  • Unlike other families, the Adamses rarely threw anything away. Martha and George Washington’s private papers seem to have gone into the fire. In contrast, John and Abigail’s descendants actually started the process of publishing their letters.
Folks can also enjoy this correspondence through the M.H.S.’s Adams Electronic Archive, which includes all the letters in searchable form and images of the surviving manuscripts.


Anonymous said...

This comment is slightly off the mark but I was curious about a relative of Abigail Adams.

As I suspect you know -- far better than I , Abigail Adams had an uncle and a cousin named Isaac Smith.

At the same time, the Harvard tutor who assisted Lord Percy in finding his way toward Lexington was also named Isaac Smith. After feeling to England, he lated came back to be the librarian of Harvard College and an unsuccessful headmaster at Governor Dummer Academy.

Is the tutor Isaac Smith related to Abigail Adams?

J. L. Bell said...

Yes, the Rev. Isaac Smith (1749-1829), son of merchant Isaac Smith (1719-1787), was also first cousin to Abigail (Smith) Adams.