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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Friday, July 16, 2021

Charles Adams’s Wish

On 16 July 1775, Abigail Adams had an urgent message to pass on to her husband John, then at the Continental Congress in Philadelphia:
Our little ones send Duty to pappa. You would smile to see them all gather round mamma upon the reception of a letter to hear from pappa, and Charls with open mouth, What does par say—did not he write no more. And little Tom says I wish I could see par.

Upon Mr. Rice’s going into the army he asked Charls if he should get him a place, he catchd at it with great eagerness and insisted upon going. We could not put him of, he cryed and beged, no obstical we could raise was sufficent to satisfy him, till I told him he must first obtain your consent. Then he insisted that I must write about it, and has been every day these 3 weeks insisting upon my asking your consent.

At last I have promised to write to you, and am obliged to be as good as my word.
Charles Adams was then five years old. His father did not use his influence to land him a spot in the Continental Army. But later in the war Charles did accompany his father and older brother John Quincy on a diplomatic mission to Europe.

The “Mr. Rice” who started all this heartache with an offhand joke to little Charles was Nathan Rice (1754–1834, shown above later in life), son of a Sturbridge minister who graduated from Harvard College in 1773. By then his widowed mother had married a man in Hingham, bringing the family to the South Shore.

In August 1774 Rice joined the Adams household as one of John’s law clerks alongside John Thaxter. Because their arrival coincided with the shutdown of the Massachusetts courts and Adams’s service at the First Continental Congress, those young men didn’t get to see much lawyering.

Thaxter transitioned into being the Adams family’s live-in tutor, also going on that mission to Europe. Rice joined the army in May 1775, serving in staff positions for most of the war, including as aide de camp to Gen. Benjamin Lincoln.

Rice settled in Hingham, having married Sophia Blake. He returned to the army during the Adams administration’s Quasi-War, retiring as a lieutenant colonel. In the 1810s, after raising their children, Nathan and Sophia Rice moved up to Winooski, Vermont. The house they built in 1818, remodeled extensively, became known as the “Mansion House”; there was a local dispute over removing it to build apartments in 2019, and I don’t know how that turned out.

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