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Monday, April 6, 2015

Great Writers of New England: The Adamses

"Writer" might not be the first category we put John Adams into, with all his other accomplishments. But, as we see especially in the correspondence excerpts that David McCullough's biography brought to the general public, he and his wife, Abigail, wrote complex ideas clearly and with conviction. The whole family loved books and contributed beautiful words along with their important works.

New Englanders from the beginning to the end in spite of their travels, the three most important places John and Abigail lived are all in Quincy, Massachusetts, today.

The "birth home," maintained with the look of the plain boards John Adams's father used to build it, is where John Adams was born and lived for some time. No photos of the interior are permitted, but inside, it's roomier and brighter than it seems like it will be. The light-colored walls and sparse furnishings contribute to a balanced sense of space and allow the visitors' imaginations to soar. Inside, where no photos were allowed, it was easy to picture studying law books or writing correspondence.

A second birth home at the same site is where John Quincy Adams was born.

Farther out, the "Old House at Peace field," which the Adamses purchased after their time abroad while John was an ambassador. Abigail is said to have thought the house was too small and dark after the grand European mansions and had extensive renovations done. Both John and Abigail died here. The Adams family lived here for four generations, until the mid-twentieth century.

This tree was already in the garden when the Adamses moved here, and each generation enjoyed strolling under its shade. Note the support the park service has added for the long limb at right.

Under all the ivy is the Stone Library, which holds a breathtaking array of books from the family's personal collection and writings. Each generation produced its own scholar/writer. Before he was president, John Quincy was a lawyer who defended the slaves in the Amistad case. His wife, Louisa Catherine, was so learned and sophisticated that she was able to masquerade as Napoleon's sister and get her family out of France to safety.

The Stone Library features a weathervane salvaged from a 1666 church.
Charles Francis Adams was ambassador to Great Britain during the Civil War, helping the Union win. Charles Francis Adams Jr. became lieutenant colonel of the Fifth Massachusetts Cavalry, an African American regiment during the Civil War. Following in the footsteps of his grandfather and great-grandfather, he wrote moving letters home. Finally, Brooks Adams was a great historian of his distinguished family. The most intense user of the Stone Library, he played a large role in establishing these homes as historic sites.

All the Adamses valued the written word not per se, but for the way it could make the world, and specifically the United States, a better place. They are some of the most inspiring writers in the history of New England.