"I ONCE HEARD YOU SAY YOU WOULD NOT GIVE A COPPER TO BE MARRIED AFTER 30, BUT I MUST ADD, FEW GENTLEMEN ARE FIT TO BE MARRIED UNTILL THAT AGE": EXTRAORDINARY AUTOGRAPH LETTER FROM ABIGAIL ADAMS TO HER YOUNGEST SON, THOMAS BOYLSTON ADAMS, CANDIDLY DISCUSSING MARRIAGE
ADAMS, Abigail. Autograph letter. Quincy, Massachusetts, March 20, 1803. Single sheet of unlined paper, measuring 8 by 10 inches folded in half; pp. 2. $17,500.
Fascinating autograph letter from First Lady Abigail Adams to her youngest son, Thomas Boylston Adams, discussing her health; the timing of a good marriage and settling down; improvements in Quincy; and the importance of supporting John Adams' irksome close friend, historian François van der Kemp.
The letter, written entirely in Adams' hand and dated "Quincy March 20th 1803," reads in full: "My Dear Thomas, This is the third attempt I have made, to write to you, since my eyes have been attacked with an inflamation, in both cases I found too painfull to proceed. They are now upon the recovery: I have been obliged to put under cover the papers promised; with the mortification of sending them, unaccompanied with a line, I now forward the remainder, most sincerely wishing you success in your undertaking, tho personally, I can render you very little aid: I can stimulate others. Is there not an astonishing similarity between the scenes which have so lately been acted in France; and those drawn from the Historians cited?
The contents of your letter of Febry 16th have dwelt upon my mind, the more, for not being able to notice them, and I cannot refrain from chiding you for suffering so long in silence, yet I know your motives were pure, and the difficulties you had to contend against, such as you conceived would be augmented by a disclosure: I wish most sincerely they were all removed, and that your path was plain enough before you, to reach securely on to the compleation of the object you have so long had in view. "Precipitation forms no part of your plan" in that I think you wise; yet laughing I once heard you say you would not give a copper to be married after 30, but I must add, few gentlemen are fit to be married untill that age; nor do I think a lady less qualified to make a good wife with the judgement and experience of even that age. Sure I am too many enter that state prematurely, with experience upon my side. I say of myself that I did, much too young for the proper fulfillment of duties which soon devolved upon me. I say this for your comfort, but all other things being convenient, I think both you and the Lady quite matured for the Holy State, and should most sincerely rejoice in the fulfillment of your engagement and I look forward to the period where you will become an inhabitant of Quincy with pleasure; property sufficient to live you and manage a Farm is all that is necessary; business you will attain in your profession by degree. You know my mind. I will not urge you beyond your judgment; I enter into your thoughts and your feelings. I know and approve your motives for remaining single; the aid I have promised you may be obtained whenever you choose to avail yourself of it. Your Father wishes to get you here, we are improveing our Town of Quincy by a new bridge and a Turnpike road: let not your Heart be sad. May your latter days prove your best days. Nancy is in affliction I know from the loss of a valuable brother whose death I read in a late paper. He died in the East Indies. I wanted to write to her to console her, but thought upon reflection I had better omit it. I presume you will not fail rendering solace where it is so justly due—who from your own account has been to you, whatever a friend could be in trouble and in difficulty I love and I esteem her from her prudence, fortitude and discretion—my Heart ached, and I shuddered at your recital—I hope such times are at an end. I shall wait patiently for the Disclosure of your views.
I received your letter and the old poor van der Kemp, has a ploding [?] Head, but his writings are not calculated for our country. You must write him a civil letter, he is an old, firm unshaken friend of your Father's—ah how few such do we find in this worldly world! Your Father will write you soon. But he has been much engaged in the translation. Present my compliments."
This letter begins with an apology and a brief description of Abigail Adams' eye troubles. Beginning in childhood, Adams struggled with chronic illness, which prevented her from obtaining a comprehensive education and caused difficulty with her later pregnancies. However, as seen here, she was careful to remain educated about the matters of the day—in the case offering an oblique reference to France.
Abigail Adams moves on to the issue of whether Thomas should settle down. With great restraint, she encourages him to marry Ann "Nancy" Harrod, who he had already been corresponding with for several years. Adams perhaps believed that a good marriage would settle her unmoored son. She viewed Nancy as "serious, solid, sensible, amiable woman, qualified I think to make a good wife," despite her apparently advanced age of 29. Thomas did eventually marry Nancy in 1805 and they had seven children together. However, despite heeding his parents' wishes to return to Quincy, he was not successful in building a business off their connections. Rather, the end of his life was marred by drunkenness and boorish behavior.
The mention of "van der Kemp" refers to François Adriaan van der Kemp, a Dutch historian as well as a close friend and longtime correspondent of John Adams. Thomas Adams, in a letter to his mother on March 10, 1803—about two weeks before this letter—mentions his frustration with a manuscript on the Achæan Republic he had been sent by van der Kemp. Evidently, van der Kemp requested that Adams edit the very length manuscript, which he had written in questionable English. Here, Abigail Adams, aware that van der Kemp had just nudged John Adams about his son's failure to respond, encourages her son to write to van der Kemp in deference to her husband's friendship with van der Kemp. Faint pencil notation.
A tiny bit of expert reinforcement. A most interesting and exceptional letter in very nearly fine condition.