Used with Permission
Written by Katharine Trauger
Imagine with me, if you can, that you live on the East Coast in a town that has been established for only about twenty years, when many of your friends live in log cabins and England is taxing you out of house and home. You are of famous Puritan descent and are married to a Congregational minister. Your little girl is born the year after Thomas Jefferson and the year before John Jay. You have yet to meet them, but you know your daughter has made her appearance at an auspicious time and place.
Imagine, if you can, your delight as she grows and begins to show her personality, to find that she is a generous soul, kind to all, with wise perceptions of her little world, and everyone’s darling. She loves buttons and bows, the more colorful, the better.
As you begin her schooling, you wonder how to harness her seeming unending intelligence. As you scour the shelves of your family’s book collection, you realize most of what you need is in one of the biggest books, the family Bible. Still, you know to school her in many disciplines, realizing that any discipline is good preparation for the next. You help her with her lessons, opening many worlds for her in days of expensive books. She devours all learning with ease and a seeming great hunger for education.
With all this, you do not neglect her other education—in the realm of reality—the most important subject in austere times. How to tend chickens and cows, how to buy and sell land, how to plan and execute nutritious meals—from her earliest youth, you tenderly lead her into all disciplines and observe with joy as her sunny curls bounce from task to task with great energy.
To that energy, your daily life in a parsonage is constantly adding to her understanding of the rigid requirements of hospitality.
These all are lessons that she will fall back upon in her future.
When she is only fourteen, unbeknownst to either of you, she chances to meet the man who will one day marry her. He thinks her witty, enough to remark upon it. As they become more acquainted with each other, the relationship grows frighteningly close, in your opinion. You do not like this man and your husband is not sure of him, either. He does not seem, at first, to be the type of fellow you would choose for a prominent minister’s daughter. He is only from Harvard, only a lawyer, not prestigious enough. Yet man chooses your daughter for himself. Although you both disapprove, you do not forbid the relation. In the end, when she is but seventeen, your husband performs the marriage, himself, and the young bridegroom eventually rises to the occasion, proving himself worthy of this measure of trust, however meager.
Your daughter, however, becomes quite the star. During long times of forced absence of her husband, she keeps the family farm solvent, raises their children, and extends her learning to a remarkable degree of political affairs. She lovingly corresponds with her husband regarding all sorts of matters, from government to society to weather. At times, she travels with him. Those in society who are jealous of her excellent education and formidable energy comment unfavorably of her standing alongside her husband. Sometimes she feels the burden of all she must manage, but she never lacks skill to excel at it. As times of inflation approach, she proves that she can pinch a penny, beforeLincolnis even born.
As her husband’s career culminates in becoming President, her insight and involvement in the affairs of the new nation place her ever in the spotlight and ever at her husband’s right hand. You realize your son-in-law is probably great enough, after all, for the daughter of a prominent clergy to marry. Imagine, if you can—your daughter, First Lady! In fact, you can easily and proudly see that any other woman might have figured greatly in the demise of the nation during these difficult times. As one prominent family after another, such as the Jefferson’s and the Monroe’s, become insolvent, your daughter continues to entertain on a national level, inside an unfinished Presidential mansion, with little but promises from Congress for expense money. And she continues with her habits of saving, writing, and counseling.
At times she faces criticism from those around her for standing by her husband, but you realize she is doing only what you have taught her from early on—to be a helpmeet to him. At times when she must be absent from his side to nurse ill family members, he expresses his woe. In spite of all the prestige and fashionable society that she faces, your daughter often writes sweet passages in her correspondence, about how her little farm holds more charms to her than living at the Court of St. James, because her little hens are not trying to be offensive. She does have friends, though, among the most prominent men and women of her day, people of continuing prominence as founding families of our nation.
Leave a comment and guess who your famous daughter is and come back tomorrow for the answer!
Your daughter is Abigail Smith Adams, direct descendant of Thomas Shepard, wife of the second President of the Unites States, world traveler, extensive correspondent, and home scholar.