This Day in History: Abigail & John Adams, a love story of the Revolution
On this day in 1777, future President John Adams writes three letters to his wife, Abigail Adams. The partnership and marriage between those two Patriots is one of the great stories from the Revolutionary period.
As he wrote these letters, John was in Philadelphia, serving in the Continental Congress. Abigail was still at home in Massachusetts. Such distance between them was, unfortunately, all too common during their marriage. John could be gone for months at a time while serving in Congress—and it got even worse once he started traveling overseas to negotiate on America’s behalf. Those trips could take him away from home for years. Abigail could wait months just to get a letter.
But on this day in 1777, that foreign travel was still in the future. Little knowing what was to come, Abigail wrote John on February 8:
“I feel as if you were gone to a foreign Country. Philadelphia seem’d close by but now I hardly know how to reconcile my self to the Thought that you are 500 miles distant. But tho distant you are always near to [me].” A few days later, she wrote: “I have not yet got reconciled to the great distance between us. I have many melancholy Hours when the best company is urksome to me . . . . I have wrote you twice before this, hope you have received them. The Children all desire to be rememberd—so does your Portia.”
“Portia,” of course, was Abigail. When they’d been courting, John fondly called her Diana (the goddess of the moon). But after they were married and had children, Abigail replaced “Diana” with “Portia,” the wife of the Roman politician Brutus. In turn, Abigail addressed John as “My Dearest Friend.”
Think of the sacrifice that these two made by spending so much time apart!
Even when they did write each other during those years, they had to be careful not to say too much. Mail could be intercepted, and they had to work hard to find trustworthy methods of sending letters. In February, Abigail had written to John: “I feel under so many restraints when I sit down to write that I scarcly know what to say to you.” When John finally wrote Abigail back on March 7, he complained of this as well: “I feel a Restraint in Writing like that which you complain of . . . . However, the Post now comes regularly, and I believe you may trust it.”
John wrote three letters that day, mainly reporting the news or reporting on logistical matters. But he concluded: “I long to be at Home, at the Opening Spring, but this is not my Felicity.—I am tenderly anxious for your Health and for the Welfare of the whole House.”
The long distance between Abigail and her “dearest friend” was yet another of the many sacrifices made for our freedom. The story is well worth telling.
David McCullough, John Adams (2001)
Edith Gelles, Abigail and John: Portrait of a Marriage (2009)
Joseph Ellis, First Family: Abigail & John Adams (2010)
My Dearest Friend: Letters of Abigail and John Adams (Margaret A. Hogan & C. James Taylor eds., 2007)