Early US Literature

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The Letters of Abigail Adams


This annotation exposes selected sources that list the letters of Abigail Adams, the wife of the US second president, John Adams.

Adams, Abigail, John Adams, and Charles Francis Adams. Letters of Mrs. Adams, the Wife of John Adams. Boston: C.C. Little and J. Brown, 1840. Print.

Includes a collection of letters that are written between 1761 and 1814. The letters, compiled from a period of 53 years of Abigail’s life, are listed chronologically and prefaced by a long memoir that supplies an in-depth biography of Abigail, which is written by the editor. The memoir (41 pages) attempts to provide a historical background on issues such as heroism of women and explore other well-known female figures such as for example Anne Hutchinson. The editor delves into these accounts to show women’s power and influence in the early American history. The contents provide topics next to each letter and does not repeat John Adams’s name. The editor chooses to write “To the same” instead. It is an excellent work. Although Letters of Mrs. Adams is a small book with a small print size, which might cause eye fatigue or difficulty for reading, yet, it offers excellent explanatory footnotes providing additional information or clarification on points in the letters. It is an important book and saves hours of work looking for all Abigail’s letters. It is accurate, has a letter dated April 26,1797 that is not found in major databases such as “Adams Family Papers: An Electronic Archive”. It is a perfect source of Abigail’s letters for scholars.

“Abigail Adams Letters for the Years 1784 Thru 1816.” Family Tales. Web. 23 July 2013.

This website provides a very wide range of historic letters. The letters can be browsed by people (244 historic figures are provided such as Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and James Madison), places (over 300 cities and towns are given such as Philadelphia, Baltimore, and New York ) or years (listed under three categories; 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries). The letters are also grouped together along a common theme (such as letters of condolence and famous letters between Abigail and John Adams) or event (Battle of Fort Sumter, Battle of Quebec during the American Revolution, and Last Days of the Confederacy).  It publishes only 63 Abigail’s letters from a total of 9 locations to a total of 16 recipients including Mary Cranch, and Elizabeth Shaw. Most of Abigail Adams’s letters were written in the year 1785. Several other letters were written in 1786 and 1787. Although the website offers hundreds of searchable records and is meant to be that can used by researchers, the website lacks formal organization. It is easy to find specific information but the letters of Abigail are not many. Unclear information about the publisher or editor is given. It needs more efforts and a good structure.

Adams, Abigail, and Stewart Mitchell. New Letters of Abigail Adams: 1788-1801. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1947. Print.

This book publishes 141 letters written over a period of fourteen years, dating from 1788 to 1801. The majorities of letters were composed from the three American capital cities at different times: New York from 1789 to 1790, Philadelphia from1790 to 1800, and Washington from 1800 to 1801. The introduction consists of three sections: additional information about the letters that offers historical background, a short biography of Abigail Adams, and a whole section about the fall of John Adams as a politician written by Stewart Mitchel. New Letters includes also pictures of people, places, and manuscripts. It also includes calendar of letters listed chronologically with topics. The calendar gives more depth to the understanding of the letters. Provides also at the end two family trees: the Quincy-Smith family of New England and the John Smith-Adams family of New York. Although New Letters of Abigail Adams: 1788-1801 is treated as a recommended source by the National Women’s Hall of Fame and the American National Biography Online, several additions ought to be taken into account. Editor includes additions and corrections at the end. An index is provided. Explanatory footnotes providing additional information is included. New Letters is a good and ambitious source for edited selections of Abigail’s’ letters.

“Adams Family Papers: An Electronic Archive.” Adams Family Papers : An Electronic ArchiveThe Massachusetts Historical Society.  Web. 22 July 2013

Publishes 1,160 letters exchanged between John Adams and his wife, Abigail Adams, dating from 1762 to 1801. It includes only 430 letters of Abigail. All letters but one are part of the Adams Family Papers of the Massachusetts Historical Society. It provides full color digital images of manuscripts alongside the corresponding transcriptions. The transcriptions of the letters were derived from the Adams Family Correspondence, volumes 1–2, L. H. Butterfield, Editor, Wendell D. Garrett, and Marjorie E. Sprague, Assistant Editors (Cambridge, Mass, 1963). The website divides the letters into six sections: letters during courtship and early legal career, 1762 – 1774; letters during Continental Congress, 1774 – 1777; letters during diplomatic mission to France, 1778 – 1779; letters during diplomatic mission to Europe, 1779 – 1789; letters during vice presidency, 1789 – 1796 and letters during presidency, 1796 – 1801. It also lists the correspondence as (written by Abigail Adams to John Adams) or (written by John Adams to Abigail Adams.) Contains additional information about the correspondence and an autobiography of John Adams but does not supply one of Abigail. A solid work, yet needs to include more letters . Offers not only a useful database of these familial letters during this period of time but also includes records of John Adams’s diary.

“Founders Online.” Founders Online. The National Archives. Web. 22 July 2013.

Created by The National Archives and The University of Virginia Press, this website offers nearly 20,000 fully searchable records, written by or addressed to, six of the most important figures of the American history: George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and Benjamin Franklin. This massive work is edited by: University of Virginia, University of Chicago, Princeton University, Columbia University, the Massachusetts Historical Society, the American Philosophical Society, and Yale University. Founders Online also includes 719 letters of Abigail Adams covering only 10 years of their life dating from 1784 to 1793. The letters of John and Abigail Adams can be also traced through either recipients or periods. The top recipients include: John Adams (249 letters), Mary Smith Cranch (87), John Quincy Adams (54), Cotton Tufts (38) James Lovell (34) Mercy Otis Warren (27), John Thaxter (25), Thomas Jefferson (22), Elizabeth Smith Shaw (22), and Elizabeth Smith Shaw Peabody (16). The periods are: Colonial (40 letters), Revolutionary War (290), Confederation Period (269), and Washington Presidency (120). Searching through dates is also available in the website. It is a massive and tremendous work, but does now cover the whole range of Abigail’s correspondence with neither John Adams nor other recipients.


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