|Quincy, MA||Summer 2003|
“Remember the ladies,” Abigail Adams famously urged in a March 1776 letter addressed to her husband, John, at the Second Continental Congress. Her passage advocating for more power for women in the earliest days of the United States is one of numerous things about Abigail that endear her to people centuries after her death. Each year thousands travel to Quincy, Massachusetts, to learn more about Mrs. Adams and her family at the Adams National Historical Park and the adjoining United First Parish Church, where this Founding Mother is interred.
The UFPC, which has also been called the Stone Temple and the Church of the Presidents, was built in 1828 and designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1971. This tablet is affixed to the portico. It notes that not only are John and Abigail Adams entombed there, but so are their son and daughter-in-law: John Quincy and his wife, Louisa Catherine. Abigail was the first person to be both the spouse of a U.S. president and a parent of a president, though she died six years before JQA was elected commander-in-chief. Mrs. Adams was the lone member of this club until 2001, when she was joined by Barbara Bush.
John and Abigail Adams were members of the congregation that inhabits the UFPC, but they were not familiar with this particular building. They worshipped in its predecessor, the Hancock Meeting House, which stood on adjoining land. The pair’s remains rested in Hancock Cemetery beside the meeting house until April 1, 1828. On that date they were transported across the street to this crypt while the Stone Temple was still under construction. The tablet to the right of the tomb entrance lauds Abigail Adams’ letters as “an American classic.” While in early U.S. history it was typical for a person to burn their spouse’s letters after their death and order that their own correspondence be destroyed upon their respective passing, the Adamses preserved their private writings. This includes 1,160 letters exchanged between the first couple over four decades. The missives are among the 300,000 manuscript pages that comprise the Adams Family Papers collection of the Massachusetts Historical Society. Historian David McCullough writes in his Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of the second president that the Adams Papers “may be rightly described as a national treasure. There is no comparable written record of a prominent American family.”
Though situated in the church’s basement, the burial chamber was actually the property of the Adams family from its construction until 1903 when it was conveyed to the congregation. At that time, the large stone door that concealed it was removed and replaced by the wrought iron gate shown here. The sarcophagi of John and Abigail can be seen through the bars, while those of John Quincy and Louisa Catherine are out of view to the right. The sarcophagi are made of Quincy granite, same as much of the church building.
Posing at the head of Mrs. Adams’ sarcophagus on my fourth visit to the UFPC, which coincided with the wreath-laying ceremony for her presidential offspring’s 244th birth anniversary. All four of the Adamses interred in the church crypt are intriguing historical figures to study, but none fascinates me more than Abigail. This opinion was solidified for me as I read the Bancroft Prize-winning biography Woody Holton wrote about her, simply titled, Abigail Adams.
Born: November 22, 1744 in Weymouth, Massachusetts
Spouse: John Adams (m. 1764-1818)
Second Lady Tenure: 1789-1797
First Lady Tenure: 1797-1801
Died: October 28, 1818 in Quincy, Massachusetts
Cause of Death: Typhoid Fever
Interment: United First Parish Church, Quincy, Massachusetts
"These are times in which a Genious would wish to live. It is not in the still calm of life, or the repose of a pacific station, that great characters are formed. Would Cicero have shone so distinguished an orater, if he had not been roused, kindled and enflamed by the Tyranny of Catiline, [...] Verres and Mark Anthony. The Habits of a vigorous mind are formed in contending with difficulties. All History will convince you of this, and that wisdom and penetration are the fruits of experience, not the Lessons of retirement and leisure."
- Abigail Adams
January 19, 1780 in a letter to her twelve-year-old son, John Quincy Adams, who was abroad in Europe
Sources Consulted and Further Reading
Adams, Abigail. Abigail Adams to John Quincy Adams, January 19, 1780. Letter. From Massachusetts Historical Society, Adams Papers Digital Edition. Accessed February 27, 2022. https://www.masshist.org/publications/adams-papers/index.php/view/ADMS-04-03-02-0207.
Adams, Abigail. Abigail Adams to Mary Smith Cranch, March 21, 1790. Letter. From Massachusetts Historical Society, Adams Papers Digital Edition. Accessed February 25, 2022. https://www.masshist.org/publications/adams-papers/index.php/view/ADMS-04-09-02-0020.
Adams, John. John Adams to Abigail Smith, April 26, 1764. Letter. From Massachusetts Historical Society, Adams Family Papers. Accessed December 11, 2021. https://www.masshist.org/digitaladams/archive/doc?id=L17640426ja.
Deion, Kurt and Bob Damon. “Church of the Presidents.” Clio: Your Guide to History. Updated June 21, 2021. Accessed December 14, 2021. https://www.theclio.com/entry/84857.