Kurt's Historic Sites

Church of the Presidents

John Quincy Adams

Interment Location Visited Sequence in Graves I Have Visited
Quincy, MA Summer 2003 2nd President visited

Photographed December 6, 2019.

John Quincy Adams’ service to the United States began as a teenager, when he worked as a secretary and translator for diplomat Francis Dana in Russia. His service ended 67 years later in 1848 when, as an aged congressman, he died of a stroke that he suffered on the floor of the House of Representatives. The sixth president’s remains were subsequently transported from Washington, D.C., to his hometown of Quincy, Massachusetts, and laid to rest inside the family vault at Hancock Cemetery. He was joined in May 1852 by his wife, former First Lady Louisa Catherine Adams. Their youngest son, Charles Francis Adams, soon arranged for his parents’ bodies to be transferred across the way to the crypt beneath the First Parish Church. On December 10, 1852, JQA and Louisa were entombed in the church crypt where Charles Francis’ grandparents, John and Abigail Adams, had been interred since April 1, 1828.

Like his parents, John Quincy Adams was a member of the First Parish Church. John and Abigail worshipped in the Hancock Meeting House, a wooden structure that housed the congregation from 1732 to 1827, when construction commenced on the current building. The Stone Temple, comprised of local Quincy granite, was designed by Alexander Parris, the architect who had recently worked on Quincy Market in downtown Boston. The ceiling in the sanctuary is reminiscent of that of the Pantheon in Rome, Italy.

Photographed August 5, 2019.
Photographed July 29, 2019.

In 1927, the Abigail Phillips Quincy Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution sponsored a tablet in JQA’s honor that is affixed to the exterior wall of the Adams crypt. They followed with a marker for Louisa Catherine Adams in 1930. Different chapters of the DAR were responsible for the plaques dedicated to John and Abigail Adams in 1900. The brief descriptions on these stones are elaborate compared to the Adams family’s sarcophagi, which bear only their names. JQA’s tablet notes his tenure as a diplomat, senator, negotiator of the Treaty of Ghent that ended the War of 1812, secretary of state, president, and congressman. His tablet is positioned so that it aligns with his sarcophagus on the other side of the wall, as is the case with the other crypt occupants and their respective tablets.

My family did not take photographs when I saw my first three presidential interment sites in summer 2003, but we rectified that with revisits the following spring, after I had officially taken up my grave hunting quest. This photograph is from my tour on Mother’s Day 2004. I am pictured holding a 1950s figurine of John Quincy Adams from a set made by the Louis Marx Company. The sarcophagi of JQA and Louisa Adams, shown here, occupy a part of the crypt that was originally a storage space for farming equipment, according to what I was told by the indispensable church historian, Bill Westland.

Photographed May 9, 2004.
Photographed July 11, 2019.

With my passion for presidential history and personal affinity for the Adams  crypt, I was enthralled to be hired as a summer intern in 2019 for the church’s History and Visitors Program. One of the many highlights for me was selecting passages for speakers to read at John Quincy Adams’ 252nd birthday commemoration. Even better, program director Bob Damon selected me to recite one of the quotations. Standing at the same podium President Harry S. Truman spoke from while on the campaign trail on October 28, 1948, I read aloud from JQA’s 1845 essay, “Society and Civilization.” Click here to watch the Facebook livesteam of the ceremony. My speaking part begins at the 18:12 mark.

Fast Facts

Born: July 11, 1767 in Braintree, Massachusetts

Spouse: Louisa Catherine Johnson Adams (m. 1797-1848)

Primary Political Affiliation: Democratic-Republican Party

Senate Tenure: 1803-1808

Served in Cabinet of: James Monroe

Cabinet Position: Secretary of State (1817-1825)

Presidential Tenure: 1825-1829

Vice President: John C. Calhoun

House Tenure: 1831-1848

Died: February 23, 1848 in Washington, D.C.

Cause of Death: Stroke

Age: 80

Last Words: “This is the last of earth. I am content.”

Interment: United First Parish Church, Quincy, Massachusetts

"[I]f the wise and learned philosophers of the elder world, the first observers of nutation and aberration, the discoverers of maddening ether and invisible planets, the inventors of Congreve rockets and Shrapnel shells, should find their hearts disposed to enquire what has America done for the benefit of mankind? Let our answer be this: America, with the same voice which spoke herself into existence as a nation, proclaimed to mankind the inextinguishable rights of human nature, and the only lawful foundations of government. America, in the assembly of nations, since her admission among them, has invariably, though often fruitlessly, held forth to them the hand of honest friendship, of equal freedom, of generous reciprocity. She has uniformly spoken among them, though often to heedless and often to disdainful ears, the language of equal liberty, of equal justice, and of equal rights."
- John Quincy Adams
July 4, 1821 in an address delivered at the request of the Committee for Arrangements for Celebrating the Anniversary of Independence in Washington, D.C.

I experienced my first solar eclipse in 2024. Those of us in Washington, D.C. were not in the path of totality, yet we did see the moon block 89.9% of the sun still. For much of the eclipse I intentionally stood at Congressional Cemetery’s cenotaph to John Quincy Adams. In his diary entry for April 3, 1791, the 23-year-old Adams writes, “There was an annular eclipse of the Sun this morning; I went upon Beacon Hill to see it, but the severity of a keen Northwester soon brought me down again.– Hurt my eyes much by observing this same Eclipse without a glass.” For months afterward, his vision was affected, and his diary entries include repeated mentions of his “weak eyes.” In his August 29th entry, he describes himself as “[a]lmost blind.” Unlike JQA during his first eclipse encounter, I wore protective glasses.

Photographed April 8, 2024.
Photographed August 16, 2022.

The couch upon which Adams expired is kept in the room he died in. Formerly the office of the House speaker, it is now the Lindy Claiborne Boggs Congressional Women’s Reading Room. The space is not typically open to the public. However, I was able to arrange a visit during the August 2022 congressional recess. Much to my surprise, Matthew Wasniewski, the historian of the House, invited me and my friends to sit upon the Adams sofa. I imagine it is the lone presidential death seat I will ever rest on.

Sources Consulted and Further Reading

Adams. John Quincy. An Address, Delivered at the Request of the Committee of Arrangements for Celebrating the Anniversary of Independence, at the City of Washington, on the Fourth of July 1821, upon the occasion of reading the Declaration of Independence. Cambridge, MA: University Press, 1821. From HathiTrust Digital Library. https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=mou.010507017274&view=1up&seq=1&skin=2021.

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.

Edwards, Jason A. “Monsters to Destroy? The Rhetorical Legacy of John Quincy Adams’ July 4th, 1821 Oration.” Journal of Contemporary Rhetoric 7, no. 1 (2017): 34-52. https://vc.bridgew.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=https://www.google.com/&httpsredir=1&article=1060&context=commstud_fac.

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