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1777

Five letters pass between Abigail and John Adams

On this day in 1777, Continental Congressman John Adams writes three letters to and receives two letters from his wife, Abigail. He is with Congress in Philadelphia, while she maintains their farm in Braintree, Massachusetts.

The remarkable correspondence between Abigail and John Adams—numbering 1,160 letters in total—covered topics ranging from politics and military strategy to household economy and family health. Their mutual respect and adoration served as evidence that even in an age when women were unable to vote, there were nonetheless marriages in which wives and husbands were true intellectual and emotional equals.

In the second letter John drafted to Abigail on March 7, he declared that Philadelphia had lost its vibrancy during Congress’ removal to Baltimore. This City is a dull Place, in Comparason [sic] of what it was. More than one half the Inhabitants have removed to the Country, as it was their Wisdom to do—the Remainder are chiefly Quakers as dull as Beetles. From these neither good is to be expected nor Evil to be apprehended. They are a kind of neutral Tribe, or the Race of the insipids. By contrast, Adams described the Loyalists, who prepared their Minds and Bodies, Houses and Cellars, to receive General William Howe should he attack, as a Pack of sordid Scoundrels male and female.

In the letters John received, which Abigail had written in February, she bemoaned not only the difficulty of correspondence during war, but also of the lack of military fervor demonstrated by the New Englanders around her. She wrote that she awaited greater patriotism, greater prosperity and future correspondence from her beloved husband to his devoted Portia. (Portia, Adams’ nickname for his wife was likely a reference to the intelligent and devoted heroine of Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice.)

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