I have been fascinated by the love story of John and Abigail Adams ever since I read the book Those Who Love by Irving Stone 30 years ago. They seemed in many ways such an odd couple. John, well John was opinionated and difficult and a bit of a hypochondriac and Abby was outgoing and way too smart for a woman. Actually just how smart she was is proven by her marriage to John, who was perhaps the only man in Colonial America who was appreciative of her sound advice and financial expertise. No shrinking violet Abby, she used her very considerable skills as a business woman to keep her husband’s interests from failing, and to supply him with the funds he needed to survive in Europe during his several appointments there.
There are three houses that we get to visit. The first two are the Birthplace of John Adams and John Quincy Adams. They are the two oldest presidential birthplaces in the US. The first house was purchased by John Adams’s father Deacon John Adams in 1720. Originally it had six acres of land and was a two over two construction. It is furnished with period pieces, but not original Adams pieces.
We begin in Susanna Boylston Adams kitchen. They were not a wealthy family, so Susanna would have done her own cooking over an open fire in the kitchen. In order to know how long to cook certain things they would sing a song or recite a verse the right length, pretty inventive I thought. John Adams wanted to be a farmer when he was young but his love of books won out and he attended Harvard and became a lawyer.
I was much more interested in John Quincy Adams birthplace. This is the house where Abby and John lived, and had their children. But what really interested me was the parlor. There was the original desk where Abby wrote all the wonderful letters that have survived to John. While he was away on his lawyer circuit, while he was in Philadelphia, in Paris and London, their letters are one of the best historic records of the times especially at the ground level. We get her view of events as the transpired. She watched the battle of Bunker Hill from a hillside in Quincy. She was always hungry for information about what is going on in negotiations where ever John was. We also get John’s view on some of the other great figures of the time. He was not a big Ben Franklin fan. It is a simple house by today’s standards and small, the Adams were always struggling to pay their bills.
The third House called Old House is a much larger house and it was here that the Adams came after John returned from England. It is built in the Southern style, and Abby had her uncle buy it while they were still in Europe. It was not nearly as well kept as Abby remembered, and required quite a lot to get it into shape. John Quincy Adams lived here to the end of his life and changed it from a farm house to a country estate. The last Adams family members to live here were the grandchildren of John Quincy. It is furnished with original Adams furniture and that alone makes the visit worthwhile.
There is also a visit to John Quincy’s library which is fabulous. John Adams had 4,000 books when he died, 3,000 were sent to the Boston Public library, John Quincy added an additional 12,000 books. It is now managed by the National Park Service and security is very tight. All three of the houses must be visited on tours that are conducted by the park service. In 2004 230,000 people toured the houses. Visits to the house our conducted from the visitor center where a trolley provides transportation. The number of people is managed so you need to get your tickets early. Last trolley leaves the visitor center at 3pm. Allow 2 to 2 ½ hours to visit the three houses. There is also a carriage house that may be visited.