The world they lived in

Published May 18, 2023

By Carter Wrenn

She was nineteen. He was twenty-nine. Dark-haired she was pretty not beautiful. He was short, frumpy, had a farmer’s calloused hands. They both had simple names: Abigail Smith, John Adams. Married in 1764 they started down the road to happiness and by Christmas she was pregnant – before their child was born the first blow fell.

Struggling, buried beneath a mountain of debt after a war with France, grasping for money, in London Parliament put a brutal tax on colonists who had little cash to spare: John Adams had to pay a tax – equivalent today of $1,500 – to buy a stamp so he could go on practicing law, pay for more stamps when he filed court papers.

Angry, fuming, his cousin Sam Adams and his friend John Hancock joined the Sons of Liberty. Riots broke out.

Parliament cancelled the Stamp Tax – in the next breath put taxes on everything from tea to paper to playing cards to dice. Jeering boys ran down Boston streets alongside marching British soldiers; a soldier slammed a boy with the butt of his musket. More riots. Bayonets drawn, soldiers fired, killed rioters. The Boston Massacre.

In the dead of night faces covered, disguised as Mohawk’s, wearing war paint, feathers, stealing onto cargo ships overwhelming sailors Minutemen dumped tons of tea into Boston harbor. More soldiers landed in Boston. The Continental Congress met. Leaving his wife on their ten-acre farm John Adams rode to Philadelphia, met tall imposing George Washington – Abigail later called Washington ‘dignity with ease.’

Seven hundred British soldiers marched out of Boston at night. Paul Revere made his midnight ride. Soldiers and Minutemen killed each other at Lexington and Concord. War began. Adams told Congress to make Washington leader of the American army.

Washington besieged, captured Boston. The British captured New York, Philadelphia, Charleston. Losing the war, John Adams left Abigail, went to Paris to make an alliance with France. He came home two years later, stayed two months, left Abigail again, returning to Paris.

Washington won the Battle of Yorktown in 1781.

Adams didn’t come home, stayed in Paris trying to make a peace treaty with Britain for the next two years.

In Boston staring at the graves of two of her children, one an infant, one stillborn, Abigail, married for nineteen years, hadn’t laid eyes on her husband in five years; boarding a battered ship packed with reeking whale oil, racked by storms, seasick, locked in an airless wooden room she crossed the Atlantic, set foot on dry land, heaved a sigh of relief. No longer dark-haired, celebrating her fortieth birthday, happy in Paris with her husband she made two friends, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin.

Today watching Biden fumble, Trump rant, banks fail, fuming, we fret, Bad times – tear into each other. Hardly a soul remembers the faith and courage that saved Abigail and John Adams in harder times.

(Most of these stories are in Winston Groom’s book, The Patriots.)