CLOSE
Original image
Collection of the Massachusetts Historical Society

John and Abigail Adams: America's First Power Couple

Original image
Collection of the Massachusetts Historical Society

Two-and-a-half centuries before a young, bearded Bill Clinton approached a classmate named Hillary Rodham in the Yale library, John Adams met his match in a young Abigail Smith. Like Bill, John was charismatic, charming, and destined for greatness. Abigail was opinionated, well-read, and ready to take on any challenge. Abigail worked at helping her husband build a new nation, expressing her thoughts and opinions to him on everything from a woman’s role in government, the education system and slavery.

Between 1762 and 1801, John and Abigail Adams exchanged 1160 letters, giving insight into the daily life and times of a Founding Family and a detailed look inside America’s original power couple and how they set the tone for generations of American political celebrity pairs to come.

1. They were hopeless romantics.

Abigail, a self-educated woman from a well-connected family, met John in the summer of 1759, but sparks didn’t fly until much later. It wasn’t until letters flowed freely between them that the love flowed as well. The letters between the future president and first lady began in 1761 and put Beyonce’s “Drunk in Love” lyrics to shame.

In 1762, John addressed Abigail as “Miss Adorable” and requested two or three million kisses: “…I hereby order you to give him, as many Kisses, and as many Hours of your Company after 9 O'Clock as he shall please to Demand and charge them to my Account… and I presume I have good Right to draw upon you for the Kisses as I have given two or three Millions at least, when one has been received…”

In 1763 Abigail wrote to John: “And there is a tye more binding than Humanity, and stronger than Friendship ... unite these, and there is a threefold chord — and by this chord I am not ashamed to say that I am bound, nor do I [believe] that you are wholly free from it.”

2. John and Abigail were made for each other.

It’s no secret that John Adams was kind of a stubborn and obnoxious guy. There was really no one else on earth more suited for John than Abigail. She was the Kim to his Kanye.

About others, Adams once said: “There are few people in this world with whom I can converse. I can treat all with decency and civility, and converse with them, when it is necessary, on points of business. But I am never happy in their company.”

But, when it came to Abigail, he couldn’t be happy without her. In 1783, he told her, “I am in ear-nest. I cannot be happy, nor tolerable without you.”

Abigail stuck by his side for 59 years.

3. They presented a united front.

In the 1700s it wasn’t easy for a woman to be outspoken or committed to a cause, but Abigail Adams was. Abigail believed in the fight her husband was leading. So much so, she almost expected him to choose his country over his family.

While Abigail was committed to her husband’s role in the new government, she wasn't shy about her desires for the new nation either, asking her husband to “remember the ladies” in a letter writ-ten to John during the First Continental Congress:

“I long to hear that you have declared an independency - and by the way in the new Code of Laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make I desire you would Remember the Ladies, and be more generous and favourable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such un-limited power into the hands of the Husbands. Remember all Men would be tyrants if they could. If perticuliar care and attention is not paid to the Laidies we are determined to foment a Rebelion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any Laws in which we have no voice, or Representation.”

4. They took equal shares in the household.

All in all, women were not treated as equals during America’s early days, but John very much treated Abigail has his partner and confidant. Not only did John trust Abigail to educate the children, she also ran the family farm, bought property and acted as a policy advisor to John.

In 1775, John wrote to Abigail and implored her to elevate the minds of their children: “It should be your care, therefore, and mine, to elevate the minds of our children and exalt their courage; to accelerate and animate their industry and activity; to excite in them an habitual contempt of meanness, abhorrence of injustice and inhumanity, and an ambition to a excel in… every capacity, faculty, and virtue. If we suffer their minds to grovel and creep in infancy, they will grovel all their lives.”

She fared pretty well in all those aspects—especially in terms of raising the couple’s four children, as John Quincy Adams is often described as the nation’s most well-read president.

5. John knew women make the world go 'round.

While John was away forming a new nation, Abigail was holding down the fort—while a war was going on around her. John was more than impressed with how Abigail handled herself, he was ecstatic. He wrote to tell her so: “It gives me more Pleasure than I can express to learn that you sustain with so much Fortitude, the Shocks and Terrors of the Times. You are really brave, my dear, you are an Heroine. And you have Reason to be. For the worst that can happen, can do you no Harm. A soul, as pure, as benevolent, as virtuous and pious as yours has nothing to fear, but every Thing to hope and expect from the last of human Evils.”

Original image
MUExtension417, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0
arrow
Food
The Pawpaw: The All-American Fruit the Country Forgot
Original image
MUExtension417, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

Truly all-American foods are hard to find—hamburgers, hot dogs, and apple pie, for example, all have foreign origins. But that doesn’t mean native foods don’t exist. Take the pawpaw: This fruit is so American that it was enjoyed by the founding fathers, but it’s also an item most U.S. residents have probably never heard of.

As Vox explains in the video below, pawpaw fruit trees were once abundant in the eastern half of the country. Indigenous people ate the flesh of the fruit and saved the seeds for medicinal purposes. Early presidents also enjoyed them: George Washington had pawpaw trees planted at Mount Vernon and Thomas Jefferson had the seeds delivered to friends in France.

But the past few centuries haven’t been kind to the pawpaw. Commercial development has wiped out much of the pawpaw belt—a chunk of land stretching from Michigan to Florida. At the same time, the rise of supermarkets helped push the fruit into obscurity. It ripens so fast that it would become inedible in the time it takes to pick them, transport them, and place them on the shelf.

While you won’t find pawpaws at chain grocery stores, they’re still available if you know where to look. Even after years of deforestation, pawpaw trees are the most common edible fruit trees native to North America. You can seek them out at Midwestern and eastern farmers markets from late August through September. And what to do with the custardy fruit once you’ve found it? Try using it to make pie, pudding, and even ice cream.

[h/t Vox]

Original image
Hulton Archive // Getty Images
arrow
History
Long After Alexander Hamilton's Death, His Son and Rival Aaron Burr Dueled in Divorce Court
Original image
Hulton Archive // Getty Images

On July 11, 1804, U.S. Vice President Aaron Burr shot and killed Alexander Hamilton, the former Secretary of the Treasury, in an ill-fated duel. The incident ended their longstanding rivalry—but Hamilton's son appears to have had the last word against his father's nemesis during a divorce trial.

Alexander Hamilton Jr., the second son of Hamilton and his wife Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton, was an attorney. He’s remembered for serving as a general during the War of 1812 and as a U.S. attorney for east Florida, among other accomplishments [PDF]. Lesser-known, however, is the fact that Hamilton Jr. served as divorce lawyer for socialite Eliza Bowen Jumel, Burr’s second wife, in 1834, and formally accused Burr of adultery and other charges.

Burr’s first wife, Theodosia Bartow Prevost—the mother of his daughter Theodosia—died in 1794 from stomach cancer, leaving Burr without his best ally and confidante. A decade later, he fatally shot Hamilton, and his reputation was sullied even further with later charges of conspiracy and high misdemeanor. With his political and legal career ruined, Burr was in the market for a strategic marriage, which might be why he decided to marry Jumel, a rich widow, in 1833.

Like Hamilton (and unlike Burr), Jumel came from humble origins and had climbed her way to success in Manhattan. Born in either 1773 or 1775, she was raised in a brothel in Providence, Rhode Island, and later forged an acting career in New York. In 1804, she married Stephen Jumel, a wealthy French wine merchant. (It's been rumored that Jumel tricked him into the nuptials by pretending to suffer from a fatal illness.)

The two purchased and lived in a 1765 mansion that briefly served as George Washington’s headquarters during the American Revolution. But in 1832, the 70-year-old Stephen Jumel died, leaving his widow—now the wealthiest woman in America—with his fortune. A year later, Jumel married Burr, who was now in his late seventies and reportedly dependent on his friends for money.

While the marriage cemented Jumel's position among Manhattan's upper echelons, the couple ended up separating after just four months of marriage. Needing a whip-smart lawyer, Jumel enlisted Hamilton Jr. to file for divorce.

Jumel alleged that Burr had committed adultery "at divers times with divers females," and also that he’d squandered her fortune. Meanwhile, a servant named Mariah Johnson testified she had caught Burr red-handed, according to Nancy Isenberg’s 2007 biography Fallen Founder: The Life of Aaron Burr. (Isenberg argues that Johnson had been bribed, and Burr himself argued that having affairs with younger women was "according to the law of nature impossible," considering his old age.)

The divorce was long and drawn out, and seemingly punctuated with periods of fighting and reconciliation. Burr's health was deteriorating during this time, and according to one story, Jumel "had him brought to the house and that for weeks, he lay, night and day, on an old sofa that had been Napoleon's, before the fire in the great drawing-room," according to artist and writer William Henry Shelton. (Shelton served as curator of Jumel's estate, a historic landmark that's today known as the Morris-Jumel mansion, and wrote a comprehensive history of the house in 1916.)

That said, "this claim is more traditional than probable," Shelton added, "as it would be just in the period of the divorce trial, during which they were hurling correspondents at each other, and, on the part of Burr, in unfair proportion of four for one.”

After three long years, during which Burr suffered from several strokes, his divorce was finalized by Judge Philo T. Ruggles on September 14, 1836—the same date as Burr's death at the age of 80.

Jumel never remarried, and she died nearly 30 years later, in 1865, at the age of 90 or 92. It's said that her ghost haunts the Morris-Jumel mansion, which is named after both Jumel and its original builder, British military officer Roger Morris.

Hamilton Jr. died in his home in 1875, at the age of 89, following a long illness. But the ghosts of Burr and Hamilton's infamous feud seem to have died with him—two descendants of the pair are reportedly kayak and canoe buddies in Manhattan’s Inwood neighborhood.

[h/t Gothamist]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios