John Adams Children


Michael Benton, Contributor

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john adams childrenJohn Adams and his wife, Abigail, produced five children between 1761 and 1777. They lost one to miscarriage, also in 1777. Their first of John Adams' children was a daughter whom they named Abigail and referred to as Nabby. Next came their eldest son and the future sixth President of the United States, John Quincy Adams. He was followed by another daughter, Susanna, before their two more sons, Charles and Thomas. Last was their daughter Elizabeth. All of John Adams' children's names can be found higher up their family tree and many of them continued to be used in later generations. Most of John Adams' children were born while he was away serving in the Continental Congress and he was also gone when Abigail suffered the miscarriage in 1777. His duty as a diplomat during the negotiations in Europe took him away longer, but he did find a way to bring John Quincy and Charles along with him on separate occasions. John Quincy enjoyed his time in Europe at the age of 14, but his brother Charles, at age 11, was too sensitive for handling the distance from his mother and the cultural differences of his surroundings.

John and Abigail Adams' children were not all blessed with the same fortune of health and intelligence as their parents. It certainly did not help that their parents were often gone, Abigail left them with relatives and joined John in Europe for seven years, nor that they inspired their children to fear all vices and be extremely self-critical. Adams was famous for the letters he wrote to Abigail and other Founding Fathers, but the letters he wrote to his children were often demeaning and demanding beyond measure. He expected each of them to reach the highest ranks of political power; fortunately the eldest son did, but his other two sons both died of alcoholism. John Adams, and his father before him, graduated from Harvard with a degree in law. Although he had been told many times by relatives who were raising Charles that the boy was not suited for it, he sent him anyway and soon found that his son was a party boy who was caught streaking through Harvard Yard. Thomas went to Harvard as well, fared better and behaved himself, but after a difficult and lackluster career in law he declined into alcoholism and died only six years after his father.

Susanna, his youngest daughter, died of an unknown childhood disease. For all of John Adams' children, smallpox was a great danger, especially during the epidemic of 1775. John Adams great-uncle on his maternal side, Zabdiel Boylston, had introduced the process of inoculation to America during an outbreak in 1721 and by the latter half of the century it had become accepted as a means of controlling the spread of smallpox. Abigail wrote fearfully about exposure reaching her children, but they were safe. John Adams passed away of old age during his eldest son's first term as President of the United States.