Jessica Sukaloski           

December 16, 2006

Main Source: The Massachusetts Historical Society,

URL of Source: http://www.masshist.org/DIGITALADAMS/AEA/

Source/Creator: Research library and manuscript repository

Title: “Letter from Abigail Adams to John Adams, 2-10 March 1776”

URL of Digital Document: http://www.masshist.org/DIGITALADAMS/AEA/cfm/doc.cfm?id=L17760302aa&mode=popupsm&pop=L17760302aa_1

 

 

Digital Document: Letter from Abigail Adams to John Adams, Dated March 2-10, 1776

 

 

                  The original document written by Abigail Adams to her husband John Adams was written over several days.  The letter was started on Saturday evening March 2, 1776, and completed over a week later on Sunday evening March 10, 1776.  Over this time period Abigail wrote parts of the letter on six different days, giving almost daily accounts of the events occurring around her.  The place of original publication of the letter was Braintree, Massachusetts, where Abigail Adams lived with her four children while her husband John Adams was in Philadelphia. 

                  The digital document is four pages long with the handwriting being small and many lines on a page.  The indents on the paragraphs start more than halfway from the left edge of the paper.  It appears that Abigail wrote on the front and back of the paper since you can see faint handwriting coming through the paper.  It also appears that she wrote with a quill pen since some of the letters are smudged.  The edges of the pages are not even but it is unclear if the original document was like that, or if it was from age of the document.  The document also has stains of unknown source, especially on page three where there is a significant sign that something got spilt on the letter.  There is evidence that the document was folded since there are creases in each page.  Due to the age of the document, the digital document is missing part of the bottom of page three. 

Throughout the document there are several cross outs and corrections on each page.  Many of the words are misspelled such as “ridiciolous”, “industerously”, and “saild” (1) in the second sentence of the document.  The misspelling of the words may be due to the fact that Abigail Adams did not have any formal education.   In addition, many of the sentences are long and not correctly punctuated, with some words improperly capitalized.  This is apparent by the following sentence: “I am charmed with the Sentiments of Common Sense; and wonder how an honest Heart, one who wishes the welfare of their country, and the happiness of posterity can hesitate one moment at adopting them; I want to know how those Sentiments are received in Congress?” (4) The words “Heart” and “Sentiments” should not be capitalized, and the sentence should be punctuated differently.  The spelling and grammatical errors were obvious even to Abigail as she was writing the letter.  At the end of the letter she wrote, “You will escuse this very incorrect Letter.” (4)  Abigail was embarrassed later in life because of her lack of education.  She was an avid reader, which must have compensated somewhat for the lack of formal schooling. 

The digital document was chosen because it describes historical events that happened in places and towns that I am familiar with.  The Adams family lived in Braintree, Massachusetts and there are many statements made about Boston.  When I read the John and Abigail Adams letters in the textbook, The Norton Anthology of American Literature Volume A, I was interested in the subject matter.  The letters are extremely informative about the life of the times.  The letters by Abigail Adams appear to have more personal information than those written by her husband, which is why I chose one of her letters to write about.  “The letters she exchanged with John and other family members reveal her cares and worries, her frank opinions and advice, and give an extraordinary view of everyday life in 18th century New England.”  (Adams Biographical Sketches, 2006)   Items described in the letters include not only historical events, but also day-to-day happenings of a family in the 1700’s.  

In order to find the particular digital document that I chose to write about, I used the computer and searched for original documents on Abigail and John Adams, using the Google search engine.  I chose to write about the letter written by Abigail Adams from March 2-10, 1776 because it included many personal items, had entries from several days, and referenced historical events in local places that I am familiar with.  Abigail also mentioned many items about the war, and how she could hear “the roar of Cannon” (1) outside her windows.  In addition, the digital document had good features such as it was handwritten, stains on the paper, and still legible.  

The digital document was important to American history since it describes many historical events taking place in the New England area during the time of the Revolutionary War.  An example of this is the following statement: “I hear we got possession of Dorchester Hill Last Night.  4 000 thousand men upon it to day—lost but one Man.” (2)  Many skirmishes that took place during the Revolutionary War are documented throughout the letters written by John and Abigail Adams.   I found it very interesting in the letter that there were many references to the sound of cannons being fired close by.  An example of this is illustrated by the following comment: “The ratling of the windows, the jar of the house and the continual roar of 24 pounders, the Bursting of shells give us such Ideas, and realize a scene to us of which we could scarcly form any conception.” (2)  In today’s world people living so close to a war zone that the windows would rattle would certainly be evacuated.  It is hard to imagine the fear that must have been in the people to be living so close to the war.  The document is also important to American history, since Abigail mentions individuals that are known in history books today, such as General Lee and Clinton. 

                  Likewise, the digital document is important to American literary history since it portrays how individuals communicated in the 1700’s.  Specifically, the document illustrates language used in personal letters and the vocabulary of individuals such as Abigail Adams.   In this particular digital document, Abigail Adams quotes some lines from Shakespeare.  She also refers to the book Common Sense by Thomas Paine, providing information on what people from that era thought about the book.  The document also illustrates how letters were composed, and what the handwriting looked like.  I found interesting the descriptive adjectives and nouns used by Abigail Adams to describe people, such as, “Gaping vulgar” and “misirible wretches” (1)  She obviously was expressive and vivid in writing about the enemy or people she did not highly respect. 

                  Even though there were letters in the textbook written by John and Abigail Adams, this digital document would be an excellent one for class discussion.  It is easy to read, describes events that happened in local places and shows how close up the war really was to individuals who lived in areas where the Revolutionary War was being fought.  Also, the document is interesting because it was written over several days with the entries being written in almost a diary-like fashion.  It is almost as if Abigail Adams was giving her husband a daily status on events happening on the homefront.  For these reasons, the document should be included in the class study. 

                  In comparing the digital document to specific reading assignments in the class textbook, there are many similarities.  In “The Letters of John and Abigail Adams” starting on page 683 in the textbook, John and Abigail think of each other as friends.  This is also true of the digital document.  Another similarity is that Abigail speaks of events that are happening in relation to the war.  An example from the reading assignment in class is as follows: “I suppose you have heard of a fleet which came up pretty near the Light and kept us all with our mouths open ready to catch them, but after staying near a week and makeing what observations they could set sail and went of to our great mortification who were [prepared?] for them in every respect.” (695)  Other similarities of the digital document and the class readings are that they both had comments about the family health.  The digital document referenced one son having “Scarlet or purple fever” (4) and the classroom reading has Abigail writing to her husband about small pox and distemper.  The digital document and classroom documents also refer to individuals of that time, who are important historical figures today.  Whereas, General Lee and Clinton were mentioned in the digital document, Benjamin Franklin was mentioned in the “Letter from John Adams to Abigail” on July 23, 1775.  (687)

Another similarity is that the digital document and the letters in the textbook both show the concern Abigail had for her husband’s well being.  The following statement in the digital document illustrates Abigail’s concern for her husband: “I have been kept in a continual state of anxiety and expectation ever since you left me.” (1)  Likewise, the classroom reading has a similar expression of feeling in the letter written by Abigail to John on July 21, 1776.  “My anxiety for your welfare will never leave me but with my parting Breath, tis of more importance to me than all this World contains besides.” (696)  As can be seen, Abigail expressed her love and concern for her husband in the letters she wrote him.  She was very worried about his welfare and waited patiently for letters from him to know of his whereabouts and well being.

On the other hand, there are dissimilarities between the digital document and the letters read in class.  The digital document was written over several days; whereas, the letters in the textbook were written in one day.  There are more letters in the textbook written from John Adams to Abigail Adams than from Abigail to John.  The letters from John Adams to his wife are more factual and often show less emotion.  Some of John’s letters read as if they were a newspaper account instead of a personal letter to his wife.  Another difference between the digital document and the textbook is that Abigail is living in Braintree in the digital document, but has vacated to Boston in some of the textbook letters. 

As explained before, I located the website created by The Massachusetts Historical Society (MHS) by utilizing the Google search engine.  The Massachusetts Historical Society is a library and repository for historical documents located in Boston, Massachusetts.  The document on the website was easy to find using the link from the Google search engine.  However, when I tried to find the document on my own by starting from the Massachusetts Historical Society homepage, I could not find the digital document.  Using the link from Google I was able to determine how to find the digital document in the website.  The reason for some of the difficulty locating digital documents on the website is because the online catalog ABIGAIL was not totally functional. 

There are many interesting things at the MHS website, to include information about “Slavery in Massachusetts”, “Object of the Month”, photography of Francis Blake”, and “This Week in Massachusetts History”.   The website presentation of the digital document was professionally formatted.  The document was framed with a brown border showing the detail of the edges being torn.  There is a significant amount of contextual information on the website.  There were biographical sketches of various generations of the Adams family, Adams timeline, Adams family quotations, and information about the correspondence between John and Abigail Adams.  Even though I had difficulty initially finding the digital document from the homepage, the Massachusetts Historical Society website is a good source of historical documents and information about Massachusetts.  


References

Adams biographical sketches. Retrieved December 05, 2006 from http://masshist.org/adams/biographical.cfm

 

Baym, N. (2003). The Norton anthology of American literature Vol. A. New York, NY:                    W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. 

 

Letter from Abigail Adams to John Adams, 2-10 March 1776.  [electronic edition].             Adams Family Papers; An Electronic Archive. Massachusetts Historical Society.    http://www.masshist.org/digitaladams/