Home Massachusetts Adams National Historic Site, a Hotbed of Adams History

Adams National Historic Site, a Hotbed of Adams History

Four whole historic buildings in one, five if you count the church

by
2 comments

John Adams easily ranks as the most underrated of the Founding Fathers. He and Abigail also started a dynasty of statesmen, diplomats, soldiers, historians and authors. To get a handle on the Adams family’s accomplishments, a visit to the Adams National Historic Site might be in order.

John Adams was born in 1735 in what was then Braintree, Mass., and is now Quincy. He always viewed his birthplace as home, though during his lifetime he moved around a lot – as a circuit lawyer, delegate to the Continental Congress, ambassador to Europe and president of the United States.

abigail-adams-attacked-thoas-jefferson

John Adams by Gilbert Stuart

John Adams

He did more to create the United States of America than perhaps any other Founding Father. It was Adams who persuaded the Continental Congress to declare independence. He forged a revolutionary alliance between Virginia and Massachusetts, which forced the other colonies to follow along. He picked George Washington to lead the army and Thomas Jefferson to write the Declaration of Independence. Adams also drafted the framework for the U.S. government and the Bill of Rights. He’d be the first to acknowledge he wouldn’t have done it without Abigail.

As newlyweds, John and Abigail lived in the house he inherited from his father. When John served as a diplomat in Europe, Abigail bought a big new house. She then joined John in Paris and London, where they circulated among the elite in palaces and manor houses. When they returned, the house that had once seemed so big seemed small and plain. Abigail called it a wren’s nest with the comfort of a military barracks.

So Abigail then set about expanding the house they called Peacefield.

abigail-adams-attacked-thomas-jefferson-portrait

Abigail Adams by Gilbert Stuart

They had three sons, but only one had any success in life. That would be John Quincy Adams, elected the sixth president of the United States. The other two, Charles and Thomas, both died as failures and alcoholics.

John Quincy Adams, like his father, was an unpopular president. He served only one term, but he wasn’t too proud to run for Congress and fight slavery. Like his father, john Quincy had three sons, two of whom were also alcoholic failures who died young.

John Quincy Adams

The Other Adamses

Charles Francis Adams, John Quincy’s youngest son, did well in life as an author, historian, statesman and husband of a very wealthy woman, Abigail Brooks. As a diplomat he kept the United Kingdom from helping the South (at least overtly) during the Civil War.

Charles Francis Adams

Like his father, Charles Francis served in Congress and maintained Peacefield. Unlike his father, he had good luck with all his sons who lived to adulthood.

Charles Jr. was a military hero, railroad president, author and historian. John Quincy II served in Congress. Henry grew up expecting he would be president of the United States, but he settled for being a historian. So did the youngest, Brooks Adams, a severe critic of capitalism.

Henry Adams

Brooks, the youngest to live in Peacefield, left it to the extended Adams family to run as a museum when he died in 1927. In 1946, the Adams family turned the house over to the National Park Service.

Brooks Adams

Adams National Historic Site

Braintree, then Quincy, was peaceful farmland when the Adamses lived there. The city of Quincy grew up around it, and the family sold some of the property. Now the Adams National Historic Site consists of several separate parcels. In the past, a trolley took visitors from the Visitors’ Center to the different properties. In 2022 visitors had to walk or drive themselves.

The site includes the birthplaces of John and John Quincy Adams, the Stone Library, the Adams Library, Peacefield and the First Parish Church of Quincy, where John, Abigail, John Quincy and his wife, Louisa, are interred. The site  also has a visitors’ center with a gift shop and a film.

Kitchen in one of the Adams cottages

Five Things You’ll Remember About the Adams National Historic Site

The Adams family, conscious of their historic significance, saved a lot of artifacts and papers. So it’s hard to select among the many objects they’ve saved over the years. Here’s a start:

Peacefield

The Stone Library

Visitors are especially taken by the Stone Library, built in 1870. John Quincy Adams in his will suggested a fireproof building to protect his books and manuscripts. Charles Francis then had it built. He used it to edit 10 volumes of John Adams’ diary, 12 of John Quincy Adamsrs memoirs and the letters of Abigail Adams. His third and fourth sons, Henry and Brooks, also used the library to write.

Among its 14,000 volumes, the Stone Library has an original Mormon bible given to Charles Francis by Joseph Smith himself.

Library interior

John Adams’ Chair

John Adams at 90 sat in an upholstered chair at Peacefield one day when he suffered a stroke. The date: July 4, 1826, exactly 50 years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence (at least the date celebrated as the signing of the document).

Adams spoke his last words while sitting in the chair. “Thomas Jefferson survives.” But Adams got it wrong; Thomas Jefferson had died hours earlier.

John Adams’ desk

Desks

John Adams worked at a simple wooden desk preparing his defense of the British soldiers involved in the Boston Massacre. John Quincy Adams sat at another desk preparing his defense of the kidnapped Africans who mutinied on the Amistad.

One wonders if Abigail ever sat at  John’s desk to write one of her hundreds of letters to him.

Stone Wall

In front of the birthplaces runs a stone wall. Abigail Adams would have stood by that wall waiting to greet her sons and husband on their return home.

John Adams birthplace

The Garden

Outside the Stone Library the Park Service maintains a lovely flower garden that visitors enjoy when in bloom.

The garden outside the Stone Library

Elsewhere in Quincy

Quincy is a congested city; you won’t stroll over to a quaint tavern for lunch after visiting the Adams National Historic Site. Nevertheless, Quincy has a lot of history.

The city has several historic homes that belonged to the Quincy family, including the Dorothy Quincy Homestead, the childhood home of John Hancock’s wife.

United First Parish Church, where John, Abigail, John Quincy and Louisa Adams are all interred

It has an archaeological site where John Winthrop Jr.’s Iron Furnace Site operated for a while as the first ironworks in the United States.

Parkway trails take hikers past trestles and inclines from the Granite Railway, one of the first in the country,

You can visit Mount Wollaston Cemetery, where a number of Adams and Harriet Wilson, the first African American novelist, are buried.

Or you can hop on the Red Line and go to Boston, which has no shortage of historic attractions.

If you visit….

You can only visit the houses as part of a guided tour. Tickets can be ordered online from the National Park Service; they’re free (plus a service fee) if you have an NPS pass. The Visitors’ Center, across from the Red Line T stop, also sells tickets.

Leave time to park. They will validate your parking ticket at the Visitors’ Center if you park in the garage around the corner.

The houses are open seasonally, from spring through late fall. The first tour leaves the Visitor Center at 9:15 am, with the final tour leaving at 3:15 pm.

Leave two to three hours for the tour. Children can participate in a scavenger hunt.

 *  *  *

Learn what life was like in the White House for New England’s six presidents. Available now in paperback from Amazon. Just click here to order your copy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Images: Peacefield (featured image)  By Daderot, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3162095. John Adams Birthplace By Daderot, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2438038.Peacefield By Harvey Barrison – originally posted to Flickr as Boston, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6032763. John Adams tomb By Daderot – from en.wiki, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2865104. United First Parish Church By Christopher Patrick Taylor – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=94645358. Library and Gardens By PaWikiCom – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=72348123.

2 comments

Joseph Wellcome December 31, 2023 - 12:17 pm

I am related to Abigail Smith Adams through a common Smith ancestor.

Leslie Landrigan February 5, 2024 - 11:34 am

Something to be very proud of!

Comments are closed.

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Join our mailing list to receive the latest artciles from the New England Historical Society

Thanks for Signing Up!

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Join Now and Get The Latest Articles. 

It's Free!

You have Successfully Subscribed!