The Children of John Adams

President John Adams’ wife, Abigail, served as an unofficial adviser throughout his career. Their correspondence shows that he sought her advice on a variety of issues, including his presidential ambitions. The elder son, John Quincy, would become president seven years after his mother’s death in 1825, and she remained a supportive spouse and confidante during this time.

A total of six children were born to Abigail Adams, four of whom would live to adulthood: three girls and three boys. John Quincy, one of the four, would go on to become the nation’s 16th president. The other three members of what has come to be known as remarkable family-led everyday lives.

John Quincy Adams

Portrait of John Quincy Adams in 1828

John Quincy Adams, the sixth President of the United States, had a life and career that spanned some of the most formative years of the nation. Born in 1767, his early years were influenced by the revolutionary spirit of his time, setting the stage for a life dedicated to public service. Adams’s career was marked by a series of distinguished roles, including diplomat, senator, and secretary of state, before reaching the presidency. His diplomatic skills were evident early on, playing a key role in negotiating the Treaty of Ghent, which ended the War of 1812.

Adams’s presidency, which lasted from 1825 to 1829, was a period of intense political rivalry and division. Despite facing opposition, he advocated for ambitious infrastructure projects and educational initiatives aimed at advancing the country’s development. After his presidency, Adams continued to serve the nation as a congressman, where he became a vehement opponent of slavery, championing the cause of abolition until his death in 1848.

Adams was one of America’s most excellent diplomats during his pre-presidential years, formulating what became the Monroe Doctrine; during his post-presidential years, he waged a consistent and often dramatic campaign against the expansion of slavery. Though brimming with promise, his presidential years were trying. He died in Washington, D.C., in 1848.

Throughout his career, Adams was known for his integrity, intellect, and commitment to American ideals. His vision for the country was forward-thinking, often ahead of his time, and he remained a vocal advocate for justice and liberty.

Charles Adams

The young Adams accompanied his father and older brother, John Quincy, to Paris and Amsterdam in 1779. He assisted his father in securing financing and treaties that allowed the United States to continue its war for independence from the British.

On January 29, 1781, he matriculated in Leiden. After a two-year absence, Charles returned to his hometown. When he was 15, he enrolled at Harvard, where he became entangled in an incident involving a group of youngsters found running naked around Harvard Yard.

According to the school’s records, drinking may have played a role. His parents grew increasingly worried as time went on about their son’s penchant for binge drinking.

Charles returned to America alone in December 1781. After he went to Harvard College in 1789, he relocated to New York City, expecting to work in Alexander Hamilton’s legal office. Hamilton was assigned Secretary of the Treasury, and Adams continued his studies at the law firm of John Laurance. Adams was admitted to the bar in 1792.

Adams married Sarah “Sally” Smith, the sister of his brother-in-law, William Stephens Smith, on August 29, 1795. Susanna Boylston and Abigail Louisa Smith were their daughters. Abigail married Alexander Bryan Johnson, a banker and philosopher, and their son, Alexander Smith Johnson, was a judge. Abigail Louisa died of uterine cancer at the age of 37.

Charles Adams was an alcoholic who had extramarital affairs and made rash financial decisions. His father disowned him, and he occasionally lived apart from his family.

Thomas Boylston Adams

Portrait of Thomas Boylston Adams

Thomas Boylston Adams, the youngest son of Abigail and John Adams, reluctantly followed in his parents’ footsteps by attending Harvard Law School. His brother, John Quincy, had been appointed minister to the Netherlands by President George Washington. So, in 1793, he was admitted to the Philadelphia bar but left to work as his brother’s secretary in Europe. Thomas returned to Philadelphia and attempted to practice law but was unsuccessful.

To his parents’ dismay, he returned to Quincy (who now knew Braintree) in 1803. The family name might help, but it did not for John and Abigail. Thomas was a grumpy, sad guy. Mary Ann Harrod on May 16, 1805. Thomas Boylston Jr. (who died at a young age), Isaac Hull (who died at a young age), John Quincy, and Joseph Harrod. Thomas was elected to the Massachusetts legislature the same year but resigned a year later for unknown reasons. Alcoholism had claimed his brother Charles’ life and was now threatening his own. In 1811, he served as Chief Justice of the Massachusetts Southern Circuit Court of Common Pleas. Then, in 1818, Thomas moved his family back to Quincy to be near his father. Thomas was the farm’s caretaker after leaving politics and law behind. With his drinking problem, he became “a brute in manners and a bully in his family,” according to his nephew Charles Francis. Thomas passed away in 1832.

Nabby Adams Smith was John and Abigail Adams’s eldest child, the only surviving daughter, and John Quincy Adams’s sister. On June 12, 1786, while her parents were in London, she married William Stephens Smith, but the marriage was not happy. Nabby proved herself to be a true child of her parents, strong-willed, uncomplaining, and capable of keeping herself and her children together under one roof, earning the undying respect of John and Abigail, as well as John Quincy. The latter adored her… one of the few people he loved.

Elizabeth Adams

Elizabeth Quincy Smith Adams was the stillborn daughter of John and Abigail Adams. Elizabeth was born in 1777 and died in 1777. She was given the name after her maternal grandmother, Elizabeth Quincy Smith Adams. She was the youngest child of John Adams; her brother John Quincy became the 6th president; she had two sisters, Abigail “Nabby” and Susanna, both of whom died when they were young; and two brothers, Charles and Thomas, both of whom died when they were young.

Other Interesting Facts About John Adams’s Family

A portrait of John Adams in 1793

While much focus has been given to his children, particularly John Quincy Adams, who followed in his father’s footsteps to become the sixth President, there are several other interesting aspects of John Adams’s family that offer insights into his personal life and the times in which he lived. Here are some noteworthy facts:

  • Marriage to Abigail Smith: John Adams married Abigail Smith in 1764, and their partnership is famously documented through over 1,100 letters exchanged between them. Abigail Adams is remembered as one of the most respected and influential First Ladies of the United States, known for her sharp political insights and strong advocacy for women’s rights.
  • Legacy of Public Service: Beyond his immediate family, John Adams’s descendants continued to leave their mark on American politics and public service. His great-grandson, Henry Adams, became a noted historian and author, providing a deep dive into the complexities of American life and politics.
  • Adams Family Home: The Adams family home in Quincy, Massachusetts, known as Peacefield or the Old House, became a hub of political and social activity. It remained in the Adams family until 1927, when it was gifted to the National Park Service, serving as a museum and testament to the Adams family’s impact on American history.
  • Educational Advocates: Education was a cornerstone of the Adams family legacy. John Adams, despite the constraints of his era, was a fervent advocate for education, including for his daughters, at a time when women’s education was not a priority. This advocacy for education was a value passed down through generations.
  • International Influence: John Adams’s diplomacy and work abroad, especially in Europe, brought a unique international influence to his family. His son, John Quincy Adams, spent much of his youth accompanying his father in Europe, gaining experiences that shaped his worldview and later political policies.
  • Religious Views: The Adams family were devout Congregationalists, reflecting the predominant religious views of early New England. Their faith influenced their views on public service, ethics, and morality, which were evident in their letters and writings.
  • Connection to Other Founding Families: The Adams family had connections with other prominent families of the era, including the Jeffersons and the Franklins. These relationships, sometimes strained by political differences, nonetheless formed a complex network of influences that shaped the early political landscape of the United States.


In examining the lives of John Adams’s children, we uncover a fascinating blend of personal triumphs and challenges that mirrors the complexities of the early American experience. From John Quincy Adams’s ascent to the presidency to the quieter lives of his siblings, each child’s journey provides a unique lens through which to view the intertwining of family legacy and national history.

The legacy of John Adams’s children extends beyond their individual accomplishments or difficulties. It encompasses the broader narrative of a family deeply embedded in the fabric of American democracy, contributing to its foundation and its future.