NIEMANN: Abigail had a habit of writing letters to the future president

Posted: Nov. 26, 2012 8:08 am Updated: Dec. 24, 2012 9:15 am

You've probably never heard of Abigail Smith. Or at least you think you haven't heard of her. That's OK, because most Americans don't recognize her name, either.

She was born in 1744 in Weymouth, Mass., to a minister father and a housewife mother. As was common during that era, young Abigail did not receive a formal education. She was relatively well-educated, though, as she spent many hours in her father's library reading the Bible, history and philosophy books, essays and poetry as well as Shakespeare's work.

Smith was her maiden name, but it is her married name by which you know her. When Abigail was 20, she married a Harvard graduate who went on to become a lawyer. The couple first lived on her husband's farm in Braintree, then in the town that became Quincy, Mass., and later in Boston. They had three sons and two daughters.

Abigail's husband often traveled out of town on business, so the two of them would keep in touch by writing letters to each other. Lots and lots of letters. Abigail enjoyed writing letters so much that she even wrote to the future president of the United States. Nothing all that unusual about that, really, as thousands of people write to the president each year. What seems unusual, though, was that this future president would often write back to her.

In one of her letters during the late 1700s, she wrote, "Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the Husbands. Remember, all men would be tyrants if they could."

Abigail Smith might have sounded like a feminist, but she was more of an activist than a feminist. While she never received a formal education, she pushed hard to ensure that girls had the same opportunities in school that boys had.

The future president that I mentioned sought out Abigail's advice on many topics; you see, she had a major influence on not one but, count 'em, two United States presidents.

Abigail was a cousin of John Hancock's wife, on her mother's side. I won't go into that whole "third cousin, once removed" thing because nobody seems to understand how that works anyway. I always thought that being "once removed" referred to the divorced in-law who is no longer part of the family -- until I heard the term "twice removed."

She once said, "If perticuliar (sic) care and attention is not paid to the Ladies we are determined to foment a Rebelion(sic), and will not hold ourselves bound by any Laws in which we have no voice, or Representation."

Some of the material that she wrote would later show up in the Broadway musical "1776," which won a Tony award and was based on the events leading to the writing and signing of the Declaration of Independence. Her family was also the subject of a 1976 PBS miniseries.

Speaking of the Declaration of Independence, in an odd coincidence, her husband died on the exact same day that Thomas Jefferson did -- July 4, 1826 -- which was exactly 50 years after the Declaration of Independence was adopted.

People say that everything is relative, and the reason why Abigail Smith received letters from a future president was because of her relations. She married one president and raised another: John Adams, our nation's second president, was her husband and John Quincy Adams, our nation's sixth president, was her son.

Earlier I mentioned that Abigail and her husband lived in Quincy (which served as your first clue), and since I am from Quincy, Ill., I wondered where the name of Quincy came from. It turns out that Abigail's mother's maiden name was Quincy. If you're keeping score at home, there are 11 other towns named Quincy in the United States.




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