Abigail Adams Smith

Abigail Adams Smith
Abigail "Nabby" Adams Smith
Born July 14, 1765
Quincy, Massachusetts
Died August 15, 1813(1813-08-15) (aged 48)
Quincy, Massachusetts
Spouse William Stephens Smith
Children William, John, Thomas, Caroline

Abigail "Nabby" Adams Smith (July 14, 1765 – August 15, 1813) was the firstborn of Abigail and John Adams, founding father and second President of the United States. She was named for her mother.[1]


Early life

Abigail "Nabby" Adams was born in Braintree, Massachusetts, on July 14, 1765, and was, her mother recorded, "the dear image of her still dearer Papa." She was the favorite child, showered with attention by her father and mother, for whom she was named. By the age of 10 she was a mature girl and helped her mother with farm chores while her father and brother were away on diplomatic missions.

Romance and marriage

At the age of 18, Nabby met and fell in love with Royall Tyler. Her father thought she was too young to have a suitor, but he eventually accepted it. At one point the two were even engaged to be married. But John Adams, then the U.S. minister to the Kingdom of Great Britain, eagerly called for his wife and daughter to join him in London. For a time, Nabby maintained a long distance relationship with Tyler, but eventually broke off the engagement as Tyler became interested in other women.

Shortly afterward Nabby met Colonel William Stephens Smith, who was serving as her father's secretary and was 10 years her senior. They were married at the American minister's residence in London on June 12, 1786.[2] Nabby's observations of European life and customs, and many of the distinguished statesmen of the day, were later published.[3]

Family life and children

After their return from Europe, the Smiths bought land in what was then the countryside outside of New York City, and planned to build an estate, which they called Mount Vernon, in honor of George Washington. They never lived there, but a carriage house on the property was later converted to a hotel and is now operated as the Mount Vernon Hotel Museum.

William was involved in a series of speculative ventures that led to financial and political difficulties. Nabby's parents used their influence when possible to obtain government jobs for William, but this did not keep their daughter from poverty.[2] Although William was in debt, Nabby was devoted to him, and the couple had four children, three of whom survived childhood.

Their children were:

  • William Steuben Smith
  • John Adams Smith
  • Thomas Hollis Smith
  • Caroline Amelia Smith


In 1810, Nabby was diagnosed with breast cancer. The gruesome details of the surgery and the remainder of Nabby's life have been discussed by historians such as James S. Olson.[4] The cancer continued to spread throughout her body, and she died, aged 48, on Sunday, August 15, 1813.[5]

Depictions in popular culture

Nabby's death is a poignant part of the 2008 John Adams miniseries, in which she is played by Sarah Polley. The screenplay for that television drama shifted the date of her diagnosis to 1803 and altered many other details of her life.[6]


  1. ^ (2006) American Experience: John and Abigail Adams. PBS Paramount.
  2. ^ a b Nagel, Paul C. 1987. The Adams women: Abigail and Louisa Adams, their sisters and daughters. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-503874-6
  3. ^ Smith, Abigail Adams 1841. Journal and correspondence of Miss Adams, daughter of John Adams, second president of the United States, written in France and England, in 1785. book
  4. ^ "Excerpt on Abigail Adams". Bathsheba's Breast: Women, Cancer & History. JHU Press. 2005. pp. 37–49. ISBN 978-080188064-3. http://www.shsu.edu/~pin_www/T@S/2002/NabbyAdamsEssay.html. 
  5. ^ Wead, Doug (2005). The Raising of a President: The Mothers and Fathers of Our Nation's Leaders. Atria Books. ISBN 0-7434-9726-0.
  6. ^ Jeremy Stern (October 27, 2008). "What's Wrong with HBO's Dramatization of John Adams's Story". History News Network. http://hnn.us/articles/56155.html. Retrieved March 18, 2011. 

External links

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