December 1788: Adams Family and Cider

Chidem Kurdas

In late 1788 Abigail Adams travelled from her home in Massachusetts to New York, to help her daughter with a new baby.

Her husband John was between jobs. He had resigned his appointment as the first American minister – in effect, ambassador – to Great Britain. In June the couple returned from London. In April 1789 he started his next post, as vice president to George Washington, in the first government under the new Constitution.

He stayed at home in December 1788. Abigail wrote to him frequently. Their daughter – also named Abigail but called Nabby – and the baby were doing well. Abigail missed John: “I think every separation more painful as I increase in years,” she told him.

She recommended he protect against the cold by wearing “the green baize gown, and if that will not answer, you recollect the bearskin.” Whether she was serious about the bearskin is unclear.

Concerned about the housekeeping, she wanted attention paid to rats and mice.

Food supplies had to be cared for or acquired. Abigail gave specific instructions. “The cider should be drawn off and my apples and pears picked over and repack’d.” “If I should not reach home by Christmas, would it not be best to purchase a pork for winter, and to secure a few legs of pork to bacon?”

The hard cider was important. John drank it at breakfast and attributed his health & longevity to it—but he may have been joking.

Abigail did not return home for Christmas. In his response John did not mention bearskin, mice, cider, pears, apples or bacon. He wrote that he was as anxious as she was for her to come home. Either their son-in-law could bring her together with his family, or John would send their eldest son with a coach from Boston to fetch her. (This son was John Quincy, future diplomat, senator, one-term president like his father, and congressman.)

As for the new grandson, he appreciated the affection of his daughter who named the baby John Adams after him. But he did not approve of the practice of mixing the names of generations of a family, even though he twice set an example of it. “I wish the child every blessing from other motives, besides its name,” he wrote.

Abigail must have returned home expeditiously after receiving John’s letter because there is no more correspondence between them until John went to New York – the temporary capital – to take up his position as vice president.

Have a great holiday season!


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