Presidential Mothers: Abigail Adams more widely known than her predecessors

Published 6:18 pm Wednesday, January 11, 2023

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By  Betty Etchison West

For the Enterprise

There is much more information available about the mother of the sixth President of the United States, John Quincy Adams, than there is about any of the first five. That is because the mother of John Quincy Adams was not only the mother of a president, but also the wife of a President of the United States.

John Quincy Adams’ mother was the wife of the second President, John Adams, and therefore there has been much more research done concerning that lady, Abigail Adams.

The ancestors of Abigail Smith, who married John Adams and became the mother of John Quincy Adams, were members of the prominent New England family, the Quincy family. That no doubt is how she came to name her oldest son, John Quincy. Abigail was born in 1744. At that time, it was believed that girls did not need an academic education. Abigail did receive some academic education at home.  She was bright and learned to read.  She read everything she could find and became a self-educated woman.  Not only could she read, but she could write because many letters still exist that she wrote to her husband.

In 1764 Abigail Smith and Harvard-educated young lawyer John Adams were married. They lived in a saltbox style house on their farm in Braintree, Mass.  During the first 10 years of their marriage, the Adams had five children, three sons and two daughters. John Adams was a circuit judge who was often away from home. Abigail, alone, cared for her children and managed the small farm while he husband was a traveling judge, and, later, for long periods of time when John was serving his country. Adams was a delegate to the Continental Congress, an envoy abroad, and he served as Vice President and President of the United States. Abigail did spend a few months living in the White House while John Adams was President.  Abigail is characterized as a strong, capable lady, who seemed to be able to handle all responsibilities.  She was different from most women who lived during that period in that she was interested in governmental affairs and politics. Today she would probably be called a political activist.

When her husband was involved in developing the new constitution for the United States or later when he worked on legislation, Abigail wrote to him and said, “Don’t forget the ladies.”  There is no evidence that John acted on the advice that she offered in her letters, but she gave it freely. The letters do indicate that John wanted and appreciated Abigail’s opinion.

Abigail was able to join her husband when he was on an European assignment and that was an education within itself for Abigail.  However, much of the time, Abigail was in Braintree, which is now called Quincy, managing family and farm affairs. She was there alone with her children when the fighting during the Revolutionary War came close enough to her home that she could hear booms of the cannons, but that did not seem to frighten her.

John Quincy seemed to have a personality much like that of his father. His brilliant father could be brusque and abrasive. John Quincy’s mother seemed to be a lovely, charming lady, who at times helped smooth over the difficulties created by her husband’s augmentative personality.  John Quincy was capable, but not always likeable. Like his father, he was not re-elected after he had served one term as president which may have been the result of his brusque personality. John Quincy was later elected to represent his district in the United States House of Representative.  He was stricken while on the floor of the House, was moved to another room, and died there in the capital.

The mother of Andrew Jackson of the seventh President of the United States, Elizabeth Hutchinson Jackson, was born in Ireland. She was born in 1730, and, about 1761, married Andrew Jackson Sr. They immigrated to America in 1765. The Jacksons bought 200 acres of land near Waxhaw, which is near the present city of Charlotte.  Tragedy hit the family in 1767. Andrew Jackson Sr. died unexpectedly at age 29. His death occurred three weeks before Andrew Jackson Jr. was born. Elizabeth Jackson moved in with her sister and there she raised her sons.  She worked hard caring for both her children and her sister’s family.

When the Revolutionary War reached Waxhaw, Andrew and his brothers joined the patriots. Both were taken prisoners. Their mother got them released in a prisoner transfer. They got back home, but, Robert, Andrew’s brother died shortly thereafter.  It was a long time before Andrew, who was only 13 years old, regained his strength. After her son, Robert Jackson, died, Andrew’s mother went to nurse prisoners who were being held on a prison ship in the Charleston Harbor. Elizabeth contacted the disease that many of the prisoners had—cholera. She died in 1781, and it was believed that she was buried in Charleston.

Later, Andrew said that he wanted to find her bones and bury them beside his father at the Old Waxhaw Presbyterian Church Cemetery, but he was never able to do that. All he ever got that belonged to his mother was a small pile of clothes.  Elizabeth Hutchinson Jackson was a great patriot who did all she could to help her family and her country before she died.

At age 14, Andrew Jackson Jr. became an orphan.  He lived with relatives after that but was deprived of the love of a parent which probably had a great effect on him. As he grew up, Andrew seemed to be hot-tempered, but he also had a romantic side as was indicated by his great love for his wife, Rachel. That trait may have been gained from his mother who gave her all to care for her family and for others in need.

There is little information available about the mother of the eighth President of the United States, Martin Van Buren. We do know that Martin’s Mother, Maria Hoes Van Buren, was of Dutch descendent as was his father, Abraham Van Buren. Maria Hoes Van Alen was a widow with three children when she married Martin’s father.  Maria and Abraham had five sons, so all together, there were eight children in the family – three Van Alen children and five Van Buren children. Martin Van Buren’s Mother died when he was about 6 years old so her influence on her son was limited to his earliest years.

Both of Van Buren’s parents were fifth generation residents of the Province of New York and all of their ancestors were of Dutch ancestry.  Dutch was the language that was spoken in Martin Van Buren’s home as he grew up and also the language which was Martin and his wife spoke in their home after they were married.  Martin Van Buren’s wife, died in 1818 when she was 35.  After his wife died, Van Buren never spoke of her again, not even in his autobiography.

As Martin Van Buren grew up, he spent a great deal of time in his father’s tavern which on the road between New York City and the capitol of Albany where politicians often stopped for a drink and to discuss politics. That seemed to be the place that influenced Martin most because early on he got interested in listening to those tavern customers discuss politics. Martin’s Mother’s influence was of rather short duration since he was young when she died, but he was greatly influenced by the political discussion to which he was exposed.