I have two favorite things to do as I travel around the US; one is to visit National Park Sites and the other is to visit the homes and libraries of America’s former presidents. So far I’m up to nine on that last mention.
Fortunately for me it’s an easy commute on public transportation to the Adams National Historical Park in Quincy Massachusetts – birthplaces and homes of the first father and son presidents; John Adams, 2nd President from 1797 – 1801, John Quincy Adams, 6th President from 1825 – 1829.
Over the years I’ve been to the site many times. On each visit I’m always amazed at the history that is here. Needless to say I was thrilled to learn the other day that a letter written by John Quincy Adams in 1826 to the rectors of the United First Parish Church was uncovered in the basement of Quincy City Hall.
In the letter Adams asks that his father and mother be entombed in the church that they helped to establish and where they were members.
United First Parish church is only a few blocks from the Adams National Historical Park Visitors Center and is very much worth a visit. John and Abigail are entombed there alongside John Quincy and his wife, Louisa Catherine.
On entering the Adams National Historical Park Visitors Center the first thing that catches your eye is an Adams family timeline that takes visitors through their lives from the 17th century up to the 20th.
Displayed here are significant dates in history such as the Boston Massacre March 5, 1770, John Adams and Josiah Quincy (Abigail’s cousin) were the defending attorneys for the British soldiers, 1788 the ratification of the United States Constitution, 1789 the first presidential election in the United States when George Washington was elected president and John Adams vice-president, and the Monroe Doctrine of 1823 written by John Quincy Adams.
A National Park Service trolley takes you out to the three houses where rangers give guided tours. The first stop is John’s birthplace, a slant roof natural shingled saltbox built in 1683, across from it is John Quincy’s birthplace, also a saltbox built in 1661. One particular item of interest is a musket ball maker, a wrought iron pronged device that Abigail used during the Revolutionary War to melt iron in so she could make mini musket balls to defend her farm in case the British made it to Quincy.
John Adams was born here in 1735 and helped his father farm the land until he went to Harvard College at the age of 15 and eventually studying law. He set up his first law office in the front room here. The house is filled with furnishings of the era, as is John Quincy’s birthplace.
Peace Field, the grandest of the three houses, is where you will see the Adams family’s original furnishings.
John Adams purchased Peace Field in 1788, the house was built in 1731 in the Georgian style. Four generations of the Adams family lived here from 1788 to 1927. Its twenty-four rooms are filled with 75,000 antiques and artifacts.
In the dining room is Abigail’s 18th century American sideboard on top of which sit her Waterford crystal candelabras, on the walls hang paintings of George and Martha Washington by Edward Savage, a rendering of John Adams at age 87 by Gilbert Stuart (the original of which can be seen at the Museum of Fine Arts), and a painting by John Singleton Copley of another Massachusetts patriot, Dr. Joseph Warren, a great friend of Adams, who died at the Battle of Bunker Hill.
Upstairs is John and Abigail’s bedroom with their original furnishings. Across from this is John’s personal library where he spent the last years of his life. It was while sitting in this office in his wingback chair that John Adams died on July 4th, 1826, the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Unbeknownst to him, his friend, Thomas Jefferson, had died earlier that day.
Dominating the hall is a stunning black lacquer William and Mary chest dating to 1740; it was made in Roxbury and the book cases that were in John Adams’ law offices in Boston.
On the walls are a 19th century John Singer Sargent lithograph of President Theodore Roosevelt (personalized to John Quincy’s daughter-in-law Mrs. Charles Francis Adams) and a wet press lithograph of the Declaration of Independence printed on English paper that dates to 1690.
The stone library, dating to 1870, houses John Quincy’s 8,700 books in 14 languages. On display is a Benjamin West painting depicting the signing of the Declaration of Independence, and portraits of John, John Quincy and his son Charles Francis Adams. In the center of the room is John’s desk, where he wrote the Massachusetts Constitution. Also here is John Quincy’s desk from his days in the House of Representatives.
John Adams’ library, 4000 volumes, is considered one of the best private collections in the United States. It can be seen in the rare books department of the Boston Public Library.
The gardens are filled with Abigail’s white English York rose bushes that she brought back with her from England in 1788.