Dear Abigail The intimate lives and revolutionary ideas of Abigail Adams and her two remarkable sisters

Diane Jacobs

Book - 2014

"For readers of the historical works of Robert K. Massie, David McCulough, and Alison Weir comes the first biography on the life of Abigail Adams and her sisters. "Never sisters loved each other better than we."--Abigail Adams in a letter to her sister Mary, June 1776 Much has been written about the enduring marriage of President John Adams and his wife, Abigail. But few know of the equally strong bond Abigail shared with her sisters, Mary Cranch and Elizabeth Shaw Peabody, accomp...lished women in their own right. Now acclaimed biographer Diane Jacobs reveals their moving story, which unfolds against the stunning backdrop of America in its transformative colonial years. Abigail, Mary, and Elizabeth Smith grew up in Weymouth, Massachusetts, the close-knit daughters of a minister and his wife. When the sisters moved away from one another, they relied on near-constant letters--from what John Adams called their "elegant pen"--to buoy them through pregnancies, illnesses, grief, political upheaval, and, for Abigail, life in the White House. Infusing her writing with rich historical perspective and detail, Jacobs offers fascinating insight into these progressive women's lives: oldest sister Mary, who became de facto mayor of her small village; youngest sister Betsy, an aspiring writer who, along with her husband, founded the second coeducational school in the United States; and middle child Abigail, who years before becoming First Lady ran the family farm while her husband served in the Continental Congress, first in Philadelphia, and was then sent to France and England, where she joined him at last. This engaging narrative traces the sisters' lives from their childhood sibling rivalries to their eyewitness roles during the American Revolution and their adulthood as outspoken wives and mothers. They were women ahead of their time who believed in intellectual and educational equality between the sexes. Drawing from newly discovered correspondence, never-before-published diaries, and archival research, Dear Abigail is a fascinating front-row seat to history--and to the lives of three exceptional women who were influential during a time when our nation's democracy was just taking hold. Advance praise for Dear Abigail "In a beautifully wrought narrative, Diane Jacobs has brought the high-spirited, hyperarticulate Smith sisters, and the early years of the American republic, to rich, luminous life. A stunning, sensitive work of history."--Stacy Schiff, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Cleopatra "Jacobs is a superb storyteller. In this sweeping narrative about family and friendship during the American Revolution, Abigail Adams emerges as one of the great political heroines of the eighteenth century. I fell in love with her all over again."--Amanda Foreman, New York Times bestselling author of A World on Fire. "Beauty, brains, and breeding--Elizabeth, Abigail, and Mary had them all. This absorbing history shows how these close-knit and well-educated daughters of colonial America become women of influence in the newly begotten United States. Jacobs's feel for the period is confident; so is her appreciation of the nuances of character."--Daniel Mark Epstein, author of The Lincolns: Portrait of a Marriage"--

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New York : Ballantine Books [2014]
First edition
Physical Description
xii, 499 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm
Includes bibliographical references and index.
Main Author
Diane Jacobs (-)
Review by Choice Review

Jacobs eloquently traces the lives of Abigail Adams, née Smith, and her two sisters, Mary and Elizabeth, from their childhood in Weymouth, Massachusetts, through the storm of the American Revolution and early republic, to their final days at the dawn of the 19th century. Jacobs's narrative triumphantly weaves the considerable collection of correspondences the sisters compiled during their lives into a captivating history of the period and region. The book treats readers to the unique perspective of the Colonial woman, as the sisters vigorously discussed topics from everyday life, including childbirth, loneliness, love, and loss, to the more scholarly topics of religion, politics, philosophy, and the education of women. This unique, intimate portrayal provides a rare glimpse of the educated Colonial woman's worldview. Includes a select bibliography, notes, and index, highlighting the breadth and depth of coverage provided by Jacobs. --Anne P. Hancock, Emmanuel College

Copyright American Library Association, used with permission. Review by Booklist Review

Though Abigail Adams is a perennially popular historical subject, little has been written about her two accomplished sisters, Mary Cranch and Elizabeth Shaw Peabody. This triple biography corrects that oversight by recounting the lives of the three Smith sisters, utilizing their private journals and the copious letters they wrote to each other over the course of their lifetimes to tell their collective story. Intelligent, well educated, opinionated, and informed, they not only provided each other with comfort, advice, and instruction but they also served as perceptive eyewitnesses to historical events on a grand scale. Though severely circumscribed by gender, time, and place, they overcame societal strictures by managing to carve out meaningful roles for themselves in their marriages and beyond. Colonial America, the Revolutionary War era, and the fledgling state of a new nation come to life via the pens of these remarkably prolific, loving, and observant sisters.--Flanagan, Margaret Copyright 2010 Booklist

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission. Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

In highlighting sorority, Jacobs (Her Own Woman: The Life of Mary Wollstonecraft) opens a new window on the familiar life of Abigail Adams, wife of American Revolution leader and second President of the United States, John. The most well-known of the three sisters, she was born Abigail Smith in 1744, three years after her elder sister, Mary, and six years before her younger sister, Elizabeth. Their brother, William, was born in 1746 and named for their father, a Congregationalist minister. The family resided in Weymouth, Mass., where William supplemented his preacher's salary by farming. Matriarch Elizabeth Smith tutored her daughters in housewifery and community charity, as well as reading, writing, mathematics, and Enlightenment precepts. In 1762 Mary wed Richard Cranch, who was 15 years her senior, self-educated, and unlucky in business. Abigail followed her sister into matrimony two years later, marrying the pugnacious young attorney John Adams. Cycles of pregnancy and childbirth bound Mary and Abigail even closer than they had been growing up. By the time young Elizabeth married Congregationalist minister John Shaw in 1777, the Revolution was well underway. Deftly weaving military and political events of the Revolutionary period with the personal lives of these fascinating sisters, Jacobs has crafted a riveting curl-up-by-the-fireside story. Illus. (Mar.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved Review by Library Journal Review

Among the many biographies-and collections of the letters-of Abigail Smith Adams, this one by Jacobs (Her Own Woman: The Life of Mary Wollstonecraft) uniquely focuses on the interconnectedness of Adams with her sisters, Mary Smith Cranch and Elizabeth "Betsy" Smith Shaw Peabody. -Jacobs bases her study on their lifelong correspondence. They shared private thoughts on everything from courtship, marriage, and child rearing to philosophical, economic, and political issues. Jacobs makes evident the intense familial bond they had with one another, their spouses, and children as they endured grave illness, isolation, financial hardship, and the frustration of being thinking women in a man's world where intelligent, educated women were discouraged from engaging in substantive communication on nondomestic issues. Letter writing for these self-sacrificing and resilient sisters offered opportunities for sharing family news but also provided an essential forum with like-minded, trusted, supportive females, allowing them a brief respite from mundane yet stressful domesticity. Jacobs uses the sisters' letters to show the women circumventing cultural restrictions in order to assert their influence within and beyond their domestic spheres. VERDICT This sympathetic and engaging treatment of Abigail Adams and her close-knit family will be valued by all readers. It will be of particular interest to devotees of women's studies and early American history.--Margaret -Kappanadze, Elmira Coll. Lib., NY (c) Copyright 2014. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted. Review by Kirkus Book Review

Historical ramble through the Revolutionary era via middle sister and intermediary Abigail Adams (17441818), who married best. The three Smith sisters of Weymouth, Mass., were inseparable growing up under their minister father and thrifty, charitable mother, and they were remarkably well-educated, as demonstrated by the copious, frequent letters they exchanged throughout their long lives. Liberally excerpted by Jacobs (Her Own Woman: The Life of Mary Wollstonecraft, 2001, etc.), the letters allow readers to plunge into the voices and milieus of these lively characters, who nonetheless were relegated to the sidelines, observing the great events of the new nation unfold while their husbands got to strut about the stage--underscoring how important it was to marry well. Mary, the oldest sister, caught the interest of the girls' tutor, Richard Cranch, due to her "intelligence--not to mention her beauty and goodness," and "their passion quickened as he took it upon himself to initiate all three young women into the pleasures of Enlightenment philosophy, epistolary novels, Milton, Pope, Shakespeare, and also some French." However, Cranch did not pan out well as a scholarly fabricator and farmer, relegating Mary to a life of much scrimping, drudgery and childbearing. Youngest sister Elizabeth, of "keen sensibility and high spirits," was fairly beaten down by her marriage to drunkard Calvinist John Shaw. Abigail, in contrast, married the imperious fireball John Adams, not exactly handsome but brilliant and ironically humorous and with wit to match Abigail's own; her feminist writing, both to husband and sisters, crackles off the page. Readers will cheer when she is finally goaded out of her enforced provincialism by the need to join her husband in his diplomatic mission to Paris in 1784. An intimate, deeply engaging method of following historic events.]] Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.