Respecting the Family of Adams

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The Life of John Adams, by Charles Henry Adams


Editors Note: This is Volume 1 of the 10 Volume “The Works of John Adams”, (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1856). The author, Charles Henry Adams is John Adams grandson. The copyright for the original text is in the Public Domain because its copyright has expired. The font, formatting, and spelling modernizations of this version of The Works of John Adams, as well as all other Americanist Library and Founders Corner selections are, unless otherwise specified, Copyright © 2011 Steve Farrell.


Preliminary. Respecting the Family of Adams.

The first charter of the Colony of Massachusetts Bay was granted by Charles the First, and bears date the 4th of March, in the fourth year of his reign, 1629. It recites letters-patent of James the First, dated 3 November, in the eighteenth year of his reign, 1620, granting to the Council established at Plymouth, in the county of Devon, for the planting, ruling, ordering, and governing of New England, in America, all that part of America, from latitude 40° to 48°, and through the main lands from sea to sea. Then, that the Plymouth Council, by deed indented 19 March, 1628, conveyed to Sir Henry Rosewell, Sir John Young, knights, Thomas Southcott, John Humphrey, John Endicott, and Symon Whetcomb, their heirs and associates forever, all that part of New England, lying between three miles south of Charles, and three miles north of Merrimack rivers. Charles, therefore, at the petition of the grantees, and of others whom they had associated unto them, grants to them the same lands, and constitutes them a body corporate politique, in fact and name, by the name of the Governor and Companie of the Massachusetts Bay in New England.

Among the grantees of this charter is a person by the name of Thomas Adams.

Hutchinson says that the day for the annual election of officers, by charter, was the last Wednesday in Easter Term, and that on the 13th of May, 1628, Cradock was chosen governor, Goffe, deputy-governor, and eighteen assistants; of whom Thomas Adams was the twelfth.1

That on the 20th of October, 1629, a new choice of officers was made, consisting of such persons as had been resolved on the 29th of August preceding. John Winthrop was elected governor, John Humphrey, deputy-governor, and eighteen assistants; of whom Thomas Adams was the last.1

From this, it appears that Thomas Adams was one of those who had determined to come over with the charter. But nothing further has been found concerning him.2

Hutchinson says that, in 1625, one Captain Wollaston, with about thirty persons, began a plantation near Weston’s, which had been abandoned; that no mention is made of a patent to Wollaston; that Morton changed the name of Mount Wollaston to Merry Mount; and that the people of Plymouth seized him, to send him to England.

Winthrop’s Journal,3 under date of 20 September, 1630, says: “Thomas Morton was adjudged to be imprisoned till he were sent into England, and his house burnt down, for his many injuries offered to the Indians, and other misdemeanors.”

Winthrop’s Journal, 17 September, 16394 : “Mount Wollaston had been formerly laid to Boston; but many poor men having lots assigned them there, and not able to use those lands and dwell still in Boston, they petitioned the town, first, to have a minister there, and, after, to have leave to gather a church there, which the town, at length, upon some small composition, gave way unto. So this day they gathered a church after the usual manner, and chose one Mr. Tompson, a very gracious, sincere man, and Mr. Flint, a godly man also, their ministers.”

“There was a church gathered at the Mount, and Mr. Tompson, a very holy man, who had been an instrument of much good at Acamenticus, was ordained the pastor the 19th of the 9th month.”1

It was in 1634 that Mount Wollaston had been laid to Boston, and Winthrop’s Journal2 says that on the 11th of December, 1634, the inhabitants of Boston met after the lecture, and chose seven men who should divide the town lands among them.

At a general court held at Newton, 3 September, 1634, it is ordered that Boston shall have enlargement at Mount Wollaston and Rumney Marsh. The bounds were settled 13 April, 1636.

“At a general court of elections, held at Boston, 13 May, 1640. The petition of the inhabitants of Mount Wollaston was voted, and granted them to be a town, according to the agreement with Boston, and the town is to be called Braintree.”3

Thus it appears that Morton’s settlement at Mount Wollaston was broken up and his house was burnt in 1630, the year in which Winthrop and his colony arrived; that in 1634 the General Court at Newton granted enlargement to the town of Boston at Mount Wollaston; that in 1636 grants of land were made by the inhabitants of Boston to individuals to make settlements there without removing from Boston; that many of the poor men who had lots assigned them, could not use them, and continue to reside in Boston; that they therefore petitioned Boston, first, to have a minister, and, afterwards, to gather a church, which leave was accordingly granted. They chose Mr. Tompson and Mr. Flint their ministers. Mr. Tompson was ordained the 19th of November, 1639; and on the 13th of May, 1640, they were by the court of elections made a town, by the name of Braintree.

Among the grantees of these lands was Henry Adams,4 probably a brother of Thomas Adams,1 one of the grantees of the charter, and one of the Assistants chosen at the time of its transfer to this country.

By the records of the town of Braintree, it appears that this Henry Adams was buried on the 8th of October, 1646. From his will, it appears that he left a widow, five sons, named Peter, John, Joseph, Edward, and Samuel, and a daughter Ursula. He had three other sons, not mentioned in the will, whose names were Henry, Thomas, and Jonathan.2

Henry was the eldest son, and was the first town-clerk of Braintree. The records of births, marriages, and deaths, in the first book of Braintree town records, are in his handwriting; and the first marriage recorded is his own with Elizabeth Payne, 17 October, 1643.

The second is that of Joseph Adams and Abigail Baxter, married the 26th of November, 1650. The gravestones of this Joseph Adams and of his wife are yet extant in the burial-ground of the Congregational Church at Quincy, and the inscriptions on them show that he died on the 6th of December, 1694, in the 68th year of his age. He was, therefore, born in the year 1626, in England, four years before the emigration of the Winthrop colony; and there is reason to believe that he was the youngest, and that Henry was the eldest of the sons of the first Henry, who came with him from England.

On the same book of records are entered the births of three children of Henry and Elizabeth Adams.

Eleazar, born 5 August, 1644. Jasper, born 23 June, 1647. And Elizabeth, born 11 November, 1649.

About that time, this Henry Adams removed to Medfield, of which he was also the first town-clerk, and where numerous descendants of his name are yet remaining. Among them is the distinguished female historian, Hannah Adams. He died on the 21st February, 1675, at the age of 71. He was, therefore, born in the year 1604, was 26 years of age at the time of the emigration, 36 when Braintree was made a town, and 39 when married to Elizabeth Payne.

Of the sons of the first Henry Adams, Peter and Joseph only remained settled for life at Braintree. Joseph and his wife lived together forty-two years; as the inscription on her gravestone shows that she died on the 27th of August, 1692, only two years before her husband.

Their children, as recorded upon the town book, were:—

Hannah, born 13 November, 1652. Joseph, born 24 December, 1654. John, born 15 February, 1656. Abigail, born 27 February, 1658. John and Bethiah, born 20 December, 1660. Mary, born 8 September, 1663. Samuel, born 3 September, 1665. Another Mary, born 25 February, 1667. Peter, born 7 February, 1669. Jonathan, born 31 January, 1671. Mehitable, born in 1673.

Of the original military establishment at Braintree, it appears, from a minute on the record book, apparently made by John Mills, when he was the town-clerk, for it is professedly made from the memory of the writer—that Henry, Thomas, and Peter Adams were sergeants of companies, and John and Joseph Adams, drummers.

The inventory of the goods movable and immovable of the first Henry Adams presents a property, the sum total of which is seventy-five pounds thirteen shillings—the real and personal estate being nearly of equal value. It includes a house, barn, and ground around them. Three beds and their bedding, one of which was in the parlor, and two in the chamber. A variety of farming utensils and kitchen furniture; some store of corn, hay, and hops; one cow and a heifer, swine, and one silver spoon, and some old books. There was land which he held upon lease or temporary grant from the town; and he bequeathes the remainder of his term to his sons, Peter and John, and his daughter Ursula. He orders his books to be divided among all his children. The house and lands belonging to himself he leaves to his wife during her life or widowhood, and afterwards to his sons, Joseph and Edward, and his daughter, Ursula, charged with a payment to his son, Samuel, for land purchased of him, to be paid for in convenient time. There was a discretionary power to the wife to make use, by way of sale, of part of the land, in case of urgent need.

There is no notice in the will of the sons Henry, Thomas, or Jonathan, although they still resided at Braintree. They were, doubtless, otherwise well provided for. The will discovers a spirit of justice in the distribution, and of parental and conjugal affection. The land purchased of Samuel to be paid for in convenient time; the charge upon the children, to whom the reversion of the land is given, to pay for it; and, above all, the discretionary and contingent power to the wife to sell, are incidents truly affecting.

At the decease of this first Henry, his son, Joseph, was but twenty years of age. He lived nearly half a century after—reared, as we have seen, a numerous family of sons and daughters, and at his decease left his estate to his sons, Joseph, John,1 and Peter, and to his daughters, Hannah Savil, Abigail Bass, Bethiah Webb, Mary Bass, and Mehitable Adams. Four of the daughters were married before the testator’s death; Mehitable shortly afterwards, 21 July, 1697, married Thomas White.

The bulk of the estate, consisting of a malt-house and brewery with lands, malting tools and vessels, was given to Peter, the youngest son, who was also made sole executor of the will.

Joseph Adams, senior, was, on the 10th of April, 1673, chosen a selectman of the town of Braintree, together with Edmund Quincy; and, in 1692-93, the same Joseph Adams was chosen surveyor of highways.

His son, Joseph Adams, junior, was born, as we have seen, 24 December, 1654. He died 12 February, 1737, at the age of 82. He had three wives.

First, Mary Chapin, 1682, by whom he had

Mary, born 6 February, 1683, married Ephraim Jones.

Abigail, born 17 February, 1684, married Seth Chapin.

She died 14 June, 1687.

His second wife was Hannah Bass, daughter of John and Ruth Bass, a daughter of John Alden.

The issue of this marriage were

Joseph, born 4 January, 1689, who was minister at Newington, New Hampshire. John, born 28 January, 1691, died 25 May, 1761. Samuel, born 28 January, 1693. Josiah, born 18 February, 1696, died 20 January, 1722. Hannah, born 23 February, 1698, married Benjamin Owen, 4 February, 1725. Ruth, born 21 March, 1700, married Nathan Webb, 23 November, 1731. Bethiah, born 13 June, 1702, married Ebenezer Hunt, 28 April, 1737. Ebenezer, born 30 December, 1704.

Hannah (Bass) Adams, died 24 October, 1705.

The third wife of Joseph Adams, junior, was Elizabeth [Editor: missing word]1

They had one son, Caleb, born 26 May, 1710, who died the 4th of June following.

Elizabeth survived her husband, and died February, 1739.

Joseph Adams, junior, or the second, made his will on the 23d of July, 1731.2

He had given his eldest son, Joseph, the third of the name, a liberal education, that is to say, at Harvard College, where he was graduated in 1710; and considering that as equivalent to his portion of the paternal estate, he gave him, by will, only five pounds to be paid in money by his executors within one year after his decease. He distributed his estate between his sons, John, Samuel, Josiah, and Ebenezer, leaving legacies to his daughters.

Mary Jones, fifteen pounds. The three children of Abigail Chapin, of Mendon, six pounds. Hannah Owen, fifteen pounds. Ruth Adams, eighty pounds. Bethiah Adams, eighty pounds.

On the 7th of March, 1699, this Joseph Adams was chosen a selectman of Braintree, and on the 4th of March, 1700, a constable. His eldest son, Joseph Adams, on the same year that he was graduated, 1710, was chosen the schoolmaster.

The lives of the first and second Joseph Adams comprise a period of one hundred and ten years, in which are included the whole of the first century of the Massachusetts Colony, and seven years of the second. The father and son had each twelve children, of whom, besides those that died in infancy or unmarried, the elder left three sons and five daughters living at his decease; and the younger, five sons and four daughters, besides three grandchildren, offspring of a daughter who died before him. The daughters of the father and son were all reputably married, and their descendants, by the names of Savil, Bass, Webb, White, Chapin, Jones, Owen, Hunt, and numberless others, are scattered throughout every part of New England.

The inventory of the first Henry Adams displays no superfluity of wealth. He had, indeed, a house and land to bequeathe, but the house consisted of a kitchen, a parlor, and one chamber. Dr. Franklin has recorded, in the narrative of his life, the period of his prosperity, when his wife decided that it was time for him to indulge himself at his breakfast with a silver spoon; and this is the identical and only article of luxury found in the inventory of the first Henry Adams.

But he had raised a family of children, and had bred them to useful vocations and to habits of industry and frugality. His eldest son, Henry, was the first town-clerk, first of Braintree, and then of Medfield. His sons, Thomas and Samuel, were among the first settlers of Chelmsford, and1NA of Mendon.

The brewery was probably commenced by the first Henry. It was continued by his son, Joseph, and formed the business of his life. At the age of twenty-four he married a wife of sixteen, and at his decease, after a lapse of more than forty years, left the malting establishment to his youngest son. His other children, with the exception of his youngest daughter, being all comfortably settled.

This daughter (Mehitable) was only twenty-one years of age at the time of her father’s death, and by his will he provided that she should, while she remained unmarried, live in the house which he bequeathed to his son, Peter. About three years after her father’s death, she married Thomas White.

The estate left by the first Joseph Adams was much more considerable than that which had been left by his father; but was still very small.2 To his eldest son, Joseph, he bequeathed only one acre of salt meadow. Joseph had already been many years settled; had been twice married, and was father of four children at the time of his father’s decease. In a country rate, made by the selectmen of the town of Braintree, on the 12th of May, 1690, Joseph Adams, senior, was assessed £1. 19. 6, and Joseph Adams, junior, £1. 4. The prosperity of the family was still increasing. And it still continued, so that this second Joseph was enabled to defray the expense of educating his eldest son, of the same name, at college. The effect of this college education, however, was to withdraw the third Joseph from the town. He became a preacher of the gospel, and was settled at Newington, in New Hampshire, for sixty-eight years, and there died in the year 1783, at ninety-three years of age.

John Adams was the second son of the second Joseph. He was born the 28th of January, 1691; so shortly before the death of his grandfather, the first Joseph, that although he had, doubtless, in childhood seen him, he could certainly have retained no remembrance of him. The lives of this John Adams and of his son, who bore his name, comprise a period of no less than one hundred and thirty-six years, from 1691 to 1826, including forty years of the first and within four years of the whole of the second century of the Massachusetts colony. The two Josephs, father and son, may thus be considered as representing the first century of the Massachusetts Colony, and the two Johns, father and son, of the second.

On the 31st of October, 1734, the first John Adams was married to Susanna Boylston, daughter of Peter Boylston, of Brookline. The issue of this marriage were

John Adams, born 19 October, 1735. Peter Boylston, born 16 October, 1738. Elihu, born 29 May, 1741.

John Adams, following the example of his father, gave his eldest son the benefit of an education at Harvard College; for which he was prepared, under the instruction, successively, of Mr. Joseph Marsh, the minister of the first Congregational parish of Braintree, and of Joseph Cleverly, who was some time reader of the Episcopal Church at the same place.

The elder John Adams was many years Deacon of the first church in Braintree, and several years a selectman of the town.1

[1 ]History, vol. i. p. 9, of the London edition of 1765. Hutchinson’s error is left uncorrected in the text. The year was 1629.

[1 ]History, vol. i. p. 14.

[2 ]The records of the Massachusetts Company, whilst in London, have been printed in full since 1829, when the text was written. They show Thomas Adams an active and efficient member of the Board, contributing as largely from his private fortune to the colonization as any one; but he never himself came to America. In the preliminary chapter to the third volume of the “Collections of the American Antiquarian Society,” the editor supposes this to be the same Thomas Adams who afterwards became alderman, high-sheriff, and, in 1646, Lord-Mayor of London; and who likewise shared the fortunes, good and bad, of the Presbyterian party. Assuming this to be correct, it is singular that Hutchinson should have reckoned him among those Assistants of whom he could give no account. His name frequently occurs in the records of the House of Commons, of which he was a member, and particularly in the course of their struggle with Cromwell, in 1656. He was knighted by Charles the Second for his loyalty. Fuller has placed him in his list of the Worthies of England for the same reason. This individual was born in Wem, in the county of Salop, where he founded a free school at his death, and where eulogies were pronounced on his memory.

[3 ]P. 20, of the edition of 1790.

[4 ]P. 187.

[1 ]P. 195.

[2 ]P. 77.

[3 ]Hancock’s Century Sermons, p. 21, note.

[4 ]In the records of the town of Boston, the following entry occurs:—

“24th day, 12th month, 1640. Granted to Henry Adams, for ten heads, forty acres, upon the same covenant of three shillings per acre.”

This covenant, made about a year before, was a reserve of three shillings “for every acre that hath been or shall be granted to any others who are not inhabitants of the town of Boston.”

Hence it is probable that the grantee, in this instance, had lately arrived from the mother country, and that he went at once to settle in Braintree.

[1 ]This conjecture does not rest upon evidence of any sort; and, if Thomas Adams was the person supposed in a former note, it is not likely to be well founded.

Genealogy was so little an object of inquiry in New England, during the latter part of the last century, that most people were content to adopt any notion respecting their descent that appeared plausible, without much examination of its soundness. One of these notions, commonly held among persons bearing the name of Adams, was, that they were all the posterity of some one individual emigrating to America during the early days of the settlement. When the distinction attained by Samuel and John, brought to public attention the fact that they had a common ancestor in Henry Adams, who came from England with eight sons, somewhere about the year 1630, and that these sons left many descendants scattered in the different towns in which they settled, this gave confirmation to the idea; and he was forthwith very generally installed as that common progenitor. But a closer investigation of early records shows that this was quite a mistake. The lists of persons admitted freemen in Massachusetts, during eighteen years from the settlement, show eight of the name, only two of whom have Christian names like those belonging to the nine members of the family of Henry. Another and a different Adams is found coming to Plymouth in the Fortune, eighteen years earlier. Still another is known to havegone to Virginia. Perhaps there were more who went to other colonies, in which the name is yet continued. Hence it is certain that no inference of consanguinity, at least on this side of the Atlantic, can be drawn from the mere fact of possessing the name in common.

In truth, the name occurs frequently in England. Mr. Lower, in the latest edition of his work on surnames, has added a list of sixty of those most common in England and Wales, as shown by the general registry of births, deaths, and marriages during the year, from July, 1837, to July, 1838. In that list the name of Adams comes in numerically as the sixtieth and last.

[2 ]This makes eleven heads in the family. The grant of lands is to only ten. In some accounts it has been said that one son returned to England. The fact is so stated in the inscription on the tomb of Henry Adams, which was placed there by the subject of this biography. There is no authority for it but tradition, and the secondary evidence presented by the absence of all known descendants from him who was named John. Dr. Alden makes the same statement, in his curious collection of American Epitaphs—a work in which it is much to be regretted that errors swarm so as materially to affect its value.

[1 ]Of this son, John, mentioned in the will, who removed to Boston, Samuel Adams, of the Revolution, was the grandson. So that Joseph Adams was the common ancestor of Samuel and John Adams, at three removes.

[1 ]Left blank in the copy. The name has not been ascertained.

[2 ]This is not quite accurate. A copy so dated exists, unsigned; but a later will, actually upon the record at the probate office, is dated 1 March, 1734. Its provisions vary from those here described, but not sufficiently to be material at this day.

[1 ]This is left blank in the original. Mendon was incorporated in 1660. It is not clear that any of the sons of the first Henry removed there, but some of their children certainly did.

[2 ]The inventory returns £349. 4. 0.

[1 ]He died on the 25th of May, 1760.

On the back of the office copy of his will is the following early memorandum, in the handwriting of his son, the subject of this memoir.

“This testator had a good education, though not at college, and was a very capable and useful man. In his early life he was an officer of militia, afterwards a deacon of the church, and a selectman of the town; almost all the business of the town being managed by him in that department for twenty years together; a man of strict piety, and great integrity; much esteemed and beloved, wherever he was known, which was not far, his sphere of life being not extensive.”

The inventory of his estate returns £1330. 9. 8.

The narrative thus given in this preliminary chapter may stand for the history, not of one, but of most of the families spread over the territory of New England during the colonial period, whose hard labor and persevering, but unobtrusive virtues, made it what it is.


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