07 August 2011

For Love and Country: John and Abigail Adams and the United States of America, part 6

1776 - 1777

“O the fatal Ideas which are connected with the sound [of cannon]. How many of our dear country men must fall?”
--Abigail Adams to John Adams, March 4, 1776 (Butterfield, I. 353)

            The new year would be a significant year for the American Colonies and John was a big part of that.  In July, the Colonies declared themselves independent from Great Britain in a document that John assisted in drafting.  He was directly involved in the creation of the country which he loved.  The highs of the first part of 1776 - the evacuation of the British from Boston and the signing of the Declaration of Independence among them - were dampened by military defeats in the field in the second half of the year.  Military victories by the Americans in the last week of 1776 and early 1777 raised the spirits of the country again, but the ups and downs would continue for both the country and John.  In July 1777, Abigail gave birth to a stillborn child and in September John and the rest of the Congress had to evacuate Philadelphia with the British on their heels.  The Americans had another substantial military victory in October, but the British still occupied the capital of Philadelphia.  Through all of the events, John remained in the service of his country and in communication with his wife.
 John left Braintree on January 21, 1776 and arrived in Philadelphia on February 8th.  Abigail’s letters to him, as usual, would be filled with details of family and friends, small amounts of intelligence and accounts of events.  From March 2nd through the 4th, there was much action surrounding Dorchester Heights, just outside of Boston.  Abigail again went up to Penn’s Hill to “hear the amazing roar of cannon” and “see every shell which was thrown” (Butterfield, I. 353).  The British would leave Boston Harbor shortly thereafter.
            The victory confirmed to John that he was doing the right thing.  “My own [interests] have never been considered by me, in Competition with theirs [his fellow Citizens],” he wrote to Abigail after Dorchester Heights.  “My Ease, my domestic Happiness, my rural Pleasures, my Little Property, my personal Liberty, my Reputation, my Life, have little Weight and ever had, in my own Estimation, in Comparison of the great Object of my Country” (Butterfield, I. 363).  John was never in doubt that he was making the right choice in serving his country, and the victory reaffirmed that sacrifices were required in order to secure the freedom of the country, however long it might take.
Abigail was having a hard time, however, without John.  She missed him and did not think she was competent enough to handle all of the chores related to the farm, land, and household and whatever items of John’s that needed to be cared for (Butterfield, I. 375).  Abigail, however, never asked John to quit his public life and return to his private.  In her letters, she now signed herself “Portia” after the long-suffering wife of Brutus, the ancient Roman statesman (McCullough 26), implying that just as Portia bore all of Brutus’ fortunes, good and bad, Abigail would likewise do with John.
            John was appointed to a committee that would draft a “declaration of independency.”  Despite the many hours John spent in Congress, he thought often about Abigail, sometimes writing while working.  “Is there no Way for two friendly Souls, to converse together, altho the Bodies are 400 Miles off?–Yes by Letter–But I want a better Communication.  I want to hear you think, or to see your Thoughts,” he wrote to her.  “Instead of domestic Felicity, I am destined to public Contentions.” (Butterfield, I. 400, 399).  Abigail, never at a loss for words, replied, “All domestick pleasures and injoyments are absorbed in the great and important duty you owe your Country.”  And never forgetting to let John know how much she missed him, she added, “Thus do I supress every wish, and silence every Murmer, acquiesceing in a painfull Seperation from the companion of my youth, and the Friend of my Heart” (Butterfield, I. 402).
            Although Abigail was usually more sentimental and showed her love for John in words more often than he did, he was not short on his expressions of love for her.  “Among all the Disappointments, and Perplexities, which have fallen to my share in Life, nothing has contributed so much to support my Mind, as the choice Blessing of a Wife,” he wrote to her at the end of May. “This has been the cheering Consolation of my Heart, in my most solitary, gloomy and disconsolate Hours.”  John let her know how often he thought of her and how he wanted to be with her and the children.  “I want to take a Walk with you in the Garden–to go over to the Common–the Plain–the Meadow.  I want to take Charles in one Hand and John upon my left, to view the Corn Fields, the orchards, &c.” (Butterfield, I. 412, 413).  Such emotion shown by John in his letters delighted Abigail.
            The letters meant so much to each of them, and with events changing rapidly around them, John purchased a blank folio book at the store of William Trickett, a stationer on Front Street in Philadelphia, and began to make copies of all of his letters (Butterfield, Book 135).  Abigail had already been saving all of John’s letters, and John had been saving all of Abigail’s, but with the outbreak of war, the post would not be as reliable, and John did not want to lose a single letter.  The letters had intense sentimental value, but John and Abigail may have also sensed that they were in the process of watching and making history.
            After the Declaration of Independence was signed in July 1776, John wrote a letter home to Abigail letting her know the good news.  Abigail wrote back, “Tho your Letters never fail to give me pleasure, be the subject what it will, yet it was greatly heightened by the prospect of the future happiness and glory of our Country.”   She also informed him that she and the children were sick from the smallpox inoculation they had received (Butterfield, II. 46).  John was upset at the news.  He did not like that Abigail did not inform him of the family receiving the dangerous inoculation and he was not happy that he was not there with his family.  He could not leave, though, and he let her know that now, more than ever, he was needed in Philadelphia for the good of the country.  Abigail would understand and would explain that was why she did not tell him sooner (Butterfield, II. 50).  Again, John and Abigail both sacrificed for their country, but their commitment to each other remained as strong as ever.
            The time away wore on each of them.  Abigail spent stormy days reading old letters John had sent her.  She spent her nights before falling asleep thinking about John and when they could be together again.  John, for his part, also reflected on time he spent with Abigail.  Month after month he would write of the sadness he had of being away from her, especially leaving her in January, knowing she was pregnant again (John). “When I reflect upon the Prospect before me of so long an Absence from all that I hold dear in this World[. . .]it makes me melancholy,” John wrote in February.  And his feelings continued into March; “I want to wander, in my Meadows, to ramble over my Mountains, and to sit in Solitude, or with her who has all my Heart, by the side of the Brooks” (Butterfield, II. 153, 176). 
            By summer, John was at a loss.  He missed home and he felt as if he was accomplishing nothing in Philadelphia. “Next Month completes Three Years, that I have been devoted to the Servitude of Liberty.  A slavery it has been to me, whatever the World may think of it,” John wrote.  “To a Man, whose Attachments to his Family, are as strong as mine, Absence alone from such a Wife and such Children, would be a great sacrifice.  But in addition to this Seperation, what have I not done?  What have I not suffered?  What have I not hazarded?”  (Butterfield, II. 153, 276-277).  Furthermore, he was to find out that Abigail was sick again.  John wrote her again, expressing his concern and wishing he could be near her, even if he could only say a few kind words.  He wished that he could relieve her of all her pain.  He wanted to be at her side.  Bad news would follow again, less than a week later.  On July 16, 1777, John received a letter from Abigail explaining that she was okay, but the child had been stillborn.  John was grateful that Abigail had made it through, but was devastated at the loss of their child.  Still, John did not leave Philadelphia and his country, and Abigail did not ask him to do any such thing.
            As sorrow struck their lives and things were becoming more intense in the Colonies, John wrote to Abigail as much as to future readers. “Posterity!  You will never know, how much it cost the present Generation, to preserve your Freedom!  I hope you will make a good Use of it” (Butterfield, II. 153, 224).  He kept Abigail informed on the events surrounding him, and she did the same.  Letters between the two included their usual expressions of love for each other, but also contained military maneuvers, politics, and news about friends, family and other important people.  Their relationship and their country were woven into their letters.
            In September, the Congress was forced to evacuate Philadelphia to York, as the British moved in and occupied the Colonial capital.  John, in his letters, as he had always done, reported to Abigail the layout of towns he passed through and the people that inhabited them.  October marked thirteen years of marriage for John and Abigail, three of which they spent apart.  Reflecting on this, Abigail wrote to John that she has only endured the separation because she believed John was doing the right thing in serving his country.  She hoped the present generation would see his sacrifices and that future generations would understand what he was doing and why he was doing it.  This was why she was willing to give him up for so long.  Neither was aware that soon he would be much further away for a much longer time.

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