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Rufus W. Griswold, The Republican Court, or, American Society in the Days of Washington. New and rev. ed. (New York, 1856), plate opposite 91. First ed., 1855.


The eldest child of President John Adams and his wife, Abigail Smith Adams, and their only daughter to reach adulthood, Abigail Adams Smith never became a fixture in the Republican Court. Although she was related to or otherwise acquainted with some of its most prestigious members, she frequently expressed discontent with fashionable society in America.

As a young woman, Abigail (known to her family as “Nabby”) spent four years in London and Paris. In 1786, while in London, she wed Colonel William Stephens Smith (1755-1816), a member of her father’s staff who had served as an officer during Revolutionary War. Returning to America in 1788, the couple settled in Jamaica, a town on Long Island just east of New York City. At this time, the Congress of the Confederation was in session, constructing and debating the ratification of the Constitution. Abigail wrote to her mother on May 12, 1788: “Congress are sitting; but one hears little more of them than if they were inhabitants of the new-discovered planet.” [1]

In 1788, upon her arrival in New York City, Abigail was unacquainted with most of the society women, but quickly received social calls from sixty women, and reported, “I have my hands full … in returning visits.”[2] After settling in Jamaica, she confided in a letter to her mother that “I have been several times to New-York, and have been treated with as much civility as I had any reason to expect, or wished; but there is no family where I can make a home … with freedom and unreserve.”[3] Abigail expressed her disenchantment with the formalities of social interactions in the Republican Court and complained of the wasted time and energy society spent at parties and dinners. She generally stayed at home on Long Island, where her husband has been raised and where, she told her mother, “I have as much society as I wish in our own family.”[4]

Abigail did, however, become more involved in the Republican Court after the arrival of her parents in New York City, which occurred when John Adams became vice president to George Washington in 1789. That same year, Smith was appointed marshal for the Distinct of New York, which brought him into the company of high-ranking officials. Accordingly, the Smiths dined with the Washingtons at least once a week, often sharing the company of Governor and Mrs. Clinton of New York, Citizen Genêt, and certainly the Adamses. However, the socializing was short-lived; when the new government moved to Philadelphia in 1790, William and Abigail Smith, with their three children, remained in New York.

In 1800 Smith was appointed surveyor of the Port of New York by his father-in-law, then President Adams, but later on made some decisions which would hurt the family’s reputation and finances. In 1806, Smith, as the New York customs surveyor, attempted to ship men and supplies out of New York to support the Venezuelan revolution led by Francisco de Miranda. He was found out, and when dismissed by President Jefferson, stripped of his position. The Smith family would continue to have financial difficulties due to poor investments and business ventures. In 1807, they moved to Lebanon, in central New York State, and began to recover socially and politically, although Abigail’s health began to decline. William Smith was elected to the Fourteenth Congress in 1813, the same year that Abigail Adams Smith died from breast cancer, at the age of forty-eight, at her parents’ home in Massachusetts. [5]

Written by Emily Toner; edited by Annie Turner.

Another portrait appears in:

Abigail A. Smith. Journal and Correspondence of Miss Adams (New York, 1841), frontispiece.


[1] Abigail A. Smith to Abigail S. Adams, May 12, 1788, quoted in Rufus W. Griswold, The Republican Court, or, American Society in the Days of Washington (New York: D. Appleton & Company, 1855), 92.

[2] Abigail A. Smith to John Quincy Adams, June 8, 1788, quoted in Adams Family Correspondence (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2007) 8: 271.

[3] Abigail A. Smith to Abigail S. Adams, September 7, 1788, quoted in ibid., 8: 292.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, s.v. "Smith, William Stephens," " http://bioguide.congress.gov/scripts/
(accessed February 25, 2009); Online: The Adams Family, s.v. "Abigail Adams Smith," http://www.masshist.org/adams/biographical.cfm#AA2 (accessed February 25, 2009).


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