Pulitzer Prize-winning author David McCullough has written a great deal about John Adams and his family, but The Rye Historical Society has a scoop for the great American historian.
Pulitzer Prize-winning author David McCullough has written a great deal about John Adams and his family, but The Rye Historical Society has a scoop for the great American historian. Director Sheri Jordan informed us that while accessioning the Parsons Family Papers, the Historical Society came across an envelope addressed to “John Adams Junior, student at Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts”. It was signed across the top, “J. Q. Adams” and postmarked September 26, 1822.
“Obviously, we wanted to know if this was authentic,” said Jordan. “I sent an email to the Massachusetts Historical Society, who are the keepers of the Adams Family Papers, and sent an email to the head of Books and Manuscripts at Sotheby’s. Sotheby’s sent me the name of their contact at the Adams Family papers and I sent an email that evening.”
Meantime (thanks to Wikipedia), Jordan was able to verify that John Quincy Adams’ son John Adams Jr. did attend Harvard University. However, he was expelled before graduation in 1823.
The 1822 letter from father to son would have been written while John Quincy Adams was Secretary of State for James Monroe, and probably written while he was drafting the Monroe Doctrine (released in 1823). John Quincy Adams was a prolific diarist and all his diaries are available online at the Massachusetts Historical Society website. Jordan scanned them on the relevant dates “but nothing came up about writing a wayward son at Harvard.”
The next morning, she received an email from one of the assistant editors of the Adams Family Papers who asked for a scan of the envelope, but who also sent them a scan of the letter, which would have been enclosed in the envelope.
“I sent them a scan immediately and the editor told me it was indeed authentic, as John Quincy Adams Jr. annotated all of his correspondence and you could see his handwriting on the outside of the envelope.”
Jordan read the letter and discovered “that all parents worry about their college-age children. The letter is full of exhortations from John Quincy Adams to his son, that if he would “just apply himself and work harder” he would see his marks improve.
Sadly, it was no more effective for a future President of the United States than most parents today. John Quincy Adams Jr. was expelled from Harvard for poor marks by the end of the year.
Both the envelope and the letter are currently on display at the Square House.