put down on your paper what you think, without thinking of what you must say, and your letters will be most acceptable,” wrote Louisa Adams, wife of former president John Quincy Adams, in 1821.
This growing confidence in her keen ability to communicate in writing with her father-in-law, former president John Adams, with her husband, and with so many others in Washington, D.C. at the time, was slow to develop.
Born in London to an English mother and an American father, who struggled throughout their own difficult lives, Louisa Johnson Adams and her life of pluck deserve the attention that a new book entitled “Louisa” lavishes on her.
What a woman she became. What coping skills she honed.
John Quincy was not the easiest man to live with. They fought often, mainly through their written correspondence. But they made up. He flirted with her in writing (which I love too!) She teased back.
How they held their marriage together, I am not sure. Grief and disappointment punctuated their years. They lost many babies, maybe 10, to miscarriage, their only daughter in infancy, two grown sons, and his beloved mother, Abigail Adams,in a short period of time.
In 1809, he accepted a diplomatic position in St. Petersburg and demanded that she accompany him to the frozen north where Tsar Alexander and his family lived in luxury. She endured six years there, often alone. When John Quincy was transferred to Paris, he left a year ahead of her.
That she singlehandedly wrapped up their life in St. Petersburg in February, on her 40th birthday, in the dead of a frigid Russian winter–after her husband, then a plenipotentiary, had left her there to sell their furniture, hire the staff to accompany her on the 1000-mile journey to Paris–is nothing short of a bravery I so admire.
She bought the carriage, had sleigh runners installed on it, kept the wheels for use when the snow melted, took her 10-year-old son Charles, and hired two men unknown to her to navigate and protect them against the ravages of soldiers on the run from Napoleon. The perilous journey took about 40 days.
When she arrived safely in Paris, John Quincy was at the theater.
I’m not sure what to make of her story, as I have not finished the book, but my take-away at this point is that fundamentally, we are all alone. We make our lives what they will be. We march ahead despite our fears.