“Write without fear, and…

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.





About Cheri

Writer, artist, cable television host, grandmother to four!
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9 Responses to “Write without fear, and…

  1. Richard says:

    And to think she did all this for love of her husband. Behind every great man there is a great woman.

  2. wkkortas says:

    As I’m sure you know, winter in St. Petersburg is truly winter. Obviously, the good Louisa was no porcelain doll of a woman.

    • Cheri says:

      Yes. The descriptions of the St. Petersburg winters made me freezing just to read them. The early darkness of winter, the busyness of her husband, the time she spent alone and lonely, the snobbery of the Russian elite, the slowness of the mail (took 6 months to arrive from time of mailing)–all added up to a chilling experience.

  3. Brighid says:

    Another book for me to read! I loved and reread the letters of pioneer women who came West, everyday women who did amazing things. Strength of character, and an abiding love.

  4. Cheri says:

    Yes, Brighid. I am sure you have read, then, Willa Cather’s stories of prairie women and their strength. I had no idea about Louisa Adams. It’s not all perfect. She was against slavery in 1821 but did nothing about it. I still have half the book to go, so we will see how it all ends up.

  5. shoreacres says:

    This occurs to me: Louisa Adams ought to be even more admired, for she wrote without fear — and then signed her name. Beyond that, she said, “Write what you think.” Much of what is written today would be vastly improved by a little thought — even where people are willing to sign their names, and not opt for the anonymity of the internet.

    I’ll be interested to hear more about this one.

  6. Christopher says:

    You describe Louisa Adams as “……wife of former president John Quincy Adams……”

    Then you talk of Louisa communicating in writing with “……her father-in-law, former president John Adams, with her husband, and with so many others……..:”

    This implies that John Adams and her husband were two different people. Could you clear this up?

    Assuming, though, that Louisa was in fact married to John Adams, she appears to have been the sort of wife who, regardless of all her many, many vicissitudes, Stood By Her Man.

    You imply this biography of Louisa Adams was based largely on her letters to and from the important personages in her life. It’s a good thing they didn’t have the internet in those days, because Louisa would doubtless have sent and received e-mails instead of handwritten letters.

    It’s probably safe to say that Louisa’s e-mails then, would later on have been zapped, in the way e-mails today invariably are. Hence the biography of Louisa that you’re currently reading, would likely never have been written, and she would consequently have remained forever in obscurity.

  7. Cheri says:

    Hi Christopher,
    John Adams was the 2nd President of the US. His wife was Abigail Adams.
    John Quincy Adams was the 6th President of the US. His wife was Louisa Adams.

    Father and son.

    And yes, agreed about the poaching of the Internet. The author of this splendid biography inserts many many quotations. I am enjoying the factual nature of this book.

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