Excerpt from John Adams by David McCullough, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reading Guide |  Reviews |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

John Adams

by David McCullough

John Adams
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    May 2001, 752 pages
    Paperback:
    Sep 2002, 752 pages

  • Rate this book


Buy This Book

About this Book

Print Excerpt


The first of the line, Henry Adams of Barton St. David in Somersetshire, England, with his wife Edith Squire and nine children -- eight sons and a daughter -- had arrived in Braintree in the year 1638, in the reign of King Charles I, nearly a century before John Adams was born. They were part of the great Puritan migration, Dissenters from the Church of England who, in the decade following the founding of the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1630, crossed the North Atlantic intent on making a new City of God, some twenty thousand people, most of whom came as families. Only one, the seventh and youngest of Henry Adams's eight sons remained in Braintree. He was Joseph, and he was succeeded by a second Joseph -- one of Henry's eighty-nine grandchildren! -- who married Hannah Bass, a granddaughter of John and Priscilla Alden, and they had eleven children, of whom one was another John, born in 1691.

They were people who earned their daily bread by the work of their hands. The men were all farmers who, through the long winters, in New England fashion, worked at other trades for "hard money," which was always scarce. The first Henry Adams and several of his descendants were maltsters, makers of malt from barley for use in baking or brewing beer, a trade carried over from England. The first John Adams, remembered as Deacon John, was a farmer and shoemaker, a man of "sturdy, unostentatious demeanor," who, like his father, "played the part of a solid citizen," as tithing man, constable, lieutenant in the militia, selectman, and ultimately church deacon, taking his place on the deacon's bench before the pulpit.

In 1734, in October, the golden time of year on the Massachusetts shore, Deacon John Adams, at age forty-three, married Susanna Boylston of Brookline. She was twenty-five, and from a family considered of higher social standing than that of her husband. Nothing written in her own hand would survive -- no letters, diaries, or legal papers with her signature -- nor any correspondence addressed to her by any of her family, and so, since it is also known that letters were frequently read aloud to her, there is reason to believe that Susanna Boylston Adams was illiterate.

One year later, on October 19, 1735, by the Old Style calendar, their first child, a son, was born and given his father's name. When England adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1752, October 19 became October 30.

"What has preserved this race of Adamses in all their ramifications in such numbers, health, peace, comfort, and mediocrity?" this firstborn son of Deacon John would one day write to Benjamin Rush. "I believe it is religion, without which they would have been rakes, fops, sots, gamblers, starved with hunger, or frozen with cold, scalped by Indians, etc., etc., etc., been melted away and disappeared...." In truth, he was extremely proud of his descent from "a line of virtuous, independent New England farmers." That virtue and independence were among the highest of mortal attainments, John Adams never doubted. The New England farmer was his own man who owned his own land, a freeholder, and thus the equal of anyone.

The Braintree of Adams's boyhood was a quiet village of scattered houses and small neighboring farmsteads strung along the old coast road, the winding main thoroughfare from Boston to Plymouth, just back from the very irregular south shore of Massachusetts Bay. The setting was particularly picturesque, with orchards, stone walls, meadows of salt hay, and broad marshlands through which meandered numerous brooks and the Neponset River. From the shoreline the land sloped gently upward to granite outcroppings and hills, including Penn's Hill, the highest promontory, close by the Adams farm. Offshore the bay was dotted with small islands, some wooded, some used for grazing sheep. Recalling his childhood in later life, Adams wrote of the unparalleled bliss of roaming the open fields and woodlands of the town, of exploring the creeks, hiking the beaches, "of making and sailing boats...swimming, skating, flying kites and shooting marbles, bat and ball, football...wrestling and sometimes boxing," shooting at crows and ducks, and "running about to quiltings and frolics and dances among the boys and girls." The first fifteen years of his life, he said, "went off like a fairytale."

Copyright © 2001 by David McCullough

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

One Month Free Membership

Join Today!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: Hot Milk
    Hot Milk
    by Deborah Levy
    When people reach their early 20s, they often choose to go abroad – they want to get away from...
  • Book Jacket: Ninety-Nine Stories of God
    Ninety-Nine Stories of God
    by Joy Williams
    I have to preface this review by saying that I am not a fan of religious fiction - not even books ...
  • Book Jacket: The Book That Matters Most
    The Book That Matters Most
    by Ann Hood
    BookBrowse First Impression reviewers appreciated the innovative structure of The Book That Matters ...

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    All the Ugly and Wonderful Things
    by Bryn Greenwood

    A memorable coming-of-age tale about loyalty, defiance, and the power of love.

    Read Member Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    Ashes of Fiery Weather
    by Kathleen Donohoe

    "Admirers of Pete Hamill and Kate Atkinson will appreciate this gripping novel." - Library Journal

    Read Member Reviews

Book Discussions
Book Jacket
Circling the Sun
by Paula McLain

An intoxicatingly vivid portrait of colonial Kenya and its privileged inhabitants.

About the book
Join the discussion!
Win this book!
Win Lady Cop Makes Trouble

The Kopp Sisters Return!

One of the nation's first female deputy sheriffs returns in another gripping adventure based on fact.

Enter

Word Play

Solve this clue:

Manners M (T) M

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.

 
X

Free Weekly Newsletter

Keep up with what's happening in the world of books:
Reviews, previews, interviews and more!



Spam Free: Your email is never shared with anyone; opt out any time.