John Adams Sr.
John Adams

(1691-02-08)February 8, 1691
DiedMay 25, 1761(1761-05-25) (aged 70)
OccupationFarmer and minister
SpouseSusanna Boylston
  • Joseph Adams Jr.
  • Hannah Adams
  • Joseph Adams Sr. (grandfather)
  • Henry Adams (great-grandfather)

John Adams Sr. (February 8, 1691 – May 25, 1761), also known as Deacon John, was a British-North American colonial farmer and minister. He was the father of the second U.S. president, John Adams Jr.,[1][2] and grandfather of the sixth president, John Quincy Adams.[3] He was the son of Joseph Adams Jr. (1654–1737), the grandson of Joseph Adams Sr. (1626–1694), and the great-grandson of Henry Adams, who emigrated from Braintree, Essex, in England to Massachusetts Bay Colony in about 1638.[4] He was also descended from John and Priscilla Alden.[4][5] Adams worked as a farmer and cobbler (also called a cord-wainer or shoemaker) for most of his life.[2][6]

Adams' descendants include many prominent persons in American history, and his home is a National Park, the Adams National Historical Park.[7] Not only was he the father and grandfather of presidents; he also was a first cousin, once removed, of Samuel Adams.[8]


John Adams Birthplace, owned by John Adams Sr. from 1720 until his death
John Adams Birthplace, owned by John Adams Sr. from 1720 until his death

In 1720, Adams purchased a farm in what is now Quincy, Massachusetts (then called the "north precinct" of Braintree, Massachusetts).[9][10] The location of his farm, and where his children were born, is now part of Adams National Historical Park.[7] This saltbox house, a simple and common dwelling characterized by its sloping roof,[11] is operated by the National Park Service as the John Adams Birthplace, and is open to the public. On December 19, 1960, the birthplace was designated a National Historic Landmark.[12][13] The future President lived here with his parents on the farm until 1764, when he married Abigail Smith. It is a few feet from the John Quincy Adams Birthplace. Oddly, his house lay at an angle to the road.[11]

Adams was primarily a farmer during the growing season, and also worked as a shoemaker,[2][14] for which he earned "hard money" as a trade during the winters.[6] He was a freeholder, who owned rather than rented his land.[6] He was proud of being a landowner and felt that land was a good investment,[15] only once selling land: ten acres to pay for his son John Adams' Harvard education.[16]

Adams was also a deacon in his church, a lieutenant in the Massachusetts colonial militia, a tax collector, and a selectman of the Town of Braintree (for 20 years, now Quincy).[17][5][18][19] He was a Congregationalist (that is, Puritan) deacon.[5] The younger John Adams wrote of the religion his father was so passionate for, "[they are] bearers of freedom, a cause that still had holy urgency."[20] The future president was first known by reputation as the "dutiful son of Deacon John".[21]

As a selectman or town councilman, for 20 years, he supervised the poor house, schools, and roads.[3][22] His wife forced him to resign as selectman after a "family row" over his taking in a destitute young female.[23] A leading local man, other men would stop by "Deacon John's house" to discuss business or religion.[24] He even received a visit from Punkapaug and Neponset Indian chiefs.[25]

Adams attended Harvard College, and sent his eldest son there as well.[26] He did not want his son to be a farmer, but rather, a minister.[27]

Although he was a simple man who "never set foot outside of New England,"[28] his son John Adams was proud of his father, praising him in private correspondence to Benjamin Rush as well as in his public obituary, which he wrote on the back of his father's will.[29] The president praised his father and paternal ancestors as "independent country gentlemen," who had not gone bankrupt, didn't gamble, and had never committed fraud.[30]

Marriage and family

Adams married well, to Susanna Boylston, from a prominent family of scientists and medical doctors, in October 1734.[2][6] His bride came from the wealthy and respected line of Boylstons of Brookline.[6][31][32] Susanna had a "higher social standing" than him.[6] When their first son went to Harvard, his class rank was determined primarily by his mother's socio-economic status.[33] Since it is known that he and his sons read out letters to her, Susanna might have been illiterate, as were many women of her class and day.[6]

The Adams family "lived plainly."[24] Together they raised a family of three sons, of which John Adams was the oldest;[34] their other sons were Peter and Elihu.[35] Peter Boylston Adams was a farmer and militia captain of Braintree, Massachusetts. Elihu Adams was a company commander in the militia during the American Revolution, who died from dysentery early in the war in 1775.[36]

Adams bequeathed his son the "humble notions of equality and fairness."[2] He was a strict father who appears to have believed in patriarchy.[18] He raised his sons to join the militia, and would rap out reveille on his kitchen table.[5] Like many families of the day, he homeschooled his sons.[26] He later sent his son John to a private school run by Joseph Marsh.[37]

The senior John pressed upon his son to live up to his high Puritan origins, which young John continued to strive towards for the rest of his life. When his eldest son went to Harvard College, aged sixteen, his father expected him to become a minister, as the elder had done.[26][27][38] Adams was concerned that his son would become a mere farmer as he also had been, and had known how difficult a life it had been.[27][39] However, younger John became a schoolteacher in Worcester in 1756 and, later, decided to study law in the office of James Putnam.

Adams died of influenza on May 25, 1761, at the age of 70,[40] and he was buried in Braintree.[10] His widow Susanna later married John Hall.[41] His son purchased his house and 53 acres after his death.[42]


  1. ^ Harold I. Gullan, First fathers: the men who inspired our Presidents, pp. 1, 7 (John Wiley & Sons, 2004) ISBN 978-0-471-46597-3.
  2. ^ a b c d e John Adams and John P. Diggins, The Portable John Adams, (Editor John P. Diggins), (Penguin, 2004) ISBN 978-0-14-243778-0. Found online at Google Books. Accessed February 28, 2011.
  3. ^ a b Doug Wead, The raising of a president: the mothers and fathers of our nation's leaders, pp. 1, 6–7, 40–56 (Simon and Schuster, 2005). ISBN 978-0-7434-9726-8. Found online at Google Books. Accessed February 28, 2011.
  4. ^ a b McCullough, pp. 29–30.
  5. ^ a b c d Thomas Fleming, The Intimate Lives of the Founding Fathers, pp. 126–127. (HarperCollins, 2010) ISBN 978-0-06-113913-0. Found online at Google Books. Accessed February 28, 2011.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g McCullough, p. 30.
  7. ^ a b Zachary Kent, John Adams: Creating a Nation: America's founding fathers, p. 13 (Enslow Publishers, 2004) ISBN 978-0-7660-2183-9. Found online at Google books. Accessed February 28, 2011.
  8. ^ Bud Hannings, American Revolutionary War leaders: a biographical dictionary, pp. 5–6. (McFarland, 2009) ISBN 978-0-7864-4379-6.
  9. ^ Chambers Biographical Dictionary, ISBN 0-550-18022-2, page 8.
  10. ^ a b McCullough, p. 29.
  11. ^ a b McCullough, pp. 31-32.
  12. ^ "John Adams Birthplace". National Historic Landmark summary listing. National Park Service. Archived from the original on 2008-05-02. Retrieved 2007-11-16.
  13. ^ Polly M. Rettig and Charles E. Shedd Jr. (March 5, 1975) National Register of Historic Places Inventory-Nomination: John Adams birthplace, National Park Service and Accompanying 2 photos, exterior, from 1974.
  14. ^ McCullough, pp. 29, 30, 414, 460.
  15. ^ McCullough, p. 63.
  16. ^ McCullough, p. 35.
  17. ^ McCullough, pp. 30, 52, 73.
  18. ^ a b Edith Gelles, Abigail and John: Portrait of a Marriage, pp. 6-8 (HarperCollins, 2010) ISBN 978-0-06-135412-0. Found online at Google books. Accessed February 28, 2011.
  19. ^ McCullough, pp. 52-53, citing John Adams' obituary of his father.
  20. ^ John Adams, 1st Vice President (1789–1797)". From United States Senate website. Retrieved 2007-08-01.
  21. ^ McCullough, p. 36.
  22. ^ McCullough, pp. 46, 52-53, 73.
  23. ^ McCullough, p. 46.
  24. ^ a b McCullough, p. 32.
  25. ^ McCullough, p. 72.
  26. ^ a b c Martin Kelly and Melissa Kelly, The Everything American Presidents Book: All You Need to Know about the Leaders Who Shaped U.S. History, p. 24. (Everything Books, 2007) ISBN 978-1-59869-258-7. Found online at Google Books. Accessed February 28, 2011.
  27. ^ a b c McCullough, pp. 34, 36, 37.
  28. ^ McCullough, p. 23.
  29. ^ McCullough, pp. 30, 33, 52-53.
  30. ^ McCullough, pp. 36, 414, 453.
  31. ^ " website". Archived from the original on 2009-04-18. Retrieved 2010-03-19.
  32. ^ "John Adams autobiography, part 1, "John Adams," through 1776, sheet 2 of 53 [electronic edition]". Adams Family Papers: An Electronic Archive. Massachusetts Historical Society.
  33. ^ McCullough, p. 37.
  34. ^ "John Adams Biography: The Adams Family of Braintree".
  35. ^ "USA: Biography John Adams I". Archived from the original on 2006-07-20.
  36. ^ McCullough, p. 25.
  37. ^ McCullough, p. 34.
  38. ^ John Adams Library website Archived 2012-05-26 at
  39. ^ David Hornfischer and Elsa Hornfischer, Father Knew Best: Wit and Wisdom from the Dads of Celebrities, p. (David and Elsa Hornfischer, 1997) ISBN 978-0-452-27772-4. Found online at Google Books. Accessed February 28, 2011.
  40. ^ McCullough, pp. 52-53.
  41. ^ Bud Hannings, American Revolutionary War leaders: a biographical dictionary, p. 6 (?) (McFarland, 2009) ISBN 978-0-7864-4379-6.
  42. ^ McCullough, p. 64.