Will of Deacon John Adams, with Comments by His Son John
In the Name of God Amen. The Eighth day of January in the year of our Lord one Thousand Seven hundred and Sixty, and in the thirty third year of his Majestys Reign King George the Second &c. I John Adams of Braintree in the County of Suffolk in the Province of the Massachusetts Bay in New England Gentleman,1 being in Health of Body and of Perfect mind and Memory thanks be given to God therefor. Calling to mind the Mortality of my Body and knowing that it is appointed for man once to dye, Do make and ordain this my last Will and Testam[ent], That is to Say, Principally and first of all I Give and Recommend my soul into the Hands of God that gave it, hopeing thro’ the Merits, death and Passion of my saviour Jesus Christ, to have full and free pardon and forgiveness of all my Sins and to Enherit Eternal life. My Body I Commit to the Earth to be decently buried at the discretion of my Executors hereafter named Believing that at the General Resurrection I shall Receive the same again by the Mighty power of God. And as for such worldly Estate where with it hath pleased God to bless me in this Life, I Give, devise and dispose of the same in the following manner and form. That is to Say, First I Will that all those Debts which I owe in right or Conscience to any Person or persons whatsoever shall be well and truly paid in Convenient time after my decease by my Executors hereafter named. Item I Give to Susannah my well beloved Wife2 to be enjoyed and Improved by her during her natural life one third of my Real Estate. The third part of my Real Estate [is] to be understood as including not only what I shall be possessed of at my decease but also such as I have made over to any of my Sons by deeds of gift. Also I Give to my wife one third part of my personal Estate to her and her heirs and assigns. Item I have given my Son John Adams a Libberal Education also I have given my Son John Adams by deed of gift one half of the house that Doctr. Elisha Savel lives in that I bought of Mr. John and Richard Billing with half the Barn and half the land belonging to the said House which I Confirm to him and his heirs and Assigns forever to which I add the other half of the above said House and Barn and land thereto belonging the whole Containing about ten Acres be it more or less3 also the Priviledge [of] drawing Water out of my Well, and I also give to my Son John Adams and his heirs &c. twelve acres part orchard and part Pasture land, adjoyning to Mr. John Curtis’s land. Also about Eight Acres of Fresh Meadow adjoyning to Benjamin Vesey’s land and the Town Common. Also two small wood Lotts that I bought of Brother Owen one Esteemed Six Acres and the other four.4 All which I give to him and his heirs and Assigns forever. Item I Give and Bequeath to my Son Peter Boylston Adams5 and to his heirs and Assigns forever the house I live in with the Barn and other buildings and all the Lands of the Remainder of my homestead Containing about thirty five Acres.6 Also I Give to my Son Peter Boylston Adams and his heirs and assigns four Acres of Salt Marsh two at Rock Island and two at the farms.7 Also a Quarter part of the Seventh Lott in the Six hundred acres so Called lying in partnership with Brother Ebenezer Adams.8 Also the half of about ten Acres lying in partnership with Mr. Samuel Bass, also a Share of Cedar Swamp in the Middle Swamp lying in partnership with Brother Ebenezer Adams. Item I Give and Bequeath to my Son Elihu Adams9 and his heirs and assigns forever my farm in the South Precinct in Braintree Joyning upon Lieut. Joseph Whites Land Easterly, North on Mr. Ruggles land and South on Noah Whitcombs land and West on the River against Lieutenant Joshua Haywards Land.10 Also I Give to my Son Elihu and his heirs and assigns forever my Salt Meadow in Milton at Penny fery so Called Containing two Acres and a half he paying ten pounds Lawfull Money to my Executors in one year after my decease.11 Further my Will is that after my Wife hath had her third part of my personal Estate the other two thirds be improved to pay debts if any be, otherwise to be Equally divided between my three sons. Lastly I do hereby Constitute make and ordain my two sons John Adams and Peter Boylston Adams Executors of this my last Will and Testament. And I do hereby utterly disallow, Revoke and Disanull all and every other and former Testament, Will, Legacies, Bequests and Executors by me in any wise before this time Named, Willed and bequeathed, Ratifying And Confirming this and no other to be my last Will and Testament. In Witness where of I have hereunto set my hand and Seal the day and year above written.
John Adams and a Seal
Signed, sealed, published, pronounced and declared by the said John Adams to be his last Will and Testament in Presence of us the Subscribers— Joseph Field, Elijah Belcher, Ebenezer Adams Junr.
Suffolk ss By the Honble. Thomas Hutchinson Esqr. Judge of Probate &c.
The afore written Will being presented for Probate by the Executors therein named Joseph Feild, Elijah Belcher and Ebenezer Adams Junr. made Oath that they saw John Adams the Subscriber to this Instrument sign the same and also heard him Publish and declare it to be his last Will and Testament and that when he so did he was of sound disposing Mind and Memory according to these Deponents best discerning, and that they set to their hands as Witnesses thereof in the said Testators presence.
Per Jno. Cotton Reg[iste]r
This Testator married Susanna Boylstone, a Daughter of Peter Boylstone, of Brooklyne, who was a son of Thomas Boylstone, of the same Town a Physician, and Brother of Dr. Zabdiel Boylston, the first Practiser of Inoculation for the Small Pox.14
This Match produced John, the Writer of this Memorandum, Peter Boylstone, and Elihu.
This Testator had a good Education, tho not at Colledge, and was a very capable and usefull Man. In his Early Life he was an Officer in a Company of Militia—afterwards a Deacon of the Church, and a select Man of the Town, almost all the Business of the Town being managed by him in that Department for 20 Years together.—A Man of Strict Piety and great Integrity: much esteemed and beloved, wherever he was known, which was not far, his Sphere of Life being not extensive.
Boston April 29. 1774. This is a Copy of my Fathers Will. He lived in an House between the Episcopal Church and the Foot of Penns Hill, in Braintree. This House in His Will is given to my Brother Peter Boylston Adams, and of him was purchased by me, a few Months agone.
What Fortune had he pray? His own:
And better got, than Bestia’s from the Throne.
MS (Adams Papers, Wills and Deeds). Consists of three parts, of which the first and third are printed here: (1) contemporary copy, in an unidentified hand and worn at the edges, of Deacon John Adams’ will, dated 8 Jan. 1760, with appended copy, in same hand, of Judge of Probate Thomas Hutchinson’s authentication of the witnesses’ attestation; the copy is signed and certified by the Register of Suffolk Probate Court, John Cotton, and is docketed: “John Adams’s Will Proved July 10–1761 Copy.” (2) Grant of probate, a printed form filled in, signed by Hutchinson, and certified by Cotton; bears seal of the court and is wafered to upper left corner of first page of will; not printed here, but see note 12. (3) Two memoranda in JA’s hand about his father’s life and character; one undated, the other dated 29 April 1774.
1. John Adams (1691–1761), father of JA, usually called Deacon John to distinguish him from his eldest son, held town, parish, and militia officerships throughout his mature life and is warmly and gracefully eulogized by his son in the comments following the will printed here. The will is sufficient testimony that Deacon John often acted upon the maxim attributed to him, namely, “that he never knew a Piece of Land run away or break” (JA, Diary and Autobiography description begins Diary and Autobiography of John Adams, ed. L. H. Butterfield and others, Cambridge, 1961; 4 vols. description ends , 3:286). The only connected account of this “typical New England yeoman," principally a farmer but often mentioned in contemporary documents as a “cordwainer” (shoemaker), is in CFA2, Three Episodes description begins Charles Francis Adams, Three Episodes of Massachusetts History: The Settlement of Boston Bay; The Antinomian Controversy; A Study of Church and Town Government, Boston and New York, 1892; 2 vols. description ends , 2:714–716, but there are numerous references to him in JA’s Diary and Autobiography description begins Diary and Autobiography of John Adams, ed. L. H. Butterfield and others, Cambridge, 1961; 4 vols. description ends .
2. Susanna (Boylston) Adams (1709–1797) married the elder John Adams in 1734; long outliving him, she in 1766 married Lt. John Hall. In his added comments, below, JA describes her connections with the Boylston family of Brookline; she appears with some frequency in Diary and Autobiography description begins Diary and Autobiography of John Adams, ed. L. H. Butterfield and others, Cambridge, 1961; 4 vols. description ends , and in early volumes of Adams Family Correspondence description begins Adams Family Correspondence, ed. L. H. Butterfield and others, Cambridge, 1963– . description ends .
3. This was the smaller of Deacon John Adams’ two adjacent farmsteads, each having a saltbox “cottage” upon it, separated by only a cartway. They remain in situ on Franklin Street in Quincy today, having been given by the Adams family to the city in 1940, open to the public and administered by the Quincy Historical Society. Deacon Adams acquired the older and more southerly of the two dwellings and the lesser acreage adjacent to it from John and Richard Billings of Boston by a deed dated 13 April 1744 which is now among the Adams Papers, Adams Office Files. At an undetermined date Deacon Adams gave JA half of this house and farm; in his will be bequeathed him the remainder; and here JA established his first law office and in 1764 brought his bride, Abigail (Smith) Adams (AA). All their children were born in the house today known as the John Quincy Adams Birthplace. See JA, Diary and Autobiography description begins Diary and Autobiography of John Adams, ed. L. H. Butterfield and others, Cambridge, 1961; 4 vols. description ends , passim, and especially editorial note at 1:15 and illustration facing p. 256; also early volumes of Adams Family Correspondence description begins Adams Family Correspondence, ed. L. H. Butterfield and others, Cambridge, 1963– . description ends . A valuable illustrated account, now somewhat out of date, was published by HA2, The Birthplaces of John and John Quincy Adams, Quincy, 1936 (reprinted from Old-Time New England, 26:79–99 [Jan. 1936]); this carries the story into the 19th century. More up-to-date and containing both more early and recent information is Waldo C. Sprague, The President John Adams and President John Quincy Adams Birthplaces, Quincy, 1959.
4. Deeds for some, possibly all, of these additional parcels survive in the original Adams Papers or in the Adams Office Files. For example, the woodlots totaling ten acres were bought of Benjamin Owen of Braintree, husband of Deacon Adams’ sister Hannah, 2 Sept. 1736 (Adams Papers, Wills and Deeds).
5. Peter Boylston Adams (1738–1823), JA’s next youngest brother, a farmer and land appraiser, was in 1768 to marry Mary Crosby, by whom he had five children. In his long life he held various town offices, served in the siege of Boston, and became Quincy’s first representative in the General Court, 1792, 1794. But he emerged from obscurity only occasionally, for example in his disagreement with his brother the ex-President over the War of 1812, Peter being an uncompromising New England Federalist. See references to him in JA, Diary and Autobiography description begins Diary and Autobiography of John Adams, ed. L. H. Butterfield and others, Cambridge, 1961; 4 vols. description ends , and in Adams Family Correspondence description begins Adams Family Correspondence, ed. L. H. Butterfield and others, Cambridge, 1963– . description ends (including a notable letter on the climactic events of the siege of Boston, 1:371–372).
6. Deacon John Adams’ principal farm, with the saltbox “cottage,” now known as the John Adams Birthplace, on Franklin Street in Quincy. The dwelling, a barn, well, and six acres of farm land had been purchased by Deacon John on 18 May 1720 from James Penniman (original deed in Adams Papers, Adams Office Files). Susanna (Boylston) Adams probably continued to live in this house until her remarriage in 1766, and Peter may have lived there both before and after his marriage, but in a diary entry of 28 Feb. 1774 JA records:
“I purchased of my Brother, my fathers Homestead, and House where I was born. The House, Barn and thirty five acres of Land of which the Homestead consists, and Eighteen acres of Pasture in the North Common, cost me 440£. This is a fine addition, to what I had there before, of arable, and Meadow. The Buildings and the Water, I wanted, very much.
“That beautifull, winding, meandering Brook, which runs thro this farm, always delighted me.
“How shall I improve it?...
“I must ramble over it, and take a View.” (Diary and Autobiography description begins Diary and Autobiography of John Adams, ed. L. H. Butterfield and others, Cambridge, 1961; 4 vols. description ends , 2:87–88.)
This united property was what JA meant in his many nostalgic references over the years to “Penn’s Hill” or his farm “at the foot of Penn’s Hill.” For the earlier and later history of the John Adams Birthplace, see titles by HA2 and Waldo C. Sprague cited in note 3 above.
7. That is, The Farms (sometimes called “Massachusetts Farms”), a common local name for what is now North Quincy (Pattee, Old Braintree and Quincy description begins William S. Pattee, A History of Old Braintree and Quincy, with a Sketch of Randolph and Holbrook, Quincy, 1878. description ends , p. 56).
8. Ebenezer Adams (1704–1769), younger brother of Deacon John Adams; in 1729 he had married Anne, sister of Susanna Boylston, who was later to marry Deacon John. Ebenezer, whose Braintree farm was about a mile from his brother’s Penn’s Hill property, held numerous town offices over a long period but is otherwise unknown to history. The land held “in partnership” by the brothers had been inherited from their father, Joseph Adams (1654–1737); see his will, 23 July 1731 (Adams Papers, Wills and Deeds).
9. Elihu Adams (1741–1775), third son and last child of Deacon John and Susanna (Boylston) Adams, was in 1765 to marry Thankful White, by whom he had three children. He died of “a contagious distemper” while serving as an officer in the Massachusetts forces in the first summer of the war. See the following note.
10. The South Precinct of Braintree where Elihu went to live upon the ample farm bequeathed to him there was later (1793) set off as Randolph.
11. This “Piece of Salt Marsh or Medow Situate in Milton ... at Penny-Ferry (so-called)” was conveyed by “Samuel Nightengal of Braintree . . . Clergyman” to “John Adams of the same Braintree Cordwainer” by a deed of 10 April 1738 for £77 (Adams Papers, Adams Office Files). Elihu and his wife sold the same parcel to JA in 1769 for £26 13s 4d (same), the deed being recorded 5 Oct.
Penny Ferry, the origin of whose name is self-evident, crossed the Neponset River on one common early route from Braintree to Boston. Deacon Adams’ salt marsh there played an important and novel part in JA’s early education; see JA, Diary and Autobiography description begins Diary and Autobiography of John Adams, ed. L. H. Butterfield and others, Cambridge, 1961; 4 vols. description ends , 3:246–247, 257–258.
12. Upon the attestation of the three witnesses named above, Thomas Hutchinson, as judge of probate for Suffolk co., issued on 10 July 1761 his certification of probate (a printed form, filled in; see descriptive note), empowering the testator’s sons John and Peter Boylston Adams, “to Execute the said Will, and to Administer the Estate of the said Deceased,” and ordering them to bring in to the court “a true and perfect Inventory” of the said estate on or before 10 Oct. 1761. This inventory is printed below under date of 9 Oct. 1761.
13. Both of these passages are in JA’s hand and were written at not too great an interval of time between them, though only the second is dated. Actually it is not possible to say which passage was written first.
14. Peter Boylston (d. 1743), maternal grandfather of JA, was a substantial citizen of Muddy River (later called Brookline) until a few years before his death, when he sold the family place to his brother Zabdiel and moved to Boston. Their father, Thomas Boylston (ca. 1644–1696), owned extensive property in the village of Muddy River and practiced surgery. Thomas’ son Zabdiel Boylston (1679–1766) was a famous early American physician, for the reason JA gives.