Adams Papers

From Elizabeth Smith Shaw Peabody to William Smith Shaw, 10 January 1799

Atkinson January 10th. 1799

My Dear Son

Untill you become a Parent, under similar circumstances with myself, it will be dificult for you to conceive what were the emotions of my heart, upon your leaving me at Quincy, to accompany the President to his destined seat in Philadelphia—May heaven preserve, & bless you both, was the silent incense of my Soul.

You are now my Son, just embarked upon the wide Ocean of Life; your passage cannot be pleasant, nor useful unless Reason be your lord, & the Christian Religion your pole Star; this is wisdoms path, & will ensure you contentment through the rugged devious voyage & safely land you upon a happier Shore—

The day you left us was attended with many unpleasing circumstances. Your Aunt feeble, had not slept for four nights; anxious, & cumbered about many things—I spent the afternoon at your excellent Uncle Cranchs, & found him as I thought upon the threshold of another world, & though I supposed the exchange would be for him far better; yet, I was so selfish, as to wish my Sisters assidueties might be blessed, & keep him a little longer “from the Sky,” to encourage, cheer, & instruct both by precept, & example his fellow-travellers, who like him were seeking a “better Country.”

In the Evening I returned to the Presidents, found a gloom upon every face, especially Mrs. Smith’s—I perceived the cause, and knew there had been for several days a struggle in her breast, between filial, & conjugal affection; the Obligations owing the One, & the duties the “thousand decencies” incumbent upon the Other, alternately preponderated. The indisposition of the best of Mothers when you left us, was a weight in the scale of filial love, which prevailed—But taking into view the soletary unfortunate situation of her Friend that the world might suppose she only purposed to embark with him, on the “smooth surface of a Summers Sea,” & forsake him when the wind whistled, & the tempest roared—a thought which could not be endured by delicate Sensibility. She therefore invoked the aid of Reason, who sent her Fortitude, & she called up Prudence, and this meeked eyed Matron gave in her verdict that she must return immediately—In this Mrs. Smith wisely consulted the happiness of her Husband, of consequence, the interest, & honour of her Family. Happy for Society as well as for the Individual, if all like her, would rise above every Obstacle, & press forward into the path of rectitude—

On Tuesday morn Cousin Betsy, & I, set out for Boston accompanied by Mrs S. hoping to find a Stage going directly to NewYork, but no one was going till the next Morning. The progress she made in overtaking the President, you are better acquainted with than myself.—But all regretted that anything had occasioned the President, & you, to be deprived of the company of his Daughter, & her lovely Caroline—Mr Foster who had business of consequence in Quincy, was fortunately going up that PM & could without the least inconvenience take my Neice with him. I therefore tarried in Boston till the next day, & then carried<up> to Quincy our amiable Cousin Betsy, to attend the hymeneal Torch which was lighted in Peace-field thursday eve. & which in some degree dispelled the cloud, which had shaded past Scenes, & diffused a pleasing tranquility—Every thing was directed by your Aunts usual beneficence, the blessed effects of which, you have so often experienced.—Suffice it to say, that upon the Alter of Hymen, by Mr Ecclay were offered the Vows of the Parties, which I hope were approved & ratified in heaven—My Neice upon this occasion behaved with that composure, and dignity of manners which becomes a woman, impressed with a just sense of the solemn, important realities annexed to the short ceremony of Marriage—I confess nothing could give me greater satisfaction than to see her connected with a man who sustains so fair a Character. A virtuous affectionate Son, seldom fails of making an excellent Husband. Such an one, I presume she will find in Mr Foster. Her too exquisite sensibility has been a Source of great disquietude. Now she is in a more eligible situation, I hope it will prove a spring of ever new delight, & afford that peace of mind to which her heart has been long, too long a stranger. Friday Morn, I took leave of my dear Sisters, reluctantly I confess, for the loss of my loved Daughter made me dread a return to Atkinson. <I feel > I accompanied Mr and Mrs Foster into Boston, and was highly gratified soon after, to seeing them happily seated by their own fire side, in quite a friendly, social stile. I dined at the ever hospitable Mr Smiths, sent for Mr Peabody, set our faces homeward, lodged at Cambridge at Mr. Cragies, where we were treated with every friendly attention, though for the present they were obliged to retire into small green room. She looked as placid as if she possesed a kingdom of her own.

“Rich as Eden’s happy ground,

And with choices plenty crown’d,

Where on all the shining boughs

Knowledge fair & useful grows.”

Saturday morn we proceeded northward, till at last we arrived at our own door, wet with rain, & Snow, About ten clock we agreeably surprised Mr. Peabody by bringing with me his Son, as he had not heard of his being arrived in BostonWe found all well & very glad to see us. But I found no kind Daughter to smile and double every pleasure by participation. Every place has one dreary aspect; the crouded circle, and the retired Chamber are equally solemn to me. One Object is ever present to my view—her faultering accents breathing love, & gratitude, her affectionate farewell, her soul quivering upon her pale lips—is a scene indelibly impressed upon my full heart. Religion may check—but cannot stop the copious flood.—

“While Faith kind Seraph points her view,

Beyond the starry plain, to that bright world,

Where ever new, immortal pleasures reign.”

There I hope through the mediation of a Saviour, she is permitted to dwell. May you my Son like your Sister, sincerely repent of the sins of Childhood & Youth, that in life, you may enjoy the Soul’s calm sunshine, and in the near views of death experience that humble composed state of mind, which so much distinguished your Sister’s final exit.—

Though I have not written, you my Son have been hourly the subject of my thoughts. I have been much more concerned about you, than if your Aunt was with you. I fear you will often suffer for want of her advice, % kind admonotions. Young persons should never transact any thing of importance without consulting an experienced friend, & when they have access to a wise <one> counsellor they should esteem it an inestimable priviledge—I fear the absence of your maternal Aunt will cost you more than fifty dollars.

The new mode of life you have entered is full of duty, & I know not how you will acquit yourself. I hope, so as will be satisfactory to the President, & then you will do honour to yourself—To me this will be the greatest luxury. The scenes before you are august and important, interesting, & useful—

I hope you do not sleep without keeping a diary recounting the occurrences of the day. You will find it of the greatest service in life—Determine to do it, and you will never want time. Every thing useful is connected with this practice—It will furnish you with language, that will give a facility in conversation, and will have an happy effect upon your moral conduct. The benefits resulting are innumerable—.

I have now broken from all family affairs, resolving to write to my only Son, & thank him for his letter, though I wish it had been more particular—We have seven boarders. Mr. Josiah Webster is reading divinity here, & is a comfort to me, as his company cheers some of my mournful hours. He is sensible, & a lover of Science.

Miss Betsy Palmer came here about five weeks after my return; I find her amiable answering the character my Sisters gave me of her, & as far as she can, supplies the loss of both my dear Betsys. Yet their filial attentions I must ever feel the Want, & find a vacuum which cannot be filled.—

We were all pleased with a letter from Phyladelphia written to a friend, & published in Boston Centinal giving an elegant account of the present session of Congress—The Presidents speech is highly approbated by every lover of his Country—“his path is as the rising light, brighter & brighter to the perfect day.”—

I hope Richard Dexter has reached you before this. You will I think find him a very usful person—kind, attentive, and respectful—His fidelity while he was in the Generals Family was unimpeached.

I am rejoiced you can feel at home at Mrs Otis’s—When we are at such a distance from our near connections, the society of so worthy a Lady must <[. . .]> be gratifying indeed. And the conversation of Dr. Rush peculiarly beneficial—

I hope you will improve under the various advantages with which you are blessed, and progress in virtue is the wish of your affectionate / Mother,

Elizabeth Peabody

PS Mr Peabody presents his kind regards. Your little Sisters arm is almost well, strait, but not strong yet.—Sends love, & William and John, Duty to their Grand papa—To the President, from me, every grateful Sentiment is dueAs an individual, & as a part of the great Whole—I promised to give you a Summary of the events of the week. You [. . .] Quincy—as those spent at home, must be less interesting, I believe you are glad anything will put a stop to my pen—

DLC: Shaw Family Papers.

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