Historical ramble through the Revolutionary era via middle sister and intermediary Abigail Adams (1744–1818), who married best.
The three Smith sisters of Weymouth, Mass., were inseparable growing up under their minister father and thrifty, charitable mother, and they were remarkably well-educated, as demonstrated by the copious, frequent letters they exchanged throughout their long lives. Liberally excerpted by Jacobs (Her Own Woman: The Life of Mary Wollstonecraft, 2001, etc.), the letters allow readers to plunge into the voices and milieus of these lively characters, who nonetheless were relegated to the sidelines, observing the great events of the new nation unfold while their husbands got to strut about the stage—underscoring how important it was to marry well. Mary, the oldest sister, caught the interest of the girls’ tutor, Richard Cranch, due to her “intelligence—not to mention her beauty and goodness,” and “their passion quickened as he took it upon himself to initiate all three young women into the pleasures of Enlightenment philosophy, epistolary novels, Milton, Pope, Shakespeare, and also some French.” However, Cranch did not pan out well as a scholarly fabricator and farmer, relegating Mary to a life of much scrimping, drudgery and childbearing. Youngest sister Elizabeth, of “keen sensibility and high spirits,” was fairly beaten down by her marriage to drunkard Calvinist John Shaw. Abigail, in contrast, married the imperious fireball John Adams, not exactly handsome but brilliant and ironically humorous and with wit to match Abigail’s own; her feminist writing, both to husband and sisters, crackles off the page. Readers will cheer when she is finally goaded out of her enforced provincialism by the need to join her husband in his diplomatic mission to Paris in 1784.
An intimate, deeply engaging method of following historic events.