Louisa Catherine Adams life and biography

Louisa Catherine Adams picture, image, poster

Louisa Catherine Adams biography

Date of birth : 1775-02-12
Date of death : 1852-05-15
Birthplace : London, England
Nationality : American
Category : Famous Figures
Last modified : 2010-08-10
Credited as : First lady of the United States, wife of the US President John Quincy Adams, Declaration of Independence

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Louisa Catherine Adams, also known as Mrs. John Quincy Adams born February 12, 1775 in London, England - died May 15, 1852 in Washington, D.C, United States was the First Lady of the United States.

The only foreign-born U.S. first lady, Louisa Catherine Adams was both a wife and daughter-in-law to U.S. presidents. Fluent in French and raised in Europe, Adams was well-bred in the style of young women of her time. During the course of her marriage to John Quincy Adams, she spent many years living in Germany, Russia, France, and England as her husband served as a U.S. diplomat.

Born, Raised in Europe

Adams was born Louisa Catherine Johnson on February 12, 1775, in London, England, to a U.S. tobacco merchant named Joshua Johnson and his English wife, Catherine Nuth Johnson. When Adams was a young girl, the family moved to Nantes, France, where they remained until 1783. Adams was one of eight children. Her father was the first American consul in London and was the brother of Thomas Johnson, who signed the Declaration of Independence.

Louisa Adams has often been described as a sensitive woman with delicate features, curly hair, and large brown eyes. John Quincy Adams first met her during a diplomatic trip to London in 1794. The couple became engaged in 1796, but for all of Louisa Adams's talents and beauty, it was her bane in life to spend her existence trying to win the acceptance of her mother-in-law, Abigail Adams.

In her book First First Ladies, Mary Ormsbee Whitton quotes a letter from an Adams family member who wrote that Abigail Adams disapproved of the marriage on the fear that "Louisa might not be made of stuff stern enough to suit a New England climate, or to make an efficient wife for her paragon son." Regardless, the marriage went forward on July 26, 1797, at London's Church of the Parish of All Hallows.

It is not clear how many miscarriages Adams suffered during the early years of her marriage; however, on April 12, 1801, she gave birth to her first child, George Washington Adams, in Berlin, where her husband was serving as Minister to Prussia. Three weeks later, the family returned to the United States and settled in Boston where John Quincy Adams served in the Massachusetts state senate. When John Quincy Adams was appointed to fill a vacancy in the U.S. Senate in 1803, the family moved to Washington, D.C. That year, Louisa Adams gave birth to a second son, John Adams, on July 4. A third son was born on August 18, 1807.

Endured Hardships as a Diplomat's Wife

In July 1809, President James Madison dispatched John Quincy Adams to serve in St. Petersburg, Russia, as the Minister to Russia. The two older Adams boys remained in Quincy, Massachusetts, with their grandparents while the toddler, Charles Francis Adams, set sail for Russia with his parents. In Russia, they were welcomed at the court of Czar Alexander I.

Louisa Adams gave birth to a daughter in 1811. Sadly, the child lived less than a year, perhaps due to the rigors of the harsh Russian climate. As Louisa Adams struggled to find happiness while living against the violent backdrop of Russia during the final days of the Napoleonic Wars, she learned that her mother and one of her sisters had died. Depression set in.

In 1814, John Quincy Adams was called to Flanders, in northwestern Europe, to assist in some treaty negotiations. Louisa Adams remained in Russia with their son until summoned to rejoin her husband in France. After selling the family's furniture and belongings, she departed on February 12, 1815, traveling by coach in the dead of winter from St. Petersburg, Russia, to Paris, France, with six-year-old son.

Overwhelmed by the task ahead, Louisa Adams wrote to her husband prior to her departure. According to Whitton's book, First First Ladies, her letter read, "This is a heavy trial, but I must get through with it at all risks, and if you receive me with the conviction that I have done my best, I shall be amply rewarded. I am so much in confusion that it is hardly possible for me to write to you."

What followed was a monumental journey that stood as a testament to the mental strength and physical stamina of Louisa Adams. With her carriage initially on runners to carry her through the snow, she exited Russia and made her way across war-torn Europe. Intrigue and danger lurked around every bend because the war-inciting Napoleon was once again on the loose, having escaped from his exile on the Italian island of Elba.

After dropping a carriage wheel, surviving an encounter with Napoleon's Imperial Guard, and watching her servant go mad, Louisa Adams arrived in Paris and rejoined her husband on March 23. Two months later, on May 16, the Adamses went to London and sent for their two oldest sons. They stayed for two years. When Louisa Adams returned to the United States in August 1817, after eight years abroad, she had by her courageous episode of survival in Europe endeared herself to her excessively critical mother-in-law.

Became First Lady

In 1824, after serving as secretary of state to President James Monroe, John Quincy Adams was elected president of the United States. As first lady, Louisa Adams hosted weekly receptions but was otherwise retiring. She raised silkworms, enjoyed music, and wrote poetry, plays, and letters. Her eldest son died not long before she departed the White House on March 3, 1829.

The Adamses spent the next 18 years moving back and forth between Massachusetts and Washington, D.C., where John Quincy Adams served in the U.S. House of Representatives. He died in February 1848 after collapsing on the floor of the Congress. Louisa Adams died quietly four years later on May 15, 1852, in Washington, D.C. Her body lies beside her husband's in an expanded crypt below the portico of the United First Parish (Unitarian) Church in Quincy, Massachusetts, alongside the remains of her in-laws, John and Abigail Adams.

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