- Historic Sites
Miss Adams In Love
Eighteenth-century equivalents of “Yankee go home!” greeted the Adams family when, in 1785, they arrived in London. Nevertheless, there were certain delightful compensations—especially for an eligible young lady
February 1965 | Volume 16, Issue 2
Jefferson had also hoped that his visit to London might be helpful in promoting a treaty with England. But when he was presented to the King and Queen he was received so coldly that he saw nothing could be hoped for from the British court. He considered it “impossible for anything to be more ungracious than their notice of Mr. Adams and myself.” It was in marked contrast to the reception Adams had received at his first audience with George III. Was it possible that the King had been turned against Adams by his favorite, Bernardo del Campo? To a European diplomat such as Del Campo, it would probably have seemed inconceivable that Adams had not known of the connection between Colonel Smith and Miranda.
Though Jefferson’s visit accomplished little or nothing in diplomacy, there were pleasurable moments. He went to see the learned pig and to the theatre, where Mrs. Siddons was shining in great splendor; he dined with the Paradises, and often at Grosvenor Square. He sat for a Mather Brown portrait, which he presented to Adams. At the end of his visit the two American ministers made a tour together of the British countryside in all the glory of spring—the first real vacation Adams had had during all his years in Europe.
Abigail Adams was busy with plans for the wedding of Amelia and the Colonel, which had been set for June 12. She had been disturbed by the Colonel’s insistence on an early marriage, though she made excuses for him on the ground that “a soldier is always more expeditious in his courtships than other men.” She had wanted them to postpone the marriage to the following year because “we can’t do for them what we should be glad to.” It had become all too plain that the Colonel’s fashionable flat, his chariot, his liveried servants, his European tour, were extravagances not based on an income that would enable him to support a wife comfortably. The Adamses made the best of it. John Adams sent home a recommendation that Smith be made America’s consul general to Britain. A house was found for the couple in Wimpole Street, not far away, and it was arranged that they should dine every evening at Grosvenor Square.
It was a quiet wedding on a Sunday evening in the drawing room of the legation, with only five guests-Mr, and Mrs. John Singleton Copley and their daughter and two friends of Colonel Smith’s—because by June most of the American tourists and a large part of the American colony had left. The ceremony had to be performed by a clergyman of the Church of England rather than by Dr. Richard Price, the dissenting clergyman whose meetings the Adamses had attended. It was some consolation that they could engage the Bishop of St. Asaph, who had always been a friend to America. “Think of being married by a Bishop!” Abigail wrote home. But he was “a most amiable man,” and won her heart by saying after the ceremony, “I have never married a couple with more pleasure because I never saw a fairer prospect of happiness.”
Amelia and the Colonel were handsome and happy and very much in love. Who could tell how ill-matched they were? She was sensitive and withdrawn, born to be a quiet and humorous observer of the world about her. He was happiest when striding about the stage of life taking part in wars and quasi-wars and revolutions. Deprived by peace of his trade of soldiering, his only trade, he was to embark on a shaky career of political appointments and land speculations, dragging his wife and his children (there were eventually three) back and forth between London and New York, delighting in seeing Amelia, or “Emmy” as he liked to call her, painted by Copley in London with pearls in her powdered hair, and driven about New York in a coach-and-four. His obsession with the schemes of Miranda, culminating in his active part in launching Miranda’s ill-fated attempt to revolutionize Venezuela in 1806, led him to ruin. Amelia spent her last years in a lonely farmhouse in the wilds of western New York State—an innocent victim, in the words of her brother, John Quincy Adams, of “fortune’s treacherous game.”
On the night before the wedding, “an evil Spright” sent Royall Tyler to Abigail Adams in a dream. Letters had come describing his wild grief at the loss of Amelia, so heart-rending that even Sister Cranch, who had continued to justify herself with accusations against him, was moved to pity. He gave up his law practice and went into seclusion at his mother’s house on Long Island, where he began to write a play called The Contrast . It was produced in New York on April 16, 1787, the second play and the first comedy written by a native American to be produced professionally. The contrast was that between the British and the American character; a comic American in the play named Jonathan gave to the world the figure of “Brother Jonathan,” the first of many stage Yankees. Perhaps this play and a subsequent book called A Yankey in London were inspired by Amelia’s letters, for Tyler never went abroad. Eventually he resumed his law practice, moved to Vermont, married a young cousin of the Adamses, and in time became Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Vermont, universally loved and respected.
But all this was far in the future on that warm June evening in 1786 when the wheels of the wedding carriage rolled away from Grosvenor Square.