Could you tell a little bit about the childhoods of Ben Franklin and John Adams?
I already did Benjamin Franklin here.
John Adams was born in Braintree, Massachusetts in the house immediately adjacent to his own future home. He was baptized in the church where his father was a deacon. Adams was rather proud of his descent of a “line of virtuous, independent New England farmers.” Braintree in his childhood was a quiet village and recalling from his childhood later in life, Adams wrote of the unparalleled bliss of roaming the open fields and woodlands of the town, of exploring the creeks, hiking the beaches, “of making and sailing boats … swimming, skating, flying kits and shooting marbles, bat and ball, football … wrestling and sometimes boxing”, shooting at crows and ducks, and “running about to quilting and frolics and dances among the boys and girls.” The first fifteen years of his life, he said, “went off like a fairytale.”
Adams was born and raised in a five room New England simple home. It was built in 1681 and had a strong built massive brick chimney. It was made oak with inner walls of brick and an exterior pine clapboard. There were three rooms and two great fireplaces at ground level, and two rooms above. A narrow stairway was against the chimney. The windows have twenty-four panes and wooden shutters. There were outbids and a good size barn to the rear, fields and an orchard. The house was “fenced” by a stone wall. From June to September, the heat upstairs bedrooms could be murderous but in the winter, even with a fire going, everyone remained in dress while any water left upstairs turned to ice.
As one of the Adams line would write, “A hat would descend from father to son, and for fifty years makes its regular appearance at meeting.” About his mother, Adams would have little to say, beyond that he loved her deeply (it is possible she was illiterate). She was his “honored and beloved mother” and that she was a highly principles woman of strong will, strong temper and energy–all traits he shared. Of his father, however, he spoke incredibly often. He showed an immense gratitude for the kindnesses his father had shown him and admiration he felt for his father’s integrity. His father was “the honest man” Adams ever met. “In wisdom, piety, benevolent and charity proportion to his education and sphere of life, I have never known his superior,” Adams would write later. His father was his idol. It was his father’s honesty, independent spirit and love, Adams said, of which of his life long inspiration.
Early on, his father noticed his son’s intelligence and decided he must go to Harvard–in order to study ministry. Deacon John, his father, had little education and all though he wrote in a “clear hand” had “an admiration” for those who were. Taught to read at home, Adams then attended lessons with a handful of other children in the kitchen of a neighbor. Later, he went to the tiny local schoolhouse and was subjected to a teacher who paid him no attention and he lost all interest in his studies. He cared not for books or study and saw no sense in talk of Harvard or college at all.
He informed his father he wished to become a farmer. “That being so,” Deacon John replied, his son would come with him to the creek and help him cut thatch. According to Adams, whenever he would tell the story, father and son set off the next morning and “with great humor” his father kept him working through the day. At night at home, he said, “Well, John, are you satisfied with being a farmer?”. Though the labor had been difficult, he answered “I like it very well, Sir.” His father replied, “Aya, but I don’t like it so well: so you will go back to school today.”
After Adams confided in his father about the teacher, he was enrolled the next day in a private school down the road where he was greatly kindly by a schoolmaster named Joseph Marsh. There, he made a dramatic turn and began studying. Cicero’s Orations because one of his most prized possession. At the age of fifteen, he was pronounced “fitted for college” and Harvard was his choice. Marsh, himself a graduate, accompanied Adams to Cambridge to appear before the staff. However, on the morning, Marsh said he was ill and John went on by himself, terrified. At Harvard he was granted a partial scholarship.
The Harvard class of 1755 was numbering twenty-seven and was under Joseph Mayhew who taught Latin. Adams worked hard and did well at Harvard while being particularly attracted to math and science, taught by his favorite professor John Winthrop. Among one of Adams cherished Harvard memories was on a crystal night he went to the rood of Old Harvard Hall and gazed through Winthrop’s telescope at the satellites of Jupiter. He enjoyed his classmates and made several close friends while there. “I read forever”, he recalled.
He lived in the “lowermost northwest chamber” of Massachusetts Hall, sharing quarters with Thomas Sparhawk who only distinction at the college came from breaking windows, and Joseph Stockbridge who was notable with his wealth and his “refusal to eat meat.” The regimen was strict and demanding, the day starting with morning prayers at Holden Chapel at six and ending with evening prayers at five. The entire college dined at Commons, on the ground food of Old Harvard. Each student was required to bring their own knife and fork!
When college was over, and he’d graduated Harvard, he found himself as a village schoolmaster in Worcester. Once, the records shows, Adams was fined three shillings, nine pence for absence from college longer than the time allowed for vacation or by permission. Otherwise, he had not a mark against him. He appears neither to have succumbed to gambling or “wrenching” in the taverns. Adams was fourteenth of twenty-five who received degrees, his placement due to the fact that his mother was a Boylston and his father was a deacon. Otherwise, he would have been among the last on the list.
Childhood of John Adams from birth to age eighteen.