Wednesday, April 21, 2010

184-year-old Adams letter found

Sixth president wrote about parents’ burial

A letter written by President John Quincy Adams 
about burial plans for his father and mother was rediscovered in the 
basement of Quincy City Hall. 
A letter written by President John Quincy Adams about burial plans for his father and mother was rediscovered in the basement of Quincy City Hall. (Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff)

QUINCY — Paul Hines, an assistant city solicitor, was combing through dozens of old boxes in the musty basement of City Hall, searching for records to defend the city from a lawsuit, when he made an unexpected find.

A dust-covered box in one of the 126-year-old building’s former jail cells was filled with old scrapbooks.

As Hines leafed through the brittle pages earlier this month, he came upon a letter from 1826 that addressed the burial of John Adams and his wife, Abigail, in First Parish Church across the street from City Hall. And when he flipped over the sheet of yellowing paper with neat, cursive handwriting, Hines saw it was signed by the second president’s son, John Quincy Adams, who at the time he wrote the letter was serving as the nation’s sixth president.

“It was very exciting,’’ Hines said. “I was wondering whether anyone knew this existed, and when the last time it was seen. I thought we should take it out of those conditions, so it could be shared and preserved.’’

He immediately brought the scrapbook to Mayor Thomas Koch, and yesterday, Koch and Hines announced that the city would be sending that book and others to a compa ny in Vermont that specializes in preserving rare books and papers.

Adams penned the letter, dated Sept. 8, 1826, two months after his father died on the young nation’s Independence Day. He was seeking permission from the supervisors of the church, which he called a “temple,’’ to bury his father and mother there.

“I have considered it a duty devolving upon me to erect a plain and modest monument to his memory: and my wish is that divested of all ostentation it may yet be as durable as the walls of the Temple to the erection of which he has contributed, and as the Rocks of his native Town which are to supply the materials for it,’’ Adams wrote.

He added: “I have many reasons for desiring that this may be undertaken without delay and . . .that both my parents may not remain for an indefinite time without a stone to tell where they lie.’’

John and Abigail Adams, as well as John Quincy and Louisa Catherine Adams, remain buried in the church today.

Ed Fitzgerald, executive director of the Quincy Historical Society, said the letter might be useful for biographers of the Adams family, because it provides rare insight into the feelings between the two presidents.

Fitzgerald also noted that Adams’s language seeking a “plain and modest monument’’ reflects the family’s New England heritage.

“We do think this is an important piece of work,’’ he said. “I think it’s reflective of New England culture, in that he wanted the monument devoid of ostentation.’’

At a City Hall press conference, Koch said about $8,000 in state historical preservation money would protect the scrapbook for years to come. He said the city has already spent tens of thousands of dollars in state funds to preserve other scrapbooks found in the basement.

Koch said the city is seeking a better place to store the remaining boxes and is considering how best to display Adams’s recently discovered letter and other historical documents.

“It’s kind of a neat day for us,’’ he said.

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