First Lady Louisa Catherine Johnson Adams


Louisa Catherine Johnson Adams

At the beginning of Louisa’s life every day seemed perfect, she was the apple of her father’s eye and a brilliant child.  She was born on February 12, 1775, in London.  She was the second daughter of eight children.  Her mother was English, and her father was American. 

Louisa began her education in London and by her eighth year, she spoke several languages, spent hours writing poetry, playing the piano and harp, and performed in front of large crowds; although she was known as a shy girl.  Her father came forward with enough money to pay for additional lessons, believing Louisa was a prodigy.

Louisa Catherine Johnson Adams

Louisa met someone she believed to be like herself, a prodigy, John Quincy Adams; she was twenty.  At the time John was the son of the Vice President of the United States, John Quincy Adams.

Adams would travel with his father to London as diplomats, and one day he noticed Louisa, but young Adams spent most of his time on politics, seldom courting girls.

He was smart, clever, knew several languages and enjoyed traveling with his father.  Adams had a cold attitude toward courting, and Louisa wondered if he really noticed her.

One year after they met, May 1796, John Adams began spending additional time with Louisa when he was in London.  It would be in 1796 when he asked for her hand in marriage.  Louisa said yes, only to learn the wedding being planned, would be postponed.

The Vice President laughed when he referred to his son as the one with a clouded mind.  Louisa wondered if this was supposed to heal her heart and the postponement of their marriage.

The truth told in history books, the Adams were thinking of money, or better said the lack of money.  Young Adams wanted to be financially secure, and he knew Louisa’s father had money, running his own mercantile business.  Adams must have been attracted her money, and not the woman he asked to marry.  Louisa knew John lacked sensitivity she had received at home, and felt she might be wrong marrying John.

Another year passed, and in 1797 John Quincy Adams Jr. married Louisa Catherine Johnson.  To her surprise, a honeymoon was never part of John’s plans.  The marriage already began on the wrong foot, and she had no idea that foot would dig deeper into the dirt and the hole in her heart would grow larger.

When John Adams realized Louisa’s father went bankrupt, he went into a deep depression, believing he could never live on a diplomats salary.  Due to his obsession for money, Louisa began living with a man who never enjoyed a single day on this earth.

When John’s father (the Vice President) was ordered to return to America, in 1801, John and Louisa followed.  She would now meet the Quincy family, of Quincy Massachusetts.  On her first visit she would learn John’s mother never wanted her son to marry her, this alone caused Louisa to detest Quincy Mass., and often she wanted to return to London.  Things changed when her husband became the Senator of Mass., and they moved to Washington, D.C.

Louisa learned immediately she disliked all the arguing and pressure of politics was not her cup of tea.  She would spend her time horseback riding, took trips to the racetrack to get away from the arguments in Washington.  During this period she became depressed, for several reasons.

Since they were married, Louisa had suffered several miscarriages and stillbirths.  She did give birth to three sons who would live into adulthood. She was pregnant 11 times.  She heard the talk about town, she was cursed by the Adams family and this was the reason she never completed eight of her eleven pregnancies.

One afternoon in New York City Louisa, her maid, and her infant child, Charles Francis, took in the sights, shopped, and enjoyed the fine weather.  It was 1807.  Out of nowhere, a man approached her maid and snatched the baby from her arms.

Louisa and her maid knocked on every door, searching every house for her son.  This certainly is not like today when a child is missing.  This was a time when child snatching wasn’t common, and Louisa had the common sense to run after the man, and knew he ducked inside a house.  It had to be a miracle when they found Charles, and the man told her, “He was so cute I just had to show him to my wife.”  Nothing more was done, Louisa and her maid took the boy and left.

She experienced bad luck when her son George was born.  She noticed the midwife was dead drunk.  She gave birth with the help of a drunk, which caused her pain for many years.

Later on in life, her son John would die from Alcoholism.

Her marriage to John Quincy Adams was not what she expected when she first noticed the young man in London.  She put up with John’s temper over little things, one being he never wanted her to wear make-up.  Louisa was a beautiful woman but appeared more like a wash woman then a diplomats wife, later, a Senator’s wife.

Once they settled in Washington D.C., John enjoyed the bickering of politics, but things were about to change.  In 1809, President Madison named John Quincy Adams the minister to Russia.  John never talked about the move after informing Louisa.  She imagined frozen land, a wilderness of nothing, and protested the move.

Not only did John ignore his wife, he told her, “Our two oldest sons would remain in America, and their youngest, (Charles Francis) would go to Russia.”  As quoted in her autobiography.  Louisa never thought she would have to say goodbye to her own sons, George and John.  She would not see them again for eight years when she returned to the United States.

A story she often repeated was the trip she took from Russia to Paris France, alone, with her youngest son.  She was ordered to leave Russia, John was ordered back to the United States.  Louisa and Charles traveled alone by a horse-drawn sled through Russia.  The only light would be the light of candles she carried as they traveled in arctic temperatures.  If they approached any water, a team of men first checked for weak areas before letting the sled to cross.   She mentioned in her own autobiography that where she slept on her way to France were deplorable buildings and shacks.

Arriving in Berlin was no better than Russia, and as the carriage she now rode in crossed Europe, she passed dead bodies on battlefields; her eyes were always open for combat.

Finally, after six weeks, Louisa and her son reached Paris, France.  Her servants abandoned her,  afraid of being drafted.  In Paris, waiting for John, she used a toy sword belonging to her son and flashed it at the window of her carriage, and at times, pretended to be Napoleon’s sister when crowds lurked or soldiers approached the carriage.

Eight years in Russia, and now James Monroe, the President, appointed John Quincy Adams the Secretary of State.  John knew this was an open invitation that could lead to the White House.  It would be in 1824 when John announced he was running as a candidate for President.  It was now, Louisa could become the Lady she had envisioned, and play a vital role for her husband.

Louisa took it upon herself to hold lavish parties, all successful and delighted all who attended.  At the party, she would play the piano and harp, as she did as a child.  One of her parties would come to be known as the party of the decade, on the Anniversary of the victory of Andrew Jackson over Britain.  Louisa had a reason behind her plan since Andrew was her husband’s opponent, it would take the attention away from Andrew and the country would hear about the Adams.  Her plan worked, John Quincy Adams became the next President.

Unbeknown to Louisa, the next four years filled her with pain.  She often questioned why she worked so hard for her husband to take the office of President.  Every policy he introduced, contested and the people began calling him names, some stabbed at his heart, calling him, “A poor slob.”  Both day and night, the President was depressed, yet running the country.  The only time he did not concentrate on the role of President was when he went swimming nude, in the Potomac.

Once again, the First Lady began feeling her own depression, not speaking, and spending nights alone. She gave another name for the White House and called it, “A dull and stately prison.”

John left office after four years, but to her surprise, he would win a seat in the House of Representatives, after being President.  He became more popular in this role, and was given the name, “Old Man Eloquent.”

Louisa found herself more involved.  She fought on issues regarding slavery and found her calling as an advocate for women’s rights.  At this point, her marriage was at its’ highest point, both she and John were getting along, talking at the same level.  Everything, every day, seemed to grow brighter.  She kept telling friends these were the best days she would spend with John.

John was known as outspoken when fighting for an issue he believed in and would stand up in the house delivering a strong and mighty speech.  During one of these speeches, he collapsed on the floor of congress, and passed away two days later, in February 1848.

The love inside two people, hidden until the First Lady, then out of the White House, took her to stand on her own issues.  Louisa was a beautiful woman and an intellectual.  She seldom had the opportunity to let others know what she could accomplish.  Unfortunately, she would name her own autobiography, “The Adventures of Nobody.”

Louisa passed away four years after her husband and was buried at the side of her husband in Quincy Mass.  The country found it a bit of a surprise when both houses considered Louisa’s death as a day of mourning.  If Louisa knew how much her work did mean she would have found herself, and her book may have had a different title.

1 Comment
  1. Avatar of Dan Balan
    Dan Balan says

    When was this portrait painted of Louisa and by who?
    I may have the matching one of John Q. Adams.

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