ADAMS, Abigail (1744-1818), First Lady. Autograph letter signed ("Aunt A Adams") AS FIRST LADY, to a niece, Lucy [Cranch] Greenleaf, Philadelphia, 18 December 1799. 1 page, 4to, integral address leaf in Abigail Adams's hand, two clean tears (neatly mended), discreetly silked, otherwise fine.
THE FIRST LADY ON THE DEATH OF GEORGE WASHINGTON: "HIS NAME, FAME & CHARACTER WILL LIVE"
On the same day the momentous news of Washington's death reached Philadelphia, First Lady Adams writes to her niece: "We have all been thrown into Distress by the sudden Stroke, which has deprived us of one of the Best and fairest Characters which has blest the world; but he had done his Masters work, and he recall'd him Home. Such men are Messengers from God for good. His Name fame & Character will live, whilst time and Nature lasts. The papers will give the detail, with the communications of the president [John Adams] to congress. There is a very sincere mourning for this illusterous [sic] man throughout this city, and it will pervade the United States, when the melancholy Event is known..."
Washington died on 14 December 1799, aged 67, of a throat infection that was doubtless made worse by his physician's decision to "bleed" him repeatedly. The "sudden stroke" was indeed a shock to Americans for Washington had remained a vital presence in the nation's life since his retirement. Just a year before, President Adams had once again called Washington to military service, to command American troops in the event of a war with France. When news of his death reached Philadelphia, Congress promptly adjourned. Across the nation, funeral processions and eulogies were organized. President Adams, saying "I feel myself alone, bereaved of my last brother" (McCullough, 533), ordered the Army to wear black sleevebands for six months, while Abigail herself reportedly wore full mourning attire until the spring. The remainder of her letter rather incongruously concerns ladies' fashion, particularly the design and proper way to wear a certain cap, which, she reports, "is quite the mode here..."