When Louisa Johnson married John Quincy Adams, she had no idea what she was in for. British-born Louisa was an outsider in the eyes of her mother-in-law, Abigail.
Louisa Catherine Johnson (1775-1852) was the wife of the sixth U.S. president, John Quincy Adams. Louisa’s father was a wealthy American merchant, and her mother was a London socialite. The Johnsons’ seven daughters were all British citizens. This fact did not sit well with Louisa’s future in-laws, the second U.S. president, John Adams, and his opinionated wife, Abigail.
The Early YearsAfter a two-and-a-half-year courtship, Louisa Johnson and John Quincy Adams were married at All Hallows Barking on London’s Tower Hill on July 26, 1797. The marriage was rocky from the very beginning. For example, Louisa’s father, Joshua, was forced to declare bankruptcy after a business partner embezzled funds from Mr. Johnson’s company. This meant that John would not receive the large dowry he was anticipating. To make matters worse, the Johnson family disappeared to America, causing Louisa’s father’s creditors to come to John Quincy for payment of Mr. Johnson’s debt. As if all this were not shameful enough for Louisa, her in-laws, who happened to be the new U.S. president and First Lady, found out about the wedding through newspapers. Worst of all was the fact that Louisa’s new husband held her family’s troubles against her.
No Honeymoon for the Adamses
Four months after their wedding, the newlyweds sailed for Berlin so that John could fulfill his duties as minister plenipotentiary to the court of Prussia. This trip was strictly for political purposes, and it was disastrous for Louisa. She suffered the first of six miscarriages during this time. In addition, her husband ignored her, and she refused to attend any of his functions. Rumors began to spread that Louisa was deformed or extremely ugly or that she did not even exist. Of course, none of these were true. Louisa had one close friend, Pauline Neale, who was a countess and a member of the royal court. The two women attended concerts and other events, but John Quincy, a stern New England Puritan, never did. Louisa’s escort for most outings was her brother-in-law, Thomas Adams, who served as his father’s legation secretary. Louisa became a popular socialite, and her talent for learning languages earned her a diverse group of friends and acquaintances. Louisa also began championing women’s rights, but her husband had very different views and worked to keep his wife subservient.
Meeting the Parents
Following four miscarriages, Louisa gave birth to her first child, a son named George Washington Adams, in 1801. When the baby was just two months old, the Adamses sailed to America. Louisa knew she was going to have a hard time with her mother-in-law. As soon she arrived in the strange country, Louisa felt like an outsider. For instance, overbearing Abigail Adams made no bones about her negative feelings toward her daughter-in-law. As for the now-former president, Louisa’s father-in-law actually liked her. John Quincy and Louisa lived in Boston for a brief period. Then, the Federalists appointed John to a vacant U.S. Senate seat. On the Fourth of July, 1803, Louisa gave birth to her second son, John Adams II. Louisa was frequently ill and did not enjoy Washington’s climate. Louisa’s third son, Charles Francis, was born in 1807. Louisa was often depressed, and life was about to become more stressful.
To Russia Without Love
In 1809, John Quincy became minister plenipotentiary to Russia, and the family moved to St. Petersburg. Louisa now felt more alienated than ever. She gave birth to her fourth child and only daughter, whom she named after herself, in1811. Louisa’s joy was short-lived, for little Louisa Catherine died in 1812. Louisa would never recover from her daughter’s passing. If this was a stressful time, it paled in comparison to what lay in store for the future First Lady.
- Harris, Bill. The First Ladies Fact Book, p. 107-15. New York: Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers, Inc., 2005.