Lesson 1: Getting to Know Abigail Adams

Getting Started

Biographies often focus on powerful people whose ideas and actions changed their communities and inspired others in meaningful and long-lasting ways. Powerful individuals have a great deal of influence on others, but they are often also influenced by those around them. In colonial America, women were excluded from powerful positions in business, religion, and politics, yet they often wielded considerable influence over their husbands, their children, and their communities.

The life of Abigail Adams demonstrates the kind of influence that women in the colonies and the early republic could have in their communities and the nation as a whole. Abigail Adams lived at an exciting time in American history — the time of the American Revolution — and her life was deeply intertwined with the lives of many of the Founding Fathers of the nation, most significantly her husband, John Adams. Since she lived at such a pivotal time, her life story also reveals the ways in which historically significant events can profoundly influence the lives of individuals.

In this unit, you'll be reading a nonfiction biography of Abigail Adams to explore the ways in which she influenced those around her and the ways in which the people and events in her life influenced her. You'll also explore the ways in which biographers tell the life stories of their subjects, the idea of genre in literature, and the use of different verb forms. In the end, you may find that your own life has been influenced by your deeper understanding of this fascinating woman.

In this first lesson, you'll explore the front and back matter of the book, read the first two chapters, and complete a letter-writing activity to help you use vocabulary terms effectively.

Stuff You Need

  • Abigail Adams: Witness to a Revolution by Natalie S. Bober
  • stationery* (Activity 2 - optional)

* - denotes an optional material that may or may not be needed

Ideas to Think About

  • How do the lives of individuals interact with, influence, and become transformed by the events of the time and place in which they live?
  • What is the purpose of biography and how can biographies influence and inspire readers?
  • How does the availability of primary sources influence historical writing?

Things to Know

  • Abigail Adams (1744-1818) was a fascinating historical figure. The wife of president John Adams and mother to president John Quincy Adams, she was both a strong advocate for women's rights and a devoted wife and mother who took great pride in her domestic role.
  • Abigail Adams wrote thousands of letters over her lifetime, many of which survive today and allow historians to understand her life and the times in which she lived.
  • confidences: secrets or private matters shared only with those one trusts
  • lucrative: producing profit
  • wistfully: showing a feeling of longing
  • foreboding: a fear that something bad will happen
  • affliction: something that causes suffering or pain
  • fortitude: strength or courage
  • entail: to involve something necessarily


  • By the end of the year, read and comprehend literature, including stories, dramas, and poems, at the high end of grades 6-8 text complexity band independently and proficiently. (LA)
  • Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience. (LA)
  • Acquire and use accurately grade-appropriate general, academic, and domain-specific words and phrases; gather vocabulary knowledge when considering a word or phrase important to comprehension or expression. (LA)

Introducing the Lesson

An intelligent and thoughtful commentator on the exciting times in which she lived, Abigail Adams is a fascinating historical figure whose voluminous correspondence with her husband, John Adams, and other important people in the revolutionary era gives us insight into both the personal and political aspects of her life and times.

Parents should note that John and Abigail Adams were very much in love. In this book, the author references quotes from their letters to each other that describe the passionate love they had for each other, particularly in Chapter 3, which students will encounter in Lesson 2. The editorial staff of Moving Beyond the Page believes the author has done this in an appropriate way for the audience for which she is writing, but we encourage you to skim the book before your child reads it and make decisions that are appropriate to your own family's needs and preferences.
This might be a great time to have a talk with your child about positive relationships with the opposite sex and how responsible young adults might handle strong feelings for their beloved. John and Abigail Adams modeled a positive courting and marriage relationship, but you may want to discuss with your child the relationship and the way that the author and John and Abigail wrote about it to place it in the context of your own family's values. The author's decision to include information about not only their role in the broader story of American history but also their relationship as, first, courting young adults and later as a married couple, should make it easier for readers to relate to them as real people with feelings that many modern pre-teens and teens can understand.

In this first lesson, your child will complete an activity focused on the front and back matter of Abigail Adams: Witness to a Revolution. He will then read the first two chapters of the book, which focus on the childhood and early courtship of Abigail Adams, and write a letter that will enable him to make use of new vocabulary terms learned in the lesson.