Breast Cancer Awareness Month Biography
Daughter of Abigail Adams
October is recognized as National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The primary purpose is to promote regular mammograms as the most effective way to save lives by detecting breast cancer at its early stages. Nabby Adams Smith (1765-1813), daughter of John and Abigail Adams, was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 45. Of course, she had none of the advantages we now have to help her fight the disease.
Abigail Amelia Adams Smith
Nabby was shy and somewhat withdrawn, but a striking woman, with long red hair, a round face, deep-blue eyes and a porcelain complexion. She commanded respect simply because of the quality of her mind and her unfailing dignity.
Abigail Amelia Adams was born in Braintree, Massachusetts, on July 14, 1765, the firstborn of Abigail Adams, the most prominent woman in early American society, and John Adams, Founding Father and second President of the United States. They began calling her “Nabby” when she was still a baby. By age 10 Nabby was a mature girl and helped her mother with farm chores while her father and brother were away on diplomatic missions.
In 1785, while John Adams was the U.S. minister to Great Britain, he called for Abigail and Nabby to join him in London. Shortly afterward Nabby met William Stephens Smith, who was serving as her father’s secretary. Born on Long Island, New York, in 1755, Smith had graduated from Princeton University in 1774.
William Smith had served in the Revolutionary War as an aide-de-camp and fought in several battles in New York and New Jersey: the Battles of Long Island, Harlem Heights, White Plains, Trenton and Monmouth. He was on the staff of General Lafayette in 1780 and 1781, then transferred to the staff of .
Though he was 10 years her senior, Nabby married William Smith at the American minister’s residence in London on June 12, 1786. In the spring of 1787, Nabby’s first son, William Steuben, was born. Three more children followed, all born in New York: John Adams, Thomas (who died at age one), and Caroline Amelia.
The Smiths returned to America in 1788. After settling in Jamaica, Long Island, Nabby expressed her disenchantment with the formalities of social interactions in New York City and complained of the wasted time and energy society spent at parties and dinners. She generally stayed at home on Long Island, where, she told her mother, “I have as much society as I wish in our own family.”
Nabby did, however, become more involved in society after the arrival of her parents in New York City when John Adams became vice president to George Washington in 1789. That same year, President Washington appointed William Smith the first United States Marshal for the District of New York, which brought him into the company of high-ranking officials.
Accordingly, the Smiths dined with the Washingtons at least once a week, often sharing the company of Governor and Mrs. Clinton of New York and others. However, the socializing was short-lived; when the new government moved to Philadelphia in 1790, William and Nabby, with their three children, remained in New York.
While William Smith had seemed a suitable husband at first, he proved to be “wholly devoid of judgment,” in Abigail’s words. Abandoned on numerous occasions while her husband went “seeking his fortune”, Nabby showed herself to be a true child of her parents, strong-willed, uncomplaining and able to keep herself and her children together under one roof, earning the unstinting respect of John and Abigail and of her brother John Quincy.
Smith became involved in a series of speculative ventures that led to constant financial difficulties for his family. Nabby’s parents used their influence when possible to obtain government jobs for William, but this did not keep their daughter from poverty. Although William financial decisions were poor, to say the least, Nabby was devoted to him.