Sixth First Lady of the United States
Louisa Johnson Adams was born in London, England – the only First Lady born outside of the United States. She met John Quincy Adams in 1794 when he was sent to England on a diplomatic mission, and they married shortly after his father, John Adams, became President. Their marriage was stormy and her mother-in-law, Abigail Adams, reportedly disapproved of Louisa.
Louisa Catherine Johnson was born February 12, 1775 in London to Catherine Nuth Johnson, an Englishwoman, and Joshua Johnson, an American merchant who was serving as United States consulate general in London. The family moved to France when Louisa was three, where she completed her education.
John Quincy Adams was born July 11, 1767 in Quincy, Massachusetts to famous parents, John and Abigail Adams. His relationship with his mother was rocky; she had high expectations of him. When he fell in love with Louisa, his mother disapproved. It has been said that this disapproval motivated him to marry Johnson, despite reservations that she, like his mother, was too strong.
Louisa married John Quincy Adams on July 26, 1797, despite the disapproval of the groom’s mother. After the wedding the couple went to Berlin, where Adams was serving as Minister to Prussia. At the Prussian court Louisa displayed the style and grace of a diplomat’s lady. After several miscarriages, in 1801 Louisa Adams bore her first child, George Washington Adams.
Louisa’s first time in America came in 1801 when John Quincy was called back from diplomatic service by President Thomas Jefferson. She finally met her in-laws, former president John Adams and the formidable Abigail Adams, at that time. John Quincy practiced law and in 1803 he was elected a U.S. Senator. Two more sons were born in Washington, DC.
In 1809 Louisa left her two older sons to be educated in Massachusetts and took two-year-old Charles Francis to Russia, where Adams served as Minister to Russia. For nearly six years, from 1809–1815, Louisa and John Quincy lived in the Russian capital of St. Petersburg. She later blamed her long absence for the early deaths of her two older sons.
Despite the glamour of the tsar’s court, Louisa struggled with cold winters, strange customs, limited funds and poor health; an infant daughter born in 1811 died the next year. Louisa took up writing to keep her mind from her grief. In all, Louisa Adams was pregnant fourteen times, miscarried nine times and one child was stillborn.
In 1814, John Quincy was summoned to The Hague to participate in peace talks to end the War of 1812. While alone in Russia, Louisa managed the family’s affairs. In 1815, Louisa and little Charles had to make a a risky 40-day journey across war-torn Europe to join her husband in Paris.
Louisa’s courage and language skills helped the two of them find safe passage through unfamiliar and often dangerous lands. Happily, the next two years gave her an interlude of family life in England with their three sons.