Anyone who has read David McCullough’s biography of John Adams (or seen the HBO mini-series) or has been in an introductory U.S. history class where Abigail Adams’s “Remember the Ladies” letter was discussed, knows about the very close relationship between John and Abigail. I recently heard someone say that McCullough’s book was so unbelievably successful because it was more the story of an eighteenth-century love affair than a biography of a stodgy and sometimes curmudgeonly founding father from Massachusetts.
Sure, the John and Abigail letters are rich. At times, they can be quite moving. I regularly assign some of them to my students. But they can also be rather boring, especially when compared to the courtship and marriage letters of Philip Vickers Fithian and Elizabeth Beatty. If you are interested in a topsy-turvy courtship, a rejected marriage proposal, an eighteenth-century love triangle, and the navigation of a long distance relationship filled with passion and homesickness, then I will take Philip and Betsy over John and Abigail every time. There are a lot more extant letters written between John and Abigail, but the correspondence between Philip and Betsy is much juicier!