About the Author

Catherine Denial is an Associate Professor of History at Knox College in Galesburg, IL. Since 2000, she has worked on curriculum development in Iowa through Bringing History Home, a TAH grant-funded project.

Labor and Trade in Colonial America

Letter from Abigail Adams to John Adams (1776)


In the period between the outbreak of war with Britain and the signing of the Declaration of Independence, women's work became even harder. In this letter, Abigail Adams writes to her husband John—away at the Continental Congress in Philadelphia—to look for supplies that she can no longer buy in Boston. She also describes another pressure on her workday—boarders, lodging at the Adams' home after being turned out of their own by the British.

Excerpt from Abigail Adams's letter of July 16, 1775:
Every article here in the West india way is very scarce and dear. In six [weeks] we shall not be able to purchase any article of the kind. I wish you would let Bass get me one pound of peper, and 2 yd. of black caliminco for Shooes. I cannot wear leather if I go bare foot the reason I need not mention. Bass may make a fine profit if he layes in a stock for himself. You can hardly immagine how much we want many common small articles which are not manufactured amongst ourselves, but we will have them in time. Not one pin is to be purchased for love nor money. I wish you could convey me a thousand by any Friend travelling this way. Tis very provoking to have such a plenty so near us, but tantulus like not able to touch. I should have been glad to have laid in a small stock of the West India articles, but I cannot get one copper. No person thinks of paying any thing, and I do not chuse to run in debt. I endeavour to live in the most frugal manner posible, but I am many times distressed. —Trot I have accommodated by removeing the office into my own chamber, and after being very angry and sometimes persuaideding I obtaind the mighty concession of the Bed room, but I am now so crouded as not to have a Lodging for a Friend that calls to see me. I must beg you would give them warning to seek a place before Winter. Had that house been empty I could have had an 100 a year for it. Many [persons] had applied before Mr. Trot, but I wanted some part of it my self, and the other part it seems I have no command of. —We have since I wrote you had many fine showers, and altho the crops of grass have been cut short, we have a fine prospect of Indian corn.


Massachusetts Historical Society. Adams Family Papers: An Electronic Archive. 2003. Accessed May 1, 2012.