Biography, Politics, Source, Women's History

Courtship and Communication – Early American History vs Today


Phone calls, texting, emails, and social media. Today’s technology has made communication almost instantaneous, thus greatly impacting the way relationships are formed.

In early colonial America, the only way to reach someone distant was to write letters. We would have to wait days or even weeks to receive a reply and hope our letters even made it to their doorstep. To some people today this method may seem antiquated, but are there some benefits to hand-written letters we no longer experience today?

John and Abigail Adams are known to have written numerous letters back and forth long before they were married. Luckily, many of those letters have survived today and we can gain an inside look into their courtship and how letters played a huge role in their relationship.

Letter writing was seen to be an important daily task in early American history and many, including John Adams, actually found it pleasurable. However, John Adams found writing to his beloved to be the most rewarding part of his day.

He states in one of his letters to Abigail, “Now Letter-Writing is, to me, the most agreeable Amusement: and Writing to you the most entertaining and agreeable of all Letter-Writing.”

In today’s society, one could argue that although we greatly appreciate every text or email received by someone with whom we are romantically involved, we do it with such quick mindlessness that it doesn’t hold as much value as a hand-written letter that took hours to write. Thorough these long letters, both men and women could tell how much thought and effort went into each one and appreciate, not only the long-awaited arrival of such a message, but the person who sent it as well.

Thoughtfulness is not the only benefit to hand-written letters. Many women of that period felt that letters were a way to express themselves without the fear of being judged and criticized by their neighbors.

Abigail Adams wrote in one of her letters to John, “My pen is always freer than my tongue. I have wrote many things to you that I suppose I never could have talk’d.”

Letters gave the women the confidence to openly speak their mind and form a more genuine connection with their significant other. Although today’s forms of communication also provide women with that opportunity, in early American society, this chance was much more treasured and desired.

Regardless of the form of communication, relationships have all been molded around the way we reach each other. Today’s technology allows us to instantly reach one another so relationships can build more rapidly, but when we take a moment to look back on the art of hand-written letters, we see that although old-fashioned, it may be worth giving a chance.

Jessica Bourke (c) April 2015

Jessica Bourke is a junior at Lynn University in Boca Raton, FL. As a part of her history seminar, she is writing short pieces on Martha Washington’s and Abigail Adams’ handwritten letters. This blog is one of those written for her history seminar.

Images of letter writing from (accessed 17 April 2015)

Images of Abigail Adams from (accessed 17 April 2015)

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