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Adams, Hannah (1755–1831) - Religious History

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Hannah Adams was born in Medfield, Massachusetts, to Thomas and Elizabeth (Clark) Adams on October 2, 1755. Although she had no formal education, her father was interested in education and read constantly. Hannah suffered from frail health, and he encouraged her, too, to read to make up for her sporadic schooling. When her father’s business failed, the family was forced to take in boarders; one taught her Latin and Greek, and another interested her in history by reading from An Historical Dictionary of All Religions by Thomas Brough-ton, an English clergyman. She began compiling her own information about various denominations while working at weaving bobbin lace and tutoring young men preparing for college.

In 1784, in an effort to make more money, she published her manuscript, Alphabetical Compendium of the Various Sects . The book went through several editions in both the United States and England, and the author was able to gain some financial stability as well as the title “the first American woman who sought to support herself by her pen,” given to her by Notable American Women .

In 1791 Adams published A View of Religions . In 1799 she published A Summary History of New-England . Though this book proved less popular, she was able to recoup her money on a shortened version she wrote for the schools in 1804. Unfortunately, the book resulted in an ongoing controversy between Adams and two other authors on the same topic, the Rev. Jedidiah Morse and the Rev. Elijah Parish. Adams heard that Morse and Parish were working on the same topic, and she wrote to Morse seeking assurance that their work would not interfere with hers. He told her it would not, then later wrote that his collaborator was upset with her plans to publish her history. When several influential friends became involved (James Freeman, minister of King’s Chapel, Boston; William S. Shaw, director of the Boston Athenaeum; the Rev. Joseph Stevens Buckminster, owner of a 3,000-volume collection of books), Morse and Parish decided to place the matter before three referees. Meanwhile, as publication was held up, Adams was unable to earn money on the book. The argument was eventually placed before the referees, who decided that Morse had done nothing legally wrong, but that morally he was responsible for Adams’s suffering financially and should repay her. He did offer an apology, then made the matter public in 1814 when he published a book outlining the ten-year controversy.

Through annuities given her by her friends, Adams was able to continue her work. In 1804 she published The Truth and Excellence of the Christian Religion Exhibited , a compilation of biographical sketches of Christian apologists, followed by An Abridgement of the History of New-England, for the Use of Young Persons in 1807. She then wrote History of the Jews in 1812 and A Dictionary of All Religions and Religious Denominations in 1817. She wrote Leipzig in 1819–20, followed by Letters on the Gospels in 1824. A Memoir of Miss Hannah Adams, Written by Herself , written mainly to raise money for her ailing younger sister, was published posthumously in 1832. Hannah Adams died December 15, 1831, in Brookline, Massachusetts.

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