During the administration of sixth president John Quincy Adams, the White House was the scene of a messy romantic entanglement which resulted in all three of Adams’ sons falling in love with the same woman, their cousin, Mary Catherine Hellen…and one White House wedding, leaving the two rejected swains devastated.
|Mary Catherine Hellen Adams, silhouette|
Mary (born in 1806) was the niece of the First Lady Louisa Adams. Orphaned at age 9, Mary and her siblings moved in with their aunt, uncle, and three male cousins, George, John II, and Charles Frances.
When Mary was thirteen, Aunt Louisa attended one of the receptions for presidential daughter Maria Monroe’s wedding, and found it lacking. She lamented, “I didn’t get a bit of cake and Mary had none to dream on” (referring to the practice of placing a piece of wedding cake under a girl’s pillow so she could dream of her future husband).
Mary didn’t seem to need cake to dream about gentlemen, however. By the time she was fifteen, she was acknowledged to be beautiful and highly flirtatious. She set her sights within the home, however, falling for Charles, youngest son of John Quincy and Louisa. He was a year her senior, and by all accounts a sensible young man.
Naturally, Charles’ heart was broken when Mary’s eye turned to his eldest brother, George. In his grief he called her “one of the most capricious women that were ever formed in a capricious race.” George, an alcoholic with a roving eye, didn’t listen to his youngest brother, and dove headlong into a relationship with Mary. He offered marriage and she accepted, but they determined to wait to marry until George finished his education. He left for Boston to continue his studies, leaving his fiancee in his parents' continued care.
|John Adams II, artist unknown, public domain|
In 1825, John Quincy Adams was elected president of the United States, and the entire household moved into the White House. Middle son John Adams II came, too, since he’d just been expelled from Harvard for fighting and inciting a student riot.
Meanwhile, Mary was distracted while waiting for George to finish school. John, now his father’s secretary, was a daily presence in her life, and she enjoyed his sarcasm and good looks. If he had a drinking problem like his older brother, he kept it under control. John decided to steal Mary from his brother, and she was quite willing. She broke things off with George and accepted John's proposal. There are hints that their relationship was physical and caused talk.
Louisa Adams did not approve of the match, but felt the amorous couple should be married post haste. She speedily arranged a wedding much like the first White House wedding of a Presidential child, Maria Monroe—except this wedding would provide sufficient cake. On February 28, 1828, they celebrated the wedding of John, now 25, and Mary, 22, in the Elliptical Room, now known as the Blue Room.
|Louisa Adams by Gilbert Stuart, Public domain|
A reception followed, where the president danced a Virginia reel with his new daughter-in-law.
Neither Charles nor George attended the ceremony. Louisa wrote of the wedding to Charles: “Madame (Mary) is cool easy and indifferent as ever.” And John? He “looks already as if he had all the cares in the world upon his shoulders and my heart tells me that here is much to fear.” Ill from worry about the match, Louisa took to bed for several days.
The bride and bridegroom settled into the White House. Nine months later, their first daughter, Mary Louisa, was born in the White House.
Despite naming their second daughter Georgeanna Frances, for her uncles, neither George nor Charles was quite over the sting of John and Mary’s marriage. George drank heavily, and in 1829, he fell or jumped over a ship’s railing and drowned—accident or suicide, no one is certain.
John went into the flour business after his father left the White House, but failed and, now a heavy drinker, died at age 31. Mary moved in with her in-laws and cared for them until their deaths. Sadly, both her daughters died before she did--one in childhood, and the other as a matron.
And her first love Charles, the youngest son? He married, had several children, and was a success in federal politics.
Susanne Dietze began writing love stories in high school, casting her friends in the starring roles. Today, she writes in the hope that her historical romances will encourage and entertain others. A pastor’s wife and mom of two, she loves fancy-schmancy tea parties, travel, and curling up on the couch with a costume drama and a plate of nachos. Susanne is the author of nine new and upcoming historical romances; her latest, For a Song, is in the EPCA and PW Bestselling The Cowboy's Bride Collection from Barbour. You can visit her on her website, www.susannedietze.com.
Best Little Stories from the White House by C. Brian Kelly