On this day in 1771, thirty-five-year-old lawyer — and future President of the United States — John Adams traveled by horse southward along the Connecticut River, from Windsor through Hartford and Wethersfield to Middletown, as part of a Connecticut sojourn intended to improve his health.
Adams, a prolific writer, kept a detailed diary of his journey. As a lifelong resident of the greater Boston area — one of the most densely-populated areas of colonial America — he was clearly enraptured by the natural beauty he encountered while traveling through the Connecticut River valley:
“1771. Saturday June 8th. …I have spent this Morning in Riding thro Paradise. My Eyes never beheld so fine a Country. From Bissills in Windsor to Hartford Ferry, 8 miles, is one continued Street — Houses all along, and a vast Prospect of level Country on each Hand, the Land very rich and the Husbandry pretty good.”
After making a brief stop in Hartford to feed his horse and taking note of the “very handsome and large Houses” there, Adams continued his ride south:
“…[I] then rode to Weathersfield 4 miles, on the West Side of the River. Here is the finest Ride in America, I believe. Nothing can exceed the Beauty, and the Fertility of the Country. The Lands upon the River, the flatt low Lands, are loaded with rich, noble Crops of Grass, and Grain and Corn. …They have in Weathersfield a large brick Meeting House, Lockwood the minister. A Gentleman came in and told me… he had never seen in Phyladelphia nor in England, any Place equal to Hartford and Weathersfield.”
After eating his midday meal in Wethersfield, Adams rode on to Middletown, where he planned to spend the night. Upon arriving in Middletown, he remarked:
“Middleton I think is the most beautifull Town of all. When I first opened into the Town which was upon the Top of a Hill, there opened before me the most beautifull Prospect of the River, and the Intervals and Improvements, on each Side of it, and the Mountains at about 10 Miles distance both on the East and West Side of the River… The Road lies here along the Bank of the River on the right Hand is a fine level Tract of Interval Land as rich as the Soil of Egypt.”
As he concluded his June 8th diary entry, Adams wistfully wrote, “I wish [the] Connecticutt River flowed through Braintree,” his hometown in Massachusetts. Thanks to his keen eye and diligent record-keeping, Connecticans today can enjoy a rare and colorful glimpse into the 18th century landscape of the Connecticut River valley.
John Adams, Diary 17, 16 April – 14 June 1771, Adams Family Papers archive, Massachusetts Historical Society