Oxford Tree-Ring Laboratory - Massachusetts


John Adams Birthplace

John Adams Birthplace, Quincy, Norfolk County, Massachusetts (42.239325, -71.003448)

(a) East Chamber Felling Dates: Winter 1673/4, Spring 1677, and Winter 1677/8

(b) West Chamber Felling Dates: Winter 1720/21 and Winter 1721/22

(c) Lean-to Felling dates: After 1642

The John Adams Birthplace (Figure 4), facing south, is a two-room plan structure, two-and-one-half stories in height with a central chimney and a rear lean-to. Presently, a small wing extends from the rear center of the lean-to.

Deacon John Adams (2nd U.S. President’s father) purchased the property in 1720 from James Penniman. Prior to the Penniman ownership (1675-1720), there is one recorded owner—William Needham. William Needham is said to have obtained the parcel as a land grant in 1639/40.

The front part of the house was built in 1722, or shortly thereafter by Deacon John Adams. President John Adams refers to the fact that his father built the house in a letter to Dr. Benjamin Rusk of July 19, 1812. The framing of the east side incorporates a number of reused timbers. Four of the timbers including the summer beam (Figure 5), two joists in the east room ceiling (Figures 8 and 9), and one joist in the ceiling by the attic stairs, believed to have been reset, dated to 1673/4-1677/8. Other timbers, including two rafters and a joist show framing features that are consistent with a late 1670s construction date, suggesting that they may have been salvaged from the same structure as the four dated reused timbers. It does not appear, however, that a complete cohesive frame was incorporated into the east part of the 1722 building, as other timbers on the east side, such as posts and tie beams, are more characteristic of early 1720s construction in that they are less carefully finished and two of these timbers dated to 1722..

The reused rafters in the attic east of the chimney show evidence of having been associated with clasped purlins (Figures 6 and 7). The rafter just east of the chimney, though now turned 180 degrees from its original orientation, shows evidence of a mortise for a collar and right above it, of a slot into which the clasped purlin was slipped. In the east attic room, the sides of the other reused rafter are covered with plaster, so that the slot for the clasped purlins can not be seen, but pegs to secure the purlin can be seen on the lower face of the rafter. Though clasped purlins were a frequently used framing option in England, only one other example of their use is known to survive in New England – at the Tuttle House in Ipswich, Massachusetts. There, rafters from an earlier structure that once held clasped purlins are also reused in a current roof.

In order for the dendrochronologists to sample the timbers in the ceiling of the east room, floor boards in the east chamber over the summer beam were removed. Figures 8 reveals that the joists are set in the original pockets. One of the joists can be seen to have a tusk tenon (Figure 9), a feature much more likely to be found in a house of the 1670s than one of the 1720s. It could be that the summer beam (Figures 5 and 8) and the original joists associated with it in the east room ceiling were reused en mass from the 1678 structure, but further investigation is need to determine how much of an earlier house frame was inserted intact into the present structure.

In 1897, a brick with the numerals 1681 was found in the southeast foundation. The house was assumed by early antiquarians to have had its origins in the seventeenth century, partly because of this brick. The letter in which John Adams said that his father built the house was discounted as not factual, in spite of the fact that it appears in John Adams letterbook. Possibly the reused timbers were salvaged from an earlier house on the site, built during the ownership of Joseph Penniman, who purchased the property in 1675.

Deacon Adams’s first son, the future president was born in the house in 1735. In 1896, the Adams Chapter of the Daughters of the Revolution leased the birthplace from the Adams Real Estate Trust. In 1940, the Trust transferred ownership to the City of Quincy. In 1979, the Federal Government became the owner and the National Park Service took over the administration of the property as an historic site.

Miles, D H, Worthington, M J, and Grady, A A, 2005b “Tree-Ring Dating of The John Adams Birthplace and the John Quincy Adams Birthplace, Franklin Street at President’s Avenue, Quincy, Massachusetts”, ODL unpubl rep 2005/11

Link to the National Park Service's webpage for the John Adams Birthplace here.




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Oxford Tree-Ring Laboratory

Michael Worthington
Jane Seiter, Ph.D

25 E. Montgomery St.
Baltimore, MD 21230