TBT: John Adams, Episode 7


We’re recapping the 2008 miniseries John Adams each week because the 18th-century costumes and American history are just that good! Catch up with previous episodes here.


We made it through to the final episode! Unfortunately, there’s two important points about this episode that will likely make this post short:

  1. Everyone dies; and
  2. Not a lot of costume content as a result.

Peacefield, where everything is slightly tilted. I swear, once you start noticing the Dutch angles in this show, you can’t stop seeing them.


Nabby has a brave face on as she consults a doctor about the lump in her breast. She’s wearing a drab cotton drop-front gown, which looks slightly too big for her, and which works to make her look a bit unwell.


I tried like crazy to get a decent shot of this lovely gown worn by Abigail in the scene where the doctor consults the family about Nabby’s prognosis. It looks almost like a black shibori-resist dyed cotton, but again, the camera never lingers long enough, or close enough on her in this dress to say for certain.


Nabby proves what a total badass she is as the surgeons prep her for surgery. Anesthesia is basically laudanum and a splint between the teeth as her legs and arms are tied to the posters of the bed so she won’t struggle too much and disrupt the procedure.


The family waits anxiously for an update on Nabby’s surgery. Abigail is wearing a gray linen (or maybe cotton?) housegown over a matching undergown.


A fairly clear shot of Abby’s dress. I do love that deep V neckline.


The good news is that Nabby has survived the surgery and the doctor seems optimistic for her recovery. Abby’s relief is evident in the light-colored cotton printed frock she’s wearing while she and John try to keep their spirits up about their daughter.


These aren’t bad as far as movie paintings go, but clearly the aim was to try to make the real portraits of John and Abigail look like Paul Giamatti and Laura Linney. They did an OK job.


Things fast-forward a lot after Nabby finally succumbs to breast cancer. Abby and John are now much older. This puts this part of the episode c. 1818 when Abby dies. She’s wearing a gorgeous white gown with (tambour?) embroidery around the hem and sleeve cuffs, but you can’t see anything of it except in this very brief shot when her and Sally converse on the veranda. Sally’s gown is also lovely, but also equally obscured from view.


We fast-forward again about 7 years. Abby is dead, and John Quincy is now President. He and Louisa hang out with Daddy Adams and discuss the family trade, politics. Louisa’s frock is interesting but isn’t on the screen for very long. Looks like a striped linen to me, and quite a bit more structured now that the fashion is moving towards a more tailored look for women.


John Quincy takes his father to see the painting, “Declaration of Independence” by John Trumbull, which has been installed in the Rotunda. This sets the date in 1826. John, of course, has only snarky things to say about it.


Finally, the last two of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence die within hours of one another. Jefferson’s deathbed scene is notable for the presence of two people he enslaved tending to him, one of which is Sally Hemmings.


I tried to find evidence if any of the costumes from the series were ever put on tour, or reused in other films, but so far I haven’t been able to come up with anything. It’s really very unfortunate, because the costumes throughout the series are beautifully made and clearly a lot of effort went into researching and creating them to be as historically accurate as possible. I was able to find one article from The Smithsonian that discusses the textile mill where many of the fabrics for the costumes and sets were woven, and it’s worth a read, as well as a shot of at least two of the costumes from the show on display at FIDM in 2009, but sadly, very little seems to be out there about what happened to the costumes made for the principle actors after the show ended (I am aware of at least two costumes that were recycled for extras on the show, and you can check them out here and here). If anyone has any additional information about them, please share it with us in the comments! We are always looking for more info!



About the author

Sarah Lorraine

Sarah has an undergraduate degree in Clothing & Textile Design and a Master's in Art History and Visual Culture, with an emphasis on fashion history. When she’s not caught in paralyzing existential dread, she's drinking craft cocktails and writing about historical costume in film and television. She's been pissing people off on the internet since 1995.

8 Responses

  1. susan l eiffert

    When you mentioned the textile mill I immediately thought Rabbit Goody? And by golly it was! I’ve known her and attended her wonderful Textile History Forums for 20 years which some of you might be interested in. A long weekend is devoted to a particular theme in antique textiles with papers presented and show and tell, with close examination using pick glasses and microscopes. Rabbit is funny, personable, extremely knowledgeable. She’s talking about online classes during the pandemic.

  2. Shashwat

    John Adams’ portrait accentuates his lustrous forehead a bit too much.
    Completely unrelated,but laudanum was commonly referred to as tincture of opium in the texts of the period.So what did they call camphorated tincture of opium?Wouldn’t such similar nanes have been dangerous when the former is prescribed in drops and the latter in teaspoons?

  3. Martina

    Nabby’s surgery was performed by John Warren, and she actually survived for two years. Warren’s son John Collins Warren was the first surgeon to operate using ether…way too late for poor Nabby though.

  4. Charity

    This episode makes me cry. A lot. I BAWL over Abigail. She was such a wonderful character, and a wonderful person, and it pains me so much to see John lose her. Also, listening to their daughter’s surgery is AWFUL. I usually fast-forward a lot of that scene, and it’s still hard to stand. The things people had to go through without anesthesia.

  5. LisaS

    I think you mean that TJ is tended by two People he enslaved. Makes it hella more real than saying slaves.

    • Aleko

      But actually not true, because to enslave someone they have to be not-a-slave before you start.

      • Trystan L. Bass

        Human beings are ‘not-a-slaves’ at the start. Even a human born into the world of chattel slavery is born so due to society & is not intrinsically “slave.” Historians are trying to move away from using “slave” as an term for a person precisely because it’s not an inborn, internal state. It’s imposed by others. A human being is “enslaved.” Yes, we at Frock Flicks slip up, & as editor, I didn’t catch it here, which I apologize for.

  6. Roxana.

    Jefferson and Adams both dying on the 4th of July a few hours apart is so Damme cinematic that it’s hard to believe it really happened! But it did.