The first time anyone asked a member of the Adams family about his famous ancestors, she was joking.
In April 1778, John Adams, lately of the Continental Congress, arrived in Bordeaux, France, to represent the new nation as a diplomat. His second day ashore, he was introduced to polite conversation at European dinner tables. "Mr. Adams," a pretty young woman asked him, "by your name I conclude you are descended from the first man and woman." Did he know of any family tradition that might explain how Adam and Eve "found out the art of lying together"? "I believe at first I blushed," wrote Adams in his diary that night, but...