Abigail, in the Bible. 1 The wife of Nabal. She persuaded David not to take vengeance on her husband. When Nabal died, she married David. 2 David's stepsister, mother of Amasa.
Adams, Abigail, 1744-1818, wife of President John Adams and mother of President John Quincy Adams, b. Weymouth, Mass. She was born Abigail Smith. A lively, intelligent woman, she was the chief figure in the social life of her husband's administration and one of the most distinguished and influential of the first ladies in the history of the United States. Her detailed letters are a vivid source of social history. The correspondence with her husband was edited in a number of volumes by Charles Francis Adams; her letters as well as John's, are included in The Adams-Jefferson Letters, edited by Lester J. Cappon (1959); letters to her sister, Mary Smith Cranch, are in New Letters of Abigail Adams, 1788-1801, edited by Stewart Mitchell (1947, repr. 1973).

See abridged ed. of John and Abigail Adams' letters (ed. by M. A. Hogan and C. J. Taylor, 2007); biographies by J. Whitney (1947, repr. 1970), L. E. Richards (1917, repr. 1971), and C. W. Akers (1980). See also bibliography for Adams, John.

Masham, Abigail, Lady, d. 1734, favorite of Queen Anne of England. Her maiden name was Abigail Hill. A plain, intelligent person, she became (1704) bedchamber woman to the queen through the influence of her cousin Sarah Churchill, duchess of Marlborough. In 1707 she married Samuel Masham (later a baron), a groom to Anne's husband, Prince George of Denmark. Mrs. Masham gradually supplanted the duchess of Marlborough in the queen's affection and became the instrument through which Robert Harley, her kinsman, exerted his influence on Anne. In 1714, however, Mrs. Masham quarreled with Harley, secured his dismissal as lord treasurer, and assured Viscount Bolingbroke (Henry St. John) of supreme political power. After Anne's death (1714), she lived in retirement.

Abigail is a female name occurring in Biblical narratives from the Books of Samuel, and reflected in the Books of Chronicles. The name Abigal occurs on one occasion, and is thought by the vast majority of scholars to be an alternate spelling of Abigail. There appear to be two individuals named Abigail:

  • The mother of Amasa. In the Book of Chronicles, and Septuagint version of the Books of Samuel, Abigail's father is identified as being Jesse, and she therefore would be a sister of David, but in the masoretic text of the Books of Samuel her father is named Nahash; scholars think that Nahash is a typographic error here, based on the appearance of the name two verses later. In the Book of Chronicles, Amasa's father is identified as Jether the Ishmaelite, but in the hooks of Samuel, Amasa's father is identified as Ithra the Israelite; scholars think that the latter case is more likely.
  • The wife of the wicked Nabal, who became a wife of David after Nabal's death. She had gone out to stop David from taking revenge against Nabal for his ingratitude towards David, warning him that vengeance was sinful and God would take care of the issue. Her accuracy in understanding God's will suggests that she is a prophetess. She became the mother of one of David's sons, who is named in the Book of Chronicles as Daniel, in the masoretic text of the Books of Samuel as Chileab, and in the Septuagint text of the Books of Samuel as Daluyah.

Abigail's self-styling as a handmaid led to Abigail being the traditional term for a waiting-woman (for example, Abigail, the waiting gentlewoman, in Beaumont and Fletcher's The Scornful Lady, published in 1616).

It is possible for both these women named Abigail to be different accounts of the same woman, as textual scholars regard the account in the Books of Chronicles as ultimately deriving from the Books of Samuel, and the references there to Abigail as a sister of David occur only in the passages which textual scholars attribute to the court history of David, a document which doesn't mention an Abigail as one of David's wives.


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