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An Alphabetical Compendium of Various Sects…
Hannah Adams (1755-1831)
Boston: Printed by B. Edes & Sons, 1784
First edition
BL31 A3 1784

Hannah Adams was one of the first women in the United States to make a living as writer. Born in Massachusetts, Adams was a distant cousin of President John Adams and the daughter of a lifelong bibliophile called “Book” Adams, who failed an attempt at bookselling. Too frail to go to school, she was taught Latin, Greek, geography and logic along with theological students who boarded with her family.

One of the students introduced her to Broughton’s Dictionary of Religions, which led to her interest in writing on religion. At the age of seventeen, her father faced bankruptcy. Adams helped sustain the family by selling her lace and by teaching. The sale of her books added to her income.

Alphabetical Compendium was an important contribution to American religious literature. In her book, Adams (a Unitarian) represented denominations from the perspective of their adherents, without injecting her own opinions. It includes one of the earliest accounts of the Shakers and a description of contemporary Jewry. This work went through four editions in the United States, each under a different title, and was also published in England.