Beverly residents' complete and total immersion in the 18th century gives their portrayals bedrock believability. They not only take themselves back to the birth of our nation, they take their audiences back as well.

Tom Macy isn’t a lawyer — but he plays one in historical performances.

He and fellow Beverly resident, Patricia Bridgman, portray John and Abigail Adams via the extensive letters the two shared during their lengthy separations and via historical research both from the Adamses and other sources.

Bridgman and Macy call themselves “living-history practitioners,” and their portrayals straddle the line between dedication and obsession.

“It is a bit of an insane hobby,” said Macy.

Once the white wig, buckle shoes, knickers and waist coat go on for Macy and the gray dress and white cap go on for Bridgman, they cease their modern existence and enter a world in which a British garrison occupies Boston, King George has suspended virtually all civil liberties guaranteed under the Massachusetts Bay Colony’s charter, and the tension of impending war hangs in the air.

It is a world in which small pox and dysentery kill indiscriminately.

In the Adams household, a brother, an aunt, a servant, a brother’s child and Abigail’s mother would all die of dysentery — a microbial intestinal infection usually caused by polluted drinking water.

Most of the Adamses would receive the equivalent of a small pox vaccine. It was a procedure in which doctors would take a needle and thread and draw it through a smallpox pustule on a person who had contracted the disease. They would then make a small cut in the recipient’s arm and draw the thread through the cut.

“The idea was that the person would contract small pox, but that they would contract a much milder case,” said Macy.

Abigail had herself and three children inoculated while her husband was in Philadelphia at the Continental Congress in 1775 and John Adams had himself inoculated in 1764.

A fourth child contracted the disease the “natural way,” but survived.

“You did that without telling me,” admonished Macy, falling into character.

“My dear, my letter to you was delayed,” Bridgman responded, without skipping a beat.

Their complete and total immersion in the 18th century gives their portrayals bedrock believability. They not only take themselves back to the birth of our nation, they take their audiences back as well.

What is perhaps most interesting and convincing about their living-history portrayals is the Adamses’ sheer humanity as they reveal themselves in their letters.

This is not only history unfolding, it is also history unfolding entwined in a lifelong love story.

Even by modern standards, Abigail and John were in an equal marriage. The couple shared many of the same values. Both were Congregationalists, but Abigail outright rejected the concept of the Trinity, while John was less adamant on the issue. Both believed in independence. Both opposed slavery, although John was willing to “set the issue aside” in order to form the nation, and Abigail was not so accommodating. Abigail was her husband’s most trusted confidant and political advisor, even as she upbraided him on women’s rights and slavery.

While her husband was away for extended periods during the American Revolutionary War, Abigail ran the family’s 108-acre farm, making sure it turned a profit and fed the family.

“Not all of John’s legal clients pay,” explained Bridgman, falling into character. “So the farm must support and feed us.”

“The farm runs much better when I am away,” admitted Macy, also in character.

By all accounts the couple were each other’s biggest fans.

In fact, the one issue that tarnishes Adams’ legacy, his support of the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798, stems partially from Abigail’s dedication to her husband. The acts were passed under the threat of war with France. They tightened restrictions on alien residents and made it more difficult to become a citizen. They also prohibited publication of “any false, scandalous and malicious writing.” The last act was designed to stifle criticism of Adams during his presidency.

Abigail believed so strongly in her husband and was so stung by criticism of him, she urged him to support the acts, even though they went against both their political principles until that time.

“It was the only time she gave her husband bad advice,” said Macy.

So strong was their love, the first time Macy and Bridgman were asked to portray the couple and read from their letters, it was for a Valentine’s Day event at a bookstore.

Both had been involved in living-history portrayals as part of the Danvers Alarm List Company — the Danvers militia, Minutemen, who responded to the call on April 19, 1775, eventually attacking the retreating British regulars at what is now Arlington.

“I called Pat and she said, ‘Let’s give it a try.’”

“We crammed more for that than we ever did for anything in college,” said Bridgman.

Their portrayals have evolved in the three years they have been doing the living history, so they have become experts not only on the relationship between the two, but also on Colonial life in general.

“What’s the cure for dysentery?” someone in the crowd may ask. “Wormwood and sage,” Bridgman will answer. What is dropsy? “The pooling of fluid in the body.” The cure for distemper? “Blood letting and blistering.”

Macy even knows why we raise our right hands when giving testimony in court.

 “Some capital crimes qualified for benefit of clergy. It was a clemency you could invoke once in your life, just for some crimes. They would have branded you, just below the right thumb. So if you raised your right hand in court and you were branded, everyone knew you couldn’t invoke benefit of clergy again.”

Both Bridgman and Macy say some audience members play “Get the Adamses” and ask arcane questions on purpose.

“I don’t mind,” said Macy. “I think it’s fun. I guess I’m just confident enough that I think I can take them on.”

If you go

What: Living-history readings from the letters of John and Abigail Adams

Who: Beverly residents Tom Macy and Patricia Bridgman When: May 10, 2 p.m. Where: Beverly Historical Society, 117 Cabot St.

Cost: $8 members, $10 general public. Limited space. Call 978-922-1186 for reservations