Archives and Library Division
MURRAY (JUDITH SARGENT) PAPERS
1765 - 1818; n.d.
Microfilm copy must be used.
Scope, Content, and Significance of the Collection:Judith Sargent Murray (17511820), a native of Gloucester, Massachusetts, was the wife of sea captain John Stevens (17411786); the wife of the Reverend John Murray (17411815), founder of the Universalist denomination in America; and sister of Winthrop Sargent (17531820), secretary and acting governor of the Northwest Territory and first governor of the Mississippi Territory. Another brother, Fitz William Sargent (17681822), was a wealthy Gloucester sea captain and merchant. Judith Sargent Murray was also the cousin of artist Henry Sargent (17701845) and author Lucius Manlius Sargent (17861867).
Judith Sargent Murray is regarded by many historians as the first American feminist writer. She is also considered to be the primary theorist regarding the merits of women's education during the early republic. Although twice married, she rejected the idea that a woman's primary goal in life was to marry. Mrs. Murray argued that men and women possessed equivalent intellectual abilities, but women were perceived by men as being intellectually inferior because they were not provided the same educational opportunities as men. Murray was a staunch advocate for the equal education of the sexes. She also believed that women should be provided educational opportunities that would ultimately enable them, if they chose, to support themselves by their own efforts. In a letter to her Harvard-educated brother Winthrop Sargent she complained:
But during my first years, although our parents were, as you know, the best of human beings, they yet did homage at the shrine of fashion, custom tyrranises (sic) over the strongest mindsIt was the mode to confine the female intellect within the narrowest bounds, and by consequence, I was robbed of the aid of educationI shall feel the effects of this irrational deprivation, as long as I shall continue an inhabitant of this world.Despite her complaints, Judith Sargent Murray was afforded private educational opportunities far more comprehensive than those available to most women, and in many cases, superior to the educational opportunities available to most men of her generation.
Judith Sargent Murray is probably best known for her three-volume compilation of essays, verses, and two plays entitled The Gleaner, published in 1798. The following quotation from her essay "Observations on Female Abilities," published in volume three of The Gleaner, illustrates her feminist viewpoint and her attitude toward female education:
Yes in this younger world, "the Rights of Women" begin to be understood; we seem, at length, determined to do justice to THE SEX; and, improving on the opinions of a Wollstonecraft, we are ready to contend for the quantity, as well as quality, of mind. The younger part of the female world have now an inestimable prize put into their hands; and it depends on the rising generation to refute a sentiment, which, still retaining its advocates, grounds its arguments on the incompatibility of the present enlarged plan of female education I may be accused of enthusiasm; but such is my confidence in THE SEX, that I expect to see our young women forming a new era in female history.The principal biography of Judith Sargent Murray, who frequently published under the pseudonym Constantia, is entitled Constantia: A Study of the Life and Works of Judith Sargent Murray, 17511820, by Vena Bernadette Field, published in The Maine Bulletin in February 1931. Editor Milton Ellis had this to say about Judith Sargent Murray in his foreword to Constantia :
Mrs. Judith Sargent Murray is a very minor figure in the history of American letters. Nevertheless, her works are so typical of the late transfer from neo-classicism to romanticism in America, and her life history so well illustrates the experience of a Massachusetts blue-stocking of the 1790's .Moreover, Mrs. Murray possesses some claims to distinction in her own right. She was the first American writer of plays for the Boston theatre, and perhaps the first native woman dramatist in this country to have her plays professionally performed. Her "Gleaner" essays, fusing the tradition of Johnson and Goldsmith with that of Addison and Steele, were one of the first American series to achieve the dignity of separate publication. She was an active propagandist in one of the first movements in New England religious liberalism. And finally, she anticipated Mary Wollstonecraft as a pioneer advocate in print of woman's intellectual equality with man.The papers of Judith Sargent Murray span a pivotal period of American history. Her letters, essays, and poems reflect the age and life of a woman of intelligence, talent, erudition, and ambition, who had the farsightedness to record them for the edification of posterity. Judith Sargent Murray realized that she would not achieve the recognition and acclaim for her work that she truly deserved in her lifetime. Therefore, she was particularly fastidious in maintaining edited manuscript copies of most of her outgoing letters written between the years 1765 and 1818, a portion of her manuscript essays, and most of her poetry manuscripts. Her letters, obviously intended for future publication, were to be the necessary literary vehicle that would one day enable her to achieve the lasting fame that proved to be so elusive during her lifetime. She prefaced her series of letter books with the following dedication:
I have committed to the flames, nearly all my letters, written previous to the year one thousand, seven hundred, and seventy-four, preserving only two or three, for the purpose of comparing myselfwith myselfThe letters which I have destroyed contained a kind of history of my juvenile lifePerhaps, it may be observed, it would have been well if I had made my conflagration more generalYet, if those who may survive me, possess as much curiosity relative to me as I have experienced respecting those individuals of my kindred, who have lived before me, every thing I have written will be read by my posterity, should I be blest with descendants, with interest and aviditySome of my letters I have purposely involved in ambiguitylet no one seek to lift the veileverything relative to myself as an individual, I have endeavored to render clear and unembarrassed, but when remarking upon the communications of others, I possess no right to be thus explicitUpon the whole, I commend these volumes of letters to affectionate partiality, and, thus patronized, I am assured I have little to fear.The following quote from one of Murray's letters illustrates her editorial practices regarding her letter writing which she considered to be a form of self-expression necessary for continuing intellectual development:
I generally write my own letters a second time, and from this I derive at least two advantages, 1st the handwriting of my copy is better, for I can afford to pay more attention to the cut of my letters when I am not so much a Composer as a Copyist, and secondly, I never fail of making improvements upon the matter of my page, and of thus rendering more worthy of perusalI do not know that this custom is necessary for every onebut with me it originated in a diffidence in my own abilities, in a desire to make my very best appearance, and in respect for those whom I have addressed.The Judith Sargent Murray Papers represent a significant collection of historical and literary manuscripts. The collection includes twenty letter books containing manuscript copies of outgoing letters written by Judith Sargent Murray between 1765 and 1818. The letter books provide a wealth of documentation about her life; her literary efforts; her feminist advocacy; Universalist denominational history; the life of the Reverend John Murray; Sargent family history and genealogy; American (especially New England) social, political, economic, educational, religious, military, naval, and maritime history; American foreign policy; American art, architectural, landscape architectural, and decorative arts history; the American Enlightenment; the American Revolution; the War of 1812; Northwest territorial history; Mississippi territorial and early state history; Louisiana territorial and early state history (limited to New Orleans); and women's history, colonial history, and early national history generally. The collection also contains one manuscript volume of Murray's essays entitled "The Repository..." and four manuscript volumes of her poetry. Included are manuscript copies of a small portion of the Reverend John Murray's correspondence and his marriage and baptismal record. There are also manuscript copies of miscellaneous writings of the Reverend Mr. Murray's mentor, the Reverend James Relly of London, England.
There are important letters in the collection that outline Judith Sargent Murray's feminist ideas, especially her belief in the intellectual equality of men and women. Perhaps the most significant of these letters is one in which she contrasted her feminist views with those of Mary Wollstonecraft [Godwin], author of Vindication of the Rights of Women (1792). It is clear from her letter that Murray was not in total agreement with Wollstonecraft's ideas, but nevertheless found more in her writings to commend than to condemn. In another significant letter she responded to an anonymous lady from Philadelphia who disapproved of women interested or involved in politics. In her response, she refuted the lady by citing examples of the astute political advice offered by the consorts of Peter the Great and George III, as well as the influence First Lady Abigail Adams exercised in the political decisions of President John Adams.
Letters to Judith Sargent Murray's "Circle" of family and friends represent an immense treasure-trove of New England (especially Massachusetts) history spanning approximately fifty years. There is valuable documentation for the cities of Boston and Gloucester, Massachusetts; and numerous other cities throughout New England; and to a lesser extent for cities of the Middle Atlantic colonies states, principally Philadelphia.
In many of her early letters, Judith Sargent Murray mentioned or described various Revolutionary War events including the quartering of troops in Boston; the Boston Tea Party; the effects of the British embargo on various ports throughout New England; the presence of the British fleet in Gloucester harbor and the panic this situation aroused in the local citizenry; an incident in which His Majesty's schooner, The Hope, was fired upon by the citizens of Gloucester; and a naval battle between American and British forces near Penobscot, Maine. Furthermore, in one particularly significant letter, Judith Sargent Murray provided an account of a plot involving an anonymous "Dutchman" that would have enabled General Howe to capture General Washington and how Washington shrewdly eluded and ultimately foiled the perpetrators of the plot.
The Sargent family of Gloucester, Massachusetts, was traditionally involved in seafaring and commerce. Judith Sargent Murray's father, Winthrop Sargent, and grandfather, Epes Sargent, were both successful ship owners and merchants. Fitz William Sargent, brother of Judith Sargent Murray, carried on this family tradition by becoming a successful sea captain and merchant involved in trading ventures in India, China, Russia, and the West Indies. The profits from Fitz William Sargent's enterprises ultimately enabled him to retire to a comfortable estate near Newton, Massachusetts, where he died in 1822. Judith Sargent Murray's letters to Fitz William Sargent and other family members and friends are important in documenting the sea voyages and trading ventures of Fitz William Sargent and other New England sea captains and merchants.
In her own way, Judith Sargent contributed to this family tradition by marrying sea captain John Stevens of Gloucester, Massachusetts, on October 3, 1769. They resided in Gloucester for many years in a Georgian-style dwelling now known as the Sargent-Murray-Gilman-Hough House. Her letters to various family members during this period chronicle the financial reversals suffered by John Stevens in his seafaring and commercial ventures at the hands of the British during the Revolutionary War and his unsuccessful attempts to extricate himself from debt after the war. Due to the pressing demands of his creditors, John Stevens fled to St. Eustatius in the West Indies and died there on March 8, 1786.
There are many significant letters in the collection documenting Judith Sargent Murray's abiding friendship with the Reverend John Murray prior to and after their marriage circa 1788. Many of these letters contain evidence of the development of Murray's Universalist ministry in America and Judith Sargent Murray's impact upon it. Her letters to Murray also reveal the profound influence that he and the Reverend James Relly had on her spiritual development.
Additional letters to Murray are filled with descriptions and commentary about contemporary persons, places, and events. Included are references to the activities of Benjamin Franklin at the court of Louis XVI and the military alliance between America and France that resulted from his visit; a description of the country seat of Sir William Pepperell at Kittery Point, Maine; and an explanation of the circumstances surrounding General George Washington's appointment of the Reverend John Murray as chaplain of three regiments simultaneously and the approval of this appointment by General Nathanael Greene. Furthermore, her letters to John Murray embrace a variety of other subjects including literature, philosophy, and theology.
Apart from the Reverend Mr. Murray, Judith Sargent Murray often corresponded with clergymen, laymen, and sympathetic friends throughout New England; and as one might expect, many of these letters frequently expound upon the tenets of Universalism and theology in general. In one of her letters to the Reverend Jedidiah Morse of Charlestown, Massachusetts, author of The American Geography (1789), Judith Sargent Murray even presumed to present a theological argument on behalf of the Reverend Mr. Murray who happened to be out of town. Also of interest are Judith Sargent Murray's letters concerning the Universalist catechism that she wrote and published anonymously in 1782. Similar letters provide every indication that Murray was a prime mover in the development of Universalism, playing a far more active role in religious matters than most women of her day.
Other letters to family and friends further document her impact as an evangelist and propagandist for Universalism; and a few of these letters contain highly important references to the ministry of the Reverend Hosea Ballou, a rival of the Reverend Mr. Murray in the leadership of the Universalists, whose sermons Judith Sargent Murray considered to be "deistical and blasphemous." Additional letters concern the Reverend John Murray's legal authority to perform marriage ceremonies. Other significant letters refer to the construction of a new Universalist meeting house in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1817.
Judith Sargent Murray often accompanied the Reverend John Murray as he traveled throughout much of the eastern seaboard preaching the gospel of Universalism. In 1790, she had the opportunity of traveling to Philadelphia with the Reverend Mr. Murray who was helping to organize a convention of Universalists. During this period, she wrote numerous letters home to her family and friends describing her impressions of the various cities and towns she visited and the people she encountered on her trip. These letters provide interesting descriptions and commentary on the private homes, gardens, country seats, countryside, public buildings, churches, theatres, schools, inns, and taverns she saw or visited on the way to and from Philadelphia.
Included in this series of letters are instances where Judith Sargent Murray contrasted the different social customs of various cities and towns she visited. For example, she commented on the large number of divorces granted by the state legislature of Connecticut and remarked that divorce was more socially acceptable there than elsewhere, especially Massachusetts. She also commented that class distinctions seemed to be less obvious in Connecticut than in Massachusetts.
Judith Sargent Murray conveyed her impressions of her first meeting with President and Mrs. Washington at a reception in New York City during August 1790. She also mentioned composing a poem for Eleanor Custis that was prompted by the receipt of a drawing presented by Custis. Judith Sargent Murray further described her visit to Vice-President John Adams' home on the Hudson River and mentioned taking tea with his wife, Abigail Adams. She also described the ceremony acknowledging the ratification of the 1790 treaty between the United States and the Creek Nation and commented on the provisions of the treaty.
Judith Sargent Murray's descriptions and commentary regarding her actual stay in the Philadelphia area are also of considerable significance. She recounted her visit with Mrs. Bache, daughter of Benjamin Franklin, and commented favorably on the calibre of Franklin's personal library; summarized and critiqued various theatrical productions that she attended; mentioned attending a Catholic church service and commented on the architecture, furnishings, ritual, and ceremony; described her impressions of the Moravians of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania; commented on fine paintings she saw in private homes and museums; and provided an account of the arrival of Chief Alexander McGillivray and an envoy of about thirty Indians from the Creek Nation who had stopped in Philadelphia on their way to New York to negotiate a treaty with the United States government.
The Murrays were well received in Philadelphia, especially by the Universalists, who were anxious to have the Reverend John Murray relocate there on a permanent basis. Judith Sargent Murray's letters indicate that the Universalists offered him four hundred pounds sterling per year and a house rent-free for life, if he would move to Philadelphia. Her letters also reveal that the Murrays were at least tempted to remain in Philadelphia, except for ties of kinship in Massachusetts.
Judith Sargent Murray's sustained correspondence with her brother Winthrop Sargent is highly significant for a number of reasons. As one might expect, her many letters to Sargent are filled with important local news from New England, particularly Massachusetts. Her letters also chronicle Sargent's Revolutionary War service; his service as secretary and acting governor of the Northwest Territory; his service as governor of the Mississippi Territory; his life as a private citizen and planter in the Mississippi Territory; her stewardship regarding the education of Winthrop Sargent's children and stepchildren at various male and female academies and at Harvard College; and the activities of various members of Sargent's family including the David Urquhart family of New Orleans.
Among the important events Judith Sargent Murray recounted in her frequent letters to Winthrop Sargent are her account of the environment of religious toleration that was prevalent in Newport, Rhode Island, as evidenced by the large number of religious denominations that she noticed including Jews, Presbyterians, Baptists, Congregationalists, Hopkintonians, Episcopalians, Moravians, and Universalists; her description of a devastating fire in Boston during September of 1795; references to the activities of the Society of the Cincinnati in Boston; impressions of a concert she attended at Faneuil Hall; detailed description of a lavish ball in Boston honoring former President George Washington that was attended by a number of important people including First Lady Abigail Adams; and description of the pleasure gardens of Thomas Russell, a wealthy Boston merchant.
In other letters to Winthrop Sargent, Murray expressed her concern for his welfare during the Revolutionary War, especially while he was engaged in the Brandywine campaign. Additional letters document Winthrop Sargent's military exploits and General Washington's high personal regard for Sargent as an officer and gentleman.
General Arthur St. Clair was appointed governor and Winthrop Sargent was appointed secretary of the Northwest Territory in 1787. Winthrop Sargent was married for the first time to Rowena Tupper in 1789. His wife died in 1790 shortly after the birth of an infant son who also died. Judith Sargent Murray's letters to Winthrop Sargent during this period document Governor St. Clair's territorial administration; Sargent's administration of territorial affairs in the capacity of secretary and acting governor; her anxiety about the welfare of her brother, whom she believed was frequently threatened by hostile Indian attacks; her interest in Sargent family lands in Ohio; and evidence of Winthrop Sargent's disapproval of her marriage to the Reverend John Murray. In one significant letter she warned Sargent to beware of Governor St. Clair, whom she did not trust, and she urged her brother to retire from public life. In another significant letter she observed that the Pinckney Treaty with Spain might "operate propitiously to the Proprietors of Ohio lands."
President Adams subsequently appointed Winthrop Sargent governor of the Mississippi Territory in 1798, and he served until 1801. Sargent's alliance with the conservative Federalist Party tended to alienate him from the majority of his territorial constituency who were more politically democratic. Eventually, entrenched opposition to Sargent's policies developed among various factions in the territory, and this situation, coupled with the election of Thomas Jefferson as President, ultimately led to his political downfall. President Jefferson chose not to reappoint the politically unpopular Sargent as territorial governor, and appointed W. C. C. Claiborne instead. There are highly significant letters in the collection pertaining to the political turbulence in the Mississippi Territory that characterized the Sargent administration.
Despite his political unpopularity, Sargent remained in the Mississippi Territory after his tenure as governor ended. Judith Sargent Murray's letters during this period show her tremendous concern for the welfare of her brother and his second wife, Mary McIntosh Williams, widow of a wealthy planter, whom he had married in 1798, and her stepchildren, Mary Gayoso, Anna, David, and James C. Williams. Sargent had two additional sons by Mary McIntosh Williams, William Fitz Winthrop and George Washington Sargent.
Judith Sargent Murray's letters also reveal that she paid considerable attention to the education of Winthrop Sargent's children and stepchildren, who were educated in Massachusetts. In her lengthy letters to Sargent she described the academic progress of each child. She also supervised the education of Adam Lewis Bingaman and William Surget, both sons of wealthy planters of the Mississippi Territory. Many of these letters contain particularly valuable documentation for the history of various academies located at Boston, Andover, Exeter, Billerica, Charlestown, and Dorchester, Massachusetts; of Harvard University; and to a lesser extent, of Yale University.
In many of Judith Sargent Murray's letters to Winthrop Sargent she frequently referred to the activities of Winthrop Sargent's stepdaughter Mary Gayoso Williams, who married David Urquhart of New Orleans, Louisiana. These letters contain a fair amount of general historical information for the New Orleans area during the early nineteenth century.
Her correspondence with Winthrop Sargent also provides commentary about Federalist and Jeffersonian Republican party politics; foreign policy; international affairs; and the War of 1812. In a letter to Sargent, Judith Sargent Murray revealed her concern over the delay in implementing the Jay Treaty with Great Britain because of the obstinacy of the House of Representatives in voting the necessary funds. She also commented on Maximilien de Robespierre and the infamous part he played in the Reign of Terror during the French Revolution. Other letters document the political implications of the Louisiana Purchase. In another letter she described the destruction of public buildings in Washington, D.C., by the British during the War of 1812. Murray also related news of the capture of The Pickering, one of her brother FitzWilliam's ships, near Halifax, Nova Scotia, by British forces during the War of 1812 and the fortunate recapture and return of the ship to Gloucester harbor by the American captain and crew.
In many of her letters, Judith Sargent Murray frequently referred to the activities of her younger cousin, author Lucius Manlius Sargent, and often commented on his literary accomplishments. These letters contain a considerable amount of important biographical information about him. Also included are references to his malicious attempts to deride Murray's literary abilities in various publications. In one letter, Judith Sargent Murray even accused Lucius Manlius Sargent of shredding a copy of The Gleaner and depositing it on her doorstep at No. 5 Franklin Place.
There are scattered, but important, references in Judith Sargent Murray's letters pertaining to artists John Singleton Copley, Benjamin West, John Trumbull, Gilbert Stuart, and Henry Sargent. For example, she commented on the attainments of Copley as a portrait painter and in particular on a painting he had done of Lord Chatham while in England; described her visit to the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art where she viewed paintings by Benjamin West; described an exhibition of Revolutionary War paintings by John Trumbull; referred to the portrait of Winthrop Sargent painted by Gilbert Stuart as well as other Sargent family portraits painted by Stuart; and made inquiries of Henry Sargent on Winthrop Sargent's behalf regarding the possibility of his commissioning a chimneypiece painting of General George Washington and his role in the evacuation of Boston during the Revolutionary War.
There are a number of important descriptions of American colonial and federal period buildings in the letters of Judith Sargent Murray. They contain important documentation for her Gloucester, Massachusetts, home and a series of town houses designed by Charles Bulfinch that were located in Franklin Place, Boston, where she resided for many years. Murray also described the Massachusetts Capitol designed by Charles Bulfinch and the Massachusetts State Prison located at Charlestown. Also important is her detailed description of the architecture and furnishings of the United States Capitol in New York City. Included are many exacting descriptions of the imposing town houses and country seats of the families she visited when traveling throughout New England and the Middle Atlantic colonies states. Often accompanying these descriptions are references to the fine furnishings of these homes and detailed descriptions of their surrounding gardens.
Interspersed throughout the series of letter books are many interesting references to important historical figures. Examples include Abigail Adams, John Adams, John Quincy Adams, Alexander I, Benedict Arnold, Charles Bulfinch, Aaron Burr, John Singleton Copley, William Dunbar, Benjamin Franklin, Edmond Genet, George III, Nathanael Greene, Alexander Hamilton, Andrew Jackson, Thomas Jefferson, Henry Knox, Marquis de Lafayette, Louis XVI, Louis XVII , James Madison, Marie Antoinette, Jedidiah Morse, Napoleon, Harrison Gray Otis, Robert Treat Paine, Jr., Sir William Pepperell, Peter the Great, James Relly, Maximilien de Robespierre, Benjamin Rush, Arthur St. Clair, Henry Sargent, Lucius Manlius Sargent, Gilbert Stuart, John Trumbull, George Washington, Martha Washington, Benjamin West, and Mary Wollstonecraft. Her erudite commentary regarding these individuals will likely be of more than passing interest to scholars.
The literary career of Judith Sargent Murray is well documented in the collection. Her letters contain considerable information about the publication of her essays, plays, and poetry and the production of her plays. These letters should help to clarify many ambiguities and misconceptions concerning her successes and failures as an essayist, dramatist, and poet. There are also letters that document her editing for publication the letters, sermons, and autobiography of the Reverend John Murray. There are even a few references to one of Judith Sargent Murray's literary contemporaries, Sarah Wentworth Morton, who also published under the pseudonym Constantia. In order to avoid confusion among their respective readers, it was mutually agreed that Morton would publish in future under the pseudonym Philenia.
Judith Sargent Murray's principal literary work, The Gleaner, is a compilation of "The Gleaner" series of essays previously published in the Massachusetts Magazine between February 1792 and August 1794; miscellaneous verses; and two previously performed plays entitled Virtue Triumphant (formerly The Medium) and The Traveller Returned. The Gleaner was published by Thomas and Andrews of Boston in 1798. "The Gleaner" essays were abruptly discontinued by Murray in August 1794 because of an accusation that she was using the magazine as a vehicle for Universalist propaganda. "The Gleaner" essays embrace a variety of topics including contemporary politics, religion, education, manners, and morals.
There are numerous letters in the collection that reveal exactly how Judith Sargent Murray arranged for the publication of The Gleaner through subscription. A number of these letters were written to potential subscribers, many of whom were among the most prominent and influential citizens of the early republic. Subscribers who contributed funds toward publication were promised a handsome edition complete with a list of every subscriber's name and place of residence. One of her letters even indicated exactly how much the three-volume set would cost. The wove paper edition was available at $3.50 to subscribers and $4.000 to non-subscribers. The regular edition was available at $3.00 to subscribers and $3.50 to non-subscribers. The Gleaner was dedicated to President John Adams, and there is a letter in the collection requesting permission to dedicate The Gleaner to the President. Nearly eight hundred people subscribed to The Gleaner, an indication of its success.
The single manuscript volume of essays in the collection entitled "The Repository, or Miscellaneous Reflections Formed Upon Various Occasions and Interspersed with Events Highly Interesting to the Writer" is a compilation of "The Repository" series of essays published by Judith Sargent Murray in the Massachusetts Magazine between September 1792 and July 1794. "The Repository" essays are shorter in length than "The Gleaner" essays and address a variety of social and religious topics.
The composition of poetry was a treasured pastime of Judith Sargent Murray. She is known to have published a portion of her poetry in a variety of publications including the Massachusetts Magazine. However, the four manuscript volumes of poetry in the Judith Sargent Murray Papers represent a significant body of work that is believed to be largely unpublished. A number of poems deal with various moral and philosophical questions. One poem in particular reveals her objection to capital punishment. Other poems appear to have been inspired by events highly impressionable to her. Of particular importance is a series of poems composed after hearing a sermon delivered by the Reverend John Murray on February 15, 1778, and a series of poetical epilogues composed after attending various contemporary plays. Still other poems appear to have been composed specifically as presentation pieces.
Judith Sargent Murray maintained a lively interest in the theatre throughout much of her life. She is certainly one of the earliest native American playwrights and perhaps the first American woman to have her plays professionally performed on the stage. Her plays include The Medium (later retitled Virtue Triumphant), The Traveller Returned, and The African, none of which were commercial or critical successes. There is considerable documentation in the collection regarding her aspirations as a dramatist. Of great interest is information regarding the production of her plays; the Boston theatres that produced them; the theatre managers who supervised their production; the actors who appeared in them; and the critics who reviewed them. Of particular interest are a number of letters that document the attempts of critic Robert Treat Paine, Jr., editor of the Federal Orrery, to thwart the career of Judith Sargent Murray as a dramatist.
The Reverend John Murray suffered a debilitating stroke in 1809 that rendered him an invalid largely dependent upon the care of his wife until his death in 1815. Due to the Reverend Mr. Murray's ill health, Judith Sargent Murray assumed the task of editing his three-volume work entitled Letters and Sketches of Sermons that was published by Joshua Belcher of Boston between 1812 and 1813. After her husband's death, she completed and edited the autobiography that he had begun writing 1773 but never finished. It is entitled Records of the Life of the Rev. John Murray, Preacher of Universal Redemption, Written by Himself, with a Continuation by Mrs. Judith Sargent Murray and was published by Munroe and Francis of Boston in 1816.
Unfortunately, Judith Sargent Murray's editorial practices regarding these works compromised their historical value because she frequently omitted, perhaps from an unwarranted sense of propriety, such pertinent information as complete names, dates, places, and personal information. There are a number of letters in the collection that document her editing and supervision of the publication of these works. Of interest is a letter written to President Adams explaining the precarious financial position of the publisher engaged in printing the Reverend John Murray's letters and sermons and her fear that the work may never be published.
Judith Sargent Murray's daughter, Julia Maria Murray, became romantically involved with Adam Lewis Bingaman while he was a student at Harvard. In her revealing letters to Winthrop Sargent and other family members, Judith Sargent Murray disclosed the circumstances surrounding the secret marriage of Adam Lewis Bingaman and Julia Maria Murray that occurred in Boston on August 26, 1812, because of the couple's fears of impending separation and the anticipated opposition to their marriage by both of their families. Murray's letters also reveal that Winthrop Sargent was very displeased when he learned of the secret marriage ceremony.
Adam Lewis Bingaman and his wife eventually returned to Natchez, Mississippi Territory, where they lived at Fatherland Plantation. The Bingamans had two children, Charlotte Bingaman and Adam Lewis Bingaman, Jr. Judith Sargent Murray's letters written from Franklin Place, Boston, end in August 1818 and, therefore, do not indicate exactly when she moved to Natchez to live with her daughter and her family and to be near Winthrop Sargent and his family. However, Judith Sargent Murray's obituary in the July 8, 1820, issue of the Mississippi State Gazette does state that she died at Oak Point, a plantation near Natchez, on July 6, 1820, at the age of sixty-nine. She was buried in the Bingaman family cemetery on Fatherland Plantation.
Series Identification Description:Subgroup 1: Papers of Judith Sargent Murray
Microfilm Roll 1 (MF Roll # 36359)
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