Sarah Wentworth Apthorp Morton
Sarah was born in Boston, Massachusetts in August 1759. She was the third of ten children born to James Apthorp (1731–1799), a merchant and slave-trader, and Sarah Wentworth (1735–1820), whose family owned Wentworth Manor in Yorkshire.
Her father was one of eighteen children born to her paternal grandparents, Charles Apthorp (1698–1758), the prominent British-born merchant in 18th-century Boston, and Grizzelle (née Eastwicke) Apthorp (1709–1796). Her maternal grandfather was Samuel Wentworth (1708–1766), also a Boston merchant, and his father was John Wentworth (1671–1730), the colonial Lieutenant Governor of New Hampshire who lived in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
In 1796, Sarah and her husband Perez moved to Dorchester. From an early age, Sarah had begun writing poetry, but until 1788 her works had only circulated among her friends. She began publishing under the pen name Philenia, and her first book was printed in 1790. Her work was widely acclaimed, with Robert Treat Paine, Jr., in the Massachusetts Magazine dubbing her the "American Sappho".
At one time she was thought to be the author of The Power of Sympathy (1789), widely considered to be the first American novel, but that has since been attributed to her uncle, William Hill Brown.
In 1781, she was married to Boston lawyer Perez Morton (1751–1837) at Trinity Church, Boston. Morton served as the Speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representatives, from 1806 to 1808 and again from 1810 to 1811, and was the Massachusetts Attorney General from 1810 to 1832. The couple lived on a family mansion on State Street. From ca. 1796 to ca. 1803, the Mortons owned a house on Dudley Street in Dorchester; the house may have been designed by Charles Bulfinch. Together, they were the parents of five children who lived to maturity, including:
- Sarah Apthorp Morton (1782–1844), who married Richard Cunningham, son of John Cunningham, in Nova Scotia.
- Anna Louisa Morton (1783–1843), who did not marry.
- Frances Wentworth Morton (1785–1831), who did not marry.
- Charles Ward Apthorp Morton (1786–1809), who did not marry.
- Charlotte Morton (1787–1819), who married Andrew Dexter, Jr. (1779–1837), a lawyer, financier, and speculator.
Husband's affair and sister's suicide
In the mid 1780s, Sarah's younger sister Frances Apthorp (1766–1788), or Fanny as she was known, came to live with her and her family. Reportedly, Fanny was seduced by, or fell in love with, Sarah's husband Perez. Fanny gave birth to his child in 1787 or 1788, after which their father "demanded a confrontation with Perez, which Fanny begged him not to do. She argued it would cause a scandal and disgrace the family." Once the affair became public, Fanny took an overdose of laudanum and committed suicide due to the family backlash. Fanny left a suicide note proclaiming her "guilty innocence" that was published in the local newspapers shortly after her death.
In January 1789, as the scandal settling down, Sarah's brother Charles Apthorp challenged Morton to a duel. When the two men met to duel, the sheriff was there and prevented the illegal encounter. With the affair and her sister's suicide, the Morton's marriage had deteriorated, however, the couple later reconciled. In spite of this reconciliation, fifteen years later Sarah would have an affair with founding father Gouverneur Morris .
Legacy and descendants
Through her daughter Charlotte, she is the great-great grandmother of Frederick Bradlee (1892–1970), an American football player who was a first-team All-American while attending Harvard University in 1914. Frederick was the father of American journalist Ben Bradlee (1921–2014) and the grandfather of journalist Ben Bradlee Jr. (b. 1948) and filmmaker Quinn Bradlee (b. 1982).
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- Ben Bradlee (1995). A Good Life: Newspapering and Other Adventures. Simon & Schuster. pp. 20–22. ISBN 0-684-80894-3.
- Danvers Historical Society (1922). Historical collections of the Danvers Historical Society. Danvers Historical Society. p. 42.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Sarah Wentworth Apthorp Morton.|
- Sarah Wentworth Apthorp Morton at Find a Grave
- Sarah Wentworth Morton (1759-1846), The Heath Anthology of American Literature, Houghton Mifflin.
- Sarah Wentworth Apthorp Morton, 1759-1846, Dorchester Atheneum.
- Gilbert Stuart: Sarah Wentworth Apthorp Morton (Mrs. Perez Morton), 1802–20, Worchester Art.
- Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography. 1900. .