Dorchester Atheneum
Saturday, January 16, 2021
Site Tips
> Home
> Agriculture
> Architecture
> Artists
> Authors
   > Charles Follen Adams
   > William Taylor Adams, 1822-1897
   > Isabel Barrows
   > Samuel J. Barrows
   > Margaret Benefiel
   > Sarah Wentworth Apthorp Morton, 1759-1846
   > More on Authors..
> Books
> Cemeteries
> Churches
> Dorchester Historical Society
> Entertainment
> Entertainers
> Industry & Commerce
> Institutions
> Maps
> Monuments
> Myths
> Postcard Images
> Public Figures
> Schools
> Town History
> Walking Tours

Sarah Wentworth Apthorp Morton, 1759-1846
Sarah Wentworth Apthorp Morton
Click image for more information
 Perez Morton (1750-1837) purchased the land at the corner of Dudley & Burgess Streets in 1794 and added to it twice. He and Sarah Wentworth Apthorp Morton (1759-1846) moved from Boston to the Dorchester site in late 1796 or early 1797. Sarah said that the house was built according to her own "whimsical plan". Charles Bulfinch was a cousin to Sarah, and it has been stated also that he designed the house.

Morton House
Click image for more information
 The house was located on Dudley Street nearly across from the James Swan House.

On Sept. 27, 1803, Perez mortgaged the property to his brother Joseph Morton. On July 7, 1808, Joseph Morton sold the estate to Cornelius Coolidge. Sometime before that the family had moved out. The property was later acquired by the Taylor family. It was taken down in 1891.

The Mortons moved 1803 and 1808 to a piece of land purchased by Sarah at what is known as Allen's Plain, fronting on Pleasant Street and adjoining Stoughton Street. The house was known as the Pavilion. Perez died there in 1837. In 1841 Sarah sold the property to William D. Swan, instructor, of Dorchester. It was demolished in the 1880s.

The Mortons were married at Trinity Church, Boston, on Feb. 24, 1781. They moved to the Boston mansion that had belonged to Sarah's grandfather and later to her uncles Thomas and Charles. As the property of a Loyalist expatriate, it was subject to confiscation, and in 1784, Perez Morton purchased the rights of Charles Ward Apthorp, of New York, and Thomas Apthorp, of London, to the property. There was a family scandal in the late 1780s, and it is supposed that Perez had an affair with Sarah's sister Fanny who killed herself. The first American novel, The Power of Sympathy, was assumed for a time to have been written by Sarah since it dealt with a similar situation. Scholars now attribute the novel to William Hill Brown, a neighbor of the Mortons who knew about the scandal.

It is probable that one of the reasons for building and moving to the Dorchester house was to escape some of the notoriety of the scandal.

Three poems that appear in Sarah's collection My Mind and Its Thoughts appear to date from the period of the affair. They are an essay on "Marriage," a poem, "Stanzas to a Recently United Husband," and another poem, "Conciliation."

Sarah's publications include poems contributed to literary magazines. Her first long poem was published in December, 1790, Ouabi: or The Virtues of Nature, An Indian Tale. In Four Cantos. Boston: Isaiah Thomas and Ebenezer Andrews, 1790. Other works include: Beacon Hill. A Local Poem, 1797; The Virtues of Society. A Tale Founded on Fact, 1799; My Mind and Its Thoughts, in Sketches, Fragments, and Essays, 1823.

In 1806 Perez was elected Speaker of the lower house in the General Court of Massachusetts and was re-elected in 1807, 1810 and 1811. He was appointed to Attorney General in 1810 to fill a vacancy. He served in this position until 1832.

Part of a bookseller's description of the book OUABI, OR VIRTUES OF NATURE was one of the first works to use Native American themes in American verse. The author included a number of prose notes on Indian councils, war feasts, the Mississippi River, marriage ceremonies, the Indian concept of revenge, etc. Dedicated to James Bowdoin, former governor, the president of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, this work contains a 4-page introduction by Morton and a page of "Lines" at the end relating to "Columbia." Generally the Native Americans in this fable are presented sympathetically in the "noble savage" mode with neoclassical literary devices and an appreciation for the rural setting. OUABI, perhaps the first American "Indian" poem, also discusses a contemporary problem: the survival of simple American virtues beset by luxury and sophistication. Sarah Wentworth Apthorp Morton (1759-1846), poet and scion of two influential wealthy Boston families, had a thorough education and read extensively. She and her husband were patriots. She was, by all accounts, a beauty and the three portraits by Gilbert Stuart attest to that. She supported the earliest American abolitionist groups, and, in later life, became a patron to young writers. She suffered greatly when, in 1788, her husband had an affair with her sister Frances, which resulted in Frances' suicide, but Sarah held her family together. Called by some of her contemporaries "the American Sappho," she was concerned for female attitudes and behavior and had "a well-developed social and moral conscience, independent thought, and notable poetic scope." - American Women Writers, p. 70. Morton contributed anonymously to newspapers and periodicals, published four books, and several of her hymns exist in broadside form. "She was the foremost woman poet of her generation, reflecting an early chapter of national pride in the American scene and romantic themes of its history." [NAW]. BAL 14554. Wegelin, Early American Poetry, # 275. Evans 22684. NAW II, pp. 586 - 587. Timelines of American Women's History, p. 306. Faust, American Women Writers (abridged ed.), II, pp. 69-71. Feminist Companion to Literature in English, pp. 765 - 766.


Clapp, David. The Old Morton and Taylor Estates in Dorchester, Mass. Boston: Press of David Clapp & Son, 1892. Reprinted from the New England Historical and Genealogical Register for Jan., 1892.

McBride, Marion A. "Some Old Dorchester Houses." New England Magazine, May, 1890.

Orcutt, William Dana. Good Old Dorchester: A Narrative History of the Town, 1630-1893. Cambridge: The University Press, 1908 [c1891]

Pendleton, Emily and Ellis, Milton. Notes from Philenia. The Life and Works of Sarah Wentworth Morton, 1759-1846. The Maine Bulletin, Dec. 1931, v. xxxiv, no. 4.

Related Images: showing 8 of 36 (more results)
Here are some images from the Atheneum archive related to this topic. Click on any of these images to open a slideshow of all 36 images.
Taylor Morton HouseSarah Wentworth Apthorp Morton858-864 Morton StreetFrank Wood Convalescents Home
858-864 Morton Street858-864 Morton Street versoMorton House interiorMorton Taylor House
Do you know something about this topic? Do you have other pictures or items or knowledge to share? What about a personal story? Are you a collector? Do you have questions? Contact us here.
Created: August 22, 2003   Modified: November 16, 2010