Saturday, October 12, 2013

Freedom of Religion in the Federal Period

It may be surprising to learn that Thomas Jefferson ordered a copy of the Qu'ran in 1765, eleven years before he wrote the Declaration of Independence. But, this makes perfect sense when one considers Jefferson's long-standing commitment to dividing church and state in what would become the New Republic. "It strikes me that Jefferson was theorizing for a future that included Muslims - not in spite of their religion, but because of it and because of his notion of universal civil rights," says Denise Spellberg, author of "Thomas Jefferson's Qur'an: Islam and the Founders" (Knopf, 2013), in an October 12, 2013 interview with NPR.

Charles Wilson Peale, Portrait of Thomas Jefferson as Secretary of State,
1791, o/c (IMAGE: Wikimedia Commons)

In 1802, Jefferson summed up his views on religious freedom:
"Believing that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legislative powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their Legislature should "make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof," thus building a wall of separation between Church and State." --Thomas Jefferson to Danbury Baptists, 1802.

And, Jefferson was not alone---he had many fellow freedom-of-religionists in the period, including: James Madison, John Adams, George Washington, and, of course, the feminist author and philosopher Judith Sargent Stevens and her (eventual-) husband Reverend John Murray (they married in Salem in 1788, a second marriage for both). A minority in Gloucester, Massachusetts, and certainly in the nation, Universalists came under scrutiny for their rejection of predestination in favor of universal salvation.  The also suffered legal prosecution for their abstention of payment of taxes to the local Protestant church, as at that time citizens paid their taxes via "pew taxes," and they did not believe in paying to support a faith they did not uphold.  Undaunted, the little group persevered in its belief that they had an innate right to practice religion in their own way, without having to give in to the establishment Congregational church. In 1785, John Murray brought an appeal to the local County Court of Common Pleas' concerning their decision to fine him for performing what the local sheriff termed "illegal ministerial functions." Shortly afterward, John Murray signed on to a lawsuit to free his Universalist parishioners from having to pay taxes to the First Parish Church. Among his followers was Judith Sargent Stevens, his long-time friend and parishioner, who admired his preaching of Universalism and its embracing of the equality of women in the eyes of God. The Universalists were vindicated in 1786 when the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled in their favor, setting a legal precedent for freedom of religion in this country. In response Judith wrote:
"The free born soul, conscious of its native rights, demands emancipation[.] Sweet equality is taking place in the mental world and every one resumes the prerogative with which nature hath invested him---to think for himself." (Skemp, 163) 
Gilbert Stuart, Judith Sargent Murray, ca. 1815 (IMAGE:

Eleven years after the Universalists' Massachusetts Supreme Court ruling, Joel Barlow, US Consul drafted the Treaty of Tripoli (1797-01-04):
"As the government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Musselmen [sic] … it is declared … that no pretext arising from religious opinion shall ever product an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries. . . . The United States is not a Christian nation any more than it is a Jewish or a Mohammedan nation."
So reads Article 11 of the Treaty, which was carried unanimously by the U.S. Senate and signed into law by John Adams, second President of the United States.

A copy of the treaty between the United States and the Bey of Tripoli, signed by Joel Barlow, Agent and Counsel General and the Bey of Tripoli, dated January 3rd, 1797. (Image:

The proper relationship between church and state still remains in the news, but the Founders were clear, they rallied against exclusionary arguments. And, Judith and John Murray should be added to that important movement in the popular imagination.

By Kimberlee Cloutier-Blazzard, Development Associate

Skemp, Sheila L. First Lady of Letters: Judith Sargent Murray and the Struggle for Female Independence. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2009.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Judith's Meeting with George and Martha Washington

In 1790, while in New York (capitol of the new Republic) with her second husband, John Murray, Judith Sargent Murray met George and Martha Washington for the first time. She describes her encounter for her parents, Winthrop and Judith Saunders Sargent, in a letter.

“… [My husband] Mr Murray was engaged with Colonel Humphrys, who occasionally regarded me with flattering attention — Thus were we disposed of when General Washington entered the drawing room — My eyes had never before beheld him — but it was not necessary he should be announced — that dignified benignity, by which he is distinguished, could not belong to another — Mrs Washington introduced me[,] … his figure is elegant beyond what I have ever seen, that his countenance is benignly good, and that there is a kind of venerable gravity inscribed upon every feature — … The vestments of the President were of purple satin, but his figure and not the aid of this regal dye, to inspire those sentiments, which are deemed the tribute of royalty majestically commanding, his appearance will ever, insure the love, and reverence of every unprejudiced beholder — To speak truth of the President is impossible — No Painter will ever be able to do him justice — for that which he possessed beyond every other man, the Art of the Linner or language of the panegyrist, however glowing, can never reach — It is a grace in every movement, a manner, an address, an inimitable expression, especially when the sedate dignity of his countenance, is irradicated by a serene smile — in short a nameless something, in the tout ensemble, which no skill can delineate, no art can catch and which of course no portrait will ever transmit.”

 ~ Letter 783 To the Same New Rochelle, August 14th 1790 Saturday ~

By Kimberlee Cloutier-Blazzard, Development Associate

Monday, June 17, 2013

A Guide to the Sargent House Portraits: Installment 1

A Guide to the Sargent House Portraits: Installment 1

by Kimberlee A. Cloutier-Blazzard with Barbara W. Silberman

Western culture tends to value easel painting as the height of art, but in colonial America, this was not so. Colonials preferred objects that were useful as well as beautiful.[1]  This is well-documented in anecdotal comments, inventories, relative cost, and survivorship of objects.[2] A painting and a silver teapot cost about the same, and most families who had a choice opted for the latter.
Yet, as America’s regent class aspired to patrician status and wished to have their features recorded for posterity, some elites in society did commission portrait likenesses, and important painters began to emerge. Among the prominent names of these artists are: John Singleton Copley (1737-1815), James Frothingham (1786-1864), Francis Alexander (1800-1881), Henry Sargent (1770-1845), Gilbert Stuart (1755-1828) and Stuart’s daughter, Jane (c.1812-1888), Thomas Sully (1783-1872), Alvan Fisher (1792-1863), and later Henry Bacon (1839-1912).
            This multi-installment guide will take a look at works by these important artists found in, or closely associated with the collection of the Sargent House Museum in Gloucester, Massachusetts. Of course, this survey will include Judith's Great-great-grandnephew, John Singer Sargent (1856-1925), whose engaging portraits of his parents, FitzWilliam and Mary, are on display. John Singer Sargent loved the House and helped to preserve it in the early part of the Twentieth Century, donating many works of art and items which visitors continue to enjoy.

Best Parlor
We begin our tour with a portrait of the wife of the first owner of the house, Judith Sargent Stevens, whose formal title—in the parlance of the day—would be “Mrs. John Stevens.”  Judith Sargent was born in Gloucester on May 1, 1751, the eldest child of Winthrop Sargent, a prominent Gloucester merchant, and his wife Judith (Saunders) Sargent. Judith married Captain John Stevens in 1769 when she was eighteen years old. This portrait was likely commissioned in celebration of this happy event, paid for by her father, Winthrop Sargent.
Judith Sargent Stevens by John Singleton Copley.
Image from Wikimedia Commons.

The giclĂ©e print you (will) see here takes the place of the original piece, painted by the much-coveted period portraitist John Singleton Copley. The original canvas measures 50 x 40 in. (127.0 x 101.6 cm), Copley’s standard dimension for three-quarter length poses. The exquisitely-rendered painting was handed down through the family for several generations until it was sold to the Terra Foundation for American Art in Chicago in the year 2000.[3] Fitting for a masterpiece, Copley’s “Judith” originally hung in the “Best Parlor,” the showplace of the Gloucester manse.
Copley was a meticulous painter, and a master of keen observation—he is known to have spent ninety hours on one portrait.[4] Judith mentions the attainments of Copley as a portrait painter in her correspondence. In particular, she remarked on a painting he had done of Lord Chatham while the artist was in England.[5]

In the early portrait we can see how clearly her intelligence, earnestness and beauty are captured by the master. A woman ahead of her time, Judith was not content with contemporary education for women. She witnessed her brothers, Winthrop and Fitz William, receiving a classical education at home. Meanwhile Judith’s only teacher—whom she described as “an Ancient woman”—ended her formal studies with some rudiments of reading and writing.  The boys, on the other hand, later went on to attend Boston Latin and Harvard. According to her own letters, a precocious Judith frequently listened in on their lessons, and diligently read all the books at her disposal.  It was clear to her from early on that she—and, by extension, all girls—were perfectly capable of attaining the same intellectual achievements as boys.  Education was the key to success.
            Judith was very concerned with the education of young people, girls in particular, and wanted them to have the same educational opportunities as their male counterparts.  While Judith Sargent did not bear any children during her eighteen years of marriage to John Stevens, she did take into her home orphaned nieces of John’s, Anna (Plummer) O’Dell arrived on December 1, 1780, followed by her sister Mary.[6]  Judith became very attached to the girls during the years they were under her care, raising them, educating them and laying plans for the girls' future as if the children were her own.  Later she took in her own niece, Polly O’Dell, and cared for her in the same fashion.
During this same period of time, in her twenties, Judith Sargent embarked on a literary career: an unusual feat for a woman of that period.  Her first essay to be published, Encouraging a Degree of Self-Complacency, Especially in Female Bosoms, appeared in the Massachusetts Magazine in 1784. It was followed by a succession of essays culminating in the publication of a three volume set entitled The Gleaner which Judith self-published in 1798. Subscribers, 729 in all, helped pay for the printing. Among them were George and Martha Washington, President John Adams and John Hancock. The essays included in The Gleaner contained clear statements of Judith's views on the equality of women, propriety, class distinction, patriotism, religion, and the theater.  Judith Sargent had initially published her views on the issue of female equality in an article entitled On the Equality of the Sexes that appeared in the Massachusetts Magazine in 1790.

Judith’s predilection for great thoughts is but hinted at by Copley’s heightening of her forehead, bathed in light—a beautiful metaphor for intellectual prowess. Her garden location, in loose deshabillĂ© and modish purple turban swathed in ropes of pearls would allude to both her maidenhood (she was newly married when this was painted) and her continental stylishness; an indication that Judith was both dependent and independent—a complex figure. The dress, a mode appearing in eight Copley portraits,[7] is a modified turquerie—an uncorseted torso, loose hair ornamented with pearls and a rich, lavender turban.[8] The rage for such fashions derives from the writings of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, an Englishwoman who wrote of Turkish dress and customs in her letters. The widely-circulated letters were posthumously published in London in 1763, and quickly republished in the colonies due to popular curiosity of American women in the interests of their European sisters.[9]  Judith’s general demeanor is that of a self-possessed and confident young woman.
One should also mention that Judith was the only individual to have ever been painted by both Copley and Gilbert Stuart. Stuart, a staunch Federalist, also painted portraits of Judith’s brother, Winthrop, and Judith’s daughter, Julia Maria.[10]

Gilbert Stuart was a famed New England painter from Rhode Island, whose sitters included European kings, six American presidents, and prominent citizens. Stuart's George Washington portrait is still featured on the United States dollar bill. By the end of his career, Gilbert Stuart had taken the likenesses of over one thousand American political and social figures, likely because he made sitting for him a pleasure.[11]
"Speaking generally, no penance is like having one's picture done. You must sit in a constrained and unnatural position, which is a trial to the temper. But I should like to sit to Stuart from the first of January to the last of December, for he lets me do just what I please, and keeps me constantly amused by his conversation."— John Adams[12]
Judith sat for her portrait by Stuart around 1806; she was approximately fifty-five years old. By this time she and John Murray had been married for twenty or so years.[13]  Judith knew the Stuarts personally, including Jane, and mentions them in her letters. For example:

Letter 503 To my Mother, 7/30/1786

“…in Providence---At that place we were most cheerfully welcomed---An honest Hibernian our host, and he delighted to exercise the characteristic Virtue of his nation---His name is Stewart [sic], a remote branch of the family of the royal martyr---their Ancestors were common---He possesses a large estate in the Town of Providence---His Companion is an American---a good motherly Woman, and they have three children.”[14]

Mary McIntosh Sargent copy
after Gilbert Stuart by Jane Stuart (?)
Photo by Sargent House Museum
Winthrop Sargent copy after Gilbert Stuart
by Jane Stuart (?)
Photo by Sargent House Museum

The other portraits you see here are Governor Winthrop Sargent (1753-1820), the elder of Judith’s two brothers, and his second wife Mary McIntosh Sargent (1764-1844). The originals of these works were painted by Gilbert Stuart and reside in the Thomas Jefferson State Reception Room of the U.S. Department of State; these are copies attributed to the artist’s daughter, Jane Stuart (though this has not been confirmed). The museum displays several pieces of furniture and personal effects that belonged to Winthrop and his wife, Mary, including the mahogany breakfront and wine cooler in the Common Parlor (Dining Room) and four poster bed that rests in Judith's bedroom, directly upstairs.

[1] Angela Miller, American Encounters (Prentice Hall, 2008), 120.
[2] Miller, 120.
[3] Previously, the portrait had been privately owned and not accessible to the public. In 2007, Copley’s Portrait of Judith moved to the Art Institute of Chicago.
[4] Miller, 121.
[6] As Sheila Skemp relates, “The record concerning Anna and Mary is fuzzy. Even Anna’s last name is unknown—it was either ‘Plummer’ or ‘O’Dell.’ Sometimes Judith referred to both girls as her nieces; other times she implied that only Anna was related to John.”  Skemp, First Lady of Letters, p. 412, n. 23.
[7] Miller, 123.
[8] Miller, 122. Cf. the portrait of Mrs. Thomas Gage (Margaret Kemble Gage), 1771. O/c, 50 x 40”, Timken Museum of Art, San Diego.
[9] Miller, 123.
[10] Bonnie Hurd Smith,  Letters of Loss and Love (Hurd Smith Communications, 2009),  p. 468.
[11] "Gilbert Stuart". Gilbert Stuart Museum. Retrieved 2009-07-16.
[12] Richard McLanathan, Gilbert Stuart (New York: Harry N. Abrams Inc., 1986), 147.
[13] Bonnie Hurd Smith,  Letters of Loss and Love (Hurd Smith Communications, 2009),  p. 24.
[14] Bonnie Hurd Smith, Letters of Loss and Love (Hurd Smith Communications, 2009), p. 173.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Vote & Help Us Win!!

Please click on the link below and help The Sargent House Museum win a Quest Mobile Scavenger Hunt!!

"Quest creates an interactive mobile experience for your visitors while using their own smartphones to guide themselves to ‘mystery’ destinations that you create at your venue or site. The game combines elements of geo-caching, scavenger hunting and self-guided mobile touring.
As visitors navigate their way to your game destinations, they’ll be given clues to help them find their way. An embedded compass-like tool called the Destination Pointer guides their direction. Once the visitor arrives at the destination, you can quiz them on what they see or learn while they’re there."

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Standing Room Only 
“Ornaments of the Mind: Needlework and a New England Girl’s Education”

At the Sargent House Museum’s spring lecture, Laura Johnson, Associate Curator at Historic New England, delved into the history of needlework at early 19th-century “female academies” like the Saunders and Beach Academy in Dorchester, and the Rowson Academy in Boston.

Johnson’s talk explored the origins and context of a recent donation to the Museum of a needlework picture depicting Cornelia, daughter of the great Roman general Scipio Africanus, and her children, the Gracchi. Judith Sargent Murray's daughter, Julia Maria, and her cousin Anna Williams presented the picture to Nancy Parsons Sargent in the early nineteenth century. Johnson theorized that the needlework was probably worked at one of the better academies in Boston or its surrounding towns. Julia's cousin Anna studied with Judith's cousin Mrs. Saunders in Gloucester. Although Judith was an early advocate of equal education for women and helped Mrs. Saunders & Miss Beach set up their first school in Dorchester, she did not want to be too long separated from her only child, and so did not want Julia Maria at a boarding school. Clues point toward the lesser-known Payne's Academy on Federal Street, where Julia Maria was a student for several years.

Virginia Pleasants donated the needlework picture. Her niece, Belinda Smith, was on hand to present a brief description of how the piece was handed down through her family. The needlework is now installed in Judith’s bedroom at the Museum.

The needlework piece needs reframing and conservation. It is backed with brown paper that is tearing and backed by cardboard. It needs to be reframed with archival materials. When it is removed from its frame, the need for conservation will be clearer. If you’d like to be a part of preserving this exquisite example of women’s history, please make a donation by sending a check to the Sargent House Museum at 49 Middle St., Gloucester MA 01930. All gifts are tax-deductible.

The Museum opens for the season on Friday, May 24. Tours are available on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays on the hour beginning at 12 noon with the last tour at 3PM. Groups tours are by appointment at other days and times. Admission is $10 per person.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Pens and Needles

Pens and Needles: Judith, her daughter Julia Maria and the Sampler

Join Assistant Curator Laura Johnson of Historic New England on Sunday, April 14, at 2P at the Museum for a fascinating tale of Judith Sargent Murray’s influence on women’s education, the world of domestic arts and the sampler that reflects multiple stories and connections to Gloucester and its history. The sampler was donated to the Museum by Virginia Pleasants, and will be permanently installed following the lecture. A free will donation is suggested; members are admitted free of charge.
The Sargent House Museum
Sunday, April 14th