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The Heath Anthology of American Literature, Fifth Edition
Paul Lauter, General Editor

Sarah Wentworth Morton

Born into Boston “aristocracy,” the daughter of two affluent merchant families, Sarah Apthorp had an unusually extensive education and began writing poetry at an early age. In 1781, she married Perez Morton, a young Boston lawyer and noted patriot, and moved into the Apthorp mansion on State Street, where the couple lived until moving to Dorchester in 1791. The Mortons’ home became a gathering place for Boston literati, who encouraged Sarah Morton’s literary efforts. Until 1788, she circulated her work among friends, thereafter publishing in magazines under the pen name Philenia Constantia. In 1790, she brought out a book-length poem, Ouâbi: or the Virtues of Nature. An Indian Tale in Four Cantos, a tale of interracial romance on the Illinois frontier that used native materials in an epic form.

As Morton’s literary career flourished, her personal life deteriorated. In 1788, an affair between her husband and her sister Frances, who had borne him a child, became public, and family censure drove Frances to commit suicide. Novelist William Hill Brown used the scandal as the basis for his novel The Power of Sympathy (1789). Reconciled with her husband, Morton soon lost a son who lived only a few hours; two of her other five children died prematurely. The only other book Morton published was a collection of poems and “fragments” entitled My Mind and Its Thoughts (1823). Dominated by themes of sorrow, betrayal, and resignation, this volume also contains an essay denouncing Mary Wollstonecraft’s “pernicious precepts, and still more pernicious practice,” although Morton also recognized the necessity that women submit to what she called “the dictatorship of men.” She took a firm stand against slavery; her poem “The African Chief” was widely reprinted in the nineteenth century.

In the Heath Anthology
from Ouâbi: or the Virtues of Nature. An Indian Tale in Four Cantos [Canto One] (1790)
The African Chief (1823)
Stanzas to a Husband Recently United (1981)  [n.b., First published 1981]

Other Works

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