The Families Who Lived Here


Reverend John Murray by Henry Sargent

Judith Sargent Murray was born in Gloucester into a prominent seafaring family. Her mother was Judith Saunders and her father was Winthrop Sargent, descended from Epes Sargent, who arrived in Gloucester in the late 17th century. Through years of dedicated work, Mrs. Murray gained recognition during her lifetime in literary and political circles. She was married twice, first to Captain John Stevens, who constructed the house, and then to the Reverend John Murray, who was the founder of Universalism in America.

Mrs. Stevens by John Singleton Copley

Judith Sargent Murray is noted as one of this country’s earliest feminist writers, a recognition she secured with the 1790 publication of her essay “On the Equality of the Sexes.”

Murray was also one of the first women in America to have her own literary column and the first American to have a play produced on the Boston stage. In addition to writing plays, essays, poems and fiction, Murray was an avid writer of letters. Between 1774 and the early 1800s, she penned over 2,000 letters–and fortunately for us today, kept a copy of each and every one. Taken together the letters form an insightful and provocative account of the life of one of this country’s most noteworthy women.


Frederick Gilman purchased the Sargent House after the Murrays moved to Boston to start another Universalist church there. Gilman’s son, Samuel, spent part of his childhood in the Sargent house. In 1819, after studying Unitarian theology, the Rev. Gilman was invited to serve a church in Charleston SC, where he worked to establish Unitarianism in the South. Although he served the church for forty years, he was eventually asked to leave because he refused to make public his views on slavery. In 1836, in recognition of his alma mater’s bicentennial celebration, he penned the song, “Fair Harvard” which is still sung at commencement ceremonies today. Caroline Howard Gilman, Samuel’s wife, was a well-known literary figure and best-selling author in the early 19th century. She wrote extensively of domestic life in the South and was a strong advocate of slavery. She was the founder of a juvenile weekly entitled “The Rose Bud” and wrote extensively for children. After the death of her seventh child, she developed an “aversion to the whole writing process.” Excerpted from the Dictionary of Unitarian Universalist Biography


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