Judith Sargent Murray was born in Gloucester into a prominent seafaring family and through years of dedicated work gained recognition during her lifetime in literary and political

Photo credit Michael Malyszko

Photo credit Michael Malyszko

circles. She was married twice, first to Captain John Stevens who constructed the house, and then to the Reverend John Murray, founder of Universalism in America.

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 amazing women.

The Sargent House was built as a small yet visually impressive mansion; it continues to delight visitors today.

The exterior displays classic Georgian symmetry–a porticoed entry flanked by stately windows and contained by heavy pilasters at the building’s corners. The exterior also features a double-hipped roof, a modillioned cornice, and wooden quoins. The interior has long been noted for its remarkable paneling and decorative woodwork.

Photo credit Michael Malyszko

Photo credit Michael Malyszko

Foremost is the central entrance hall with its magnificent stairway supporting an undercut spiral newel post, two types of spiral balusters, and a long arched window at the landing.

The carved cornice found in the entrance hall is repeated in the parlor. Conceived of as the showcase of the family, the parlor is dominated by an elaborate fireplace with a broken-pedimented mantel and overmantel and a double level of columns. Arched recesses are found on either side of the fireplace and the paneled dado is complimented by original pocket-shutters on the windows overlooking the front yard. This room contains some of the museum’s finest pieces of furniture including a set of six straight chairs made in Newburyport, Massachusetts, and owned for many years the Sargent family.

This room also once housed the portrait of Judith Sargent done by John Singleton Copley just prior to the Revolutionary War, now on display at the Chicago Institute of Art.

photo credit Michael Malyszko

photo credit Michael Malyszko

The dining room of the house exhibits blue and white French wallpaper given by portraitist John Singer Sargent in the early 1920s.

A fascinating collection of china, glassware, and silver by John Burt (1691-1745) and Paul Revere (1734 -1818) is displayed in the room along with an early view of Gloucester harbor.

The handsome paneling continues on the second floor of the Sargent House. The room above the dining room is particularly noteworthy and, in fact, was said to have once been desired by the Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York for their own historic rooms.

Displayed in this room is a collection of early Boston furniture from the Hough family who owned the Sargent House for much of the 19th century. A highboy and a lowboy made prior to the Revolution are exhibited as is a drop-front desk originally owned by Captain Ebenezer Hough who perished at sea in 1784.

In 2002, The Sargent House Museum completed a major restoration of the roof of its 1782 building. The project was made possible by a generous grant from the Preservation Projects Fund of the Massachusetts Historical Commission, and by the support of individuals and businesses who have contributed to the museum’s Restoration Fund in recent years. The work, which included restoration of two chimneys and installation of a new wood shingle roof, was overseen by preservation consultants Finch & Rose of Beverly, Massachusetts, and helps assure preservation of the building for generations to come.  A recently awarded grant from Massachusetts Cultural Council will fund repair of the building’s exterior.

Work done on the Sargent House gives the museum a very visible means of sharing its preservation philosophy with the public — a philosophy that emphasizes stabilization over reconstruction and restoration over replacement.