Located on Middle Street, but accessible from Main Street, you need strong legs to climb the three set of stairs that scale the terraced yard to the Sargent House Museum. When the house was built, Main Street was called Front Street and was on the waterfront. It would have offered Judith stellar views of the family ships coming in and out of Gloucester Harbor.
The terraced lawn was designed to impress and it still does today over 200 years later. Built in the classical Georgian style of the period, the original house had four main rooms with an L addition that contained the kitchen and servants quarters. The house today includes an 1805 addition but not the kitchen and servants quarters.
Before visiting this house, it is important to know the woman who owned it. Judith Sargent Stevens Murray was quite an amazing woman. Born in 1751 she wanted more than anything to learn all the things that her two brothers were learning but because she was a girl, according to an article by Bonnie Hurd Smith for the Unitarian Universalist Historical Society she had to be satisfied with “An ill-taught old Woman” who taught Judith rudimentary reading and writing skills; her mother provided her with “a pretty extensive acquaintance with needle work, in all its varieties, with a general idea of family business and arrangement” to prepare Judith for “the department it was presumed [she] should be called to fill,” meaning, marriage. Contrary to Sargent family legend, Judith did not study alongside her brother Winthrop while he was tutored to enter Harvard. “In vain did I solicit to share, in those instructions, which were so liberally allowed to him,” Judith explained years later to Mary Pilgrim.”
Luckily for Judith, her family had an extensive library of which she availed herself and she became one of the best educated women of her time. So well educated in fact, that when her nephews from Mississippi needed to be tutored for entrance to Harvard, her brother Winthrop sent them up north for her to tutor.
An article about Judith could go to thousands of words, but this is about her home in Gloucester. Tours are $12 and are done whenever there are people who want to tour. The house is open on Friday, Saturday and Sunday noon to 4:00 p.m Memorial Day to Labor Day. The tour begins out front with information about the exterior of the home and then goes through the six rooms that are now open to visit. Of particular interest is Judith’s writing nook which is in her bedroom.
The docent for the visit was very knowledgeable and the tour will last as long as your interest. If you have questions, it will last longer; no questions, quicker. The house is furnished with family pieces but most of the items did not belong to Judith since her furniture was sold to pay the debts contracted by her first husband. Included in the house are a few rare drawings done by her grandnephew John Singer Sargent, the grandson of her brother Winthrop.
If you are a history lover, a feminist or an art lover, you must include a visit to this house museum any trip to Gloucester. Judith was a fascinating woman and counted among her friends John and Abigail Adams, George and Martha Washington’s and many other prominent families of the day. Her second husband John Murray; was known as the founder of Universalism in America and you will hear some interesting stories about the conflict between the Congregational Church and the new Universalist Church during the tour.