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Mingling Souls Upon Paper: An Eighteenth-Century Love Story

Type: Paperback

By local Salem historian Bonnie Hurd Smith

November 3, 1774, Gloucester, Massachusetts -- When John Murray entered the Sargents’ best parlor on that chilly November day, he looked forward to greeting his host, Winthrop Sargent, and warming himself by the fire as they discussed Universalist theology. As a tireless and popular preacher of universal salvation since he had first sailed for the British colonies in 1770, John expected his reception to resemble dozens of earlier such encounters. But this meeting was different because here, in Gloucester, he met Mr. Sargent’s daughter. Judith Sargent Stevens was twenty-three years old, lovely, intellectually curious, and devoted to her chosen faith, Universalism. John was a robust thirty-three, a man whose charismatic presence and outgoing personality dominated the room.But Judith was married, and any thought of a romance with John was out of the question. Instead, Judith hoped they could “surely, and with the strictest propriety, mingle souls upon paper” by writing to each other. While few of John’s personal letters are known to exist, Judith hand-copied approximately 5,000 of her letters into twenty letter books that were discovered in the library of a former Mississippi plantation. Many of her letters are reprinted here for the first time.The letters in Mingling Souls Upon Paper are Judith’s words. They trace her fourteen-year friendship with John, their controversial twenty-seven-year marriage, and their lives together as husband and wife when John was the “choice of her heart” and she was his “ever devoted wife.” They chronicle Judith’s blossoming career as the most important female essayist in eighteenth-century America, and John’s as the founder of organized American Universalism. Finally, they record John’s debilitating illness and death, and Judith’s final days without him. All together, the letters cover forty-four years of personal and public lives. Through Judith Sargent Murray’s letters, Bonnie Hurd Smith, herself a distant cousin of Judith’s, skillfully brings to life two extraordinary eighteenth-century individuals whose love story is timeless.