The first husband of JUDITH SARGENT MURRAY was John Stevens whom she married at age eighteen, more to satisfy her parents’ expectations than from love.
The English preacher John Murray met Judith in 1774 when he visited Boston to lecture on Universalism, a doctrine that emphasized universal salvation and an egalitarian view of the world. They commenced a correspondence mostly on religious matters while Murray toured New England. During the war Murray became an army chaplain to prove his sympathy for the American cause. When Judith, her father, and her uncle were suspended from their parish church in Gloucester for their dissident views, they and others formed a new religious organization calling themselves Universalists and choosing John Murray as their pastor.
In 1786 after his business ventures failed, Judith’s husband John went to St. Eustacius in the West Indies to escape his creditors and to attempt to recoup his losses. He died there in 1787. Shortly thereafter Murray proposed to Judith and she married the man she called the “choice of my heart.” Judith’s interest in religion and her own religious beliefs are clearly reflected in her observations of the Bethlehem Seminary in the continuation of the letter to her sister-in-law.
The sisterhood consists, at this time, of about one hundred Maidens, who after a night of such slumbers, as health, and innocence bestow, assemble in an elegant apartment which is a consecrated Chapel—This apartment is properly fixed up, it is furnished with an Organ, and Musick books, and upon the right, and the left, the following inscriptions, in beautiful capitals meet the eye. “God hath appointed us to obtain salvation, by our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, that whether we wake, or sleep, we should live together with Him. I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my soul shall be joyful in my God, for He hath cloathed me with the garments of salvation, He hath covered me with the robe of righteousness” [—] In this Chapel the female Choir, at early dawn, and at closing evening, hymn the praises of the Redeeming God, and prostrating themselves in His presence, the most venerable individual among them, presents their united petitions, and thanksgivings, at the throne of Grace. . . .
At one board they are every day seated, and persons selected for the purpose, prepare their table. The Wash house is at a considerable distance, where the apparel of the sisterhood, the Tutoress, and their pupils, is made fit for use, and in the best possible manner. . . .
Place your daughter at Bethlehem, and, for a very moderate consideration, she will be taught a perfect knowledge of her Mother Tongue—she will be taught the French, and German languages, with the utmost elegance, and propriety—Reading, Writing, Composition, and Arithmetic, will be given her, in as high perfection, as she is capable of attaining them—She is furnished with an opportunity of acquiring Musick, painting, and geography, with the rudiments of Astronomy, and the strictest attention will be paid to her health, and to the purity of her morals—It is, however, in your option, to omit, for your Girl, any of these branches of study—It is scarcely necessary to subjoin, that needle work, in all its varieties, is taught in Bethlehem—An early habit of Order and regularity, without which I sincerely believe, no one important object was ever yet obtained—will also be secured—The pretty Candidate for excellence, is summoned by a bell from her pillow—she must rise at a certain hour, wash and comb, and, neatly apparelled she must attend prayrs—Breakfast succeeds, after which the several employments and amusements of the day take place—By the way, these morning and evening prayrs are playing on their guitars, which they join with their voices, chanting some divine Poem to the praise of the Saviour of sinners—These devotional exercises are performed in a little consecrated chapel, which makes a part of the school building, and into which no male ever enters. Six O clock is the hour of rising, and eight, of retiring to rest—A lamp continues burning throughout the night, and the students are often lulled to sleep, by the soft sounds of vocal, and instrumental Musick—
The school is divided into a number of apartments, each apartment, to its dimensions, contains a smaller, or larger number of Ladies, Every division hath its particular intendant, or tutoress, and over all there is a Superior [—] The Lodging Room is on a separate story, in a lofty situation, and accommodated with a ventilator—The Culinary apartment is under the ground floor, and the diet is wholesome and sufficiently varied—Twice in the course of a year, they pass a public examination at which the Reverend teacher of the Bethlehem society presides, and every sunday collects the whole Congregation [—] Men, Women, and children, in the great, or common Chapel, which exhibits some very affecting selections from scriptures—Performances upon a very fine Organ, accompanied by a Violin, and bass viol, constitute a very delightful part of public Worship in Bethlehem—Singing you know is among the essential Rites of the Moravian Religion, and their music is next to divine—Church service is performed alternately in English, and German, and its matter is rational, and instructive—
The young ladies are much accustomed to walking, and Bethlehem abounds with delightfully Romantic promenades—Every fine evening, guarded by one or other of the Governantees, without whom they never make an excursion, they pursue the pleasingly salutary exercise—Regular stages from Elizabeth Town, Lancaster, and Philadelphia, to this Seminary, have recently been appointed—This produces the children who have friends in the Towns from which the stages set out, or in, those through which they pass, upon a post evening, in the great road—
More of Judith’s letter in the next post.
Bonnie Hurd Smith, the founder of The Judith Sargent Murray Society, has transcribed and published Murray’s letterbooks. See the complete letter HERE.