[Copy of diary entries of Frances Theodora Apthorp.]. Frances Theodora Apthorp.
[Copy of diary entries of Frances Theodora Apthorp.]
[Copy of diary entries of Frances Theodora Apthorp.]

[Copy of diary entries of Frances Theodora Apthorp.]

[Massachusetts?, ca. 1788.]. 4to (12.25” x 7.75”). 3 pp. of manuscript on four page bifolium.

A moving contemporary transcription of five diary entries—including what amount to suicide notes—of Frances “Fanny” Apthorp, whose story captured the attention of the American youth of the day and circulated in manuscript form.

Born in Boston, Fanny Apthorp (1766–1788) was the daughter of Charles Apthorp, one of the richest men in town. In the mid-1780s she went to live with her older sister, poet Sarah Apthorp Morton and her husband Perez Morton—a Revolutionary patriot, friend of John Adams, and later Speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representatives. Fanny and Perez engaged in an affair that resulted in the birth of a daughter (in either 1786 or 1787). In 1788, the Mortons were the subject of a public scandal regarding the illegitimate child. When Fanny committed suicide on 28 Aug. 1788 from an overdose of laudanum she may have been carrying yet another child fathered by Morton. Stories of her death, which included the text of the suicide notes transcribed here, were published in Boston newspapers with attendant commentary, and transcriptions such as this example spread widely within a sympathetic youth culture. Another example of such a transcription is held by Harvard. Fanny’s affair was fictionalized by her neighbor, William Brown, in The Power of Sympathy (1789), which is widely regarded as the first American novel.

This transcription combines five of Fanny’s final diary entries, partially in letter form, written between 20 and 28 Aug. 1788, one of which is addressed to Perez Morton, in which she urges him to take care of their child (”let not my sweet infant suffer…if you ever loved its mother”). One entry is addressed to Doctor and Ms. Phipps, to whom she assigns some responsibility for her death but forgives, and another describes Morton visiting her in her chamber, filled “with the rage of a madman.” The three other entries are written with no explicit addressee—other than God and herself. She opens one by exclaiming, “Who is as wretched as myself innocent I am in this nothing but that would make me own my guilt, yet I have no proof. I have no money to make those who know the whole truth to declare it.” She continues: “My God who knows my once loved Morton is the first & the last man I ever knew. What is justice most readily do I resign my life in the hand of.” In a suicide note (“this is the last time I write”) she describes her imminent death as proving her “guilty innocence.” While she vindicates herself (“To say I feel no agitation this day is not altogether just but I feel a calmness no criminal ever did is certain”) she acknowledges that she is “doing an injury to one”—her sister. She concludes by asking for God’s mercy and forgiveness for her “many great faults,” and expresses her spiritual exhaustion—“I feel like one that has been on a long visit yet a most uncomfortable one I feel lik[e] a poor wanderer about to return to a tender parent tho unasked yet welcome. The way I feel is dark. I have no one to show it.”

An interesting artifact of this tragic episode in the social history of eighteenth century Boston, reflecting its cultural currency.

REFERENCES: Letter of Frances Theodora Apthorp, 1788 at colonialnorthamerica.library.harvard.edu; The 1788 Scandal of Fanny Apthorp Never Dies at newenglandhistoricalsociety.com

CONDITION: Good, old folds, parts of a few words effaced or blotted with ink.

Item #5768


See all items by