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Home: The Wadsworth-Longfellow House and Portland

The Wadsworth Era: 1786-1807

Silhouette of Peleg Wadsworth, Portland, ca. 1800
Silhouette of Peleg Wadsworth, Portland, ca. 1800

Item Contributed by
Maine Historical Society

Peleg and Elizabeth Wadsworth lived in the house they built from 1786 to 1807. Ten of their eleven children lived to adulthood and grew up in this home.

Peleg Wadsworth (1748-1826)

"What will you do for a cow? If Charles cannot provide a milk cow you must buy one, for the family cannot do without."

- Peleg Wadsworth from Washington, D.C., to his son George, December 30, 1800

The silhouette was made about 1790. Peleg Wadsworth brought his family to Portland after the American Revolution, and built his home, a store and barn beginning in 1785.

For Peleg, like many in the era, the home was also the site of his work. Immediately next to the house Peleg built a warehouse he used to store and sell goods, and in the back of the house he built a barn for the animals and equipment he needed to manage the property and support his family.

Wadsworth also was active in local politics and business affairs.

In 1807, he moved to Hiram, where two of his sons also moved, to engage in farming and other pursuits.

Elizabeth Bartlett Wadsworth silhouette, Portland, ca. 1810
Elizabeth Bartlett Wadsworth silhouette, Portland, ca. 1810

Item Contributed by
Maine Historical Society

Elizabeth Bartlett Wadsworth (1753-1825)

Elizabeth "Betsey" Bartlett, shown in an 1810 silhouette, married Peleg Wadsworth in 1772. She and Peleg had 11 children: Charles, Zilpah, Elizabeth (Eliza), John, Lucia, Henry (Harry), George, Alexander, Samuel, and Peleg Jr.

She was a direct descendent of John and Pricilla Alden, who were among the Pilgrims who sailed on the Mayflower.

Her grandson, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, later wrote a famous poem about his Pilgrim ancestors.

Elizabeth ran the Portland household. In 1797, Charles was married. Zilpah, age 19, and Elizabeth, 18, were cultured and refined young women whose favorite pastimes (when not helping at home) were reading, writing letters, playing the spinet, and drawing.

John, 16, later went to Harvard College. Lucia, 13, and Harry, 12, attended school in Portland. The four youngest boys made up the rest of Elizabeth's charges.

Elizabeth Wadsworth, Portland, 1801
Elizabeth Wadsworth, Portland, 1801

Item Contributed by
Maine Historical Society

Elizabeth Wadsworth (1779-1802)

Elizabeth (Eliza) Wadsworth was the second daughter of Peleg and Elizabeth Wadsworth. She suffered from an extended period of poor health and never left the house.

Eliza was especially close to her sister Zilpah, who was one year older. Letters Eliza wrote during the summer of 1800 indicate that she and Stephen Longfellow -- who was a favorite of both Eliza and Zilpah -- had an "understanding."

In October 1801 she and Stephen's miniatures were painted, probably as gifts for one another. Eliza, however, had begun the decline from tubercular consumption that caused her death on August 1, 1802. Zilpah devoted herself to nursing her sister and, with Stephen, watched by her bedside.

Other notable residents:

Henry Wadsworth (1785-1804) was a middle son of Peleg and Elizabeth Wadworth.

Henry left home to join the Navy around 1800. He was killed by an explosion during the Battle of Tripoli in 1804. The poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was named in his memory.

Alexander Scammell Wadsworth (1790–1851) was the ninth child of Peleg and Elizabeth Wadsworth; he was born in the Longfellow-Wadsworth house.

Alexander served in the U.S. Navy for more than 40 years, joining in 1804 as a midshipman and rising to the rank of commodore.

Servants. Although their names are unknown, documentary evidence indicates that the Wadsworth family employed servants to cook, do laundry, clean and care for the family. Some lived in the house, while others worked during the day and returned to their own homes.