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Home: The Wadsworth-Longfellow House and Portland

The Longfellow Era: 1807-1901

On the evening of January 1, 1804, Stephen Longfellow and Zilpah Wadsworth were married in the parlor of the house where Zilpah grew up. They moved into their own home, but moved back into the Wadsworth house in 1807 when Zilpah's parents moved to Hiram. This was the family home until 1901.

Zilpah Wadsworth Longfellow (1778-1851)

"We are now having a furnace set in the cellar which we are promised will have the effect of warming the whole house…"

- Zilpah Wadsworth Longfellow to her son Alexander, December 1, 1835.

Zilpah Wadsworth Longfellow lived in the house for most of her life. She and her husband, Stephen, rented the house from her father, Peleg Wadsworth, beginning in 1807 until Peleg’s death in 1829. Her father gave her and her sister Lucia ownership of the house in his will.

Silhouette of Zilpah and Stephen Longfellow
Silhouette of Zilpah and Stephen Longfellow

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Maine Historical Society

Zilpah, like her mother before her, stayed at home to tend to their family. Her constitution was intolerant of Portland's cold and damp air, and the rigors of bearing eight children left her in precarious health.

Stephen Longfellow (1776-1849)

Stephen Longfellow was born in Gorham, the town to which his grandfather and father had moved following Falmouth's bombardment in 1775 by the British. His grandfather had been Falmouth's first schoolmaster and his father served as representative and senator in the Massachusetts legislature, and as a judge.

Lucia Wadsworth, Portland, ca. 1862
Lucia Wadsworth, Portland, ca. 1862

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Longfellow National Historic Site

A lawyer, he added a brick side entrance to the house during renovations following a chimney fire in 1814. He then moved his law office to the house.

Lucia Wadsworth (1783-1864)

Lucia Wadsworth was the sister of Zilpah Longfellow. She remained single and lived most of her life in the house. Lucia shared ownership of the house with Zilphah and Anne, and was devoted to her family.

Because of Zilpah Longfellow's fragile health, Aunt Lucia ran the house — cooking, sewing, knitting — and managed the entire family.

Zilpah bequeathed her half of the Wadsworth-Longfellow House to her daughter Anne. When Lucia died in 1864, she too left her share to Anne, whose increasing responsibility for the house became a legal fact.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 1840
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 1840

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Maine Historical Society

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882)

Although he was born at a house on Fore Street, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow lived at the Wadsworth-Longfellow house for most of his childhood. He was the second of eight children born to Stephen and Zilpah Longfellow. At age 13 he published his first poem in the Portland Gazette, signing it simply "HENRY."

He graduated from Bowdoin College in 1825. He taught briefly at Bowdoin, but spent most of his adult life and career in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he taught at Harvard, directed the Modern Language program there, and wrote poetry.

His first wife had died of a miscarriage and in 1843 he married Fanny Appleton. They had six children: Charles, Ernest, Fanny, Alice, Edith, and Anne Allegra. Only Fanny did not survive to adulthood. By the 1850s, he was a national literary figure. He and his family frequently visited Portland.

Anne Longfellow Pierce, Portland, ca. 1855
Anne Longfellow Pierce, Portland, ca. 1855

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Maine Historical Society

Anne Longfellow Pierce (1810-1901)

"...on our own street we have had a whole summer of dust already...for in our town is the constant stir up by the horse cars. For the past months we have had the full benefit of the tearing down of brick and plastering in the old Morton block."

- Anne Longfellow Pierce to her sister Mary, 1864

Anne was the fourth child of Stephen and Zilpha Longfellow. On November 26, 1832, Anne married George Washington Pierce, a classmate and close friend of Henry, who had studied law in Stephen Longfellow's office. In October 1835 George died of typhus, and Anne returned to her parents' home to face her loss — compounded by the death of her 16-year-old sister, Ellen, from the same disease.

She moved back into her childhood home, living with her parents and her mother's sister, Aunt Lucia. Anne lived 87 of her 90 years in the house she called "dear old home." "[i] am happier here than anywhere.

"An affectionate presence seems to enfold me here…A benediction will ever rest on us children under the old roof tree…so long as memory of our dear parents lives within us." She was the last family member to occupy the house.

Elizabeth Clapp Porter, Portland, ca. 1850
Elizabeth Clapp Porter, Portland, ca. 1850

Item Contributed by
Longfellow National Historic Site

Elizabeth Clapp Porter Longfellow (1822-1904)

Alexander Wadsworth Longfellow, Portland, ca. 1855
Alexander Wadsworth Longfellow, Portland, ca. 1855

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Longfellow National Historic Site

Alexander Wadsworth Longfellow (1814-1901)

Alexander Wadsworth Longfellow was born in the house. He was described as a noisy, booted, cigar-smoking, late-night-keeping presence.

As a civil engineer for the United States Coast Survey, he charted the shoreline and harbors of New England.

After he married Elizabeth Clapp Porter in 1851, they stayed for a winter before moving into their own Portland home, which was on Highland Street.

While the couple lived in the Wadsworth-Longfellow house, Alexander had an office there.

Mary Longfellow (1816-1902)

Mary Longfellow, Portland, 1836
Mary Longfellow, Portland, 1836

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Maine Historical Society

James Greenleaf (1814-1865)

James L. Greenleaf, ca. 1840
James L. Greenleaf, ca. 1840

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Maine Historical Society

Mary Longfellow Greenleaf was the sixth child of Stephen and Zilpah Longfellow. She was born in the Wadsworth-Longfellow house and lived there until her marriage in 1839.

After their marriage, she and James Greenleaf lived for a time in New Orleans, and later built a home near her brother Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in Cambridge. Greenleaf, the son of Simon Greenleaf and Hannah Kingman of Portland, was a merchant.

They were frequent visitors to the Longfellow family home in Portland.

Samuel Longfellow, ca. 1850
Samuel Longfellow, ca. 1850

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Maine Historical Society

Samuel Wadsworth Longfellow (1819-1892)

Samuel Wadsworth Longfellow, the youngest son of Stephen and Zilpah, went to Harvard College, where older brother Henry was teaching. He took Henry’s German class, French, Italian, and other core courses like rhetoric and mathematics. He entered the Harvard Divinity School in 1839 and became an ordained minister.

In 1882, he left a clergy position to start the biography of his late brother Henry. Much of The Life of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow is quoted from the journals and correspondence, which were stored in Henry’s study.

Samuel drew together reminiscences and additional excerpts for Final Memorials published in 1887, and both works were arranged to form a three-volume Life.

Henry W. Longfellow 2nd, Portland, ca. 1851
Henry W. Longfellow 2nd, Portland, ca. 1851

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Maine Historical Society

Henry (Hen) Wadsworth Longfellow (1839-1874)

Henry (Hen) Wadsworth Longfellow was the son of Stephen and Marianne Longfellow. They often left their youngest offspring with Anne for the day, making extra work for her.

In 1850 when Marianne divorced the alcoholic Stephen for lack of support and adultery, Marianne's father demanded that the Longfellows provide support for his daughter's five children.

In 1850 Anne took legal guardianship of 10-year-old Henry, his famous uncle's namesake. Anne was 40 when Hen, as she called him, came to live with her, and she confided to Mary that her responsibility for him was daunting but "presents itself so strongly as a duty."

After schooling in Portland and New Gloucester, he attended Harvard but was asked to leave in 1859. He later served in the Civil War.

Servants

An unknown number of servants worked and lived in the home during the Longfellow era. Some of their names, ages, and birthplaces are known from census records and other documents:

Rebecca Ridlon, kitchen maid, worked in the house from 1814-15 and is thought to be responsible for the 1814 chimney fire that spread to the roof.

Louisa Houghton is listed in residence in the 1870 census, age 23.

Nancy Erskine is listed in the 1880 census as servant, age 45.

Mary E. Colleran is listed in the 1900 census as servant, age 29.

Jean L. Crie is listed in the 1900 census as servant, age 59.

Margaret McDonough is listed in the 1900 census as servant, age 30.