"Heaven defend us from such fathers": Perez Morton and the politics of seduction

Bryan Waterman

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


In the fall of 1788, John and Abigail Adams’s children corresponded guardedly about the sex scandal that then reigned near their childhood home. Abigail ("Nabby") Adams Smith wrote from Jamaica (Queens), New York, to her younger brother John Quincy Adams, a recent Harvard graduate studying law in Newbury, MA, in response to gossip he had recently sent. A month earlier, 22-year-old Fanny Apthorp, a neighbor to their aunt and uncle, had poisoned herself, bringing to a climax a drawn-out set of scandals, including Fanny’s pregnancy by her much older brother-in-law, the prominent Boston lawyer Perez Morton: "the Tragical Story you relate has made much talk here as well as with you," Smith wrote, omitting names. "[T]hat family seem to be devoted to misfortunes of every kind,-if there are any innocent-one cannot but regret that they should be doomed to suffer with those whose atrocity of Guilt is almost unparalleled-." As quickly as she questioned the entire Apthorp clan’s innocence, she turned their "misfortunes" into a national allegory on economic and moral themes: I hope our Countrymen will be Wise enough to take warning from those instances they have recently had of the pernicious affects of Such extravegance, dissipation, and folly;-as have been exhibited to view these late years;-the fatal Consequences which thousands of Innocent Persons experience from the downfall of thease airy fabricks-and visionary Castles of splendor-aught alone to deter others from pursueing So fallacious a Plan of Life-1.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationAtlantic Worlds in the Long Eighteenth Century
Subtitle of host publicationSeduction and Sentiment
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
Number of pages16
ISBN (Electronic)9781137014610
ISBN (Print)9780230108677
StatePublished - Jan 1 2012

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Arts and Humanities


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