Sarah Wentworth Morton (1759 – 1846) was a socially prominent New England woman who came of age in the years following the American Revolution. As a young woman, Sarah joined the cause for independence, and then became a fierce abolitionist (her own father had been a slave-trader) in a time when slavery threatened to tear the Union apart. As a woman, she was prevented from formal schooling but nevertheless taught herself. She married an ambitious young lawyer, Perez Morton, who became the Attorney-General of Massachusetts, as Boston society shifted from its Puritan heritage to a key player in the early years of the United States.
Morton published under the pen name Philenia, and her works were read by John Adams, and numerous other members of high society. Life was not without scandal, especially when her sister Frances bore a child to an unknown man (heavily rumoured to be Sarah’s own husband) and then poisoned herself.
Morton was highly respected, and wrote novels, essays, and poems, although with the luxury of a wealthy upbringing and husband, she was able to treat writing as a hobby rather than a profession. Nevertheless, her poem The African Chief was known by most American schoolchildren for decades after her death in 1846.