Harriet Elizabeth Prescott Spofford

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Harriet Elizabeth Spofford (Prescott)

Birthplace: Sanbornton, Calais, Washington, Maine, United States
Death: August 14, 1921 (86)
Deer Island, Amesbury, Essex, Massachusetts, United States
Place of Burial: Newburyport, Essex, Massachusetts, United States
Immediate Family:

Daughter of Joseph Newmarch Prescott and Sarah Jane Prescott
Wife of Richard Smith Spofford, Jr.
Mother of Richard S Spofford
Sister of Mary Newmarch Prescott and Catherine Montague Moseley

Occupation: Writer
Managed by: Alissa Ann Smith
Last Updated:

About Harriet Elizabeth Prescott Spofford

Harriet Elizabeth Prescott Spofford (April 3, 1835–August 14, 1921) was a notable American writer remembered for her novels, poems and detective stories.

When Atlantic Monthly editor Thomas Wentworth Higginson asked Emily Dickinson whether she had read Spofford's work Circumstance, Dickinson replied, "I read Miss Prescott's Circumstance, but it followed me in the dark, so I avoided her." (Atlantic Monthly, October 1891).


Born in Calais, Maine, in 1849 she moved with her parents to Newburyport, Massachusetts, which was ever after her home, though has spent many of her winters in Boston and Washington, D.C. She attended the Putnam Free School in Newburyport, and Pinkerton Academy in Derry, New Hampshire from 1853 to 1855. At Newburyport her prize essay on Hamlet drew the attention of Thomas Wentworth Higginson, who soon became her friend, and gave her counsel and encouragement.

When her parents became sick, of necessity she set to work as a writer, sometimes laboring fifteen hours a day. She contributed to Boston story papers for small pay. In 1859, she submitted to Atlantic Monthly a story about Parisian life entitled “In a Cellar.” The magazine's editor, James Russell Lowell, at first believed the story to be a translation, and withheld it from publication. Reassured that it was original, he published it, and it established her reputation. She became a welcome contributor to the chief periodicals of the United States, both of prose and poetry.

Spofford's fiction had very little in common with what was regarded as representative of the New England mind. Her gothic romances were set apart by luxuriant descriptions, and an unconventional handling of female stereotypes of the day. Her writing was ideal, intense in feeling. In her descriptions and fancies, she reveled in sensuous delights and every variety of splendor.

In 1865, she married Richard S. Spofford, a Boston lawyer, and they resided on Deer Island overlooking the Merrimack River at Amesbury, a suburb of Newburyport, where she died.


  1. Her sister, Mary Newmarch Prescott (1849-88), was a frequent contributor, in prose and verse, to periodicals (1)
  2. Her sister, Catherine Montague Prescott b: Unknown m: April 13, 1869 to Edward Augustus Moseley b: March 23, 1846 in Newburyport, MA d: April 18, 1911 in Washington, D.C. (2)


  1. http://boards.ancestry.com/thread.aspx?mv=tree&m=1762&p=localities....
  2. http://boards.ancestry.com/surnames.moseley/258.262/mb.ashx
  3. Findagrave
  4. Five Colleges Archives & Manuscripts Collection - Harriet Elizabeth Prescott Spofford Collection, 1862-1920, Finding Aid


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Harriet Elizabeth Prescott Spofford's Timeline

April 3, 1835
Sanbornton, Calais, Washington, Maine, United States
January 20, 1868
August 14, 1921
Age 86
Deer Island, Amesbury, Essex, Massachusetts, United States
Age 85
Oak Hill Cemetery, Newburyport, Essex, Massachusetts, United States