In partnership with the Maine Memory Network Maine Memory Network

Longfellow Family Music

“Music is the universal language of humankind.”
--Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Outre Mer, 1835

Born in Portland in 1807, poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow spent his childhood in the Wadsworth-Longfellow House, nurtured by family members who read avidly, drew, painted, played music, and wrote.

Zilpah Wadsworth, Henry’s mother, wrote during her childhood of musical events that occurred in the parlor, furnished with several different pianos—rare luxury items in the early 19th century—over generations. During the War of 1812, Henry asked his father to send him a drum from Boston. Stephen Longfellow found "a very pretty drum, with an eagle painted on it" that cost two dollars. However, he was not able to ship it because of the war, as "They do not let any vessels go from Boston to Portland now."

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow learned piano and the flute as a youth, and developed a life-long love of music.

Sheet music

Eliza Wadsworth sheet music, 1798
Eliza Wadsworth sheet music, 1798
Maine Historical Society

Before printers made songbooks and sheet music widely available, people hand wrote music on lined sheets, creating their own sheet music. Members of the Longfellow family created and used manuscript song pages to entertain family and guests, including songs popular in the 1750s and early 1800s like Bonnie Doon, Belle Isle March, I Have Saved Thee, and Hark! The Goddess Diana.

Longfellow instruments

Stephen Longfellow’s (1776-1849) estate paid J.S. Paine $250.00 in 1836 for the manufacture of a rosewood piano forte and an additional $8.25 for a music stool, equaling about $8,500 in 2024.

Purchased for Stephen’s daughter, Anne S. Longfellow Pierce (1810-1901) to use in the Wadsworth-Longfellow House, it was the estate’s largest accounting expense over nine years. This is a different piano than the 1843 Chickering piano, installed in the historic house in 2024.

Anne Longfellow Pierce moved back to her childhood home in 1835 after the death of her husband, George Pierce. She lived in the Wadsworth-Longfellow House until her death in 1901, bequeathing the house and property to the Maine Historical Society to honor the memory of her brother, the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

Jacob S. Paine of Portland owned the music store where the Longfellows purchased the piano, published sheet music, and founded the Portland Band—later called Chandler’s Band.

During his travels in Europe, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow carried a flute to break the ice and communicate with people in rural areas. Jacques Bellissent, flute maker to the Paris Conservatory made this flute. Longfellow purchased it during his 1825 trip to Europe.