John La Farge & Marriage in Newport
La Farge’s move to Newport in 1859 was both happenstance and fate. It was happenstance because he befriended Richard Morris Hunt, who had a studio nearby, who mentioned one day that his older brother William was beginning to teach in Newport. Hunt had studied also with Thomas La Couture in Paris and La Farge admired examples of the older Hunt’s work.
It was fate because Newport was then an intellectual and artistic center, with the Hunts, the Jameses, Louis Agassiz and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow among the prominent Americans spending time there.
Another new friend in Newport was Thomas Sargeant Perry, then starting a career in literary criticism that would lead ultimately to a Harvard professorship. Perry was from one of Newport’s most prominent families and was a grandson of Oliver Hazard Perry, the hero of the Battle of Lake Erie. He also had a sister Margaret Mason Perry, with whom La Farge fell in love during his first summer in Newport.
His feelings for Margaret were reciprocated and they began courting, much to the horror of her mother, objecting to his Catholicism. In fact she took her daughter to Louisiana for the winter to get Margaret away from her suitor. He followed, despite the real dangers of malaria and yellow fever there. An engagement ensued and the two were married by a Catholic priest in October, 1860.
La Farge remained married to Margaret until his death in 1910 but they lived increasingly apart. She never left Newport, raising their many children there. La Farge, however, spent more and more time in New York as the marriage became troubled. But with Margaret and his family permanently resident on Aquidneck Island meant that Newport was always a part of his life.