John Greenleaf Whittier is remembered both as a staunch abolitionist with a Quaker's pacifism and as a poet whose best known works were nostalgic tributes to a bucolic vision of early 19th century New England. Born on December 17, 1807, in Haverill, Massachusetts, Whittier was the son of a Quaker farmer and adopted the faith. WIth money he earned as as shoemaker, he paid for tuition for two terms as Haverill Academy, but beyond that he was self-educated. His first poem was published in the Newbury Free Press in 1826, whose editor at the time was William Lloyd Garrison. With Garrison's help, Whittier became editor of a Boston weekly magazine in 1829, through which he came into contact with the abolitionist movement. He wrote wrote for and edit a number of periodicals in the succeeding years and his pamphlet Justice and Expediency, which appeared in 1833, became a staple of abolitionist thinking. One of Whittier's best-known poems was Massachusetts to Virginia, composed as a response to the seizure in Boston of George Latimer, alleged to be a fugitive slave by his master, James B. Grey, of Norfolk. It ends:
But for us and for our children, the vow which have givenTrue to his Quaker beliefs, Whittier did not support a war by the Union to prevent secession, a position which put him at odds with the more radical proponents of Abolitionism in Boston. After the war, he was quick to welcome the South back into the fold and supported Lincoln's mild reconstruction against that of the Radical Republicans. Whittier's reputation as a poet rests heavily on works like Snow-Bound and The Barefoot Boy. Highly praised by his contemporaries, they are now regarded as somewhat shallow and overwrought. Whittier also wrote poems on political subjects, particularly slavery, and Ichabod, a poem written in regret at the defection of Daniel Webster from the ideals of abolition, appeared in 1850. Whittier spent much of his late years in the home of his three cousins in Danvers, Massachusetts. His own home was in Amesbury. The Whittier Home is now a museum. He died on September 7, 1892, in Hampton Falls, New Hampshire.
For freedom and humanity, is registered in heaven;
No slave-hunt in our borders -- no pirate on our strand!
No fetters in the Bay State -- no slave upon our land!