John Greenleaf Whittier

Ivor Griffiths, Poet, Novelist & Short Story Writer

:: Poet Home :: Poetry :: Short Stories :: Contact ::
John Greenleaf Whittier

Born: December 17, 1807
Haverhill, Massachusetts, United States
Died: September 7, 1892
Hampton Falls, New Hampshire, United States
Occupation: Writer

John Greenleaf Whittier (December 17, 1807 – September 7, 1892) was an American Quaker poet and forceful advocate of the abolition of slavery in the United States.


  • 1 Life and work
  • 2 Legacy
  • 3 External links
  • 4 References

Life and work

He was born to John and Abigail at the rural homestead in Haverhill, Massachusetts. He grew up on the farm in a household with his parents, a brother and two sisters, a maternal aunt and paternal uncle, and a constant flow of visitors and hired hands for the farm. During the winter term, he attended the district school, and was first introduced to poetry by a teacher.

Whittier was an activist all his life, although there is no record of him ever speaking in meeting, and, unlike some others who were Orthodox, he found time to engage in politics and championed abolitionism. Whittier became editor of a number of newspapers in Boston and Haverhill, as well as the New England Weekly Review in Hartford, Connecticut, the most influential Whig journal in New England. His first two published books were Legends of New England (1831) and the poem Moll Pitcher (1832). In 1838, a mob burned Whittier out of his offices in the antislavery center of Pennsylvania Hall in Philadelphia.[1]

Highly regarded in his lifetime and for a period thereafter he is now remembered largely for the patriotic poem Barbara Frietchie, as well as for a number of poems turned into hymns, some of which remain exceedingly popular. Although clearly Victorian in style, and capable of being sentimental, his hymns exhibit both imagination and universalism of that set them beyond ordinary 19th century hymnody. Best known is probably Dear Lord and Father of Mankind taken from his poem The Brewing of Soma, but Whittier's Quaker thought is better illustrated by the hymn that begins:

Broadside publication of Whittier's Our Countrymen in Chains
Broadside publication of Whittier's Our Countrymen in Chains
O Brother Man, fold to thy heart thy brother:
Where pity dwells, the peace of God is there;
To worship rightly is to love each other,
Each smile a hymn, each kindly word a prayer.

It also shows in his poem "To Rönge" in honour of Johannes Ronge, the German religious figure and rebel leader of the 1848 rebellion in Germany:

Thy work is to hew down. In God's name then:
Put nerve into thy task. Let other men;
Plant, as they may, that better tree whose fruit,
The wounded bosom of the Church shall heal.

His words still reverberate today, particularly through his poem "Maud Muller" with its famous line: "For of all sad words of tongue or pen, The saddest are these: 'It might have been!'"

Whittier died at Hampton Falls, New Hampshire, and is buried in Amesbury, Massachusetts.[citation needed]


A bridge named for Whittier, built in the style of the Sagamore and Bourne Bridges spanning Cape Cod Canal, carries Interstate 95 from Amesbury to Newburyport over the Merrimack River. The city of Whittier, California, the community of Whittier, Alaska, the Minneapolis neighborhood of Whittier and the town of Greenleaf, Idaho were named in his honor. Both Whittier College and Whittier Law School are also named after him. In addition, an elementary school in Kenosha, Wisconsin is named Whittier School, as is one in Berkeley, California. Kenosha, built in 1927 as a two room school house, was expanded over the years and is currently one of the largest elementary schools in the Kenosha Unified School District.

Whittier's hometown of Haverhill, Massachusetts has named many buildings and landmarks in his honor including J.G. Whittier Middle School, Greenleaf Elementary, and Whittier Regional Vocational Technical High School. Whittier's family farm, John Greenleaf Whittier Homestead also called "Whittier's Birthplace" is now a historic site open to the public as is the John Greenleaf Whittier Home, his residence in Amesbury for 56 years.

The alternate history story P.'s Correspondence (1846) by Nathaniel Hawthorne, considered the first such story ever published in English, includes the notice "Whittier, a fiery Quaker youth, to whom the muse had perversely assigned a battle-trumpet, got himself lynched, in South Carolina". The date of that event in Hawthorne's invented timeline was 1835.

The small town of Greenleaf, Idaho is named in his honor.

  • Whittier biography & hymns
  • Works by John Greenleaf Whittier at Project Gutenberg
  • John Greenleaf Whittier Home, Amesbury, Massachusetts
  • Quaker Meeting where Whittier was a member
  • Audio of Greenleaf's works by Michael Maglaras
  • Middle school in Oak park Illinois is named after Whitter.

    1. ^ Sieczkiewicz, Robert (2007). A Green Country Town: Essays on Philadelphia History. Philadelphia: American College of Physicians. 

    Volume 1 The Whittier Bi-centennial Recording Project, featuring the poem "Snow-Bound" read by Michael Maglaras [1]

    • Jackson, Phyllis Wynn, Victorian Cinderella: The Story of Harriet Beecher Stowe; H. Wolff Book Manufacturing Company, New York, 1947.
    This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from a Wikipedia article. To access the original click here.
    Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document
    under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2
    or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation;
    with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts, and no Back-Cover Texts.
    A copy of the license is included in the section entitled "GNU
    Free Documentation License".