John Greenleaf Whittier -- (The poet and His Love for Hampton)
Hampton's 325th Anniversary
1638 - 1963
by James W. Tucker
John Greenleaf Whittier, the Quaker poet, loved Hampton, its beach, its people, its history and its legends. His poems, as we shall see, attest to this fact. Although never a resident of our town, he deserves a permanent place among our distinguished citizens for he was our first and best publicity man.
He picnicked on Great Boar's Head. He pitched his tent on the sands of White Island. He would start out with horse and buggy on many an early morning from his home in Amesbury and wend his way with "loose-flung rein" to Hampton for a day beside the ocean. He loved to drive along our highways and our by-ways, pulling up along the dusty roads to talk now and then with friends whom he called neighbors.
It was in 1843 when he was 36 years old that he wrote the fifteen verse poem, "Hampton Beach." The long buggy ride from Amesbury, he described in this verse:
Our seaward way,
Through dark green fields and blossoming grain,
Where the wild briar rose skirts the lane,
And bends above our heads the flowering locust spray."
He tells in picturesque verse of experiencing a fresh ocean breeze -- "the healing of the seas," he calls it -- on his way to Great Boar's Head, where he unhitches his horse and prepares to spend the day:
Here where these sunny waters break,
And ripples this keen breeze, I shake
All burdens from the heart, all weary thoughts away."
And the last of the fifteen beautifully descriptive verses:
No token stone nor glittering shell,
But long and oft shall Memory tell
Of this brief thoughtful hour of musing by the sea."
Poems Whittier wrote which have directly to do with our town and with Hampton, and the year in which each was written, are given herewith: 1843, "Hampton Beach" and "The New Wife and the Old;" 1864, "Wreck of the Rivermouth;" 1865, "The Changeling" and 1867, "The Tent on the Beach." It is interesting to note that 24 years elapsed between his poem, "Hampton Beach," and "The Tent on the Beach," considered one of Whittier's best Poems. In the interim he vacationed many times in Hampton and occasionally visited with his friend Celia Thaxter on Appledore at the Isles of Shoals.
Of the five poems Whittier wrote between 1843 and 1867 which refer directly to our town, three are based on legends connected with prominent historical characters. "The Changeling" relates a tale about the beautiful young wife of Ezra Dalton who imagined that her two-year-old daughter Anna had been bewitched by Eunice Goody Cole. When, through the prayers of her husband, she is restored to her right mind, Goodman Dalton rides by night to Newbury to effect the release of Goody Cole from jail.
"Wreck of the Rivermouth" also features our town's famous "Goody Cole" who, in this story, is supposed to have cast a spell on a party of young folks as they sailed down the Hampton River to the sea for a day's fishing. The boat was wrecked off Rivermouth by a sudden storm and all members of the fishing party were drowned.
"The New Wife and the Old" is a ballad founded upon one of the numerous legends connected with General Moulton who was regarded by many of his neighbors in our town as a kind of Yankee Faust. In this poem the ghost of an old wife retrieves her jewelry from a beautiful and young new wife. In his work, "The supernaturalism of New England," published in 1847, Whittier relates another legend which shows how General Moulton outwitted the devil by cutting off the toe of a boot into which his satanic majesty was pouring gold.
For thirty years before the Civil War, no one opposed the enslavement of the negro more valiantly or more effectively than our own gentle Quaker poet, John Greenleaf Whittier. He personally was active in anti-slavery organizations, but his pen was eager and militant in the campaign against slavery as it then existed in America and elsewhere.
His anti-slavery poems, which numbered more than half a hundred, were a powerful help in organizing world sentiment against this evil institution -- an institution once thought so well of in our own state that Whittier was mobbed in our capital city because of his sturdy opposition to it.
With the end of the Civil War and with the Emancipation Proclamation there came to Whittier a peace of mind that is reflected in his verses -- poems that are no longer militant but gentle -- narrative poems like "Snow Bound" and "The Tent on the Beach." We particularly like the latter poem for three reasons: first, the locale is the south end of our own beach in the area of what is now the state bathhouse; second, the poet frankly discusses his own life and his fight against slavery and third, we have a description of Hampton Beach as it looked right after the Civil War in 1867, the year the poem was written.
It was in 1843 that Whittier wrote "Hampton Beach", so when he pitched his tent in the White Rock section in 1867, he had been intimately acquainted with our town's beautiful coast for over two decades. In his introduction to "The Tent on the Beach," he writes as follows: "It can scarcely be deemed necesssary to name as the two companions whom I reckoned with myself in this poetical picnic; Fields, the lettered magnate, and Taylor, the free cosmopolite."