The Poet, John Greenleaf Whittier And Hampton -- Part 1

'Our Town' Logo PART 1

"Our Town" By James W. Tucker

Hampton Union, Thursday, September 22, 1960

Whittier's birthplace 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.

"Loose-Flung Rein"

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.

"Hampton Beach"

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:
"On - on - we tread with loose-flung rein
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."

The Ocean Breeze

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:
"Goody-by to Pain and Care! I take Mine ease today:
Here where these sunny waters break,
And ripples this keen breeze, I shake
All burdens from the heart, all weary thoughts away."

Needed No Token

and the last of the fifteen beautifully descriptive verses:
"So then, beach, bluff and wave, farewell: I bear with me
No token stone nor glittering shell,
But long and oft shall Memory tell
Of this brief thoughtful hour of musing by the sea."

Quaker Family

John Greenleaf Whittier was born on the family homestead near Haverhill, Mass. -- now preserved as a memorial -- on Dec. 17, 1807. He died in Hampton Falls, Sept. 7, 1892 and is buried in Amesbury. In a very few months he would have been 85 years old. His ancestor, Thomas Whittier, came to America with a band of Puritans in 1638. Thomas' youngest son married a Quakeress. In this way, the poet's branch of the family became Quakers. John Greenleaf Whittier had two sisters, Mary and Elizabeth, and a brother, Matthew.

Disposing of a Legend

It probably would be well right now to dispose of a local legend concerning the burial place of this famous Quaker poet. This legend was clothed with a little factual importance when it was published two years ago in the annual brochure of the N. H. Seacoast Regional Assn. The story read as follows:

"Hampton Falls also has the distinction of providing the last resting place for one of America's best known poets -- John Greenleaf Whittier. The author of "Snowbound" is buried in Westview Cemetery which is on the first road left west of Applecrest Farm. The burial permit is till in the town records, and the house where he lived is just south of the Wayside Furniture Company."

Died in Hampton Falls

It is true that Whittier died in the house most often described as "the old Gove place," which is just south of the ancient Wellswood Tavern, now a retail furniture establishment, Lafayette Wayside Furniture, Inc., owned and operated by Henry "Hank" Norwell, a well liked resident of our town. Whittier died there several days after suffering a shock and it may well have been that a burial permit was issued in Hampton Falls before final arrangements were made for interment. But he was not buried in Hampton Falls. He rests in the Union Cemetery on the Haverhill Road in Amesbury.

Gentle, Yet Militant

The Quaker, Whittier, was a gentle, kindly man, but he was one of the nation's first and most militant crusaders against slavery. He was a freedom fighter for thirty years before the Civil War brought an end to slavery in America. His anti-slavery pamphlets and poems made Whittier, along with William Lloyd Garrison, preeminent among the nation's Abolitionists. In fact, he suffered mob violence at one time in Concord because of his strong and continued opposition to the enslavement of negroes in this country and elsewhere.

The First Poem

As a youth, Whittier attended district school in Haverhill, became familiar with nature and was an avid reader -- particularly of history and travel books. He loved the poems of Burns which perhaps gave him the incentive to write. In any event, he was only nineteen years old when his sister sent his first poem, "Exiles Departure" to the Newburyport Free Press, then edited by William Lloyd Garrison. It was published on June 8, 1826. Soon, Editor Garrison visited the poet and as a result of the acquaintanceship he published 19 more of Whittier's poems that year. Poems were also published in the Haverhill Gazette and in the Boston Statesman.

More Schooling

Friends of the young poet suggested more education, so Whittier studied for two years, beginning in 1827, at Haverhill Academy -- a new school. In 1829, through the efforts of his friend, Garrison, the rising young man of letters became the editor of "American Manufacturer", a paper published in Boston by Henry Clay. It was about this time that Whittier began an unhappy love affair with Mary Emerson Smith which lasted for seven or eight years. He became obsessed with the idea that she thought herself above a farm boy, so when Mary moved to Ohio, Whittier did not follow. This affair was typical of many other similar episodes in the poet's life -- he was seemingly unlucky in love.

Political Experience

In 1832, because of his devotion to the cause of abolition and his high regard for Garrison, he entered politics. He wrote pamphlets and poetry, now, almost altogether of the anti-slavery type. It might be called a turning point in his career -- a literary career in which he had already written 275 poems, all of which had been published. He was a delegate to the first American Anti-Slavery Convention in Philadelphia in December, 1833. In 1834, he ran for the state senate and was elected. Elected a second time, he was obliged to resign because of illness and this ended his only experience as an elected official.

Moved to Amesbury

In the summer of 1836, he sold the Haverhill farm and moved with his mother, sister and aunt to a new home in Amesbury. Here he resided for forty years. Because of the attempts to suppress the abolitionists, he became interested in the subject of free speech and strongly supported this constitutional right in poems and in pamphlets. His abolitionist activities were continued as editor of various publications and as the author of increasingly militant anti-slavery poems. He was a member of the American Anti-Slavery Society and when this group was disrupted in 1840, he joined its successor, the American and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society. Although ill much of the time, he managed to edit the periodicals of the Society.

In N. H. Politics

In 1846, Whittier played a prominent part in the New Hampshire elections, swinging the votes of the Liberty Party to John P. Hale, who was elected to the United States Senate. Though not an abolitionist, Hale was the first U.S. Senator to show sympathy for the anti-slavery cause.

Public Relations Man

Next week we will continue this brief sketch od the life of the famous Quaker poet who loved Hampton, and will try to describe more of his many poems which had directly or indirectly to do with our town. Never did any community have a better public relations man.
Forward to Whittier -- Part 2