John Greenleaf Whittier’s Home in Amesbury, MA
John Greenleaf Whittier’s Home in Amesbury, MA
If you’re headed down east to New England this August, make sure to visit the Whittier Home Museum. John Greenleaf Whittier, famous poet, journalist, politician, abolitionist and writer lived in Amesbury at 86 Friend Street from 1836 until his death in 1892. Whittier was a birthright Friend, meaning that his membership came from being born to Quaker parents. He walked to the Friends Meeting House for worship and entertained fellow Quakers in his home after the services and you can, too! Be sure to take the tour where you’ll find authentic furnishings, personal effects, and garden plantings – all bringing the Whittier Home to life.
John Greenleaf Whittier
ABOUT JOHN GREENLEAF WHITTIER
As a poet, an abolitionist, and moral conscience, John Greenleaf Whittier was Essex County's (in Massachusetts) best known, most loved, and most read author of the 19th century. Born in the first decade of the century, 1807, and dying in its last decade, 1892, he was the voice of a county and a nation that awoke to and fought the evil of slavery, and that developed a renewed appreciation for the innocence of childhood, the bonds of family, and the fast fading rural past. The man who was too sickly to be an effective farmer, too poor for more than two terms of secondary school, was assaulted, mobbed, and burned out for his anti-slavery activity, and then given three Honorary Degrees and lionized, as his birthday was declared a holiday, and schools, bridges, roads, public buildings, and even a town and college were named for him. His greatest literary triumph came in 1866 when he was 58 with the publication of "Snow-Bound." It marked another turning point in his life, for his popularity immediately increased and he became successful financially for the first time. Today his poems are still read and enjoyed, and at least 17 of his more than 100 hymns are sung in Protestant churches worldwide.
JOHN GREENLEAF WHITTIER – READINGS IN THE GARDEN
The Whittier Home Association and Tapestry of Voices present the 11th annual collaborative readings from the poetry of John Greenleaf Whittier on Sunday, August 9th from 3:00 – 4:30 pm.
Cynthia Costello, President of the Whittier Home Association, invites poets, writers and all poetry lovers to attend an outdoor summer reading in the exquisite Whittier garden. A featured reader, Costello will recite one or two of her favorite John Greenleaf Whittier’s poems.
Skye Wentworth, President of the Cultural Alliance of the Lower Merrimack Valley in Massachusetts will join the group with selected anti-slavery readings from Whittier’s Toussaint L’Ouverture. Toussaint Louverture, (May 20, 1743–April 8, 1803), played a key role in what was the first successful attempt by a slave population in the Americas and the world to throw off the yoke of Western colonialism. He defeated armies of three imperial powers: Spain, France, and Great Britain. The success of the Haitian Revolution had enduring effects on shaking the institution of slavery throughout the New World. Haiti became the second independent republic in the Western Hemisphere.
In "Toussaint l'Ouverture," which is about the bloody slave uprising in 1794, Whittier writes about the "blood-red sky," and the nobleness of the slave's heart.
"Ha! stand or die!" The white man's eye
His steady musket gleamed along,
As a tall Negro hastened nigh,
With fearless step and strong.
"What, ho, Toussaint!" A moment more,
His shadow crossed the lighted floor.
"Away!" he shouted; "fly with me,
The white man's bark is on the sea;
Her sails must catch the seaward wind,
For sudden vengeance sweeps behind.
Our brethren from their graves have spoken,
The yoke is spurned, the chain is broken;
On all the bills our fires are glowing,
Through all the vales red blood is flowing
No more the mocking White shall rest
His foot upon the Negro's breast;
No more, at morn or eve, shall drip
The warm blood from the driver's whip
Yet, though Toussaint has vengeance sworn
For all the wrongs his race have borne,
Though for each drop of Negro blood
The white man's veins shall pour a flood;
Not all alone the sense of ill
Around his heart is lingering still,
Nor deeper can the white man feel
The generous warmth of grateful zeal.
Friends of the Negro! fly with me,
The path is open to the sea:
Away, for life!" He spoke, and pressed
The young child to his manly breast,
As, headlong, through the cracking cane,
Down swept the dark insurgent train,
Drunken and grim, with shout and yell
Howled through the dark, like sounds from hell.
Renowned poet, essayist and short story writer Rhina P. Espaillat will read two selections from Whittier's work: "The Word," and "Requirement," and one or two short poems of her own, as time permits.
Espaillat has published eleven collections of her work, most recently Her Place in These Designs (Truman State University Press, 2008). Her honors include the T.S. Eliot Prize for Poetry; the Richard Wilbur Award; the Nemerov Prize; three yearly prizes from the Poetry Society of America; the Barbara Bradley Award, the May Sarton Award from the New England Poetry Club, and several awards from the Ministry of Culture of her native country, the Dominican Republic.
Harris Gardner, founder of the poetry organization “Tapestry of Voices,” will be on hand to read Whittier’s poetry. Gardner's "Tapestry of Voices" effort, which, he says, is "dedicated to weaving poetry into the social fabric," is also held throughout the year in multiple poetry venues, including the “Laureate Series” in the Piedmont Room at Boston City Hall on the second Thursday of each month, starting at 6:30 PM, “Chapel Series” in Jamaica Plain and the visiting poet series at Endicott College in Beverly, Mass. He’s also the brainchild of the Boston National Poetry Marathon Festival which is held every April at the main branch of the Boston Public Library.
Other featured readers include Janet Howell, Sally Lavery, Lainie Senechal, Joanna Nealon, Walter Howard. Isabella Nebel and Richard Wollman.
An informal reception follows the readings and light refreshments will be served. The Tapestry of Voices reading is free and open to the public and takes place in the garden at the Whittier Home, 86 Friend Street, Amesbury. Rain or shine. For more information, call Harris Gardner (617) 723-3716.
THE WHITTIER HOME – TEA IN THE GARDEN
Whittier’s love of nature was clearly exhibited in his garden. Today, the descendents of the purple gentian, monarda, and grapevines he wrote about still bloom. You can enjoy the beauty of this setting at one of the many teas held here throughout the season. The next tea is scheduled for Wednesday, August 12th at 2:00 PM. Nothing says garden party like having an afternoon tea party - outdoors! Join us for tea (hot or cold), lemonade, sandwiches and desserts. $15. Call 978-388-1337 to reserve a spot!
ABOUT THE WHITTIER HOME
The mission of the Whittier Home Association is to act as steward for the preservation of the collections, structures and grounds of this John Greenleaf Whittier Home. As a nonprofit, educational organization, it strives to engage diverse audiences in the life-story of Whittier in his roles as a Quaker, a Writer and an Abolitionist. Open May – October. Friday and Saturdays – Noon – 3:00 PM with the last tour at 2:15 PM. Contact: wh.tours[at]verizon.net, (978) 388-1337 or visit http://whittierhome.org/ for more information.
*English lit majors* should not enter this room without a defibrillator. This room has been kept exactly as Whittier left it right down to the carpets, wallpaper and details. There is a musty scent of the past and it is easy to imagine the poet working here at his desk near the store with the humidifier. (Whittier disliked being cold.)
OTHER PLACES OF INTEREST
John Greenleaf Whittier left his mark throughout Amesbury and the surrounding towns. After you visit his home on Friend Street, take time to explore several other locations where Whittier walked.
Just a few doors down from his home on Friend Street is the historic Quaker meetinghouse, which he helped to build. The site of the Captain’s Well, which inspired his poem of the same name, is nearby at 220 Main Street, next to the Amesbury Middle School. (At the traffic circle where Friend and School Street meet, turn right onto School Street and continue through the traffic light. The Middle School is on the left at the bottom of the hill.) Whittier’s burial place, Union Cemetery, is a few blocks away. (At the next traffic light, turn right onto Haverhill Road (Route 110. The cemetery is a few hundred yards ahead on the left.)
Interior of Meetinghouse
Photos courtesy of the Whittier Home Association, Essex National Heritage and J. Dennis Robertson.