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Northeast / Massachusetts

John Greenleaf Whittier Autobiography, in Letter form Amesbury, Massachusetts 1882 Dear Friend: I was born on the 17th of December, 1807, in the easterly part of Haverhill, Massachusetts, in the house built by my first American ancestor, two hundred years ago. My father was a farmer, in moderate circumstances, a man of good natural ability, and sound judgment. My mother was Abigail Hussey, of Rollinsford, NH. A bachelor uncle and a maiden aunt, both of whom I remember with much affection, lived in the family. The farm was not a very profitable one; it was burdened with debt and we had no spare money; but with strict economy we lived comfortably and respectably. Both my parents were members of the Society of Friends. As a member of the Society of Friends, I had been educated to regard Slavery as a great and dangerous evil, and my sympathies were strongly enlisted for the oppressed slaves by my intimate acquaintance with William Lloyd Garrison. When the latter started his paper in Vermont, in 1828, I wrote him a letter commending his views upon Slavery, Intemperance and War, and assuring him that he was destined to do great things. In 1833 1 was a delegate to the first National Anti-Slavery Convention, at Philadelphia. I was one of the Secretaries of the Convention and signed its Declaration. In 1833 I was in the Massachusetts Legislature. I was mobbed in Concord, NH, in company with George Thompson, afterwards member of the British Parliament, and narrowly escaped from great danger. I kept Thompson, whose life was hunted for, concealed in our lonely farmhouse for two weeks. I was in Boston during the great mob in Washington Street, soon after, and was threatened with personal violence. In 1837 I was in New York, in conjunction with Henry B. Stanton and Theodore D. Weld, in the office of the American Anti-Slavery Society. The next year I took charge of the "Pennsylvania Freeman," an organ of the Anti-Slavery Society. My office was sacked and burned by a mob soon after, but I continued my paper until my health failed, when I returned to Massachusetts. The farm in Haverhill had, in the meantime, been sold, and my mother, aunt and youngest sister, had moved to Amesbury, near the Friends’ Meetinghouse, and I took up my residence with them. All this time I had been actively engaged in writing for the anti-slavery cause. In 1833 I printed at my own expense, an edition of my first pamphlet, "Justice and Expediency." With the exception of a few dollars from the "Democratic Review" and "Buckingham’s Magazine," I received nothing for my poems and literary articles. Indeed, my pronounced views on Slavery made my name too unpopular for a publisher’s uses. I edited in 1844 "The Middlesex Standard (Lowell, MA)," and afterwards became associate editor of the "National Era" at Washington. I early saw the necessity of separate political action on the part of Abolitionists. And was one of the founders of the Liberty Party-—the germ of the present Republican Party. In 1837 an edition of my complete poems, up to that time, was published by Ticknor & Fields. "In War Time," followed in 1864; and in 1863, "Snow Bound." In 1860 I was chosen a member of the Electoral College of Massachusetts, and also in 1864. I have been a member of the Board of Overseers of Harvard College, and a Trustee of Brown University. But while feeling, and willing to meet, all the responsibilities of citizenship, and deeply interested in questions which concern the welfare and honor of the country, I have, as a rule, declined overtures for acceptance of public stations. I have always taken an active part in elections, but have not been willing to add my own example to the greed of office. I have been a member of the Society of Friends by birthright, and by a settled conviction of the truth of its principles and the importance of its testimonies, while, at the same time, I have a kind feeling towards all who are seeking, in different ways from mine, to serve God and benefit their fellowmen. "Knowing that kindly Providence its care is showing in the withdrawal as in the bestowing, scarcely I dare for more or less to pray." Thy friend, JOHN G. WHITTIER


Submitted By:

Martha Mayo, Massachusetts,
martha_mayo@uml.edu