December 17: John Greenleaf Whittier

On this day in 1807, American poet John Greenleaf Whittier was born. Whittier is remembered particularly for his abolitionist writings.

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Whittier Portrait

Illustration by FCIT based on an historic illustration of Whittier.

William Lloyd Garrison

William Lloyd Garrison from the ClipArt ETC website. Garrison was leading abolitionist of the era and the publisher of the Newburyport Free Press. Whittier’s first published poem, “The Exile’s Departure,” was sent to Garrison by Whittier’s sister when he was still a teenager. Garrison published it in his newspaper.

Massachusetts Bay

Map showing the location of Haverhill (where Whittier was born) and Boston (where he was the editor of the National Philanthropist and then the American Manufacturer). Map from the Maps ETC website.

Haverhill, Massachusetts

Map of Haverhill from the Maps ETC website.The Whittier homestead is about 3 miles northeast of the center of town.

Haverhill Academy

Whittier attended Haverhill Academy from 1827 to 1828 and completed high school in only two terms. To raise money for tuition, Whittier made shoes during his first term and taught in a one-room school during his second term. He had also participated in the 1827 dedication of the school by composing an ode, which was sung at the ceremony.

"Barbara Frietchie" by John Greenleaf Whittier

“Barbara Frietchie” by John Greenleaf Whittier from the Lit2Go website. Duration: 2:53. This poem is often remembered for this famous couplet:

‘Shoot, if you must, this old gray head,
But spare your country’s flag,’ she said.

"Whittier" by Paul Laurence Dunbar

“Whittier” from the Lit2Go website. Whittier was an important influence in the work of poet Paul Laurence Dunbar. Duration: 1:01. Also available as a PDF.

"Stanzas for the Times" by John Greenleaf Whittier

A poem by Whittier referring to a pro-slavery meeting in Faneuil Hall in August of 1835. Listen at the Lit2Go website. Duration: 3:47.

"Maud Muller" by John Greenleaf Whittier

This poem by Whittier is about a wealthy judge and a beautiful farm maid who briefly meet and spend the rest of their lives thinking about each other and wondering what might have been. Listen on the Lit2Go website. Duration: 5:00. The poem contains the well-known couplet:

For of all sad words of tongue or pen,
The saddest are these: “It might have been!”

"Snow-Bound" by John Greenleaf Whittier

This poem by Whittier chronicles a rural New England family as a snowstorm rages outside. It captures a rapidly-disappearing lifestyle. Audio available from the Lit2Go website. Duration: 30:06. Also available as a PDF.

"The Barefoot Boy" by John Greenleaf Whittier

Listen to Whittier’s poem about childhood on Lit2Go. Duration 3:58. Also available as a PDF.