John Greenleaf Whittier Birthplace

305 Whittier Road, Haverhill

A vibrant and complex cluster of abolitionists emerged out of Haverhill in the 1800s. They included Sydney Howard Gay, future editor of the National Anti-Slavery Standard and partisan of the Underground Railroad. Perhaps the best known was John Greenleaf Whittier, who gained national prominence as the author of Snow-Bound, a bestselling poem. Published in book form in 1866, the poem celebrated the disappearing New England family farm.

Whittier, born in 1807, was educated at a local Quaker school led by an influential abolitionist minister, Joshua Coffin. It was in a newspaper edited by William Lloyd Garrison (see our entry on Rockledge), the Newburyport Free Press, in which Whittier’s first published poem appeared, in 1826.

John Greenleaf Whittier birthplace, 2016. Photo by Suren Moodliar.

Whittier was ambivalent about his hometown’s best-known contribution to abolitionism, the famous Haverhill petition. In 1841, John Quincy Adams, the former president and member of the U.S. House of Representatives, presented the petition to Congress. It called for the dissolution of the United States, in effect Northern secession, claiming that taxpayers in the North were footing the bill for the defense of slavery in the South. Whittier was quite troubled by this tactic, fearing that if it were to succeed, slavery would remain intact. Despite this difference, Whittier remained a strong advocate of using formal political institutions to challenge slavery.

Built in 1688, Whittier’s birthplace still stands; today, it is a museum dedicated to the poet. The Whittier family homestead is open to the public from May until October via guided tours. The neighboring properties retain much of the bucolic character of Whittier’s time.

Plaque attached to the house where John Greenleaf Whittier was born. Photo by Midnightdreary, 2008. Creative Commons.

Getting there:

The home is 4.2 miles from the Haverhill Commuter Rail Station.

To learn more:

Christopher Klein, “Touring John Greenleaf Whittier’s birthplace and home,” The Boston Globe, October 6, 2011.

Whittier Birthplace website.