Brown Square

Pleasant Street (between Green St. and Titcomb St.), Newburyport

Postcard of Brown Square, 1913. Public domain. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

On May 31, 1836, the Essex County Antislavery Society held its first meeting at Brown Square. Among the speakers was the famed poet and abolitionist John Greenleaf Whittier. Established in 1802, the square was named after Moses Brown (1742-1827), the land’s donor, and, at the time, Newburyport’s second wealthiest individual and largest property owner.

Brown Square features an imposing statue of Newburyport’s most famous son: William Lloyd Garrison. On the base of the statue, which was erected in 1893, are engraved some of his most famous, hard-hitting words. The monument is located very close to what was the North Church, whose pastor, in 1830, invited Garrison to deliver a lecture about slavery. Many in the audience so disliked what the firebrand abolitionist had to say that he was uninvited to speak on a second night.

That the house of worship (the Central Congregational Church now occupies the site) at the western end of Brown Square treated Garrison poorly is related in some ways to the square’s namesake. Moses Brown was a merchant and shipbuilder, and an investor in the sugar, rum, and molasses trade. As such, like many in Newburyport, his wellbeing was tied to slavery. As an informational panel on the green notes, “Brown became wealthy and helped the development of Newburyport based on his profits from the ‘Triangle Trade,’ the economic engine that drove much of the slave trade in the 18th and 19th centuries.”

In addition to Newburyport’s City Hall, various commercial establishments sit along the perimeter of Brown Square, including the Garrison Inn, a small hotel. Originally known as the Brown Square House, it was built (or commissioned) by Moses Brown.

Getting there:

Commuter Rail from North Station to Newburyport. Brown Square is 1.3 miles away (about a 26-minute walk). You can traverse most of the distance via the Clipper City Rail Trail, which connects the Commuter Rail station to Newburyport’s Harborwalk, along the city’s waterfront.

To learn more:

Susan M. Harvey, Slavery in Massachusetts: A descendent of early settlers investigates the connections in Newburyport, Massachusetts, Master’s Thesis, Department of History, Fitchburg State University, June 2011.

Dyke Hendrickson, “The Economics of Slavery,” Daily News (Newburyport), April 14, 2014.

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.