Feast of John Greenleaf Whittier (December 8)   3 comments

Above:  John Greenleaf Whittier

Image in the Public Domain

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JOHN GREENLEAF WHITTIER (DECEMBER 7, 1807-SEPTEMBER 7, 1892)

U.S. Quaker Abolitionist, Poet, and Hymn Writer

John Greenleaf Whittier was one of the greatest American poets of the nineteenth century.

Whittier, born and raised in a Quaker family on a farm near Haverhill, Massachusetts, on December 7, 1807, worked hard as a youth.  He was a farmer, of course, but was also a cobbler.  (Farming was not his sole concern, although he remained a grounded person.)  Our saint had little formal education–a few terms at Haverhill Academy, actually.  While there, he began to write.  William Lloyd Garrison (1805-1879) made Whittier a published poet in the Newburyport Free Press, in 1826.  The two men became lifelong friends in 1829.

Whittier’s friendship with Garrison advanced our saint professionally.  In 1829 Garrison helped Whittier become the editor of The American Manufacturer, Boston, Massachusetts.  This was a politically Whig publication that focused on industrial and agricultural interests.  While editor of The American Manufacturer, Whittier became involved in the abolitionist movement.  Our saint went on to edit The New England Weekly Review (1830-1832), The Pennsylvania Freeman (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1838-1840), and The Middlesex Standard (Lowell, Massachusetts, 1844-1845), as well as to join the staff of The Washington National Era (1847-1869).

Whittier put his literary skills to work in the service of abolitionism in other ways, too.  He wrote Justice and Expediency (1833), a best-selling pamphlet.  That year, as the secretary of the Anti-Slavery Convention, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, our saint helped to draft the declaration of principles.  Four years later, he published Poems Written During the Progress of the Abolitionist Cause in the United States.

Whittier did more than write and edit.  In 1835 he won a seat in the Massachusetts legislature.  The following year, he became the secretary of the American Anti-Slavery Society.  In 1835 and 1838 Whittier experienced pro-slavery mob violence–first in Concord, New Hampshire.  Three years later, he witnessed the burning of the offices of The Pennsylvania Freeman.

Throughout mob violence and the United States Civil War Whittier, a womb-to-tomb Quaker, remained a staunch pacifist.  Although he preferred secession to war, he welcomed Confederate defeat at the end of that war.

Whittier became more radical as he aged.  By the end of his life, he had abandoned enough of his former, traditional ideas about gender to support women’s suffrage.

Whittier also composed religious poems, some of which congregations sang as hymns, starting during his lifetime.  He denied being a hymn writer, though; his Quaker congregations did not sing hymns.  Nevertheless, generations of Christians have sung some of his texts, including “Dear Lord and Father of Mankind,” as hymns.

Whittier moved in with three female cousins in Danvers, Massachusetts, in 1876.  He died in Hampton Falls, New York, on September 7, 1892.  He was 86 years old.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 26, 2019 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF ISABEL FLORENCE HAPGOOD, U.S. JOURNALIST, TRANSLATOR, AND ECUMENIST

THE FEAST OF SAINT ANDRA GIACINTO LONGHIN, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF TREVISO

THE FEAST OF PHILIP DODDRIDGE, ENGLISH CONGREGATIONALIST MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF VIRGIL MICHEL, U.S. ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK, ACADEMIC, AND PIONEER OF LITURGICAL RENEWAL

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Eternal God, light of the world and Creator of all that is good and lovely:

We bless your name for inspiring John Greenleaf Whittier

and all those who with words have filled us with desire and love for you;

through Jesus Christ our Savior, who with you and the Holy Spirit

lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

1 Chronicles 29:14b-19

Psalm 90:14-17

2 Corinthians 3:1-3

John 21:15-17, 24-25

–Adapted from Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), 728

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3 responses to “Feast of John Greenleaf Whittier (December 8)

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  1. Pingback: Feast of Dora Greenwell (March 29) | SUNDRY THOUGHTS

  2. Pingback: John Greenleaf Whittier | GATHERED PRAYERS

  3. Pingback: Feast of Edward Grubb (January 23) | SUNDRY THOUGHTS

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