Sue Young Histories

John Greenleaf Whittier 1807 - 1892

March 31, 2008

John Greenleaf Whittier 1807 -
1892John Greenleaf Whittier 1807 - 1892 was an influential American Quaker poet and ardent abolitionist.

Whittier was a friend of Sarah Orne Jewett, James Russell Lowell, Elizabeth Stuart Phelps Anna Howard Shaw, Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Theodore Weld, and homeopathic pharmacist William J Allinson,

Whittier published his first poem in 1826 in William Lloyd Garrison’s Newburyport Free Press, a connection that began their devoted friendship…

In June of 1833, Whittier published the antislavery pamphlet Justice and Expediency, and from there dedicated the next twenty years of his life to the abolitionist cause.

The controversial pamphlet destroyed all of his political hopes—as his demand for immediate emancipation alienated both northern businessmen and southern slaveholders—but it also sealed his commitment to a cause that he deemed morally correct and socially necessary.

He was a founding member of the American Anti-Slavery Society and signed the Anti-Slavery Declaration of 1833, which he often considered the most significant action of his life.

Whittier’s political skill made him useful as a lobbyist, and his willingness to badger anti-slavery congressional leaders into joining the abolitionist cause was invaluable.

From 1835 to 1838, he traveled widely in the North, attending conventions, securing votes, speaking to the public, and lobbying politicians. As he did so, Whittier received his fair share of violent responses, being several times mobbed, stoned, and run out of town.

In 1838 he became editor of The Pennsylvanian Freeman, one of the leading antislavery papers in the North. He also continued to write poetry, and not surprisingly, nearly all of his poems dealt with the problem of slavery.

By the end of the 1830s, the unity of the abolitionist movement had begun to fracture. Whittier stuck to his belief that moral action apart from political effort was futile. He knew that success required legislative change, not merely moral suasion.

This opinion alone engendered a bitter split from William Lloyd Garrison, and Whittier went on to become a founding member of the Liberty Party in 1840.

Around this time, the stresses of editorial duties, worsening health, and dangerous mob violence caused him to have a physical breakdown. Whittier went home to Amesbury, and remained there for the rest of his life, ending his active participation in abolition.

Even so, he continued to believe that the best way to gain abolitionist support was to broaden the Liberty Party’s political appeal, and Whittier persisted in advocating the addition of other issues to their platform.

He eventually participated in the evolution of the Liberty Party into the Free Soil Party, and some say his greatest political feat was convincing Charles Sumner to run on the Free-Soil ticket for the U.S. Senate in 1850.

As of 1848, Whittier was editor of The National Era, one of the most influential abolitionist newspapers in the North. For the next ten years it featured the best of his writing, both as prose and poetry.

Being confined to his home and away from the action offered Whittier a chance to write better abolitionist poetry; he was even poet laureate for his party. Whittier’s poems often used slavery to symbolize all kinds of oppression (physical, spiritual, economic), and his poems stirred up popular response because they appealed to feelings rather than logic.

Whittier produced two collections of antislavery poetry: Poems Written during the Progress of the Abolition Question in the United States_, _between 1830 and 1838 and Voices of Freedom (1846). The passage of the Thirteenth Amendment in 1865 ended both slavery and his public cause, so Whittier turned to other forms of poetry for the remainder of his life.

James T Fields, one of America’s most famous publisher of American writers, and a partner in Ticknor and Fields, had a bookstore known as Parnassus Corner on Old Corner.

His literary salon was packed with the influential people of the time, including Louisa May Alcott, John Greenleaf Whittier, Thomas Bailey Aldrich, James Russell Lowell, Henry David Thoreau, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Julia Ward Howe, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Fuller, William Makepeace Thackeray, Charles Dickens, Matthew Arnold, Robert Browning, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Bret Harte, Bayard Taylor, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Edwin Booth, and Nathaniel Parker Willis who described Parnassus Corner as ‘the hub in which every spoke of the radiating wheel of Boston intellect had a socket.. ‘.

Whittier was a close friend of homeopathic supporters Sarah Orne Jewett and his publisher was John P Jewett. Whittier also knew Anna Howard Shaw, Theodore Weld, Elizabeth Stuart Phelps and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

Whittier also knew homeopathic pharmacist William J Allinson:

Quaker, Allinson was a close friend of the abolitionist poet John Greenleaf Whittier, who visited the pharmacy frequently, speaking against slavery from its doorstep.

Allinson’s opposition to slavery was not a surprise as his grandfather had opposed it in the 1760s and 1770s. According to local legend, the pharmacy’s basement served as one of Burlington’s stations on the Underground Railroad.

The pharmacy was owned by Walter Anderson between 1924-1974 when it was then purchased by the Wheatleys who owned it until 1991. Richard Kozlowski, the current proprietor, took over Burlington Pharmacy in

  1. A pharmacist for thirty years, he recognized the historical value of the late 19th century homeopathic medicines and early 20th century patent medicines he found in the building’s basement and saved them.

James Russell Lowell was responsible for publishing Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Edgar Allan Poe, Story and Parsons, John Greenleaf Whittier and thus making them famous. Lowell was also responsible for publish Oliver Wendell Holmes’ diatribe against homeopathy, so this eclectic mix at Parnassus Corner was fast and furious, considering how James Russell Lowell also published many works by homeopathic supporters, and how much he personally benefited professionally from them.

Whittier referred to homeopathy in his Old Portraits and Modern Sketches

Unhappily, the opinion prevails that a poet must be also a philosopher, and hence it is that much of our poetry is as indefinable in its mysticism as an Indian Brahmin’s commentary on his sacred books, or German metaphysics subjected to homeopathic dilution.

It assumes to be prophetical, and its utterances are oracular. It tells of strange, vague emotions and yearnings, painfully suggestive of spiritual “groanings which cannot be uttered.” If it “babbles o’ green fields” and the common sights and sounds of nature, it is only for the purpose of finding some vague analogy between them and its internal experiences and longings.

It leaves the warm and comfortable fireside of actual knowledge and human comprehension, and goes wailing and gibbering like a ghost about the impassable doors of mystery…

Among the first Americans to write about hashish was not a novelist or a physician, but a poet

  • John Greenleaf Whittier. In ”The Haschish”, a short poem in his Anti-Slavery Poems (1854), Whittier writes of hashish-induced hallucinations and muddled thinking, but it is improbable that he himself had experienced the effects of the drug at the time he wrote the poem.

The point of the poem, in fact, was not to describe the effects of hashish at all. Although hashish is more potent in its ability to induce hallucinations than opium, and makes “fools or knaves of all who use it,” says Whittier …

Of interest

There appears to be several homeopaths called Whittier:

** Alice I Ross Whittier** who graduated from the Homeopathic University of Iowa in 1894 and who wrote the frontspiece to John Greenleaf Whittier’s Poems of Whittier.

Daniel Brainard Whittier 1834 - 1895 who wrote for the Hahnemannian Monthly in July, 1887 and his wife Mary Chamberlain Whittier

Daniel Brainard Whittier of Flitchburg, Mass., is a native of New Hampshire, and demonstrates the sterling moral worth and vigorous physical health usual to the sons of the old Granite State. He was born on the 21st day of October, 1834, at Goffstown. His father, Isaac Whittier, Esq., of Northfield, N. H., still lives, and is of English descent. His mother was Miss Fanny McQuestin, of Scotch-Irish ancestry.

After ordinary common school advantages, Dr. Whittier pursued an academic course at the New Haven Conference Seminary. On concluding his studies in that institution, he sought the West, with the intention of engaging in agricultural pursuits and securing a permanent home.

After two and a half years’ observation in that longitude, he declined all inducements to “stay West,” and returned to New Hampshire. He married Miss Mary Chamberlain, of Sanbornton (now Tilton), N. H., in October, 1858, and immediately commenced the study of medicine in the office of his brother-in-law, Dr. William B. Chamberlain, of Keene, N. H.

In the winter of 1859-‘60, he attended lectures at Harvard University. In 1861, he removed to Flitchburg to assist Dr. J. C. Freeland in his practice.

During the winter following he attended the New York Homœopathic Medical College, and received his diploma in March, 1863, when he resumed practice in Flitchburg.

Here he has remained in constant devotion to the duties of his profession, which industrious and honorable efforts have established him a large and successful practice.

During the war he entertained the patriotic purpose of serving his country in the field, and enlisted ; but soon ascertaining that homœopathic physicians had no rights which the medical department of the army was disposed to acknowledge or respect, he therefore fulfilled his engagement to the United States Government for the term of three years by substitute.

He early espoused the temperance cause, and is an earnest advocate of its claims, as well as an officer in the highest order of temperance organizations. He is also President of the Worcester Homœopathic Medical Society, and a member of the homœopathic State and National institutions, in which relations he is distinguished by the love and confidence of his associates.

Dr. Whittier does not aspire to a brilliant career, but is content to rest in the confidence and gratitude of a large circle of patrons and friends. He is not naturally fluent in the use of language, nor an experienced speech maker.

At the present writing (1893) Dr. Whittier is in his thirty-ninth year. His medical practice is of ten years’ standing. In that time he has won a position inferior to that of no physician in his vicinity, having as large a patronage as he could reasonably desire or serve ; indeed, so much do the demands for his services exceed his desires and his time to meet them, that he has secured the settlement of additional homœopathic physicians in the same community.

He makes a specialty of diseases of women and children ; in this department of professional labor he has acquired a large degree of skill. The tender and kindly traits of his character, ever true to the highest type of manhood, make up a part of this peculiar fitness, and render his practice more than welcome to all his patients, and his medical or surgical aid invaluable in all cases of the more delicate sort.

No draughts upon his sympathy or self-sacrifice are too great to evoke a ready and hearty response. As a friend, all who really know him admit his possession of a peculiar and rarely-defined charm ; yet he is reserved in his dispositions, except in a congenial atmosphere. He is a happy father and husband, and has sound reason to believe a “prudent wife is from the Lord.”

He is also an active and noteworthy member of the Congregational Church, and a plain, earnest Christian, being a ready friend to the poor and unfortunate, and a substantial helper of the needy. He possesses an extreme fondness for music, aids in sustaining local musical societies, and evinces a good degree of proficiency as a musician. Though no politician, and utterly remote from a desire to be one, he is practically interested in national, commonwealth, and municipal affairs, and, by his influence, contributes to the success of every good cause in the city of his choice.

In a word, Dr. Whittier seeks to do a Christian gentleman’s noble offices in the world, the profession, the church, the social circle, and at home.

Samuel C. Whittier


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