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Here Lies Whittier

Whittier Path in Union Cemetery, Amesbury, MA /
Union Cemetery, Amesbury, MA

At his death, 5,000 mourners passed through the Amesbury, MA home where poet John Greenleaf Whittier lay in the parlor. A thousand attended the brief Quaker service in the back yard. Thousands each day came to his grave marked by a trim hedge in Union Cemetery. The crowds and the greenery and the fame are gone, but remnants of the poet’s popularity survival.



Amesbury, MA
Exclusive Tour of the Whittier Home

John Greenleaf Whittier

SEE: Whittier Died in NH

Among the most popular American poets in his time, John Greenleaf Whittier (1807 – 1892) is largely ignored today in classes of American literature. The author of "Barbara Fritchie" and "Snow-Bound" is not among the canon of literary heavyweights although he was a bestselling voice for a forgotten Victorian era.

Yet Whittier is worth knowing, even if for his long-fought battle against slavery, his Quaker sensibilities, his late rise to superstardom while in his 50s and for his retelling of hundreds of romantic New England tales.

We had expected to find his burial site inside a rectangle of hedges as it is depicted in early postcards. But a few years ago, we’ve been told, the greenery contracted a serious case of poison ivy and was cut down. A broad stump, perhaps containing the atoms of the poet himself, is all that remains. A simple stone – set beside his beloved mother, sister, aunt and other family members – is no longer segregated from the surrounding tombs.

Here LIes Whittier / SeacoastNH.comThe grave site is accessible from two entrances in Amesbury, a town where Whittier lived for 50 of his 84 years, and where his house has been open to the public for a century. On our visit, the entrance sign to Union Cemetery was missing, but a painted sign by the gate proclaimed that we were heading toward the burial of the city’s most famous citizen. Further up the path another sign on a tree had worn away and had been replaced – we estimate in the 1930s – marking "The Whittier Path". Another sign, raised high on a metal pole echoes the words on the poet’s grave – "Here Lies Whittier".

Whittier, with Oliver Wendell Holmes (author of "Old Ironsides") was among the last surviving Victorian authors who put New England on the literary map. Hawthorne, Tennyson, Whitman, Melville, Lowell, Poe, Emerson, Thoreau all beat him to the grave. And so Whittier may have experienced – he would likely say "endured" – an extra decade of adoration. In his eighties Whittier was still on the move, visiting his favorite haunts at Wakefield, NH, the Isles of Shoals, Haverhill, Newburyport, Danvers and his beloved Amesbury. He preferred to avoid the "pilgrims" who clamored for his autograph, wanted to discuss his writing and begged for locks of his hair.

Vestiges of his former fame survive in scores of small monuments and plaques scattered around New England. Often the site of one of his best-loved poems is marked by a rusting sign. One of those stands at the entrance to Bartlett Cemetery, that connects with Union. A sign there marks the site of the 1654 home of Thomas Macy who was persecuted for harboring Quakers. Macy might have died an obscure town clerk, but for Whittier’s poem "The Exiles" about Macy’s flight to Nantucket, where he became the first white settler there – or at least that is what the plaque says. -- JDR

READ: Whittier in NH
READ: Poems by Whittier based in Seacoast, NH

Sign at entrance to Union Cemetery ,grave sit of Amesbury's most famous resident /

Century-old postcard of Whittier grave site /

Whittier grave site today in AMesbury /

Here Whittier Lies, toombstone of Quaker abolitionist poet John Greenleaf Whittier /

Photos and text (c) 2005 All rights reserved..



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