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John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-1892) Papers

John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-1892) Papers

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Collection Summary

Repository:The Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum 161 Essex Street Salem, MA 01970 Phone: 978-745-9500 Fax: 978-948-6012
Creator:Whittier, John Greenleaf, 1807-1892
Title:John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-1892) Papers
Quantity:5.5 linear feet (11 boxes)
Abstract:The John Greenleaf Whittier Papers are made up primarily of letters sent and received by Whittier.
Collection Number:MSS 106

Series List

SERIES I. Whittier Correspondence: Letters Sent
SERIES II. Whittier Correspondence: Letters Received
SERIES III. Writings by Whittier
SERIES IV. Whittier and Johnson Family Papers

Scope and Content Note

The John Greenleaf Whittier Papers are made up primarily of letters sent and received by Whittier. The collection also includes poetry and prose by Whittier, financial records, printed material, and Whittier family genealogical notes. In addition, there are papers concerning the poet's sister, Elizabeth Whittier, and Whittier's cousins, Caroline Johnson (1821-1917), Abby Johnson Woodman (1828-1921), and her daughter Phebe Woodman (1869-1953) who resided with Whittier at Oak Knoll. The bulk of the papers are from the Oak Knoll Collection acquired from Phebe Woodman, and therefore focus on the period when Whittier lived in Danvers, 1876-1890. The collection has been divided into four series.

Series I. Whittier Correspondence: Letters Sent contains over 500 letters dating from 1833 to 1882. The series is arranged chronologically. The series includes letters sent to relatives, to long-time correspondents who shared Whittier's political and literary interests, and responses to some of the vast number of letters he received from admirers. The collection contains an extensive number of letters to his cousin, Abby Johnson Woodman, and her daughter, Phebe Woodman. These letters form a portrait of the poet's daily life chronicling his many illnesses, activities, and visits with his wide-ranging set of friends and acquaintances. There are also many letters to the author Mary Abigail Dodge, who wrote under the name Gail Hamilton. Two letters of particular interest concerning Whittier's early career as a political activities are to H. I. Bowditch (July 8, 1845) regarding Whittier's early career as a political writer, and to Henry Wilson (February 3, 1861) describing Whittier's impulse to let the southern states secede at the start of the Civil War. A note to an unknown admirer (April 29, 1881) discusses the source for several of the characters in the poem "Snowbound." A letter to the Haverhill Gazette, in response to the celebration of his 80th birthday all over the country, claims that he cares more for the goodwill of his fellow man than for his reputation as a poet (December, 17, 1887).

Series II. Whittier Correspondence: Letters Received contains over 1,000 letters dating from 1829 to 1892. The series is also arranged chronologically and indexed alphabetically by name of correspondent. Included in this series are large quantities of letters from friends, colleagues in political and reform activities, relatives, as well as a portion of the vast amount of mail Whittier received from admirers. Letters from James Fields discuss the publication of Whittier's work. Letters from Abby and Phebe Woodman, Lizzie Whittier, and Whittier relatives Ada and Gustavus Cambett concern daily life of some of the people Whittier was closest to. Whittier had a large set of correspondents in literary circles, and the collection contains letters from James Russell Lowell, William Dean Howells, and Oliver Wendell Holmes. A large part of Whittier's audience was composed of women, and he was known for the help and advice he gave to women writers. Letters from Mary Abigail Dodge (Gail Hamilton), Lucy Larcom, Sarah Orne Jewett, Annie Fields, Celia Thaxter, and Elizabeth Stuart Phelps discuss a variety of literary and personal matters. Letters from abolitionist Henry I. Bowditch, Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner, and Harriet Beecher Stowe reflect Whittier's activity in the anti-slavery movement. The letters of Whittier's distant relative Hannah Neall concern the continuing moral dilemma that the Quaker community felt over the Civil War. Whittier helped the former slave Charlotte Forten, and two letters written in 1863 discuss her career in the North.

Letters from strangers comprised the majority of mail that Whittier received as he grew older. Perhaps the best indication of his inundation is the fact that many of Whittier's poetry manuscripts are written on the backs of 'fan-mail' letters and autograph requests. Letters from Mumford, Underwood, and Duprez all discuss Southerners whose views have been swayed by Whittier's writings. Of the more typical letters, Rockwell's (February 28, 1873) discusses his appreciation of Whittier's writing. See Appendix I for an index to Whittier's correspondence.

Series III. Writings by Whittier include poetry, prose, and printed material. The poetry and prose manuscripts are arranged alphabetically by title (see Appendix II). In addition to the titled manuscripts, there are over thirty unidentified stanzas many of which were written when Whittier was young and were never published. In addition are lists of poems for books, handwritten translations of foreign verse and a copy of the contract for "Snowbound." Of interest in the prose manuscripts is an introduction to "Ichabod", Whittier's attack on Daniel Webster for his defense of the Fugitive Slave Law. The printed material consists primarily of newspaper clippings and reprints of poetry, prose, and memorabilia.

Series IV. Whittier and Johnson Family Papers contains a wide variety of material relating to Whittier's relatives and Oak Knoll. Included here are letters by Joseph Whittier, the poet's grandfather, John Whittier (1762-1830), his father, and Elizabeth Whittier (1815-1864), his sister. Whittier genealogy contains research notes done by Whittier's descendants. Material relating to the Johnson family includes letters, papers, and memorabilia of Whittier's cousins Abby Johnson Woodman (1828-1921), Caroline Johnson (1826-1922), and Phebe Woodman (1869-1953). Included here are the estate papers of Edmund Johnson, father of Abby and Caroline. The series also contains the correspondence of Robert Rantoul regarding his research for his book Some Personal Reminiscences of the Poet Whittier.

This series also includes envelopes of the correspondence sent and received by Whittier as well as photostats of Whittier letters in other repositories which were collected by the Essex Institute in the 1940s and 1950s.

Biographical Sketch

John Greenleaf Whittier was born on December 17, 1807 on a farm near Haverhill, Massachusetts, to John and Abigail (Hussey) Whittier. He had an elder brother Matthew Franklin (died 1883), and two younger sisters, Mary Whittier Caldwell (died 1861) and Elizabeth (died 1864). Whittier sold the family farm and moved to Amesbury in 1836.

Heavily influenced by Robert Burns, Whittier began writing poetry as a teenager and published his first poems "The Exile's Departure" in William Lloyd Garrison's Newburyport Free Press in 1826. Over the next couple of years he continued to publish over eighty poems in local newspapers.

Whittier had an inconsistent education. He attended a district school for serval months in 1814-1815 and then the Haverhill Academy for two terms in 1827-1828. During this time, Whittier supported himself through shoemaking and teaching. Whittier was an avid reader, and was particularly interested in his father's books on the Quaker religion.

In 1829, Whittier edited the newspaper American Manufacturer in Boston from January to July. In 1830 he was appointed editor of the New England Weekly Review. In 1831, Whittier published his first book, Legends of New England.

Whittier joined the antislavery party at the urging of William Lloyd Garrison in 1833. He started writing abolitionist poems and publishing and was a founding member of the American Anti-Slavery Society. Whittier traveled widely publicizing the mission and values of the abolitionists and was attacked on at least one occasion in September 1835 in Concord, New Hampshire. In 1838, Whittier became the editor for the Pennsylvania Freeman. That same year, the Philadelphia office was burned and sacked. In 1839, Whittier and Garrison went separate ways, with the result that Whittier led the formation of the Liberty Party in 1840.

Throughout the 1830s Whittier continued to work on his poetry and publish through various venues. In October 1838, Whittier published his first authorized edition of Poems. In 1843, Whittier published Lays of My Home, in 1845 The Stranger in Lowell, and in 1846 Voices of Freedom. In 1847, Whittier became the corresponding editor for the National Era, an abolitionist weekly publication in Washington, D.C. In 1850, Whittier published "Ichabod" as a response to Daniel Webster's defense of the Fugitive Slave Law. He published The Chapel of Hermits, and Other Poems, "Maud Miller," "The Barefoot Boy," and The Panorama and Other Poems, from his base at Washington, D.C. between 1853 and 1856. One of his most famous publications, Snow-bound, was published in 1866 and sold over 20,000 copies by summer 1866. The Prose Works of John Greenleaf Whittier were also released in 1866. From 1867 to 1874, Whittier published The Tent on the Beach and Other Poems, The Poetical Works, The Pennsylvania Pilgrim, and Other Poems, and Hazel-Blossoms.

Whittier moved to Oak Knoll in Danvers, Massachusetts, with cousins in 1876 and lived there until the mid-1880s, although he retained legal residence in Amesbury. Attendants at Whittier's seventieth birthday celebration included Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Ralph Waldo Emerson, William Dean Howells, and Mark Twain. Whittier died on September 7, 1892 at the age of 84.

Index Terms

This collection is indexed under the following headings in Philcat. Researchers desiring materials about related topics, persons, or places should search the catalog using these headings.

Alexander, Lucia Gray
Allison, William James
Arthur, Chester Alan, 1829-1886
Banks, Nathaniel Prentiss, 1816-1894
Barnard, Frederick, 1846-1896
Barton, Clara, 1821-1912
Bowditch, Henry I. (Henry Ingersoll), 1808-1892
Brewer, Gardner, 1806-1874
Burleigh, Margaret A.
Cammett, Ada
Chase, Salmon P. (Salmon Portland), 1808-1873
Child, Lydia Maria, 1802-1880
Claflin, William, 1818-1905
Cooke, Rose Terry, 1827-1892
Cuyler, Theodore, 1819-1876
Dana, Charles A. (Charles Anderson), 1819-1897
Dodge, Mary Abigail, 1833-1896
Dodge, Mary Mapes, 1830-1905
Durant, Henry Fowle, 1822-1881
Duyckinck, Evert A. (Evert Augustus), 1816-1878
Ellis, George Washington, 1875-1919
Fields, Annie, 1834-1915
Fields, James Thomas, 1817-1881
Fletcher, James C. (James Cooley), 1823-1901
Forten, Charlotte L.
Fowler, Hattie P. (Harriet Putnam), b. 1841 or 2
Fowler, Samuel Page, 1800-1888
Garrison, Francis Jackson, 1848-1916
Garrison, William Lloyd, 1805-1879
Graves, Mary Warner Caldwell
Grew, Mary, 1813-1896
Hale, Edward Everett, 1822-1909
Hallowell, Joshua L.
Higginson, Thomas Wentworth, 1823-1911
Holmes, Oliver Wendell, 1841-1935
Howe, Julia Ward, 1819-1910
Howell, Elizabeth Lloyd, 1811-1896
Howells, William Dean, 1837-1920
James W. (James Willis), 1823-1893
Jewett, Sarah Orne, 1849-1909
Johnson family
Johnson, Caroline, 1826-1922
Johnson, Oliver, 1809-1889
Larcom, Lucy, 1824-1893
Lippincott, Sara Jane Clarke, 1823-1904
Lowell, James Russell, 1819-1891
Mann, Daniel, 1793-1830
Marble, Earl
Neall, Daniel, 1817-1894
Nichols, Charles Eliot
Perry, Nora, 1831-1896
Phelps, Elizabeth Stuart, 1844-1911
Proctor, Edna Dean, 1829-1923
Rantoul, Robert, 1778-1858
Spofford, Harriet Elizabeth Prescott, 1835-1921
Stoddard, Charles Warren, 1843-1909
Stoddard, Richard Henry, 1825-1903
Stone, Lucy, 1818-1893
Stowe, Harriet Beecher, 1811-1896
Sturge, Joseph, 1793-1859
Sumner, Charles, 1811-1874
Tappan, Lewis, 1788-1873
Thaxter, Celia, 1835-1894
Tilton, Theodore, 1835-1907
Waterston, Anna Cabot Lowell Quincy, 1812-1899
Weld, Theodore Dwight, 1803-1895
Whittier family
Whittier, Elizabeth, 1815-1864
Whittier, John Greenleaf, 1807-1892
Whittier, John, 1762-1830
Whittier, Joseph F.
Whittier, Matthew F.
Willard, Frances E. (Frances Elizabeth), 1839-1898
Wilson, Henry
Winthrop, Robert C. (Robert Charles), 1809-1894
Woodman, Abby Johnson, 1828-1921
Woodman, Phebe Johnson, 1869-1953
Houghton, Mifflin and Company
Society of Friends
Poets, American
Women authors
Amesbury (Mass.)
Danvers (Mass.)
Haverhill (Mass.)
Oak Knoll (Danvers, Mass.)
Salem (Mass.)


Restrictions on Access

This collection is open for research use.

Administrative Information


Requests for permission to publish material from the collection must be submitted in writing to the Manuscript Librarian in the Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum.

Preferred Citation

John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-1892) Papers, MSS 106, Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Mass.


The John Greenleaf Whittier Papers are an integration of two collections: the Oak Knoll Collection and a collection of Whittier material acquired subsequently through purchase and donation (acc #88017, #85041, #87044, #90038, #90047, #86037, #86033, #90076, #91021, #91042, #1996.025, # 1997.070, #1999.011, #1999.016, and #1999.043). The Oak Knoll Collection contains the papers inherited by Whittier's niece Phebe Woodman Grantham of Danvers after the poet's death in 1892. The collection was purchased by the Essex Institute in 1931 with funds provided by Stephen Willard Phillips. All items from the Oak Knoll Collection have been marked "o.k." on the back. Material acquired after the Oak Knoll Collection has the accession date marked on the back. Box 9 contains Photostats of Whittier letters owned by other manuscript repositories. These copies were collected by the Institute in the 1940s and 1950s. In 1998, a note of Sheriff’s sale, cabinet card and memorial announcement, now in Box 6, Folder 19, were purchased (acc #1998.015).

Processing Information

Collection processed by Ken Bowers, July 1983. Updated by Catherine Robertson, April 2015, and Tatiyana Bastet, July 2019.

Related Material

There are substantial collections of Whittier correspondence at the Houghton Library and the Huntington Library. Many of these letters, as well as several in this collection, have been published in The Letters of John Greenleaf Whittier.

Whittier, John Greenleaf, and John Benedict. Pickard. The Letters of John Greenleaf Whittier. Cambridge, MA: Belknap of Harvard UP, 1975.

Bowditch Family Papers, 1726-1942, 1961, 1975, undated, MSS 3.

Edith D. Fuller Papers, n.d., Fam. MSS 350.

Grew Family Papers, 1767-1904, MH 112.

Hemenway Family Papers, 1800-1954, MH 122.

Joanna Carver Colcord Papers, undated [pre 1947], MH 2.

Larcom Family Papers, 1833-1933, MSS 8.

Nathaniel Kinsman (1798-1847) Papers, 1784-1882, MSS 43.

Record book of Amesbury and Salisbury Liberty Association, 1843-1848, MSS 0.373.

Temperance Societies - Members Autograph Album, 1892-1905, Fam. MSS 1026.

Warren Prince Scrapbook, 1873-1886, SCR 51.

Appendix I

Appendix II

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