Born: December 17, 1807, near Haverhill, Massachusetts, United States
Died: September 7, 1892, in Hampton Falls, New Hampshire, United States
At an early age John Greenleaf Whittier adopted the faith of his Quaker parents. Largely self-educated, he attended a district school in the winter and assisted in tilling the land in the summer. Later, Whittier spent two terms at Haverhill Academy. He was introduced to the work of Robert Burns, who was a great inspiration, by his teacher, Joshua Coffin.
Whittier started out publishing poems in local newspapers. Soon he was asked to work for the Newburyport, Massachusetts Free Press. There he worked as an editor, essayist, and poet. He also contributed often to the Atlantic Monthly, which he co-founded. As a journalist he toured the eastern United States. During this period, his first book, Legends of New England in Prose, published in 1831, was written.
In 1833, Whittier participated an anti-slavery conference which influenced him greatly. He immediately became an devoted abolitionist. This and his Quaker faith led to his strong interest in social welfare and reform. He was soon led into politics. Whittier served in the legislature and went on to become the founder of the Massachusetts Liberal Party in 1839. He also assisted with the Republican Party's formation in 1854.
Known as the Quaker Poet, the bulk of Whittier's work centered around the harsh New England farm life with which he was familiar. His more famous pieces include Barbara Frietchie, published in 1863, and Snow-Bound, published in 1866.
Whittier lacked the Puritan values and education of his New England contemporaries Emerson, Lowell, Longfellow, and Homes and the often antiquated themes in his work account for its decline in appeal in the twentieth century.