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August 29, 2013

121 years after death, Whittier wins award

Honored for writing, fight against slavery

He’s been dead 121 years, but John Greenleaf Whittier is still winning awards.

The New England Academy of Journalists has posthumously honored Quaker poet and abolitionist Whittier with its Yankee Quill Award for his historical contribution to journalism and civic life in 19th century New England.

The honor coincides with the 325th anniversary of the John Greenleaf Whittier Homestead in Haverhill, which was built in 1688 by Whittier’s great-great grandfather, Thomas Whittier.

The Yankee Quill Award was established in 1960 to recognize the special lifetime contribution of New England journalists to their profession. It is the highest individual journalism honor in New England. A special historic category was created for the pioneers of journalism in 2003.

“Whittier is very deserving of this award as he and his friend and associate, William Lloyd Garrison spent much of their lives fighting to abolish slavery in this county,” said Gus Reusch, curator of the Whittier Museum and Homestead.

Garrison, the prominent American abolitionist, speaker and journalist, posthumously received the Yankee Quill’s historic recognition award several years ago. Now it’s Whittier’s turn.

Garrison, while serving as editor of The Free Press, was the first to publish a Whittier poem (“The Exile’s Departure’’) in 1826, and encouraged Whittier to write for and edit newspapers for a living.

Under Garrison’s encouragement Whittier joined the abolitionist cause and edited newspapers in Boston and Hartford.

“Both Garrison and Whittier fought slavery for most of their active lives and they did so at their own peril,” Reusch said. “Both escaped mobs — Garrison in Boston, and Whittier in Philadelphia, where in 1838 he was editor of the ‘Pennsylvania Freeman.’

“One of Whittier’s famous sayings was ‘no slave upon our land’ and that’s what he fought for,’” Reusch said.

Whittier was born in Haverhill in 1807 to John and Abigail Whittier and lived on the homestead for 29 years. Called “Greenleaf” by those in the household, Whittier also lived at the homestead with sister Mary Whittier, his brother, Matthew Franklin Whittier, and younger sister Elizabeth Whittier. Also living there were his uncle Moses Whittier and his aunt Mercy Evans Hussey.

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