Skip to main content

John Greenleaf Whittier Manuscript Collection

Identifier: SFHL-MSS-063

Scope and Contents

John Greenleaf Whittier was a Quaker poet, journalist, and abolitionist. A major figure in the anti-slavery cause, his correspondents include William Lloyd Garrison, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Julia Ward Howe, and Lydia Maria Child. The bulk of the collection is correspondence. A closely related collection in Friends Historical Library, the John Greenleaf Whittier Research Papers compiled by C. Marshall Taylor, contains copies and transcripts of Whittier papers not held by Friends Historical Library.

Organized in five series:

  1. Correspondence, arranged chronologically
  2. Letters to Elizabeth Stuart Phelps Ward
  3. Poetry
  4. Miscellaneous
  5. Freitchie Album


  • Creation: 1708-1896


Limitations on Accessing the Collection

Collection is open for research.

Copyright and Rights Information

Friends Historical Library believes all of the items in this collection to be in the Public Domain in the United States, and is not aware of any restrictions on their use. However, the user is responsible for making a final determination of copyright status before reproducing. See

Biographical / Historical

John Greenleaf Whittier was born December 17, 1807, in Haverhill, Massachusetts. He was the son of John Whittier and Abigail Hussey Whittier, Quaker farmers, and began to write poetry at the age of fourteen. William Lloyd Garrison published Whittier’s first poem in 1826 and persuaded his parents to send him to Haverhill Academy for two terms. His poetry, influenced by Byron, Burns, and Wadsworth, was well-received, and he also edited several New England newspapers and served one term in the Massachusetts legislature.

In 1833, Whittier published a tract proposing immediate and unconditional emancipation of enslaved people. He became a leading abolitionist, writing poems and essays supporting anti-slavery, lecturing, and editing newspapers. Believing that the anti-slavery movement needed a political vehicle, he helped found the Liberty Party in 1839 and supported the efforts of Massachusetts legislators to influence decisions in Washington, D.C.

Poor health forced his retirement after 1840 to a house in Amesbury, Mass., where his poetry focused on New England rural life and traditions. In particular, his poems “Snow Bound” and “Tent on the Beach” were critical and financial successes, and he was widely accepted as a major American poet. His poetry focused on religious and moral themes, but was not encumbered by theological issues; he appealed to both Orthodox and Hicksite Quakers, combining Quaker quietism with a respect for the Bible. In 1881, he was awarded an LL.D. from Harvard, and he died September 7, 1892.


6 Linear Feet (11 boxes)




John Greenleaf Whittier was a New England Quaker poet, journalist, and abolitionist. His poetry, inspired by his religious and moral beliefs, was well regarded during his lifetime, and he was respected by both Orthodox and Hicksite Quakers. The collection contains Whittier correspondence, manuscript poetry, books, photographs and miscellaneous material.

Physical Location

For current information on the location of materials, please consult the Library's online catalog.

Custodial History

This artificial collection of Whittier papers was built upon a gift of Whittier letters and books presented to Friends Historical Library by Charles F. Jenkins before 1930. Additional items and gifts were added to the collection, particularly by C. Marshall Taylor, a New Jersey Quaker collector of Whittier books and related materials.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Donor: Charles F. Jenkins, Before 1940

Donor: C. Marshall Taylor, 1954, 1958

Donor: Helen Downing, 1963

Donor: Purchase, 1940-1958

Existence and Location of Copies

Microfilm available:

Related Materials

RG5/146, John Greenleaf Whittier Research Papers

Separated Materials

Collection originally included a volume of papers attached to Life and Letters of John Greenleaf Whittier, by Samuel T. Pickard. This is now stored with the Whittier book collection, PS3281.P5 1894d.

Processing Information

The Whittier papers from various sources were integrated into a single manuscript collection in 1957-58 by FHL staff and an item level inventory prepared. In 1963, photocopies and secondary materials given by C. Marshall Taylor were removed to become a separate manuscript collection, the John Greenleaf Whittier Research Papers, stored in Record Group 5. The original manuscripts were grouped into two large sections: correspondence, arranged chronologically, and other papers, which includes poems, miscellaneous material, and special bound volumes which include additional correspondence. In addition, there is an inventory of pictures and additional letters attached to Life and Letters of John Greenleaf Whittier by Samuel T. Pickard. Since 1967, the collection has been housed in the Whittier Alcove of the Reading Room of Friends Historical Library.

Finding aid for John Greenleaf Whittier Manuscript Collection, 1708-1896
FHL staff
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note

Revision Statements

  • 2020: Updated outdated, harmful terminology related to enslavement, except where it appears in a title, quotation, or subject heading.

Find It at the Library

Most of the materials in this catalog are not digitized and can only be accessed in person. Please see our website for more information about visiting or requesting reproductions from Friends Historical Library of Swarthmore College Library

500 College Avenue
Swarthmore Pennsylvania 19081 USA