Podcast: Saturday’s Performance of ‘The Abolitionist’s Refrain’ Tells Another Side of Poet Whittier

Haverhill-born poet John Greenleaf Whittier.

The aftermath of Haverhill poet John Greenleaf Whittier’s contributions to ending American slavery is the subject of “The Abolitionist’s Refrain,” to be performed Saturday, with the stage being Whittier Birthplace in Haverhill.

“The Abolitionist’s Refrain” was created by playwright Michael Cormier, who recently appeared on WHAV’s morning program.

“Most people don’t realize that he was an abolitionist and a very prominent one in earlier part of his life, and in 1865 that all changed, obviously with the end of the Civil War, the 13th Amendment came to pass. It was the following year that ‘Snowbound’ came out and, from then on, he was basically considered one of the Fireside Poets. That year was a very, very, important year in his life when he kind of changed gears, and that’s when the play takes place,” he said.

Cormier says William Lloyd Garrison, who joined the Abolition movement earlier, became acquainted with the Haverhill-born poet when he published one of his poems in 1826. He enlisted Whittier in the cause of freeing slaves. It was a fight that lasted more than 30 years.

“‘The Abolitionist Refrain’ is basically a study in how a man may have—because of course it’s historical fiction—how he may have been thinking at the time and what made him decide to step away from political ventures and strictly focus on just his poetry,” Cormier said.

He added he is hoping the performance helps introduce Whittier to middle and high school students.

“What we really would like with this play is for some teachers to come out and see it. Hopefully, local teachers will show up. Again that’s Sept. 10, at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. There are two performances. The reason I say this is because I think this would be a very good way for teachers to introduce John Greenleaf Whittier in a whole different light than what children basically know him as,” he added.

“The Abolitionist’s Refrain” makes its premiere, outdoors, at Whittier Birthplace, 305 Whittier Road, in Haverhill. There is a rain date Sunday, Sept. 11. Admission is free, but donations are accepted.

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