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John Greenleaf Whittier Ballard The King's Missive and Commentary

Updated: Apr 20, 2023

John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-1892) Courtesy of Wikipedia

UNDER the great hill sloping bare

To cove and meadow and Common lot,

In his council chamber and oaken chair,

Sat the worshipful Governor Endicott.

A grave, strong man, who knew no peer

In the pilgrim land, where he ruled in fear

Of God, not man, and for good or ill

Held his trust with an iron will.

He had shorn with his sword the cross from out

The flag, and cloven the May-pole down,

Harried the heathen round about,

And whipped the Quakers from town to town.

Earnest and honest, a man at need

To burn like a torch for his own harsh creed,

He kept with the flaming brand of his zeal

The gate of the holy common weal.

His brow was clouded, his eye was stern, With a look of mingled sorrow and wrath; ‘Woe's me!’ he murmured: “at every turn The pestilent Quakers are in my path! Some we have scourged, and banished some, Some banged, more doomed, and still they come, Fast as the tide of yon bay sets in, Sowing their heresy's seed of sin.

Did we count on this? Did we leave behind The graves of our kin, the comfort and ease Of our English hearths and homes, to find Troublers of Israel such as these? Shall I spare? Shall I pity them? God forbid! I will do as the prophet to Agag did: They come to poison the wells of the Word, I will hew them in pieces before the Lord! “

The door swung open, and Rawson the clerk Entered, and whispered under breath, “There waits below for the hangman's work A fellow banished on pain of death— Shattuck, of Salem, unhealed of the whip, Brought over in Master Goldsmith's ship At anchor here in a Christian port, With freight of the devil and all his sort!”

Twice and thrice on the chamber floor Striding fiercely from wall to wall,

‘The Lord do so to me and more,’

The Governor cried, “if I hang not all!

Bring hither the Quaker.” Calm, sedate,

With the look of a man at ease with fate,

Into that presence grim and dread

Came Samuel Shattuck, with hat on head.

‘Off with the knave's hat!’ An angry hand Smote down the offence; but the wearer said, With a quiet smile, “By the king's command I bear his message and stand in his stead.” In the Governor's hand a missive he laid With the royal arms on its seal displayed, And the proud man spake as he gazed thereat, Uncovering, ‘Give Mr. Shattuck his hat.’

He turned to the Quaker, bowing low,— “The king commandeth your friends' release Doubt not he shall be obeyed, although To his subjects' sorrow and sin's increase. What he here enjoineth, John Endicott, His loyal servant, questioneth not. You are free! God grant the spirit you own May take you from us to parts unknown.”

So the door of the jail was open cast, And, like Daniel, out of the lion's den Tender youth and girlhood passed, With age-bowed women and gray-locked men. And the voice of one appointed to die Was lifted in praise and thanks on high, And the little maid from New Netherlands Kissed, in her joy, the doomed man's hands.

And one, whose call was to minister

To the souls in prison, beside him went,

An ancient woman, bearing with her

The linen shroud for his burial meant.

For she, not counting her own life dear,

In the strength of a love that cast out fear,

Had watched and served where her brethren died,

Like those who waited the cross beside.

One moment they paused on their way to look

On the martyr graves by the Common side,

And much scourged Wharton of Salem took

His burden of prophecy up and cried

"Rest, souls of the valiant! Not in vain

Have ye borne the Master's cross of pain;

Ye have fought the fight, ye are victors crowned,

With a fourfold chain ye have Satan bound!"

The autumn haze lay soft and still

On wood and meadow and upland farms;

On the brow of Snow Hill the great windmill

Slowly and lazily swung its arms;

Broad in the sunshine stretched away,

With its capes and islands, the turquoise bay;

And over water and dusk of pines

Blue hills lifted their faint outlines.

The topaz leaves of the walnut glowed,

The sumach added its crimson fleck,

And double in air and water showed

The tinted maples along the Neck;

Through frost flower clusters of pale star-mist,

And gentian fringes of amethyst,

And royal plumes of golden-rod,

The grazing cattle on Centry trod.

But as they who see not, the Quakers saw

The world about them; they only thought

With deep thanksgiving and pious awe

On the great deliverance God had wrought.

Through lane and alley the gazing town

Noisily followed them up and down;

Some with scoffing and brutal jeer,

Some with pity and words of cheer.

One brave voice rose above the din.

Upsall, gray with his length of days,

Cried from the door of his Red Lion Inn

"Men of Boston, give God the praise

No more shall innocent blood call down

The bolts of wrath on your guilty town.

The freedom of worship, dear to you,

Is dear to all, and to all is due.

"I see the vision of days to come,

When your beautiful City of the Bay

Shall be Christian liberty's chosen home,

And none shall his neighbor's rights gainsay.

The varying notes of worship shall blend

And as one great prayer to God ascend,

And hands of mutual charity raise

Walls of salvation and gates of praise."

So passed the Quakers through Boston town,

Whose painful ministers sighed to see

The walls of their sheep-fold falling down,

And wolves of heresy prowling free.

But the years went on, and brought no wrong;

With milder counsels the State grew strong,

As outward Letter and inward Light

Kept the balance of truth aright.

The Puritan spirit perishing not,

To Concord's yeomen the signal sent,

And spake in the voice of the cannon-shot

That severed the chains of a continent.

With its gentler mission of peace and good-will

The thought of the Quaker is living still,

And the freedom of soul he prophesied

Is gospel and law where the martyrs died

PDF The King's Missive Quaker History,Vol. 63, No. 2 Henry J. Cadbury

Kings Missive 1974 Cadbury
Download PDF • 714KB

Whittier also wrote on Cassandra Southwick, Thomas Macy, and other Quaker history.

Here is a video---Whittier's World: Poet John Greenleaf Whittier House Museums in Haverhill & Amesbury, MA. Whittier was a Quaker from Quaker roots.

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