Massachusetts to Virginia by John Greenleaf Whittier
MASSACHUSETTS TO VIRGINIA
by John Greenleaf Whittier
Written on reading an account of the proceedings of the citizens of Norfolk, Va., in reference to George Latimer, the alleged fugitive slave, who was seized in Boston without warrant at the request of James B. Grey, of Norfolk, claiming to be his master. The case caused great excitement North and South, and led to the presentation of a petition to Congress, signed by more than fifty thousand citizens of Massachusetts, calling for such laws and proposed amendments to the Constitution as should relieve the Commonwealth from all further participation in the crime of oppression. George Latimer himself was finally given free papers for the sum of four hundred dollars.
THE blast from Freedom’s Northern hills, upon its Southern way,
Bears greeting to Virginia from Massachusetts Bay.
No word of haughty challenging, nor battle bugle’s peal,
Nor steady tread of marching files, nor clang of horsemen’s steel.
No trains of deep-mouthed cannon along our highways go;
Around our silent arsenals untrodden lies the snow;
And to the land-breeze of our ports, upon their errands far,
A thousand sails of commerce swell, but none are spread for war.
We hear thy threats, Virginia! thy stormy words and high,
Swell harshly on the Southern winds which melt along our sky;
Yet, not one brown, hard hand foregoes its honest labor here,
No hewer of our mountain oaks suspends his axe in fear.
Wild are the waves which lash the reefs along St. George’s bank;
Cold on the shore of Labrador the fog lies white and dank;
Through storm, and wave, and blinding mist, stout
are the hearts which man
The fishing-smacks of Marblehead, the sea-boats of Cape Ann.
The cold north light and wintry sun glare on their icy forms,
Bent grimly o’er their straining lines or wrestling with the storms;
Free as the winds they drive before, rough as the waves they roam,
They laugh to scorn the slaver’s threat against their rocky home.
What means the Old Dominion? Hath she forgot the day
When o’er her conquered valleys swept the Briton’s steel array?
How side by side, with sons of hers, the Massachusetts men
Encountered Tarleton’s charge of fire, and stout Cornwallis, then?
Forgets she how the Bay State, in answer to the call
Of her old House of Burgesses, spoke out from Faneuil Hall?
When, echoing back her Henry’s cry, came pulsing on each breath
Of Northern winds, the thrilling sounds of “Liberty or Death!”
What asks the Old Dominion? If now her sons have proved
False to their fathers’ memory, false to the faith they loved;
If she can scoff at Freedom, and its great charter spurn,
Must we of Massachusetts from truth and duty turn?
We hunt your bondmen, flying from Slavery’s hateful hell;
Our voices, at your bidding, take up the bloodhound’s yell;
We gather, at your summons, above our fathers’ graves,
From Freedom’s holy altar-horns to tear your wretched slaves!
Thank God! not yet so vilely can Massachusetts bow;
The spirit of her early time is with her even now;
Dream not because her Pilgrim blood moves slow and calm and cool,
She thus can stoop her chainless neck, a sister’s slave and tool!
All that a sister State should do, all that a free State may,
Heart, hand, and purse we proffer, as in our early day;
But that one dark loathsome burden ye must stagger with alone,
And reap the bitter harvest which ye yourselves have sown!
Hold, while ye may, your struggling slaves, and burden God’s free air
With woman’s shriek beneath the lash, and manhood’s wild despair;
Cling closer to the “cleaving curse” that writes upon your plains
The blasting of Almighty wrath against a land of chains.
Still shame your gallant ancestry, the cavaliers of old,
By watching round the shambles where human flesh is sold;
Gloat o’er the new-born child, and count his market value, when
The maddened mother’s cry of woe shall pierce the slaver’s den!
Lower than plummet soundeth, sink the Virginia name;
Plant, if ye will, your fathers’ graves with rankest weeds of shame;
Be, if ye will, the scandal of God’s fair universe;
We wash our hands forever of your sin and shame and curse.
A voice from lips whereon the coal from Freedom’s shrine hath been,
Thrilled, as but yesterday, the hearts of Berkshire’s mountain men:
The echoes of that solemn voice are sadly lingering still
In all our sunny valleys, on every wind-swept hill.
And when the prowling man-thief came hunting for his prey
Beneath the very shadow of Bunker’s shaft of gray,
How, through the free lips of the son, the father’s warning spoke;
How, from its bonds of trade and sect, the Pilgrim city broke!
A hundred thousand right arms were lifted up on high,
A hundred thousand voices sent back their loud reply;
Through the thronged towns of Essex the startling summons rang,
And up from bench and loom and wheel her young mechanics sprang!
The voice of free, broad Middlesex, of thousands as of one,
The shaft of Bunker calling to that of Lexington;
From Norfolk’s ancient villages, from Plymouth’s rocky bound
To where Nantucket feels the arms of ocean close her round;
From rich and rural Worcester, where through the calm repose
Of cultured vales and fringing woods the gentle Nashua flows,
To where Wachuset’s wintry blasts the mountain larches stir,
Swelled up to Heaven the thrilling cry of “God save Latimer!”
And sandy Barnstable rose up, wet with the salt sea spray;
And Bristol sent her answering shout down Narragansett Bay
Along the broad Connecticut old Hampden felt the thrill,
And the cheer of Hampshire’s woodmen swept down from Holyoke Hill.
The voice of Massachusetts! Of her free sons and daughters,
Deep calling unto deep aloud, the sound of many waters!
Against the burden of that voice what tyrant power shall stand?
No fetters in the Bay State! No slave upon her land!
Look to it well, Virginians! In calmness we have borne,
In answer to our faith and trust, your insult and your scorn;
You’ve spurned our kindest counsels; you’ve hunted for our lives;
And shaken round our hearths and homes your manacles and gyves!
We wage no war, we lift no arm, we fling no torch within
The fire-clamps of the quaking mine beneath your soil of sin;
We leave ye with your bondmen, to wrestle, while ye can,
With the strong upward tendencies and godlike soul of man!
But for us and for our children, the vow which we have given
For freedom and humanity is registered in heaven;
No slave-hunt in our borders,—no pirate on our strand!
No fetters in the Bay State,—no slave upon our land!