Whittier in Dover didn’t reference the poet

Dover Friends have long been proud of their connection to the rock-star protest poet John Greenleaf Whittier of neighboring Amesbury Friends Meeting in Massachusetts.

His mother was from the Hussey family in today’s neighboring Rollinsford, New Hampshire, and she married in our meetinghouse.

Abigail Hussey, mother of poet John Greenleaf Whittier

Usually, we trace her ancestry through the Husseys of sprawling Hampton Monthly Meeting, which eventually settled down into Amesbury.

But Greenleaf’s uncle Obediah thickens the plot.

Quite simply, Dover’s Whittier Street and Whittier Falls in the Cochecho River are not named for the famed poet, but rather his uncle and cousin.

And the alternative Whitchers spelling and pronunciation is most tempting, though I won’t go there.

Whittier Falls in the Cochecho River.

Obediah Whittier (1758-1814) moved from Haverhill, Massachusetts, to Dover and married Sarah Austin of Rochester in 1786. He owned a fulling mill, gristmill, and building for dressing cloth on the eastern side of the upper falls of the Cochecho River that were destroyed in January 1817 by a fire that broke out in the carding mill. Son Moses Whittier (1789-1857), however, at once erected new machinery and resumed the carding, fulling, and clothing business the following month. The falls, now known as Whittier Falls, were also called Whitcher’s (a variant on Whittier), Tolend, or the Upper Falls, though there were more cascades upstream.

Obediah and Sarah’s daughter Anna wed Isaac Wendell of Dover in 1809. Daughter Sarah married George D. Varney of Somersworth in 1813. Daughter Mary wed Gideon C. Smith of Somersworth in 1827. (Isaac Wendell was a cofounder of the Dover Cotton Factory, which was the origin of the big mills downtown.)

Son Moses (1789-1857) married Sarah Hacker Jones (1793-1837) of Brunswick, Maine, in Durham, Maine, in 1821, probably at the Friends Meeting. The Jones cemetery in Brunswick has stones for several Dover surnames, including Cartlands, who were also related to the poet – and many of these use Quaker dating.

Dover’s Whittier family is buried in Pine Hill Cemetery abutting the meetinghouse.

It’s possible that Greenleaf’s father, John Whittier, met Abigail Hussey through visits to his brother in turn, or that Obediah, likewise, met his wife through other family visits. Opportunities either way would have strengthened any fascination and eventual courtship.

John Greenleaf Whittier’s brother, Matthew Franklin Whittier, even moved to Dover at one point but died in Boston.

You’d never guess any of this walking today’s Community Trail along the river.


Check out my new book, Quaking Dover, available in your choice of ebook platforms at Smashwords.com.

Welcome to Dover’s upcoming 400th anniversary.

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