William B. Greene to D. B. Whittier, September 4, 1873

“In 1838 or 1839, or thereabouts, I met schoolmaster [Joshua] Coffin on a Mississippi steamboat, near Baton Rouge. … I was on the boat as a military man, and in uniform.”

Turn we now to the maternal ancestry of Whittier.

In 1873 the poet wrote to Mr. D. B. Whittier, of Boston, as follows:—

“My mother was a descendant of Christopher Hussey, of Hampton, N. H., who married a daughter of Rev. Stephen Bachelor, the first minister of that town.

”Daniel Webster traces his ancestry to the same pair, so Joshua Coffin informs me. Colonel W. B. Greene, of Boston, is of the same family.”*

In the light of the preceding note, the following letter of Col. W. B. Greene explains itself:—

“JAMAICA PLAIN, MASS., Sept. 4, 1873.

“Mr. D. B. WHITTIER, Danville, Vt.

”DEAR SIR—Yours of September 20 is just received, and I reply to it at once. My grandfather, on my mother’s side, was the Rev. William Batchelder, of Haverhill, Mass. In the year 1838 I had a conversation, on a matter of military business, with the Hon. Daniel Webster; and, to my astonishment, Mr. Webster treated me as a kinsman. My mother afterwards explained his conduct by telling, me that one of Mr. W.’s female ancestors was a Batchelder. In 1838 or 1839, or thereabouts, I met schoolmaster [Joshua] Coffin on a Mississippi steamboat, near Baton Rouge. The captain of the boat told me confidentially, that Coffin was engaged in a dangerous mission respecting some slaves, and inquired whether my aid and countenance could be counted on in favor of Coffin, in case violence should be offered him. This he did because I was on the boat as a military man, and in uniform. When Coffin found he could count on me, he came and talked with me, and finally told me he had [once] been hired by Daniel Webster to go to Ipswich, and there look up Mr. W.’s ancestry. He spoke of Rev. Stephen Batchelder, of New Hampshire, and said that Daniel Webster, John G. Whittier, and myself were related by Batchelder blood. I did not feel at all ashamed of my relatives. In 1841 or 1842 Mrs. Crosby, of Hallowell, Me., who had charge of my grandfather when he was a boy, and knew all about the family, told me that Daniel Webster was a Batchelder, that she had known his father intimately, and knew Daniel when he was a boy. At the time of my conversation with her, Aunt Crosby might have been anywhere from seventy-five to eighty-five years of age. When I was a boy, at (say) about the year 1827 or1828, I used to go often to the house of J. G. Whittier’s father, a little out of the village (now city) of Haverhill, Mass. There was a Mr. Hussey in the family, who baked the best squash pies I ever ate, and knew how to make the pine floors shine like a looking-glass.

“This is, I think, all the information, in answer to your question, that I am competent to give you.”

Yours respectfully,

“WILLIAM BATCHELDER GREENE.”

* The name of Daniel Webster’s paternal grandmother was Susannah Bachelor, or Batchelder.

W. Sloane Kennedy, John Greenleaf Whittier; his life, genius, and writings (Boston: S. E. Cassino, 1882): 18-20.

About Shawn P. Wilbur 2233 Articles
Independent scholar, translator and archivist.