Not far from the Whittier home in Amesbury, MA, was the Macy House, about which Whittier wrote one of his first poems on Quaker persecution. The poem was published in a gift book: The North Star: The Poetry of Freedom, by her friends. “The Exiles” is about Thomas Macy, who was driven from Amesbury for sheltering a Quaker.
The story is a fictionalized account of a story told to Whittier by Joshua Coffin, one of his teachers, who gave a more accurate account and quoted the poem in History of Newbury, so that readers might have the opportunity to compare and contrast history and poetry.
The Macys were sitting by their door one afternoon in 1660 when a thunderstorm came up.
Just as the first big rain-drop fell,
A weary stranger came,
And stood before the farmer’s door,
With travel soiled and lame.
“Friend! Wilt thou give me shelter here?”
He tells them
“My life is hunted,--evil men
Are following in my track;
The traces of the torturer’s whip
Are on my aged back;
“And much, I fear, ‘t will peril thee
Within they doors to take
A hunted seeker of the Truth,
Oppressed for conscience’ sake.”
No sooner have the Macys taken the stranger in than they hear the tramp of horses’ feet and looking out see the parish priest.“Open thy door, thou wicked man,
And let they pastor in,
And give God thanks, if forty stripes
Repay thy deadly sin.”
The Quaker turns himself over to the Puritan authorities to avoid jeopardizing Macy, and the Macys escape by boat to Nantucket, where they are among the first white settlers.
God bless the sea-beat island!
And grant forevermore,
That charity and freedom dwell
As now upon her shore!
Full text of "The Exiles"