Poetic Echoes of the Past: discovering abolitionist poet carrie bacon

by Carla Charter | September 2017

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As often happens when I am writing, I don't find my story as much as my story finds me. These unexpected hints of stories that I uncover, while looking for something totally different, is one of the great appeals of my career. Such was the story of Caroline Bacon. I was not in search of her or her poems. Instead I was deeply involved in a research book on Abolition in the Greater Athol Massachusetts area.

While online at the Boston Public Library historic newspaper site, Garrison’s Liberator in particular, I typed Barre, Massachusetts into the search engine. In the midst of announcements about speakers and events of the time, I found a lengthy and very well written poem in verse by a woman named Carrie from Barre. As I continued my research, I then found another of her poems and another, all in verse, all very well written.

As I read this poetry, I noticed something else. They were more than well–written verse, more than rhyming words cleverly placed together. Instead they were historical documents. First–hand accounts, verbal monuments to events as they unfolded or created shortly thereafter. Her poetry, her words, echo through the ages, preserving a time in history. Her verse encompasses the sentiment of the time, reflecting the strength of those involved in the struggle itself.

The more I read and the more I uncovered, the more my curiosity about Carrie grew. Thanks to the Barre Historical Society, Margaret Marshall and Lucy Allen in particular, I was able to fill in some details about Carrie, whose name was actually Caroline Bacon.

Carrie was a poet as well as a teacher in Barre for 25 years. She was an abolitionist and good friends with William Lloyd Garrison and Wendell Phillips; although how she first became friends with them is unclear.

I have been able to document one meeting of the Worcester County North Anti-Slavery Society in Barre on January 7, 1842. Wendell Phillips was scheduled to attend that meeting but in actuality did not attend according to a liberator article of that meeting, published on January 21, 1842, “Bro. Phillips, though confidently expected, was not present at the meeting. There were but few delegates in attendance from the neighboring towns, in consequence, probably, of the limited notice that had been given of the meeting, and the prospect, in the morning, of an unpleasant day.”

I also have documented that Joseph J. Locke of Barre, served as a Vice President of the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society in 1851-1852. However I have not been able to make any link between the meeting or Mr. Locke and Carrie Bacon.

Wherever she met Phillips and Garrison, one thing was clear, Carrie was an abolitionist in her own right and was determined that her literary voice would be heard on the most important issues of her day. Somehow, too, I have to believe, that she knew her writing would not only be important to the abolitionist cause, but that her documentation would in some way help cement a place in history for these events. There is no picture of Carrie that we know of, but her words still survive, opening a unique window into the abolitionist events and sentiments of her day. Which is why I felt her words were so necessary to preserve for all of us.

Abolition’s Verse, The Liberator Poems of Caroline “Carrie” Bacon can be purchased here. All proceeds from the book will benefit the Barre Historical Society.

 

March 12, 1852
For the Liberator

TRUTH

Truth is earnest, Truth is fearless,
ever dwelling in the light;
Still by Error’s frowns undaunted, striving
only for the Right:-
Truth is strong, and noble ever – and no
power it’s course may stay;
No dark mists of Persecution long can veil
its cheering ray.
If you quench awhile its brightness, or
obscure its blessed light;
Still ye may not long enshroud it – Truth
will pierce through Error’s night;
Where pale Superstition dwelleth, and the
heart in terror holds,
Where Oppression’s gory banner yet fair
Freedoms form enfolds,
Still will Truth, the bright
Sun- seeker, whisper in the people’s ear,
and no fetters long can bind them, when
that voice of power they hear.
In lone whispers, thrones are shaken –
with a start the tyrant woke,
And beheld a slumbering nation break
th’ oppressers iron yoke,
Where time –honored, old opinions long
have held tyrannic sway,
See how with unfaltering footstep Truth
pursues its onward way.
Ever be thy course triumphant, messenger
of good to man!
Many a heart with joy will greet thee,
shelter thee with liberal hand;
Soon around thy radiant forehead will
Fames laurel wreath be twined,
Earnest heart will break the shackles
that control the free-born mind.
Truth how glorious is thy mission – thus
a world to save and bless
And in place of strife and envy, plant Love,
Peace and Righteousness.
Barre, Ma.              CARRIE


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Carla Charter is a historian and writer with 25 years of experience. Her passions include uncovering unknown pieces of New England history and unsolved Historical mysteries. Carla Charter