Just another Looking for Whitman weblog

Archive for December, 2009

“After the Battle” – a Walt Whitman Cinepoem, by Brian Reece

Please enable Javascript and Flash to view this Flash video.

For a good accompanying soundtrack, listen to Kurt Bestor’s choral work, “Prayer of the Children.” I have tried to embed this particular musical piece in the video many many times, but to no avail.

Visitor’s Center Scripts – Whitman’s Family

On Walter & Louisa Whitman, and their first 5 children:

Whitman Family Dates

Father: Walter Whitman, Sr. (b. 1789, m. 1816, d. 1855); &

Mother: Louisa Van Velsor Whitman (b. 1795, m. 1816, d. 1873)

Brother: Jesse Whitman (b. 1818, d. 1870)

Walt Whitman (b. 31 May 1819, d. 26 March 1892)

Sister: Mary Elizabeth Whitman (b. 1821, d. 1899)

Sister: Hannah Louise Whitman (b. 1823, d. 1908)

Brother: Andrew Jackson Whitman (b. 1827, d. 1863)

Brother: George Washington Whitman (b. 1829, d. 1901)

Brother: Thomas Jefferson Whitman (b. 1833, d. 1890)

Brother: Edward Whitman (b. 1835, d. 1892/1902 [some sources differ])

The second son [and second child overall] of Walter and Louisa Whitman [nee Van Velsor], Whitman had 5 brothers and 2 sisters.

Walt’s father, the carpenter Walter Whitman, died in 1855, and thus did not live to see any of Walt’s aesthetic work. Walt, however, did not believe his father would have appreciated Walt’s work any more than did the rest of Walt’s family [which was allegedly very little]. Walt believes his father would have still accepted and loved him, but not understood him, much as with the rest of his family (Schmidgall 34).

Walt loved his mother, Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, and spoke much more of her than of his father. Walt describes himself and his mother as “great chums” and speaks highly of her belief in his ability (Schmidgall 33), though she never appreciated nor understood Leaves of Grass.

Walt identifies his family background as Quaker, though he describes his father more as a “friend” or “follower” of a Quaker figure and his mother Louisa as having Quaker “leanings,” “sympathies,” and “tendencies,” rather than as practicing Quakers (Schmidgall 34).

Little is known about Jesse Whitman aside from his being a sailor and his death. Even Horace Traubel, famously close to Walt, knew little of Jesse other than that he died of an aneurism on March 21, 1870 while a patient at the Kings County Lunatic Asylum in Flatbush, Long Island [an event about which Walt was informed by a letter sent the next day]. Traubel alleges that Walt never spoke of Jesse even when showing the letter to Traubel (Schmidgall 37).

Carrying on the Dutch heritage of her mother, Mary Whitman married a mechanic by the name of Van Nostrand in 1840 and lived in Greenport, Long Island. Walt visited her frequently but, according to Traubel, hardly spoke of her in conversation. In the conversation with Traubel in which Walt does speak of Mary, he refers to her frailty resulting from rheumatism, though she had been full of energy as a child (Schmidgall 34-35).

Hannah Whitman [also Hanna], often referred to in family letters as “Han” or “Hann,” seems to be often thought of but seldom visited or visiting. Hannah lived in Burlington, Vermont with her husband, Mr. Heyde. This marriage did not seem to be a happy one, as Hannah often would express frustration “that Heyde could be so amiable with others and hateful to her” (Pollak 226). Heyde appears an unfortunate real life Mr. Hyde.

Andrew Jackson Whitman is the least-mentioned of Walt’s three brothers named after presidents. His wife, however, was quite nefarious: She is referred to as a “foul slut” who became a prostitute after he died (Gohdes viii).

In general, Walt was not particularly close with his family. He says, “A man’s family is the people who love him—the people who comprehend him,” and explains that his family never understood him or his work. With regard to his blood family, he sees himself as “isolated” or as “a stranger in their midst”; instead, he sees those close to him [Traubel, the O’Connors and others] as his true family (Schmidgall 33).


Gohdes, Clarence and Rollo G. Silver, eds. Faint clews & indirections; manuscripts of Walt Whitman and his family. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1949.

Pollak, Vivian R. The Erotic Whitman. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000.

Schmidgall, Gary, ed. Intimate with Walt : selections from Whitman’s conversations with Horace Traubel, 1888-1892. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2001.

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