Amesbury poet, John Greenleaf Whittier, wrote a poem entitled, The Captain’s Well, about the perilous adventures of Captain Valentine Bagley II. While Bagley was a ship’s carpenter, his ship, the Commerce of Boston, was stranded on the coast of Arabia in July of 1792. He and the ship’s crew had to walk through the Arabian Desert to find help. Thirty four started the journey, only eight survived. When Captain Bagley eventually returned to Amesbury, Massachusetts, he fulfilled a promise he had made while suffering in the desert. He had vowed to dig a well for all to use, so that no man should suffer from thirst as he did.
By the time Whittier wrote his poem, in 1889, the well had fallen into disrepair. In the late 1890s, the well was cleaned up, a canopy built over it and a pipe installed to connect it to the town water system. Later, the wooden canopy was replaced by a permanent monument engraved with Whittier’s poem.
The Macy-Colby House
“Pity me, God! for I die of thirst;
Take me out of this land accurst;
“And if ever I reach my home again,
Where earth has springs, and the sky has rain,
“I will dig a well for the passers-by,
And none shall suffer from thirst as I.
. . .
Now the Lord be thanked, I am back again,
Where earth has springs, and the skies have rain,
“And the well I promised by Oman’s Sea,
I am digging for him in Amesbury.”
His kindred wept, and his neighbors said:
“The poor old captain is out of his head.”
But from morn to noon, and from noon to night,
He toiled at his task with main and might;
And when at last, from the loosened earth,
Under his spade the stream gushed forth,
And fast as he climbed to his deep well’s brim,
The water he dug for followed him,
He shouted for joy: “I have kept my word,
And here is the well I promised the Lord!”
The long years came and the long years went,
And he sat by his roadside well content;
He watched the travellers, heat-oppressed,
Paused by the way to drink and rest
“The Captain’s Well”, John Greenleaf Whittier