A Well For The Lord, And For The Thirsty
While driving through Amesbury, you might pass an odd little park next to the middle school at 220 Main St. If you are thirsty, be sure to stop. You’ll find
a memorial garden that features a stone well and a monument engraved with John Greenleaf Whittier’s poem “The Captain’s Well.”
The poem immortalizes the story of Capt. Valentine Bagley II, a Newburyport native who was shipwrecked on the coast of Arabia in 1792. Some accounts say he was sold into slavery by the Bedouins and stayed for years; others claim that his clothing was stolen and that he wandered for 51 days in the desert, starving and nearly dying of thirst. In either case, Bagley turned to prayer when death approached and envisioned his home in Amesbury, as Whittier describes:
“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.”
In the tale that had him wandering in the desert, his prayer was answered when he came to the city of Muscat, Oman, and found a ship in the harbor flying the American flag. The few surviving members of his band boarded and spent months sailing home, where family and friends had presumed them all dead.
Bagley later opened a tavern and started a baggage-wagon line between Amesbury and Boston. He became a selectman and was a much honored man of the town. “Capt. Val” died in 1839, and his grave isn’t far from Whittier’s in Union Cemetery. Bagley’s well was eventually connected to the town’s water system, and it now acts as a memorial to the captain and the poet who immortalized him. It is maintained today by the Amesbury Improvement Association.