By: John Woolman (1720-1772)
John Woolman was born at Northampton, N. J., in 1720, and died at York, England, in 1772. He was the child of Quaker parents, and from his youth was a zealous member of the Society of Friends. His “Journal,” published in 1774, describes his way of life and the spirit in which he did his work; but his humility prevents him from making clear the importance of the part he played in the movement against slaveholding among the Quakers. In 1742, Woolman, then a young clerk in the employment of a storekeeper in New Jersey, was asked to make out a bill of sale for a negro woman; and the scruples which then occurred to him were the beginning of a life-long activity against the traffic. Shortly afterward he began his laborious foot-journeys, pleading everywhere with his co-religionists, and inspiring others to take up the crusade. The result of the agitation was that the various Yearly Meetings one by one decided that emancipation was a religious duty; and within twenty years after Woolman’s death the practise of slavery had ceased in the Society of Friends. His own words in this “Journal,” of an extraordinary simplicity and charm, are the best expression of his personality.