An Abstract of The Journal of John Woolman

Abstracted by James A. Quinn, Gwynedd Friends Meeting, Gwynedd, Pennsylvania

The entire journal is on-line at and at

John Woolman was a famous Quaker minister who traveled throughout colonial America condemning slavery and advocating emancipation. His journal written when he was 36 is perhaps the first American classic. It was published posthumously in 1774.

Quote on slavery: He writes in his journal, "These are the people by whose labor the other inhabitants are in a great measure supported, and many of them in the luxuries of life. These are the people who have made no agreement to serve us, and who have not forfeited their liberty that we know of. These are the souls for whom Christ died, and for our conduct towards them we must answer before Him who is no respecter of persons. They who know the only true God and Jesus Christ whom he hath sent, and are thus acquainted with the merciful, benevolent gospel spirit, will therein perceive that the indignation of God is kindled against oppression and cruelty, and in beholding the great distress of so numerous a people will find cause for mourning." (from the journal entries for 1757 while in Virginia)

October 19, 1720: He is born in Northampton township, Burlington County, NJ to Samuel Woolman (1690-1750) and Elizabeth Burr Woolman (1695-1773). His brothers and sisters are Elizabeth (1715), Sarah (1716/7), Patience (1718), Asher (1722), Abner (1724), Hannah (1726), Uriah (1728), Esther (1730), Jonah (1733), Rachel (1736/6), Abraham (1736/7) and Ebner (1737/8). He writes, "Before I was seven years of age I began to be acquainted with the operations of Divine love. Through the care of my parents, I was taught to read nearly as soon as I was capable of it; and as I went from school one day, I remember that while my companions were playing by the way, I went forward out of sight, and, sitting down, I read the twenty-second chapter of Revelation: "He showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb, &c." In reading it, my mind was drawn to seek after that pure habitation which I then believed God prepared for his servants. The place where I sat, and the sweetness that attended my mind, remain fresh in memory."

In 1742, Woolman was employed as a clerk in a store in New Jersey and was asked to make up a bill of sale for a negro woman. Although he did write it, as a result of the scruples he found that he possessed he began a lifelong crusade against slavery. He visited Quakers throughout America traveling by horse and on foot. Within 20 years of the start of his preaching against slavery every yearly meeting in America had passed prohibitions of some kind against the practice.

1743 - travels in NJ with the Quaker minister Abraham Farrington

After his employer died, John worked as a tailor and cloth and linen merchant.

1746 - John Woolman and Isaac Andrews travel to the "back country" of Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia and the Carolinas with certificates from Burlington and Haddonfield MMs. Places visited were upper Chester county, Lancaster, and the "Red Lands" in PA across the Susquehannah. Then to Monocacy MD, Fairfax VA, Hopewell VA and Shanando. From thence to the home of John Cheagle in VA. They then went to Perquimans, NC. Then back to VA visiting meetings in the eastern part of the state, then traveling up the James River to a new settlement in the mountains. Many of the pioneers in the mountains are described as new to the Quakers. Thence they made their way back to NJ. On his return he prepared a manuscript condemning slavery which was much more prevalent in Virginia than in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

1746 - John Woolman and Peter Andrews (b. abt 1729) (brother to Isaac) travel to Salem, Cape May, Great and Little Egg Harbor meetings in NJ.

1748 - travels with John Sykes to Delaware and the eastern shore of Maryland.

1749 - he marries Sarah Ellis (1721-1787). Their children are Mary (1750-1798) who marries John Comfort and William who was born and died in 1754.

1750 - his father dies.

1751 - he travels to Great Meadows NJ

1753 - with John Sykes he travels to Bucks Co., PA. Copies of the antislavery manuscript prepared earlier are made and distributed among Friends (Quakers).

1754 - John is a protagonist of the antiwar/neutralist movement among the Quakers in the French and Indian war

1756 - visits friends on Long Island, NY, staying with Richard Hallett. There he is commanded by God to preach his views on slavery no matter how poorly received. After this he preaches against slavery in all his travels. He writes, "I saw at this time that if I was honest in declaring that which truth opened in me, I could not please all men; and I labored to be content in the way of my duty, however disagreeable to my own inclination."

He writes that his business (selling cloth and linens as well as tailoring) had grown large by this time and was a burden to him. It appears that from this time he begins to neglect it to follow his ministry.

1757 - obtained a certificate to visit Friends in the south. He writes, "While I was out on this journey [to Long Island] my heart was much affected with a sense of the state of the churches in our southern provinces; and believing the Lord was calling me to some further labor amongst them, I was bowed in reverence before him, with fervent desires that I might find strength to resign myself to his heavenly will." Traveling with a brother (cert. from Philadelphia MM) they first stopped at John Churchman's (Nottingham, PA/MD) and met with a friend from New England, Benjamin Buffington who was returning from a journey to the southern provinces. Then he traveled to William Cox's in Maryland. Thence to Port Royal and Cedar Creek, VA and Camp Creek, VA. Then to a Friend in the mountains and then to Fork Creek and back to Cedar Creek. There he lodged at James Standley's home, the father of William Standley. Thence to Swamp meeting and Wayanoke Meeting then across the James River. In all these places he pleaded for emancipation of the slaves and his heart filled with sorrow. See quotes below. Next he goes to Burleigh meeting, then BlackWater and then Yearly Meeting at Western Branch, VA. At this meeting the "Pennsylvania Queries" were introduced questioning the importation of slaves into the colonies. He mentions that some of the Quakers had been engaged in the slave trade at this time (1757) and the query adopted against it was progress. [Note that many of the Friends who had been convinced in the Tidewater area of VA in the late 1600s and early 1700s (Henrico/Chesterfield/Hanover/New Kent) were large slave owners before becoming Quakers and remained so - ed.].

He writes in his journal about slavery on the Virginia/Carolina frontier, "The prospect of a way being open to the same degeneracy, in some parts of this newly settled land of America, in respect to our conduct towards the negroes hath deeply bowed my mind in this journey, and though briefly to relate how these people are treated is no agreeable work yet, after often reading over the notes I made as I travelled, I find my mind engaged to preserve them. Many of the white people in those provinces take little or no care of negro marriages; and when negores marry after their own way, some make so little account of those marriages that with views of outward interest they often part men from their wives by selling them far asunder, which is common when estates are sold by executors at vendue. Many whose labor is heavy being followed at their business in the field by a man with a whip, hired for that purpose, have in common little else allowed but on peck of Indian corn and some salt, for one week, with a few potatoes; the potatoes they commonly raise by their labor on the first day of the week [Sunday]. The correction ensuing on their disobedience to often very severe, and sometimes desperate."

"Men and women have many times scarcely clothes sufficient to hide their nakedness, and boys and girls ten and twelve years old are often quite naked amongst their master's children. Some of our Society [the Quakers] and the society called Newlights, use some endeavors to instruct those they have in reading; but in common this is not only neglected, but disapproved." [the quote at the beginning of this abstract follows]

1757 - While in Isle of Wight, VA, he writes an epistle to Cane Creek and New Garden meetings in the back settlements of North Carolina which of course includes a supplication to avoid the evils of slavery. [most Friends there were not slave owners]. He writes, "I have been informed that there is a large number of Friends in your parts who have no slaves; and in tender and most affectionate love I beseech you to keep clear from purchasing any. Look, my dear friends, to Divine Providence, and follow in simplicity that exercise of body, that plainness and frugality, which true wisdom leads to; so may you be preserved from those dangers which attend such as are aiming at outward ease and greatness."

"Treasures, though small, attained on a true principle of virtue, are sweet; and while we walk in the light of the Lord there is true comfort and satisfaction in the possession; neither the murmurs of an oppressed people, nor a throbbing, uneasy conscience, nor anxious thoughts about the events of things, hinder the enjoyment of them."

1757 - He travels to Wells Meeting in NC, thence to Simons Creek, Newbegun Creek, the head of Little River, to Old Neck and lastly to Pineywoods, Carolina. He returns to Virginia, visiting James Coupland. Thence to Curles Meeting, Black Creek and Caroline Meetings in Virginia. With William Standley he goes to Goose Creek Meeting and Fairfax MM. In Maryland again he visits Monocacy and Pipe Creek. He then visited Monalen and Huntingdon on the frontier and from there returned home.

1757-8: refuses to pay the war tax in the "war against the Indians". He writes, "I believe that the spirit of truth required of me, as an individual, to suffer patiently the distress of goods, rather than pay actively...From the steady opposition which faithful Friends in early times made to wrong things then approved, they were hated and persecuted by men living in the spirit of this world, and suffering with firmness, they were made a blessing to the church, and the work prospered." He also counseled young Quakers who were being drafted into the militia to resist gently.

1758-9: Visits meetings in Chester County (Quarterly), Philadelphia, Darby (visits Benjamin Jones), Radnor, Merion, Richland, Gwynedd, Plymouth and Abington. He is among those who prevents the new minute (1757) in Philadelphia condemning the purchase of slaves by any Quaker from being overturned. With Daniel and John Scarborough, he then travels to Concord, Goshen, London Grove and Uwchlan meetings in Chester county visiting those who owned slaves, seeking their freedom. With John Sykes and Daniel Stanton he did more of the same in New Jersey. With John Churchman, he visited more slave owning Quakers in Philadelphia as well as visiting widows and the sick. With Samuel Eastburn he visits slave owning Quakers in Bucks county, also visiting Buckingham meeting and the family of Quaker minister Joseph White in Makefield, Bucks County.

1760: Via Woodbridge, Rahway and Plainfield NJ and Jericho NY he travels to New England. He preached at meetings in Narraganset, and Newport, RI. Again he met with slave owning Quakers there. He noted the engagement of Rhode Island in the slave trade. He met at Swansea, Freetown and Taunton on his way to Boston. At Newport on his way back he writes, "Understanding that a large number of slaves had been imported from Africa into that town and were then on sale by a member of our Society, my appetite failed, and I grew outwardly weak, and had a feeling of the condition of Habakkuk, as thus expressed, 'When I heard, my belly trembled, my lips quivered, I trembled in myself, that I might rest in the day of trouble.' I had many cogitations, and was sorely distressed. I was desirous that Friends might petition the Legislature to use their endeavors to discourage the future importation of slaves, for I saw that this trade was a great evil, and tended to multiply troubles, and to bring distresses on the people for whose welfare my heart was deeply concerned. But I perceived several difficulties in regard to petitioning, and such was the exercise of my mind that I thought of endeavoring to get an opportunity to speak a few words in the House of Assembly, then sitting in town." In fact Woolman wrote out an essay and petition which like-minded Friends did present to the Assembly. A minute was also passed among Friends to discourage the owning of slaves among them in Rhode Island. He and John Storer then met with the slave owners in Rhode Island at the country estate of one of them. He then visited Newtown, Cushnet, Long Plain, Rochester, Darmouth and sailed to Nantucket with Ann Gaunt, Mercy Redman and several other Friends. Then to a Quarterly meeting at Sandwich and back to Newport. Next he went to Greenwich (CT), Shanticut and Warwick accompanied by John Casey and then to Oblong and a Quarterly Meeting at Ryewoods. Finally he goes to Flushing NY, Rahway NJ and returns home.

1761-2: He continued to visit slave-owning Quakers in New Jersey and Pennsylvania and attended monthly and Quarterly meetings there. He issued the second part of "Considerations on keeping Negroes" which was printed in 1762 and published at his own expense to be sold at the expense of the printing. He visits Mansfield and Ancocas Friends in New Jersey with Benjamin Jones, Elizabeth Smith and Mary Noble.

1763: In 8th month 1761 while visiting slave owning Quakers John Woolman met with some Indians from Wehaloosing and decided to visit them. Before leaving New Jersey, he had been informed of the outbreak of Pontiac's Rebellion but went anyway with Friends Israel and John Pemberton traveling to Samuel Foulke's (Richland, Bucks Co.). He left there with Indian guides and a Quaker companion named Benjamin Parvin on 7th of June, 1763 and traveled into Indian country. They travel to Bethlehem , PA the first day, and the next day traveled to a house near Fort. After they cross the Lehigh near Fort Allen they are in Indian country. They cross the Blue Ridge meeting many Indians along the way. Many of the Indians they meet are Christian, dressed in a mix of Indian and European styles, are engaged in a mix of their former hunting life style and European style agriculture and have both Indian and Christian names. Some but not all understand English. Stories are encountered of war parties leaving to take part in the battles to the west. They join with some of the Moravian Brethren who are also going to Wehaloosing. A comment of his: "As I rode over the hills my meditations were on the alterations in the circumstances of the natives of this land since the coming in of the English...The natives have in some places, for trifling considerations, sold their inheritance so favorably situated, and in other places have been driven back by superior force; their way of clothing themselves is also altered from what it was, and they being far removed from us have to pass over mountains, swamps, and barren deserts, so that travelling is very troublesome in bringing their skins and furs to trade with us. By the extension of English settlements, and partly by the increase of English hunters, the wild beasts on which the natives chiefly depend for subsistence are not so plentiful as they were, and people too often for the sake of gain, induce them to waste their skins and furs in purchasing liquor which tends to the ruin of them and their families."

"On reaching the Indian settlement at Wyoming, we were told that an Indian runner had been at that place a day or two before us, and brought news of the Indians having taken a English fort westward, and destroyed the people, and that they were endeavoring to take another; also that another Indian runner came there about the middle of the previous night from a town abourt ten miles from Wehaloosing, and brought the news that some Indian warriors from distant parts came to that town with two English scalps, and told the people that it was war with the English."

Woolman continues his journey from Wyoming and on the 14th of June reaches the house of Jacob January (an Indian). All the Indians in Wyoming and these parts are preparing to move to a larger town. More tales of warriors with scalps from distant lands arriving in the area are heard from the Indian Job Chilaway. On the 17th they arrive at Wehaloosing in the middle of the afternoon. Most of the Indians of this town are Leni Lenape converts to Moravian Christianity. Woolman asks permission to speak at the religious meetings and the Moravian minister "expressed his goodwill towards my speaking at any time all that I found in my heart to say."

"On the evening of the 18th I was at their meeting, where pure gospel love was felt, to the tendering of some of our hearts. The interpreters endeavored to acquaint the people with what I said, in short sentences, but found some difficulty, as none of them were quite perfect in English and Delaware tongues, so they helped one another, and we labored along, Divine love attending. Afterwards, feeling my mind covered with the spirit of prayer, I told the interpreters that I found it in my heart to pray to God, and believed, if I prayed aright, he would hear me; and I expressed my willingness for them to omit interpreting; so our meeting ended with a degree of Divine love. Before the people went out, I observed Papunehang (the man who had been zealous in laboring for a reformation in that town, being then very tender) speaking to one of the interpreters, and I was afterwards told that he said in substance as follows: "I love to feel where words come from."

More prayerful meetings continued through the 20th after which they returned, reaching Wyoming on the 22nd, Ft. Allen on the 24th, and reached Samuel Foulke's at Richland on the 26th of June. There he pays his Indian guides and parts with Benjamin Parvin. He stays at John Cadwallader's and from thence returns home.

1763-9: 25th of September, 1764: "At our Yearly Meeting at Philadelphia this day, John Smith, of Marlborough, aged upwards of eighty years, a faithful minister, though not eloquent, stood up in our meeting of ministers and elders, and, appearing to be under a great exercise of spirit, informed Friends in substance as follows: "That he had been a member of our Society for upwards of sixty years, and he well remembered, that, in those early times, Friends were a plain, lowly-minded people, and that there was much tenderness and contrition in their meetings. That, at twenty years from that time, the Society increasing in wealth and in some degree conforming to the fashions of the world, true humility was less apparent, and their meetings in general were not so lively and edifying. That at the end of forty years many of them were grown very rich, and many of the Society made a specious appearance in the world; that wearing fine costly garments, and using silver and other watches, became customary with them, their sons, and their daughters. These marks of ouward wealth and greatness appeared on some in our meetings of ministers and elders; and, as such things became more prevalent, so the powerful overshadowings of the Holy Ghost were less manifest among us is matter of much sorrow."

20th September: "I have felt a tenderness in my mind towards persons in two circumstances mentioned in that report; namely, towards such active members as keeep slaves and such as hold offices in civil government; and I have desired that Friends, in all their conduct, may be kindly affectioned one towards another. Many Friends who keep slaves are under some exercise on that account; and at times think about trying them with freedom, but find many things in their way. The way of living and the annual expenses of some of them are such that it seems impracticable for them to set their slaves free without changing their own way of life. It has been my lot to be often abroad; and I have observed in some places, at Quarterly and Yearly Meetings, and at some houses where travelling Friends and their horses are often entertained, that the yearly expense of individuals therein is very considerable. And Friends in some places crowding much on persons in these circumstances for entertainment hath rested as a burden on my mind for some years past. I now express it in the fear of the Lord, greatly desiring that Friends here present may duly consider it."

He then spends time visiting Friends in his own meeting in Mt. Holly, NJ after which he travels to meetings at Squan and Cape May. He and John Sleeper then left in May, 1766 for the eastern shore of Maryland, stopping at Wilmington, DE, Duck Creek and Motherkill, DE, then to Tuckahoe, MD and Marshy Creek. He comments favorably on the non-Quaker, non-denominational minister Joseph Nichols. He goes to Choptank and Third Haven, Queen Anne's, Cecil and Sassafras. They returned home. He notes that many of the Quakers in these parts were converted by traveling ministers and were not Quakers in England.

He visits upper New Jersey as far as Hardwick.

He goes to central Pennsylvania, April 1767. The journey was William Horne's at Derby, Concord (Chester Co.), New Garden (Chester Co.), Nottingham, Little Britain, crosses the Susquehannah in Maryland, The people in the Susquehannah valley had many slaves and he was saddened by it. Then to Gunpowder meeting (Maryland). Then to Pipe Creek and the Red Lands. He passed into the territory of Western Quarterly Meeting in Pennsylvania. He then returns home.

September, 1767: Travels to Berks Co., PA.

May, 1768: Travels to the Yearly meeting at West River, MD after visiting the Quarterly meetings at Philadelphia and Concord.

1769: Friends in Pennsylvania and New Jersey now are setting their slaves free regularly and he has some peace of mind from this.

1769-1770: He is sick and gives up on a plan to go to the West Indies to speak on behalf of emancipation there.

1772: He embarks at Chester, PA with Samuel Emlen for London, England on the ship Mary and Elizabeth, James Sparks, master. He attends the Yearly meeting in London and the Quarterly Meeting at Hertford. He goes to Nottingham, Sheffield, Preston Patrick, George Crosfield's in Westmoreland, then Kendal, then Counterside.

October 07, 1772: he dies in the suburbs of York, England at the home of Thomas Priestman.

His last words in the journal: "In this journey a labor hath attended my mind, that the ministers among us may be preserved in the meek, feeling life of truth, where we may have no desire but to follow Christ and to be with him, that when he is under suffering, we may suffer with him, and never desire to rise up in dominion, but as he, by the virtue of his own spirit, may raise us."

Afterward: From"Quaker Roots" (Western Quarterly Meeting, 1980), "John Woolman and Anthony Benezet, early concerned Quakers, gave eloquent testimony on the anti-slavery issue and were instrumental in action taken by various Yearly Meetings which urged from 1758 onward that members free their slaves. In 1786 Philadelphia Yearly Meeting disowned members who persisted in owning slaves...

John Woolman was so deeply moved by the abuses of slavery that he personally went among his friends and asked them to free their slaves. When staying in the home of a slave-owning friend, he would insist on paying either his friend or the servant who had cared for his needs. So great was his sincerity and gentle persuasiveness that his friends did not take offense at his questioning of their values.

A story is told about John Woolman, who was offered hospitality in the home of a wealthy farmer living near London Grove. When the door was opened by a black man, Woolman asked if he were slave or free. "Slave," the man replied. John Woolman, in spite of insistence from his host, declined to accept hospitality of the slave-owning household and went his way on foot.

From the deep commitment of these two early Quakers and from the action taken by Philadelphia Yearly Meeting in 1786 sprang the seeds of the abolition movement. These seeds were nurtured by many other conscientious and courageous Quakers who dared risk disownment for their religious convictions."