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Article Info:
published: 3/31/13
updated: 2/27/14

John Woolman

Who was John Woolman?

john woolman
John Woolman

"After I had given up to go, the thoughts of the journey were often attended with unusual sadness, at which times my heart was frequently turned to the Lord with inward breathings for his heavenly support, that I might not fail to follow him wheresoever he might lead me." ~ John Woolman

John Woolman was born October 19, 1720 in Northhampton, New Jersey. His father was a farmer. At the age of 23, he was convicted that slavery was incompatible with Christianity, a view shared by some Quakers at the time, but not all.

He set out in a campaign to educate Quaker communities about the unchristian activity of slave-keeping.

He convinced many Quakers to free their slaves and he refused to wear garments made by slave labor. He paid slaves if they tended to him. Woolman died on October 7, 1772 from smallpox.


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Surely due in part to Woolman's influence, in 1776, at the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, The Religious Society of Friends, prohibited their members from owning slaves.

He also would have been pleased to know that in 1790, Quakers petitioned the United States Congress to abolish slavery.

Quakers were also central in the Underground Railroad, which was the network of secret safe houses used by African-Americans in the 1800's to escape slave states and enter free states.


  • "Some Considerations on the Keeping of Negroes", 1753
  • "Some Considerations on Keeping Negroes, Part Second", 1762
  • "Considerations on Pure Wisdom and Human Policy, on Labor, on Schools, and on the Right Use of the Lord's Outward Gifts", 1768
  • "Considerations on the True Harmony of Mankind, and How it is to be Maintained", 1770
  • The Journal of John Woolman, published posthumously in 1774.. The modern standard scholarly edition is The Journal and Major Essays of John Woolman, ed., Phillips P. Moulton, Friends United Press, 1989.
  • "Serious Considerations on Various Subjects of Importance by John Woolman, of Mount-Holly, New-Jersey, with some of his dying expressions.", published posthumously in 1805 by Collins, Perkins and Co., No. 189 Pearl-Street, New York.

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Michael Walsh (Ed.). Dictionary of Christian Biography. The Liturgical Press. 2001.