Main menu


Chapter 5

1757, 1758

Considerations on the Payment of a Tax laid for Carrying on the War against the Indians
Meetings of the Committee of the Yearly Meeting at Philadelphia
Some Notes on Thomas à Kempis and John Huss
The present Circumstances of Friends in Pennsylvania and New Jersey very Different from those of our Predecessors
The Drafting of the Militia in New Jersey to serve in the Army, with some Observations on the State of the Members of our Society at that time
Visit to Friends in Pennsylvania, accompanied by Benjamin Jones
Proceedings at the Monthly, Quarterly, and Yearly Meetings in Philadelphia, respecting those who keep Slaves

On the ninth Day of the eighth Month, in the Year 1757, at Night, Orders came to the military Officers in our County (Burlington), directing them to draft the Militia, and prepare a Number of Men to go off as Soldiers, to the Relief of the English at Fort-William-Henry, in New-York Government: A few Days after which there was a general Review of the Militia at Mount-Holly, and a Number of Men chosen and sent off under some Officers. Shortly after, there came Orders to draft three Times as many, to hold themselves in Readiness to march when fresh Orders came: And, on the 17th Day of the eighth Month, there was a Meeting of the military Officers at Mount-Holly, who agreed on a Draft; and Orders were sent to the Men, so chosen, to meet their respective Captains at set Times and Places; those in our Township to meet at Mount-Holly; amongst whom was a considerable Number of our Society. My Mind being affected herewith, I had fresh Opportunity to see and consider the Advantage of living in the real Substance of Religion, where Practice doth harmonize with Principle. Amongst the Officers are Men of Understanding, who have some Regard to Sincerity where they see it; and in the Execution of their Office, when they have Men to deal with whom they believe to be upright-hearted, to put them to Trouble, on account of Scruples of Conscience, is a painful Task, and likely to be avoided as much as easily may be: But where Men profess to be so meek and heavenly-minded, and to have their Trust so firmly settled in God, that they cannot join in Wars, and yet, by their Spirit and Conduct in common Life, manifest a contrary Disposition, their Difficulties are great at such a Time.

Officers, in great Anxiety, endeavoring to get Troops to answer the Demands of their Superiors, seeing Men, who are insincere, pretend Scruple of Conscience in Hopes of being excused from a dangerous Employment, such are likely to be roughly handled. In this Time of Commotion some of our young Men left the Parts, and tarried abroad till it was over; some came, and proposed to go as Soldiers; others appeared to have a real tender Scruple in their Minds against joining in Wars, and were much humbled under the Apprehension of a Trial so near: I had Conversation with several of them to my Satisfaction. At the set Time when the Captain came to Town, some of those last-mentioned went and told him in Substance as follows:—That they could not bear Arms for Conscience-sake; nor could they hire any to go in their Places, being resigned as to the Event of it: At length the Captain acquainted them all, that they might return Home for the present, and, required them to provide themselves as Soldiers, and to be in Readiness to march when called upon. This was such a Time as I had not seen before; and yet I may say, with Thankfulness to the Lord, that I believed this Trial was intended for our Good; and I was favored with Resignation to him. The French Army, taking the Fort they were besieging, destroyed it and went away: The Company of Men first drafted, after some Days march, had Orders to return Home; and those on the second Draft were no more called upon on that Occasion.

On the fourth Day of the fourth Month, in the Year 1758, Orders came to some Officers in Mount-Holly, to prepare Quarters, a short Time, for about one hundred Soldiers: And an Officer and two other Men, all Inhabitants of our Town, came to my House; and the Officer told me, that he came to speak with me, to provide Lodging and Entertainment for two Soldiers, there being six Shillings a Week per Man allowed as Pay for it. The Case being new and unexpected, I made no Answer suddenly; but sat a Time silent, my Mind being inward: I was fully convinced, that the Proceedings in Wars are inconsistent with the Purity of the Christian Religion: And to be hired to entertain Men, who were then under Pay as Soldiers, was a Difficulty with me. I expected they had legal Authority for what they did; and, after a short Time, I said to the Officer, If the Men are sent here for Entertainment, I believe I shall not refuse to admit them into my House; but the Nature of the Case is such, that I expect I cannot keep them on Hire: One of the Men intimated, that he thought I might do it consistent with my religious Principles; To which I made no Reply; as believing Silence at that Time best for me. Though they spake of two, there came only one, who tarried at my House about two Weeks, and behaved himself civilly; and when the Officer came to pay me, I told him I could not take Pay for it, having admitted him into my House in a passive Obedience to Authority. I was on Horseback when he spake to me: And, as I turned from him, he said, he was obliged to me: To which I said nothing; but, thinking on the Expression, I grew uneasy; and afterwards, being near where he lived, I went and told him on what Grounds I refused taking Pay for keeping the Soldier.

Near the Beginning of the Year 1758, I went one Evening, in Company with a Friend, to visit a sick Person; and, before our Return, we were told of a Woman living near, who, of late, had several Days been disconsolate, occasioned by a Dream; wherein Death, and the Judgments of the Almighty after Death, were represented to her Mind in a moving Manner: Her Sadness on that Account, being worn off, the Friend, with whom I was in Company, went to see her, and had some religious Conversation with her and her Husband: With this Visit they were somewhat affected; and the Man, with many Tears, expressed his Satisfaction; and, in a short Time after, the poor Man being on the River in a Storm of Wind, he, with one more, was drowned.

In the eighth Month of the Year 1758, having had Drawings in my Mind to be at the Quarterly-meeting in Chester County, and at some Meetings in the County of Philadelphia, I went first to said Quarterly-meeting, which was large, and several weighty Matters came under Consideration and Debate; and the Lord was pleased to qualify some of his Servants with Strength and Firmness to bear the Burthen of the Day: Though I said but little, my Mind was deeply exercised; and, under a Sense of God's Love, in the Anointing and fitting some young Men for his Work, I was comforted, and my Heart was tendered before him. From hence I went to the Youth's Meeting at Darby, where my beloved Friend and Brother, Benjamin Jones, met me, by an Appointment before I left Home, to join in the Visit: And we were at Radnor, Merion, Richland, North-Wales, Plymouth, and Abington Meetings; and had Cause to bow in Reverence before the Lord, our gracious God, by whose Help Way was opened for us from day to day. I was out about two Weeks, and rode about two hundred Miles.

The Monthly-meeting of Philadelphia having been under a Concern on Account of some Friends who this Summer (1758) had bought Negro Slaves, the said Meeting moved it to their Quarterly-meeting, to have the Minute reconsidered in the Yearly-meeting, which was made last on that Subject: And the said Quarterly-meeting appointed a Committee to consider it, and report to their next; which Committee having met once and adjourned, I going to Philadelphia to meet a Committee of the Yearly-meeting, was in Town the Evening on which the Quarterly-meeting's Committee met the second Time; and, finding an Inclination to sit with them, was, with some others, admitted; and Friends had a weighty Conference on the Subject: And, soon after their next Quarterly-meeting, I heard that the Case was coming to our Yearly-meeting; which brought a weighty Exercise upon me, and under a Sense of my own Infirmities, and the great Danger I felt of turning aside from perfect Purity, my Mind was often drawn to retire alone, and put up my Prayers to the Lord, that he would be graciously pleased to strengthen me; that, setting aside all Views of Self-interest, and the Friendship of this World, I might stand fully resigned to his holy Will.

In this Yearly-meeting, several weighty Matters were considered; and, toward the last, that in Relation to dealing with Persons who purchase Slaves. During the several Sittings of the said Meeting, my Mind was frequently covered with inward Prayer, and I could say with David, that Tears were my Meat Day and Night. The Case of Slave-keeping lay heavy upon me; nor did I find any Engagement to speak directly to any other Matter before the Meeting. Now, when this Case was opened, several faithful Friends spake weightily thereto, with which I was comforted; and, feeling a Concern to cast in my Mite, I said in Substance as follows:

"In the Difficulties attending us in this Life, nothing is more precious than the Mind of Truth inwardly manifested; and it is my earnest Desire that, in this weighty Matter we may be so truly humbled as to be favored with a clear Understanding of the Mind of Truth, and follow it; this would be of more Advantage to the Society, than any Medium not in the Clearness of divine Wisdom. The Case is difficult to some who have them; but if such set aside all Self-interest, and come to be weaned from the Desire of getting Estates, or even from holding them together, when Truth requires the Contrary, I believe Way will open that they will know how to steer through those Difficulties."

Many Friends appeared to be deeply bowed under the Weight of the Work; and manifested much Firmness in their Love to the Cause of Truth and universal Righteousness on the Earth: And, though none did openly justify the Practice of Slave-keeping in general, yet some appeared concerned, lest the Meeting should go into such Measures as might give Uneasiness to many Brethren; alledging, that if Friends patiently continued under the Exercise, the Lord, in Time to come might open a Way for the Deliverance of these People: And, I finding an Engagement to speak, said, "My Mind is often led to consider the Purity of the divine Being, and the Justice of his Judgments; and herein my Soul is covered with Awfulness: I cannot omit to hint of some Cases, where People have not been treated with the Purity of Justice, and the Event hath been lamentable: Many Slaves on this Continent are oppressed, and their Cries have reached the Ears of the Most High. Such are the Purity and Certainty of his Judgments, that he cannot be partial in our Favor. In infinite Love and Goodness, he hath opened our Understandings, from one Time to another, concerning our Duty towards this People; and it is not a Time for Delay. Should we now be sensible of what he requires of us, and, through a Respect to the private Interest of some Persons, or through a Regard to some Friendships which do not stand on an immutable Foundation, neglect to do our Duty in Firmness and Constancy, still waiting for some extraordinary Means to bring about their Deliverance, it may be by terrible Things in Righteousness God may answer us in this Matter."

Many faithful Brethren labored with great Firmness; and the Love of Truth, in a good Degree, prevailed. Several Friends, who had Negroes, expressed their Desire that a Rule might be made, to deal with such Friends as Offenders who bought Slaves in future: To this it was answered, that the Root of this Evil would never be effectually struck at, until a thorough Search was made into the Circumstances of such Friends as kept Negroes, with respect to the Righteousness of their Motives in keeping them, that impartial Justice might be administered throughout. Several Friends expressed their Desire, that a Visit might be made to such Friends as kept Slaves; and many Friends said, that they believed Liberty was the Negroes Right: To which, at length, no Opposition was made publicly. A Minute was made more full on that Subject than any heretofore; and the Names of several Friends entered, who were free to join in a Visit to such as kept Slaves.

More in this category:

« Chapter 4   |   Chapter 6 »

More Articles by This Author John Woolman

Rate This Article
(0 votes)

John Woolman

  • Born October 19th, 1720 and died on October 7th, 1772
  • Quaker preacher
  • North American merchant, tailor, journalist
  • Early abolitionist
  • Died of smallpox in York.
back to top

Get Social