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Chapter 6

1758, 1759

Visit to the Quarterly Meetings in Chester County
Joins Daniel Stanton and John Scarborough in a Visit to such as kept Slaves there
Some Observations on the Conduct which those should maintain who speak in Meetings for Discipline
More Visits to such as kept Slaves, and to Friends near Salem
Account of the Yearly Meeting in the Year 1759, and of the increasing Concern in Divers Provinces to labor against Buying and Keeping Slaves
The Yearly Meeting Epistle
Thoughts on the Smallpox spreading, and on Inoculation

On the eleventh Day of the eleventh Month, in the Year 1758, I set out for Concord; the Quarterly-meeting, heretofore held there, was now, by reason of a great Increase of Members, divided into two by the Agreement of Friends, at our last Yearly-meeting. Here I met with our beloved Friends, Samuel Spavold and Mary Kirby, from England, and with Joseph White, from Bucks County, who had taken Leave of his Family in order to go on a religious Visit to Friends in England; and, through divine Goodness, we were favoured with a strengthening Opportunity together.

After this Meeting I joined with my Friends, Daniel Stanton and John Scarborough, in visiting Friends who had Slaves; and at Night we had a Family-meeting at William Trimble's, many young People being there; and it was a precious reviving Opportunity. Next Morning we had a comfortable Sitting with a sick Neighbour; and thence to the Burial of the Corpse of a Friend at Uwchland Meeting, at which were many People, and it was a Time of divine Favour; after which, we visited some who had Slaves; and, at Night, had a Family-meeting at a Friend's House, where the Channel of Gospel-love was opened, and my Mind was comforted after a hard Day's Labour. The next Day we were at Goshen Monthly-meeting; and thence, on the eighteenth Day of the eleventh Month, in the Year 1758, attended the Quarterly-meeting at London-Grove, it being the first held at that Place. Here we met again with all the before-mentioned Friends, and had some edifying Meetings: And, near the Conclusion of the Meeting for Business, Friends were incited to Constancy in supporting the Testimony of Truth, and reminded of the Necessity which the Disciples of Christ are under to attend principally to his Business, as he is pleased to open it to us: And to be particularly careful to have our Minds redeemed from the Love of Wealth; to have our outward Affairs in as little Room as may be; that no temporal Concerns may entangle our Affections, or hinder us from diligently following the Dictates of Truth, in labouring to promote the pure Spirit of Meekness and Heavenly-mindedness amongst the Children of Men in these Days of Calamity and Distress, wherein God is visiting our Land with his just Judgments.

Each of these Quarterly-meetings was large, and sat near eight Hours. Here I had Occasion to consider, that it was a weighty Thing to speak much in large Meetings for Business: First, except our Minds are rightly prepared, and we clearly understand the Case we speak to, instead of forwarding, we hinder, Business, and make more Labour for those on whom the Burthen of the Work is laid.

If selfish Views, or a partial Spirit, have any Room in our Minds, we are unfit for the Lord's Work; if we have a clear Prospect of the Business, and proper Weight on our Minds to speak, it behoves us to avoid useless Apologies and Repetitions: Where People are gathered from far, and adjourning a Meeting of Business is attended with great Difficulty, it behoves all to be cautious how they detain a Meeting; especially when they have sat six or seven Hours, and have a great Distance to ride Home. After this Meeting I rode Home.

In the Beginning of the twelfth Month of the Year 1758 I joined in Company with my Friends, John Sykes and Daniel Stanton, in visiting such as had Slaves: Some, whose Hearts were rightly exercised about them, appeared to be glad of our Visit; but in some Places our Way was more difficult; and I often saw the Necessity of keeping down to that Root from whence our Concern proceeded; and have Cause, in reverent Thankfulness, humbly to bow down before the Lord, who was near to me, and preserved my Mind in Calmness under some sharp Conflicts, and begat a Spirit of Sympathy and Tenderness in me toward some who were grievously entangled by the Spirit of this World.

In the first Month of the Year 1759, having found my Mind drawn to visit some of the more active Members, in our Society at Philadelphia, who had Slaves, I met my Friend John Churchman there, by an Agreement: And we continued about a Week in the City. We visited some that were sick, and some Widows and their Families; and the other Part of our Time was mostly employed in visiting such as had Slaves.—It was a Time of deep Exercise, looking often to the Lord for his Assistance; who, in unspeakable Kindness, favoured us with the Influence of that Spirit, which crucifies to the Greatness and Splendour of this World, and enabled us to go through some heavy Labours, in which we found Peace.

On the twenty-fourth Day of the third Month of this Year, I was at our general Spring-meeting at Philadelphia: After which, I again joined with John Churchman on a Visit to some more who had Slaves in Philadelphia; and, with Thankfulness to our heavenly Father, I may say, that divine Love and a true sympathising Tenderness of Heart prevailed at Times in this Service.

Having, at Times, perceived a Shyness in some Friends, of considerable Note, towards me, I found an Engagement in Gospel Love to pay a Visit to one of them; and, as I dwelt under the Exercise, I felt a Resignedness in my Mind to go; So I went, and told him, in private, I had a Desire to have an Opportunity with him alone; to which he readily agreed: And then, in the Fear of the Lord, Things relating to that Shyness were searched to the Bottom; and we had a large Conference, which, I believe, was of Use to both of us, and am thankful that Way was opened for it.

On the fourteenth Day of the sixth Month, in the same Year, having felt Drawings in my Mind to visit Friends about Salem, and having the Approbation of our Monthly-meeting therein, I attended their Quarterly-meeting, and was out seven Days, and at seven Meetings; in some of which I was chiefly silent, and in others, through the baptizing Power of Truth, my Heart was enlarged in heavenly Love, and found a near Fellowship with the Brethren and Sisters, in the manifold Trials attending their Christian Progress through this World.

In the seventh Month, I found an increasing Concern on my Mind to visit some active Members in our Society who had Slaves; and, having no Opportunity of the Company of such as were named on the Minutes of the Yearly-meeting, I went alone to their Houses, and, in the Fear of the Lord, acquainted them with the Exercise I was under: And thus, sometimes, by a few Words, I found myself discharged from a heavy Burthen.

After this, our Friend John Churchman, coming into our Province with a View to be at some Meetings, and to join again in the Visit to those who had Slaves, I bore him Company in the said Visit to some active Members, and found inward Satisfaction.

At our Yearly-meeting, in the Year 1759, we had some weighty Seasons; where the Power of Truth was largely extended, to the strengthening of the Honest-minded. As Friends read over the Epistles, to be sent to the Yearly-meetings along this Continent, I observed in most of them, both this Year and last, it was recommended to Friends to labour against buying and keeping Slaves; and in some of them closely treated upon. This Practice had long been a heavy Exercise to me, and I have often waded through mortifying Labours on that Account; and, at Times, in some Meetings been almost alone therein. Now, observing the increasing Concern in our religious Society, and seeing how the Lord was raising up and qualifying Servants for his Work, not only in this Respect, but for promoting the Cause of Truth in general, I was humbly bowed in Thankfulness before him.

This Meeting continued near a Week; and, for several Days, in the fore Part of it, my Mind was drawn into a deep inward Stillness; and being, at Times, covered with the Spirit of Supplication, my Heart was secretly poured out before the Lord: And, near the Conclusion of the Meeting for Business, Way opened, that, in the pure Flowings of divine Love, I expressed what lay upon me; which, as it then arose in my Mind, was "first to shew how Deep answers to Deep in the Hearts of the Sincere and Upright; though, in their different Growths, they may not all have attained to the same Clearness in some Points relating to our Testimony: And I was led to mention the Integrity and Constancy of many Martyrs, who gave their Lives for the Testimony of Jesus; and yet, in some Points, held Doctrines distinguishable from some which we hold: And that, in all Ages, where People were faithful to the Light and Understanding which the Most High afforded them, they found Acceptance with him; and that now, though there are different Ways of Thinking amongst us in some Particulars, yet, if we mutually kept to that Spirit and Power which crucifies to the World, which teaches us to be content with Things really needful, and to avoid all Superfluities, giving up our Hearts to fear and serve the Lord, true Unity may still be preserved amongst us: And that if such, as were, at Times, under Sufferings on Account of some Scruples of Conscience, kept low and humble, and in their Conduct in Life manifested a Spirit of true Charity, it would be more likely to reach the Witness in others, and be of more Service in the Church, than if their Sufferings were attended with a contrary Spirit and Conduct." In which Exercise I was drawn into a sympathizing Tenderness with the Sheep of Christ, however distinguished one from another in this World; and the like Disposition appeared to spread over others in the Meeting. Great is the Goodness of the Lord toward his poor Creatures!

An Epistle went forth from this Yearly-meeting, which I think good to give a Place in this Journal; being as follows:

From the Yearly-meeting held at Philadelphia, for Pennsylvania and New-Jersey, from the twenty-second Day of the ninth Month, to the twenty-eighth Day of the same, inclusive, 1759.

To the Quarterly and Monthly-meetings of Friends belonging to the said Yearly-meeting.

"Dearly beloved Friends and Brethren,—In an awful Sense of the Wisdom and Goodness of the Lord our God, whose tender Mercies have long been continued to us in this Land, we affectionately salute you, with sincere and fervent Desires, that we may reverently regard the Dispensations of his Providence, and improve under them.

The Empires and Kingdoms of the Earth are subject to his almighty Power: He is the God of the Spirits of all Flesh, and deals with his People agreeable to that Wisdom, the Depth whereof is to us unsearchable: We, in these Provinces, may say, he hath, as a gracious and tender Parent, dealt bountifully with us, even from the Days of our Fathers: It was he who strengthened them to labour through the Difficulties attending the Improvement of a Wilderness, and made Way for them in the Hearts of the Natives; so that by them they were comforted in Times of Want and Distress: It was by the gracious Influences of his holy Spirit, that they were disposed to work Righteousness, and walk uprightly one towards another, and towards the Natives, and in Life and Conversation to manifest the Excellency of the Principles and Doctrines of the Christian Religion; and thereby they retain their Esteem and Friendship: Whilst they were labouring for the Necessaries of Life, many of them were fervently engaged to promote Piety and Virtue in the Earth, and educate their Children in the Fear of the Lord.

If we carefully consider the peaceable Measures pursued in the first Settlement of the Land, and that Freedom from the Desolations of Wars which for a long Time we enjoyed, we shall find ourselves under strong Obligations to the Almighty, who, when the Earth is so generally polluted with Wickedness, gave us a Being in a Part so signally favoured with Tranquility and Plenty, and in which the Glad-tidings of the Gospel of Christ are so freely published, that we may justly say with the Psalmist, "What shall we render unto the Lord for all his Benefits?"

Our own real Good, and the Good of our Posterity, in some Measure, depend on the Part we act; and it nearly concerns us to try our Foundations impartially. Such are the different Rewards of the Just and Unjust in a future State, that, to attend diligently to the Dictates of the Spirit of Christ, to devote ourselves to his Service, and engage fervently in his Cause, during our short Stay in this World, is a Choice well becoming a free intelligent Creature; we shall thus clearly see and consider that the Dealings of God with Mankind in a national Capacity, as recorded in Holy Writ, do sufficiently evidence the Truth of that Saying, "It is Righteousness which exalteth a Nation;" and though he doth not at all Times suddenly execute his Judgments on a sinful People in this Life, yet we see, by many Instances, that where "Men follow lying Vanities, they forsake their own Mercies;" and as a proud selfish Spirit prevails and spreads among a People, so partial Judgment, Oppression, Discord, Envy, and Confusions, increase, and Provinces and Kingdoms are made to drink the Cup of Adversity as a Reward of their own Doings. Thus the inspired Prophet, reasoning with the degenerated Jews, saith, "Thine own Wickedness shall correct thee, and thy Backslidings shall reprove thee: Know, therefore, that it is an evil Thing and bitter, that thou hast forsaken the Lord thy God, and that my Fear is not in thee, saith the Lord God of Hosts." Jer. ii. 19.

The God of our Fathers, who hath bestowed on us many Benefits, furnished a Table for us in the Wilderness, and made the Desarts and solitary Places to rejoice; he doth now mercifully call upon us to serve him more faithfully.—We may truly say, with the Prophet, "It is his Voice which crieth to the City, and Men of Wisdom see his Name: They regard the Rod, and him who hath appointed it."—People, who look chiefly at Things outward, too little consider the original Cause of the present Troubles; but such as fear the Lord, and think often upon his Name, see and feel that a wrong Spirit is spreading among the Inhabitants of our Country; that the Hearts of many are waxed fat, and their Ears dull of hearing; that the Most High, in his Visitations to us, instead of calling, lifteth up his Voice and crieth; he crieth to our Country, and his Voice waxeth louder and louder. In former Wars between the English and other Nations, since the Settlement of our Provinces, the Calamities attending them have fallen chiefly on other Places, but now of late they have reached to our Borders; many of our fellow Subjects have suffered on and near our Frontiers, some have been slain in Battle, some killed in their Houses, and some in their Fields, some wounded and left in great Misery, and others separated from their Wives and little Children, who have been carried Captives among the Indians: We have seen Men and Women, who have been Witnesses of these Scenes of Sorrow, and been reduced to Want, have come to our Houses asking Relief.—It is not long since it was the Case of many young Men, in one of these Provinces, to be draughted, in order to be taken as Soldiers; some were at that Time in great Distress, and had Occasion to consider that their Lives had been too little conformable to the Purity and Spirituality of that Religion which we profess, and found themselves too little acquainted with that inward Humility, in which true Fortitude to endure Hardness for the Truth's Sake is experienced.—Many Parents were concerned for their Children, and in that Time of Trial were led to consider, that their Care, to get outward Treasure for them, had been greater than their Care for their Settlement in that Religion which crucifieth to the World, and enableth to bear a clear Testimony to the peaceable Government of the Messiah. These Troubles are removed, and for a Time we are released from them.

Let us not forget that "The Most High hath his Way in the Deep, in Clouds and in thick Darkness"—that it is his Voice which crieth to the City and to the Country; and oh! that these loud and awakening Cries may have a proper Effect upon us, that heavier Chastisement may not become necessary! For though Things, as to the Outward, may, for a short Time, afford a pleasing Prospect; yet, while a selfish Spirit, that is not subject to the Cross of Christ, continueth to spread and prevail, there can be no long Continuance in outward Peace and Tranquility. If we desire an Inheritance incorruptible, and to be at Rest in that State of Peace and Happiness, which ever continues; if we desire, in this Life, to dwell under the Favour and Protection of that almighty Being, whose Habitation is in Holiness, whose Ways are all equal, and whose Anger is now kindled because of our Backslidings; let us then awfully regard these Beginnings of his fore Judgments, and, with Abasement and Humiliation turn to him, whom we have offended.

Contending with one equal in Strength is an uneasy Exercise; but if the Lord is become our Enemy, if we persist to contend with him who is omnipotent, our Overthrow will be unavoidable.

Do we feel an affectionate Regard to Posterity; and are we employed to promote their Happiness? Do our Minds, in Things outward, look beyond our own Dissolution; and are we contriving for the Prosperity of our Children after us? Let us then, likewise Builders, lay the Foundation deep; and, by our constant uniform Regard to an inward Piety and Virtue, let them see that we really value it: Let us labour, in the Fear of the Lord, that their innocent Minds, while young and tender, may be preserved from Corruptions; that, as they advance in Age, they may rightly understand their true Interest, may consider the Uncertainty of temporal Things, and, above all, have their Hope and Confidence firmly settled in the Blessing of that Almighty Being, who inhabits Eternity, and preserves and supports the World.

In all our Cares, about worldly Treasures, let us steadily bear in Mind, that Riches, possessed by Children who do not truly serve God, are likely to prove Snares that may more grievously entangle them in that Spirit of Selfishness and Exaltation, which stands in Opposition to real Peace and Happiness; and renders them Enemies to the Cross of Christ, who submit to the Influence of it.

To keep a watchful eye towards real Objects of Charity, to visit the Poor in their lonesome Dwelling-places, to comfort them who, through the Dispensations of divine Providence, are in strait and painful Circumstances in this Life, and steadily to endeavour to honour God with our Substance, from a real Sense of the Love of Christ influencing our Minds thereto, is more likely to bring a Blessing to our Children, and will afford more Satisfaction to a Christian favoured with Plenty, than an earnest Desire to collect much Wealth to leave behind us; for "Here we have no continuing City;" may we therefore diligently "seek one that is to come, whose Builder and Maker is God."

"Finally, Brethren, whatsoever Things are true, whatsoever Things are just, whatsoever Things are pure, whatsoever Things are lovely, whatsoever Things are of good Report; if there be any Virtue, if there be any Praise, think on these Things and do them, and the God of Peace shall be with you."

Signed, by Appointment, and on Behalf of our said Meeting, by seven Friends.

On the twenty-eighth Day of the eleventh Month, in the Year 1759, I was at the Quarterly-meeting in Bucks County: This Day being the Meeting of Ministers and Elders, my Heart was enlarged in the Love of Jesus Christ; and the Favour of the Most High was extended to us in that and the ensuing Meeting.

I had Conversation, at my Lodging, with my beloved Friend, Samuel Eastburn; who expressed a Concern to join in a Visit to some Friends, in that County, who had Negroes; and as I had felt a Draught in my Mind to that Work in the said County, came Home and put Things in Order: On the eleventh Day of the twelfth Month following, I went over the River; and on the next Day was at Buckingham Meeting; where, through the Descendings of heavenly Dew, my Mind was comforted, and drawn into a near Unity with the Flock of Jesus Christ.

Entering upon this Visit appeared weighty: And before I left Home my Mind was often sad; under which Exercise I felt, at Times, the Holy Spirit, which helps our Infirmities; through which, in private, my Prayers were, at Times, put up to God, that he would be pleased to purge me from all Selfishness, that I might be strengthened to discharge my Duty faithfully, how hard soever to the natural Part. We proceeded on the Visit in a weighty Frame of Spirit, and went to the Houses of the most active Members, throughout the Country, who had Negroes; and, through the Goodness of the Lord, my Mind was preserved in Resignation in Times of Trial, and, though the Work was hard to Nature, yet through the Strength of that Love which is stronger than Death, Tenderness of Heart was often felt amongst us in our Visits, and we parted from several Families with greater Satisfaction than we expected.

We visited Joseph White's Family, he being in England; and also a Family-sitting at the House of an Elder who bore us Company, and was at Makefield on a First-day: At all which Times my Heart was truly thankful to the Lord, who was graciously pleased to renew his Loving-kindness to us, his poor Servants, uniting us together in his Work.

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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.

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