Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature: An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891. Vol. III: Literature of the Revolutionary Period, 17651787
How He Testified in Meeting against Slavery
By John Woolman (17201772)
[Born in Northampton, West New Jersey, 1720. Died at York, England, 1772. The Works of John Woolman. 1774.]
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, and I going to Philadelphia to meet a committee of the yearly-meeting, was in town the evening on which the quarterly-meetings 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;alleging 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 toward 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 who 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 who 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 who kept slaves.