John Woolman did. His convictions led him to alter everything about his life…and in the process, he changed thousands of lives.
John Woolman was born into the home of devout Quakers in New Jersey in 1720. At the young age of 7, he began to live his life in a way that pleased God. At the age of 23, he had “fresh and heavenly” insights about God and His creation, especially mankind, what he considered “the most noble” part of God’s workmanship.
But that new standard would quickly be tested. The merchant that he worked for asked Woolman to write up a bill of sale for a black female caught in the throes of slavery. He politely objected because of his spiritual rejection of slavery, but eventually complied with his master’s request because he also felt obligated to obey.
It wouldn’t be the last time he was asked to write up a bill of sale for blacks caught in slavery, but it would be the last time he complied.
Knowing his current occupation would put him in constant conflict with his Christian values, Woolman decided to completely change careers. He taught himself the trade of tailoring – a profession that didn’t require a lot of time or energy – and devoted himself to abolishing slavery. His business soon grew so much that he sent his customers to his competitors so he could focus on ending slavery.
He toured the southern states of America and witnessed firsthand the atrocities committed against slaves. He so strongly opposed the slavery systems of his day that he would not wear garments that had been dyed because it was usually slaves who were forced to do that work. Neither would Woolman buy products associated with the slave trade, or eat in the homes of slave owners.
He wrote several pamphlets denouncing slavery and began to preach against it. His cause even took him across the Atlantic where he railed against slavery at the center of the British Empire. Unfortunately, he died in England not long after his arrival.
This man changed everything about himself to give slaves the freedom they deserved as the first fruits of God’s creation. Within 25 years of his death, Quakers had abandoned the practice of slavery…almost a full century before slaves were declared free by the Emancipation Proclamation.
Woolman’s zeal provides one of the finest examples of living one’s life for a cause.
131 Christians Everyone Should Know by Mark Galli. Broadman and Holman, 2000, Pages 280-282.
Topics Illustrated Include:
Taking a Stand
(Resource cataloged by David R Smith)