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American history

The Beautiful Soul of John Woolman, Apostle of Abolition

Thomas P. Slaughter.
Publisher Hill & Wang  
Format paperback
Product Dimensions 8.75 x 5.7 x 1.25 inches
ISBN 9780809028481
Pages/Publication Date 449/2008
Daedalus Item Code 30653
This item is not available.
A humble tailor known at first only to the other Quakers who encountered him at meetings in New Jersey, Philadelphia, and New England, John Woolman became a prophetic voice when he spoke out against the evils of slavery and acquisition. Thomas Slaughter's deft, dramatic narrative reveals how Woolman infused his gospel with a benign confidence that ordinary people could achieve spiritual perfection.

"Not many today know about the New Jersey Quaker, mystic and social activist John Woolman (1720–1772). But William James, in The Varieties of Religious Experience, characterized Woolman as a saint. John Greenleaf Whittier called him the founding father of the abolitionist movement. As Slaughter shows in this superb narrative, it may be argued that the pious, simple-living Woolman—by rejecting not only slavery but also the accumulation of wealth, economic exploitation of all kinds, and all forms of violence—created the prototype for every pacifist and nonconformist to come after. Woolman always dressed simply in clothes he stitched himself, white clothes meant to mark him as a man of God. He advocated his causes in lectures and sermons across the eastern United States and England (where he died of smallpox) and through extensive writings. He made a point of owning nothing he did not need and giving away every and anything he could not use. In our own age of conspicuous consumption, the complex soul Slaughter so ably and beautifully resurrects is full of contemporary relevance as an example of principled living."—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"Though a crank about slavery who refused involvement with it in any way—thereby complicating his businesses as a preparer of wills and a tailor, for he declined to write wills for slaveholders until satisfied that they would free their slaves, and he ceased using dyed cloth because dye manufacture depended heavily on slave labor—[Woolman] strove never to give offense, casting entirely in theological terms the antislavery testimony he carried to Friends meetings throughout the colonies and finally to England, and avoiding passion in his preaching and conversation. He became ever more ascetic, eventually refusing medicine, fancy food, carriage and horseback travel, and other physical comforts. His famous Journal and other writings are as selfless as personal records could be, which means that Slaughter, who worked on this biography for 20 years, had to immerse himself in Woolman's world and read Woolman through the lenses of his time and place to make it the thoughtful, scrupulous, enlightening, and engrossing masterpiece it is."—Booklist (starred review)

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