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The Journal of John Woolman: And a Plea for the Poor

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The "journal" or spiritual autobiography of John Woolman was the characteristic literary expression of Quakerism in its first two centuries. Woolman's Journal was first published in 1774 (shortly after his death). His life, as recorded by himself, was the finest flower of a unique Quaker culture, Whose focus, as Howard H. Brinton has put it, was not on the literary or plas The "journal" or spiritual autobiography of John Woolman was the characteristic literary expression of Quakerism in its first two centuries. Woolman's Journal was first published in 1774 (shortly after his death). His life, as recorded by himself, was the finest flower of a unique Quaker culture, Whose focus, as Howard H. Brinton has put it, was not on the literary or plastic arts but on "life itself in home, meeting and community," a life which was an "artistic creation as beautiful in its simplicity and proportion as was the architecture of its meeting houses..." Its distinguishing marks marks were not dogmas but practical testimonies for equality, simplicity and peace. These testimonies, once revolutionary in their social implications, were already becoming institutionalized in Woolman's time as the badges of a "peculiar people." In his quiet way-- he must have been the quietest radical in history-- John Woolman reforged them, tempered them in the stream of love, and converted them once again into instruments of social revolution.


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The "journal" or spiritual autobiography of John Woolman was the characteristic literary expression of Quakerism in its first two centuries. Woolman's Journal was first published in 1774 (shortly after his death). His life, as recorded by himself, was the finest flower of a unique Quaker culture, Whose focus, as Howard H. Brinton has put it, was not on the literary or plas The "journal" or spiritual autobiography of John Woolman was the characteristic literary expression of Quakerism in its first two centuries. Woolman's Journal was first published in 1774 (shortly after his death). His life, as recorded by himself, was the finest flower of a unique Quaker culture, Whose focus, as Howard H. Brinton has put it, was not on the literary or plastic arts but on "life itself in home, meeting and community," a life which was an "artistic creation as beautiful in its simplicity and proportion as was the architecture of its meeting houses..." Its distinguishing marks marks were not dogmas but practical testimonies for equality, simplicity and peace. These testimonies, once revolutionary in their social implications, were already becoming institutionalized in Woolman's time as the badges of a "peculiar people." In his quiet way-- he must have been the quietest radical in history-- John Woolman reforged them, tempered them in the stream of love, and converted them once again into instruments of social revolution.

55 review for The Journal of John Woolman: And a Plea for the Poor

  1. 4 out of 5

    Wayne Sutton

    An American spiritual autobiography that I found as compelling and powerful as the Confessions of Augustine. Every American Christian should read this book.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Keith

    One of the earlier Quakers and an early advocate for the abolition of slavery, Woolman's journal speaks mostly of his travels among Friends (another term for Quakers for those who don't hang in these circles) speaking to those who held slaves of his concerns. Woolman is pretty well single-handedly responsible for convincing Quakers to give up the institution of slavery, after which they went on to join the broader abolitionist movement, often in prominent position. The Journal itself is maybe a b One of the earlier Quakers and an early advocate for the abolition of slavery, Woolman's journal speaks mostly of his travels among Friends (another term for Quakers for those who don't hang in these circles) speaking to those who held slaves of his concerns. Woolman is pretty well single-handedly responsible for convincing Quakers to give up the institution of slavery, after which they went on to join the broader abolitionist movement, often in prominent position. The Journal itself is maybe a bit awkward of a read, focusing a lot on the details of his going from place to place and mentioning conversations only in terms such as "we talked for a while about such and such" (not an actual quote from the text). The Journal might also be about half as long were it not for the continual reitterances of praise and thankfulness to God. I understand their presence, I'm just saying, a modern editor, editing a modern journal would cut a lot of those sentences. The section A Plea For the Poor is more of a pamphlet style thing, and is as such more focused on getting to the heart of the message of living simply and with compassion for all. The Journal is a good read on my Quaker research quest, pointing to both the changes and consistencies in the Society of Friends, as well as being a notable piece of the history of abolition.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Jonathan

    Standing up for convictions is hard, especially within faith groups where acceptance and unity are paramount to self identity. When those issues affect the economic way of life of the community (slavery, animal rights, laborers’ rights, discouraging seeking after wealth and status symbols), the courage to take a stand is exponentially harder and more complicated. Woolman did this consistently and relentlessly with a surprising level of success. In our personal efforts to change the world or at l Standing up for convictions is hard, especially within faith groups where acceptance and unity are paramount to self identity. When those issues affect the economic way of life of the community (slavery, animal rights, laborers’ rights, discouraging seeking after wealth and status symbols), the courage to take a stand is exponentially harder and more complicated. Woolman did this consistently and relentlessly with a surprising level of success. In our personal efforts to change the world or at least affect change within our sphere of influence, we can learn a lot from Woolman’s example of faith and integrity. I’m grateful he wrote some of his experiences down and opened his soul for the benefit of future generations.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Christina

    Woolman is meek in the best and most biblical sense of the word. I think he has a lot to offer us in our current situations.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Milan Homola

    Reads like the book or Acts. Very interesting to get a cultural look at Quaker values in the mid 18th century. One thing you can learn from his journal—-the long supported argument (“people in their day are excused on issues relating to the inconsistencies of Christianity and slavery because it was an unquestioned social institution”) doesn’t hold up.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Brooks Lemmon

    This book was painfully difficult to read. It was extremely difficult to stay interested since the subject matter was so boring. I feel terrible talking about a book in this way, but these are just my honest thoughts. I've been reading this book for the last 5 months and it feels so good to finally put it on the shelf for good. Phew! This book was painfully difficult to read. It was extremely difficult to stay interested since the subject matter was so boring. I feel terrible talking about a book in this way, but these are just my honest thoughts. I've been reading this book for the last 5 months and it feels so good to finally put it on the shelf for good. Phew!

  7. 5 out of 5

    Katherine Harris

    Some would refer to John Woolman as the “father of civil disobedience.” This journal tells of his heart for the Lord and in the ways he follows after the Holy Spirit’s promptings to deny himself and choose God. He takes some very controversial stands, “acting contrary to present outward interest, from a motive of Divine love and in regard to truth and righteousness...” I enjoyed reading his dependence on God and the way he found being obedient to the Father was in “exercising goodness towards ev Some would refer to John Woolman as the “father of civil disobedience.” This journal tells of his heart for the Lord and in the ways he follows after the Holy Spirit’s promptings to deny himself and choose God. He takes some very controversial stands, “acting contrary to present outward interest, from a motive of Divine love and in regard to truth and righteousness...” I enjoyed reading his dependence on God and the way he found being obedient to the Father was in “exercising goodness towards every living creature.” This journal is written in a less distracted and “simpler” time, but I thought it had some great insight to seeking, listening, love and obedience.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Danny Marsh

    You are reading a journal. There are going to be some extremely dull moments of describing the day-to-day activity. However, there are some incredible nuggets of wisdom through the journal. Woolman was a man of conviction who saw the evils of slavery and would not stand by while these injustices took place. He could easily be described as "annoying," but I saw his conviction as motivational and inspiring. He listened to the Lord to know when to speak and when to remain silent. You are reading a journal. There are going to be some extremely dull moments of describing the day-to-day activity. However, there are some incredible nuggets of wisdom through the journal. Woolman was a man of conviction who saw the evils of slavery and would not stand by while these injustices took place. He could easily be described as "annoying," but I saw his conviction as motivational and inspiring. He listened to the Lord to know when to speak and when to remain silent.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Annette Hill

    One of my favorite books. I have given it as gift many times. 18th century Quaker who walked all over eastern US speaking to slave owning Quakers, asking them to free their salves. By the end of the 18th century, no Quakers owned slaves.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Amos Smith

    John Woolman is an extraordinary figure in U.S. History. He was a Quaker (FGC), who as a result of his faith and practice was convicted that Slavery is wrong. As a result of his thorough conviction he traveled throughout the Eastern States advocating strongly for abolition. Woolman was one of the earliest abolitionists in America. Some writers argue that Woolman's witness plowed the fields of the American Conscience, so they would be ready for the fights for abolition yet to come. The Quakers we John Woolman is an extraordinary figure in U.S. History. He was a Quaker (FGC), who as a result of his faith and practice was convicted that Slavery is wrong. As a result of his thorough conviction he traveled throughout the Eastern States advocating strongly for abolition. Woolman was one of the earliest abolitionists in America. Some writers argue that Woolman's witness plowed the fields of the American Conscience, so they would be ready for the fights for abolition yet to come. The Quakers were few in number, but made an extraordinary impact on U.S. History. Woolman is a shining example of this. I loved how Woolman constantly wrestled with his own conscience in his journal. He would worry about just prices for merchandise in his shop. He had a practical sense of right and wrong, of applying "love of neighbor" to the nitty gritty details of life including minute business transactions. This is not the easiest read but worth the work. -Amos Smith (author of Healing The Divide: Recovering Christianity's Mystic Roots)

  11. 5 out of 5

    Stephen

    Fascinating story. Particularly interesting insights into the ways that the unconscious behavior of wealthy people can negatively impact other people in society. Very economically astute for the period before Adam Smith.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Marcos

  13. 4 out of 5

    Morag Smith

  14. 4 out of 5

    Mj Helms

  15. 4 out of 5

    Joseph

  16. 5 out of 5

    Will Stotts-Jr

  17. 4 out of 5

    John Warner

  18. 4 out of 5

    Daniel

  19. 5 out of 5

    Warren B

  20. 5 out of 5

    Lrgallagher

  21. 5 out of 5

    Patty Milburn

  22. 5 out of 5

    Craig

  23. 5 out of 5

    Brian Dukes

  24. 4 out of 5

    Nathan Holden

  25. 5 out of 5

    Amanda

  26. 5 out of 5

    Victory White

  27. 4 out of 5

    Brendan

  28. 5 out of 5

    Lil

  29. 5 out of 5

    the escapee

  30. 4 out of 5

    Kristy Tillman

  31. 5 out of 5

    William Dusing

  32. 5 out of 5

    Sara

  33. 5 out of 5

    Alison's actual bookcase

  34. 5 out of 5

    Brittney Guenthertrooper

  35. 4 out of 5

    Dustin

  36. 4 out of 5

    Carl

  37. 4 out of 5

    Scot

  38. 4 out of 5

    Elva

  39. 4 out of 5

    Kelly

  40. 4 out of 5

    Carl Williams

  41. 4 out of 5

    Killearnan

  42. 4 out of 5

    Jhalcomb

  43. 5 out of 5

    Donna

  44. 4 out of 5

    Dustin Brown

  45. 4 out of 5

    Gmckee74 McKee

  46. 4 out of 5

    Mikey brackett

  47. 4 out of 5

    Peter

  48. 5 out of 5

    Mike

  49. 4 out of 5

    Lancelot Schaubert

  50. 5 out of 5

    Judy Stevens

  51. 5 out of 5

    Henry Tam

  52. 4 out of 5

    lexy

  53. 5 out of 5

    Mary Chambers

  54. 5 out of 5

    Matt

  55. 5 out of 5

    Michael

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