A Pilgrimage to The John Woolman House, 99 Branch Rd., Mt. Holly,
John Woolman was born at Rancocas, in Burlington County, NJ, in 1720 and died in 1772 of smallpox while on a visit in England. This house is not where Woolman lived, but a house he had built for his daughter, Mary, after she married Samuel Comfort. John Woolman had married Sarah Ellis in 1749.
Woolman’s family had arrived in Rancocas, from England, in the 1680’s, a decade after Fenwick established his Quaker colony, in Salem,. John Woolman was born on a farm along the Rancocas Creek.
He is famous today for his writings and the record they leave of his thoughts on one of the most important questions anyone can ask: what is the best way for a human being to live in this world? During his lifetime, Woolman traveled from New Jersey through the other colonies in the ministry of his faith, The Society of Friends, known to us now as Quakers.
His ideas, then and now are both simple and radical. They spring from the conviction that all have “that of God within” called, the Light. Individual actions have wide consequences. Waste and consumption on the part of some create poverty for others. Love for all inspires nonviolence and compassion for the one who does wrong as well as the one who is harmed.
When John Woolman found himself becoming too successful in the field to which he was apprenticed, storekeeping and selling, he gave it up to pursue the tailor trade so that business concerns could never overshadow his greater duty which was spiritual. Woolman’s journal reflects his struggles with how to relate to those who lived in ways he knew to be wrong, such as the buying and selling of slaves.
He practiced and preached simplicity, frugality, humility, and compassion, while striving to avoid the pitfalls of success, arrogance, and the loyalty of friendship that would get in the way of conscience.
A quote from ;”The Journal and Major Essays of John Woolman” edited by Phillips P. Moulton,
“..(I) was early convinced in my mind that true religion consisted in an inward life, wherein the heart doth love and reverence God the Creator and learn to exercise true justice and goodness, not only toward all men but also toward the brute creatures; that as the mind was moved on an inward principle to love God as an invisible, incomprehensible being, on the same principle it was moved to love him in all his manifestations in the visible world; that as by his breath the flame of life was kindled in all animal and sensitive creatures, to say we love God as unseen and at the same time exercise cruelty toward the least creature moving by his life, or by life derived from him was a contradiction in itself.”
An interesting and informative tour was given by Jack Walz.