CRISIS AND REFORMATION
John Woolman* ( 1720-1772) is the most celebrated eighteenth-century Quaker, and his fame rests upon his Journal. From almost the date of its publication in 1773, people recognized the special qualities of this spiritual autobiography. The Journal has continued in print into the present, and it has been used as devotional material by persons who have no appreciation of Quakerism or awareness of the eighteenth-century context. The author creates a sense of quietist worship and awe from his initial sentence: "I have often felt a motion of love to leave some hints of my experience of the goodness of God: and now, in the thirty-sixth year of my age, I begin this work."1
Reading the Journal as a religious classic takes away its historical context. Woolman took the traditional forms of Quaker journal writing and thrust into them his passionate response to evil and great inward turmoil over compromise. To understand him we should confront the dilemmas that burst upon the Meetings' awareness in the 1750s: slavery, Indians, war, wealth, and purity of Discipline.
The Society of Friends is significant in world history for becoming the first religious group publicly to denounce slavery and the first to require all members to free blacks held in bondage. The theoretical framework supporting slavery had been ingrained in Western civilization for so long that becoming an abolitionist required a major intellectual revolution. 2 Seventeenth-century Friends initially encountered chattel slavery in their missionary journeys to the West Indies. Black slavery there was particularly vicious, since planters growing sugar found it more profitable to import new slaves from Africa than to provide adequate food and care for those they already possessed. 3 Some Englishmen in the islands proved susceptible to the preaching of Friends, and Quaker Meetings appeared in Barbados as early as 1655.