The Beautiful Soul of John Woolman, Apostle of Abolition by Thomas P. Slaughter

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A biography of the famous eighteenth-century Quaker whose abolitionist fervor and spiritual practice made him a model for generations of Americans John Woolman (1720–72) was perhaps the most significant American of his age, though he was not a famous politician, general, or man of letters, and never held public office. A humble Quaker tailor in New Jersey, he became a prophetic voice for the entire Anglo-American world when he denounced the evils of slavery in Quaker meetings, then in essays and his Journal, first published in 1774. In this illuminating new biography, Thomas P. Slaughter goes behind those famous texts to locate the sources of Woolman’s political and spiritual power.  Slaughter’s penetrating work shows how this plainspoken mystic transformed himself into a prophetic, unforgettable figure. Devoting himself to extremes of self-purification—dressing only in white, refusing to ride horses or in horse-drawn carriages—Woolman might briefly puzzle people; but his preaching against slavery, rum, tea, silver, forced labor, war taxes, and rampant consumerism was infused with a benign confidence that ordinary people could achieve spiritual perfection, and this goodness gave his message persuasive power and enduring influence. Placing Woolman in the full context of his times, Slaughter paints the portrait of a hero—and not just for the Quakers, social reformers, labor organizers, socialists, and peace advocates who have long admired him. He was an extraordinary original, an American for the ages.



About Thomas P. Slaughter

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Thomas P. Slaughter is the Andrew V. Tackes Professor of History at the University of Notre Dame. He is the award-winning author of three previous books—most recently, The Natures of John and William Bartram—and is the editor of three others, including the Library of America edition of William Bartram: Travels and Other Writings. He lives in South Bend, Indiana, with his wife and two children.
Published October 13, 2009 by Hill and Wang. 469 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs, History, Religion & Spirituality, War. Non-fiction

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Kirkus Reviews

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So much saintliness might be hard to endure if not for Slaughter’s keen awareness of his subject’s eccentricities and shortcomings: For example, Woolman regularly abandoned his wife and child for his wide-ranging and frequently dangerous itinerant ministry;

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Project MUSE

More than an argument from silence, this ignores Woolman’s positive references to women ministers, such as when he described Mercy Redman, Ann Gauntt, Hannah Foster, and Elizabeth Shipley as “all ministers of the Gospel, of whose company I was glad.” In an effort to paraphrase a passage...

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Christianity Today

(Anyone who married outside the Quaker church was ousted from the fellowship.) Nevertheless Woolman believed that Quakers had fallen away from their early purity, that material prosperity had cut into their love for God and truth.

Sep 25 2008 | Read Full Review of The Beautiful Soul of John Wo...

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