A leader of the Quakers in colonial New Jersey, John Woolman (1720–1772) started as a tailor and ran a small, successful business. Leaving the retail trade, he traveled as a Quaker minister in the colonies (though he continued to practice his craft of tailoring). His experiences in the South convinced him of the utter evil of slavery; through his earnest efforts, the Quaker community first unified in opposition to slaveholding. Although he made part of his living by writing wills, he refused to write up any transactions that included slaves. These excerpts are from his essay A Plea for the Poor, first published as A Word of Caution and Remembrance to the Rich.

Wealth desired for its own sake obstructs the increase of virtue, and large possessions in the hands of selfish men have a bad tendency, for by their means too small a number of people are employed in useful things, and some of them are necessitated to labor too hard, while others would want business to earn their bread, were not employments invented which, having no real usefulness, serve only to please the vain mind.


The Creator of the earth is the owner of it. He gave us being thereon, and our nature requires nourishment from the produce of it. He is kind and merciful to his creatures; and while they live answerably to the design of their creation, they are so far entitled to convenient subsistence that we may not justly deprive them of it. By the agreements and contracts of our predecessors, and by our own doings, some enjoy a much greater share of this world than others; and while those possessions are faithfully improved for the good of the whole, it agrees with equity; but he who, with a view to self-exaltation, causeth some to labor immoderately, and with the ...

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