October 8, 2012
Reception and book signing to follow
Magill Library, Quaker & Special Collections Reading Room
Geoffrey Plank’s book John Woolman’s Path to the Peaceable Kingdom: A Quaker in the British Empire.
As a tailor, hog producer, shopkeeper, schoolteacher and prominent Quaker minister in colonial New Jersey, John Woolman (1720-1772) was alert to events and cultural trends throughout the British Empire. He believed that God had led his Quaker ancestors across the ocean to bring peace to North America and ultimately the entire world, but the Quakers had strayed from their mission. By purchasing the products of slave labor they encouraged slave-raiding and warfare in Africa, and by concentrating wealth in the hands of a landed elite they pushed landless whites onto Indian lands in the American west. Woolman therefore traced many of the worst evils of the empire to the behavior of people like his Quaker neighbors in Mount Holly, New Jersey. Responding to this situation as he saw it, he developed a comprehensive critique of the imperial economy, became one of the empire’s most emphatic opponents of slaveholding, and helped develop a new form of protest by striving never to spend money in ways that might encourage slavery or other forms of iniquity.
Drawing on the diaries of Woolman’s contemporaries, personal correspondence, the minutes of Quaker meetings, business and probate records, pamphlets and other sources, John Woolman’s Path to the Peaceable Kingdom situates Woolman within his community. He and his neighbors were far more engaged with slavery, long-distance trade and warfare than anyone would know just from reading his journal. Violence was integral to the colonial economy, and that is why Woolman associated peace and emancipation with profound social change. He is famous as an abolitionist, but the end of slavery was only part of his project. Placing his trust in God’s assistance, and refusing to believe that the pursuit of self-interest could safely guide economic life, Woolman aimed for a miraculous global transformation, a universal disavowal of greed.
Geoffrey Plank is a professor of American studies at the University of East Anglia in the United Kingdom. He holds a B.A. in English from Swarthmore College, a J.D. in law from the University of Connecticut, an M.A. in history from the University of Wisconsin and Ph.D. in history from Princeton University. Plank’s research centers on colonial American history and debates over conquest, settlement, warfare, slavery, and material culture. He is interested in the ways in which imperial expansion affected ordinary lives, and he has studied a variety of groups including French- and English-speaking settlers, Scottish Highlanders and Native Americans. His most recent work examines the thought, life and work of the eighteenth-century New Jersey Quaker abolitionist John Woolman. Plank is known to the Haverford community from the months of research he performed for this book in Quaker and Special Collections, and as one of the two co-organizers of the International Conference on Quakers and Slavery held jointly at Haverford, Swarthmore and the University of Pennsylvania in 2010.
Sponsored by the Library, Office of Quaker Affairs and the Center for Peace and Global Citizenship.