John woolman



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The Life and Times of John Woolman,

Quaker of Colonial Times

By Tom Leverett

©1999 All Rights Reserved

(from John Woolman, by Elinor Briggs and Elizabeth Yeats, in Lighting Candles in the Dark.)


JOHN WOOLMAN

NARRATOR

OLD BEN CADWALLADER

CARRIE (Ben’s slave)

JACOB (Storekeeper, John’s employer)

PAPUNEHANG (Indian chief)

WAHONANANG (Indian)

FIRST BRITISH QUAKER

SECOND BRITISH QUAKER
NARRATOR:

John Woolman was born in 1720, on a farm near the Rancocas River in what is now New Jersey. The whole Woolman family had to work together to survive. Their village was near an old Lenape Indian settlement, but the Quakers and Lenapes got along well. John was the oldest of thirteen children. One day, while walking, he saw a bird.


(stands to side. Enter JOHN)
JOHN:

Robin! I shall strike thee with this stone! [throws imaginary stone, chirping heard offstage] Oh, no! That robin was a mother! That's why she wouldn't leave her nest! I will have to kill the babies, as I don't have time to take care of them!

(exits)
(enter OLD BEN and JACOB)
OLD BEN:

Good morning, Jacob!


JACOB:

Good morning, Ben, what can I get you?


OLD BEN:

I need some medicine, for young John Woolman. I understand he's sick, and I promised to take some to his mother, up at their farm.


JACOB:

And what is his sickness?


OLD BEN:

He has the flu. Thank you, Jacob. He's a good boy.


JACOB:

Yes, I remember when he killed that robin, and then, he felt so bad, that he refused to kill another animal!


OLD BEN:

Yes, he really is quite thoughtful and reflective, isn't he?


JACOB:

But he has been down here in Mount Holly, telling stories with the other lads.


OLD BEN:

The elders of the meeting called it "foolish jesting," I believe. They are concerned about his backsliding and vanity.


JACOB:

Well, perhaps being sick will give him time to reflect.


OLD BEN:

It already has! I understand he will attend Meeting faithfully now!


(they exit)

NARRATOR:

Young John got better, and was offered a job by Jacob, at the store in Mount Holly. Here he learned to write deeds, bills of sale, and other documents. Here, he began to deal with the two great issues of the day, slavery, and relations with the Indians.


[stands to side. Enter JOHN followed by CARRIE]
JOHN:

Good morning, Carrie!


CARRIE:

Good morning, John! I'd like a sack of flour, and some salt!


JOHN:

Why certainly, Carrie! How is Old Ben?


CARRIE:

Oh, he's fine, I think! I'm sure you'll see him soon! John, do you consider yourself my friend?



JOHN:

Why, of course, Carrie. I realize you are black, of course. But, Lenape, black, Friend, townsperson, that makes no difference to me. You are one of my best friends.


CARRIE:

I will remember that thou are a true friend to me. Thank you, John.

(JACOB enters, CARRIE leaves)
JACOB:

John, I understand the Indians have become quite violent. Pontiac is on the warpath.


JOHN:

Many have been forced to give up farming by the white men. And, some of the white men have been breaking the treaties. I feel that they have created their own danger!


(OLD BEN enters)
OLD BEN:

Good morning, gentlemen!


JOHN:

Good morning, Ben!


OLD BEN:

I would like you to write out a bill of sale.


JOHN:

Certainly, Ben. What for?


OLD BEN:

For Carrie. I'm selling Carrie.


JOHN:

Uh, ah, what?


OLD BEN:

Please write a bill of sale, for Carrie. I'm selling her.


JACOB:

Go ahead, John. Do as you're told.


(JOHN does it, and gives it to him)

JOHN:

I believe slavekeeping to be inconsistent with the Christian religion.



OLD BEN:

John, I have known you since you were a boy. When you talk, I know that you have reflected deeply. And now, I must go. I understand that Pontiac is on the warpath. Good day, gentlemen!

(they exit)
NARRATOR:

John eventually refused to participate in the selling of slaves, although he feared that he could lose his job. The Indian troubles grew worse. John felt called to visit an Indian chief, Papunehang, after a long journey.


(PAPUNEHANG sits with WAHONANANG. JOHN enters, sits with him. PAPUNEHANG looks stern. PAPUNEHANG offers JOHN a pipe, JOHN refuses.)
JOHN:

I come in peace.


PAPUNEHANG:

Hub!
(Silence)



JOHN:

Our people respect your people! We live in God, and mean no harm!


PAPUNEHANG:

Hub!
(Silence, JOHN comes forward)


JOHN:

God's message of peace and love has been heard!


(PAPUNEHANG comes forward)
PAPUNEHANG:

This man quiet, no gun. Different from others!


WAHONANANG:

Always walk!


PAPUNEHANG:

Maybe crazy!


(They leave)
NARRATOR:

Back in Mount Holly, John became increasingly vocal about the issue of slavery. He traveled up and down the coast, usually walking, preaching against slavery.


(enter JACOB and JOHN)
JACOB:

Why are you wearing a white hat? Only rich young men are wearing white hats these days!


JOHN:

Ah, but yours is died with indigo. And indigo is made with slave labor. I shall not support the institution of slave labor, so I'll wear white.


JACOB:

You are a man of principle. I remember that from when you worked here. But, what will the neighbors think? You know, white hats are a sign of the rich and fancy.


JOHN:

I care not what they think, only that I do the right thing. Tomorrow I leave for Philadelphia, to get Yearly Meeting to pass a minute against slavery.


JACOB:

Ah, but you may want to go to London, eventually, since London Yearly Meeting may have influence on this situation.

(they exit)
NARRATOR:

John did go to London, but it was right before the Revolution.


[enter BRITISH QUAKERS]
FIRST BRITISH QUAKER:

That white hat! Those dowdy clothes! Who is that man, who comes from America?


JOHN:

I have traveled many miles, to bring you this minute of concern.


SECOND BRITISH QUAKER:

The Friend from America has delivered his minute, and may return home now.


JOHN:

[after some silence] But I have not finished the work God called me to do in England. I will stay, and travel through England.


NARRATOR:

John set out on foot delivering his message, because horses in England were poorly treated, as were the boys who rode them. But in 1772, he died of small pox, and was buried there in England.


CURTAIN CALL


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