John Woolman lived from 1720 to 1772. You can read his bio here or here . He became known for his ability to write well, and people would come to him to draw up legal documents and such. When a man asked him to write a will to pass owned slaves to his heirs, Woolman was troubled because his conscience told him keeping slaves was wrong. He wrote many essays, and by word and example tried to convince others to free slaves.
If he visited a house where there were slaves, he insisted on paying them a fair wage for any service done for him. If there was fine silver, he would not use it – slaves mined the silver. Although he was a tailor by trade, he would only wear plain white clothes – slaves made the dyes for coloring.
Woolman wrote an essay called “A Plea for the Poor”. I’ve been carrying it around in my notebook for some time, trying to figure out a way to use it in song – it has had a profound influence on me. In it, Woolman asks us to consider all we have, and the lifestyle we enjoy, and consider whether it is a cause of war or oppression. The rhetoric used to justify or incite people to support or allow war, often obscure and justify the real reasons for that war (resources, land, greed, money, military industrial complex). It also seems that sometimes we are very quick to jump right to war as a solution, rather than any serious dialog or consideration of eliminating the causes of war (i.e. let’s just bomb someone, let’s not think about why they hate us).
I wrote this in the hopes that we the people might consider the causes of war, and our part in them, and consider what we do and buy, and what we demand of our leaders, and whether it is really okay if people must die and/or be oppressed to support our lifestyle.
Click on the link below to hear the song and read the lyrics: