Commemorating a 'visionary'
WYALUSING - On June 8, a group of people began a 220 mile walk from Mount Holly, N.J., to Wyalusing in Bradford County
They traveled on rail trails, trails through the woods, and on roads, and camped out or slept in Quaker meeting houses along the way.
They were commemorating the journey made by tailor and Quaker minister John Woolman, who had traveled on horseback 250 years ago from Mount Holly to Wyalusing to try to promote peaceful relations between the Native Americans and the settlers. "We want to make people aware of his life and the way he lived," said Leticia Weber, 37, of Bloomsburg, Pa., one of the participants on the journey.
In colonial America, Woolman had gone to a school whose pupils included Native Americans as well as children of European ancestry, and he had seen how members of the Delaware tribe near where he lived were paid an unfair amount for their land by white men, and how their living conditions were inferior to those of white people, said Carol Walz, co-director of the John Woolman Memorial Association.
But Woolman's concern for other types of people extended beyond the Native Americans.
For example, he had misgivings about using money because of the conditions of Bolivian Indians who had worked in silver mines, Walz said.
And he wouldn't wear cotton clothing, because it was produced by slave labor, she said.
It was for his role as a pioneering abolitionist that he is best known, according to people who participated in the walk.
Woolman, who was born in 1720, "was a forefather of the American abolitionist movement," and there is a mural in the Capitol in Harrisburg that honors him for that role, said Jack Walz, the other co-director of the John Woolman Memorial Association.
Woolman convinced many Quakers to give up their slaves, and, through his writings and personal appeals, was a force in shaping the growing abolitionist movement among Quakers, said Paul Loomis of Bloomsburg, who walked the entire 220 miles, and John Walz.
"There were a lot of different Quakers who were really big in the abolitionist movement" and Woolman "was sort of a forerunner" to those Quaker abolitionists, said Loomis, a Quaker. And Quakers "were really big in the Underground Railroad," Loomis noted.
Woolman would travel to Quaker meetings and homes of Quakers and encourage his fellow Quakers to free their slaves, John Walz said.
Woolman "was a visionary" and his memory today "motivates us to be ahead of the issues of our time," said Christian Collins of Shekomeko, N.Y., who also walked the entire 220 miles.
The three people who walked the entire 220 miles were joined by others, including people who participated on part of the walk.
Children of the walkers also participated, but spent part of the journey riding in two support vehicles, which carried supplies, Loomis said.
On average, five to 10 people participated a day on the commemorative walk, Collins said.
While most of the journey was done on foot, the group also canoed the last two miles,
Woolman's journal, which includes an account of his trip to Wyalusing, is still in print today.
James Loewenstein can be reached at (570) 265-1633; or email: email@example.com.