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Among eighteenth-century Quaker writers, John Woolman was idiosyncratic, as illustrated by the fact that in his journal he recorded an ac-count of his own death. Needless to say, this was not usually done. Instead, it was conventional for posthumously published Quaker journals to include not only an autobiographical narrative of spiritual development but also additional material written by qualified Friends offering further testimony and giving details about how and when the author died. The first printing of Woolman’s journal in his posthumous Works (1774) is accompanied by such material about his 1772 death in York, England, but this was not the mortification of which he wrote. Rather, at the end of Woolman’s journal in an entry written just over a month before he would die of smallpox, he recollected how, back on his farm in Mount Holly, New Jersey, “in a time of sickness with the pleurisy a little upward of two years and a half ago, I was brought so near to the gates of death that I forgot my name” (185).


Originally published in Early American Literature. 2023. Volume 58. Issue 1. Pages 459-476.