Sep 21, 2014

I Met an Old Friend Today

Over my birthday weekend, I spent part of a day perusing the first book that established my “old books” collection. The title of that special book is The Journal of John Woolman, with an Introduction by John G. Whittier published in 1871. 

John Woolman was a Quaker that lived from 1720 to 1772. He was born in Northampton, New Jersey, on October 19 of 1720. He discovered a love for God's Word so early in life that he recollects sitting beneath a tree after school as a young lad to devour the final chapter of Revelation, capturing a glimpse of heaven. I know Christian adults today who say they can't handle that book. In his adult years, he was known for two main things: his tenderness toward all people, all life; and his actions in exposing and subduing the evils of slavery. Emancipation for the slaves would not come for almost another 100 years, but his writings, including his Journal, his lectures, and even his business practices spoke loudly and effectively. He and another minister travelled in the North American colonies preaching and teaching, and everywhere he stayed, he would get to know the slave owners and discuss the moral issues with owning human life. More often than not he was persuasive enough that the slave owners would free their slaves! The Journal of John Woolman was a primary source of inspiration for rising abolitionists, which of course ultimately lead to full emancipation. Further reading tells me he was also an advocate for the Native American as well.

One Saturday, DH and I decided to go for a drive up in the mountains. We came across a little town in North Georgia called Talking Rock that has little more than a short strip of antique stores across from an old train station. In one of those quaint little shops, I picked up a small, plain-looking book with the name John Woolman on the front. I noticed it, put it down, and moved on. A few minutes later, it was as if that book was whispering my name, so I found it in my hands once again. 

When I first saw it in the antique store, I had no idea of its literary value; I had never heard of John Woolman. I had no idea it was listed as one of Charles Eliot's choices of literature which belong on the infamous five-foot shelf of a liberal education, later to become the Harvard Classics. What made me fall in love with the book other than my initial interest in its antiquity was this: I noticed as I flipped through the pages that I saw the beautiful Name of Jesus Christ on literally every single page I saw. The Lord of Heaven was so much an integral part of this man's life that His Divine Presence permeated his life's record. Oh, to have Him so pervade my life that way! 

However, in a true lapse of judgement, I left the book on the table on which I found it. And I left. I really couldn't tell you why; it was just $10. I suppose I tend to use "need" versus "want" as a decision-maker when it comes to spending money, and it wasn't a "need." Or so I thought.

The next week was Vacation Bible School at our church, and I was helping in one of the rooms full of kids. The other teacher in there, Lisa, and I got to know each other that week, and we began talking one day about something that reminded me about that book. So I told her about it. And by the end of that morning, I had decided that I would gather up my kiddos and head back up to Talking Rock to get that book!

And that's exactly what we did. All the way back to that remote little town, I prayed that it would still be on the top of the stack. Anyone who thought that highly and lived so close to the Lord's presence, I wanted to get to know - even if he did live 250 years before me!

I was elated with my purchase. The smell of the old pages captivated me, and the few underlinings with a dip pen transfixed me. Whoever made those underlinings throughout the book was left-handed, like me. 

In the front is this inscription: “Charles E. Shepard, Fond du Lac, 1873.” 

Today I got curious, so I got my Sherlock on.

Because if you didn't already know, Google is a very powerful thing. 

I discovered one Charles E. Shepard who lived in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, in 1873. Who knew there was such a French influence there? Turns out some of the same Frenchmen who claimed much of the extreme north of North America also settled in Wisconsin. Anyway, Mr. Shepard was a lawyer there for a time.

I found a scanned copy of the History of Seattle from the Earliest Settlement to the Present Time, written by Clarence Bagley in 1916. On page 587, I found that Charles' mother, Catherine Colman Shepard, was the granddaughter of Nathaniel Rochester, the namesake for Rochester, New York. Charles E. Shepard was born to Catherine and her husband (Charles E. Shepard, Sr.) in 1848.

Shepard Jr. attended the Dansville Seminary and Canadaigua Academy, followed by Yale University. He relocated to Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, in November of 1872, the year before dating my book. While he lived there, he joined a law firm with his brother and another attorney. During that time, he also served as the library commissioner (he loved books, too!) and was elected to serve on the state legislature for a two-year term. Charles married Alice Galloway in 1881, and two years later they moved to Milwaukee where he continued to practice law until 1891, when ill health caused him to seek out a different climate.

Shepard then moved to Seattle, where he soon recovered from his illness. He was very active for many years in Seattle, but I think it's interesting to point out that he was a candidate for supreme court judge in 1910, and although he was defeated by the incumbent, ran a very good race.

At some point, the Shepards moved to Spokane, Washington, where he died on March 31, 1928, at a well-seasoned 80 years old.

This is the man who wrote his name in MY book, y'all. He was 25 years old one hundred years before I was born.

I've had this copy of Woolman's Journal in my collection for over a decade, and I have studied the handwriting on the first page many times. I wondered who he was, where did he live, and what kind of man was he?

Even though it sounds contradictory, thanks to Google, I feel like I met for the first time an old friend today. Very pleased to get to meet you, Mr. Shepard. I will treasure your tiny book all my days.

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