Jonathan Whipple (1794-1875)
of the Rogerene Community at Quakertown, Ledyard, Connecticut

The story of his life, Jonathan Whipple tells us, is the story of influence—the influence that his father’s instruction had upon him, and the influence that he strove to have upon others, whether it was the influence of a good act, of a “word in season,” or of an entire life lived for a high purpose. Without formal education, he was nonetheless as much of a “renaissance man” as his rural milieu and limited resources would allow him to be, in both manual skill and mental prowess, as farmer, teacher, blacksmith, butcher, stonemason, editor, and orator. In the lives of at least two of his grandchildren, his influence was not only displayed but also magnified. For decades he preached temperance, and his granddaughter Content published two temperance novels. From childhood, he experimented with teaching deaf people to read lips and speak (perhaps what he is best remembered for today), and his grandson Zerah founded the Mystic Oral School.

In a profile written nearly twenty years after his death, his niece Ida Whipple Benham describes him as

tall, spare, muscular, with dark eyes, strong features, and close, curling black hair mingled with silver. His manner was dignified; at times reserved, and even austere. He possessed a powerful penetrative voice, which could modulate itself to a cadence of gentle and pathetic sweetness. He was singularly emotional, and could hardly address a religious assembly without being moved to tears.

And, she says, he was “a most graphic story-teller.”

He began writing his autobiography during the last half decade of his life, either during 1870 or 1871, shortly after he had become active in the Connecticut Peace Society (he served as its first president) and shortly before he and Zerah and Content edited and published the periodical The Voice of Peace. He never finished the autobiography, and it is not possible now to know whether he intended to publish it as a book, or to make use of it in some other way. It covers roughly the first half of his life, breaking off with an account of his success in teaching his deaf son, Enoch, to read lips and speak.

Some of the events that form the background to the stories told in the autobiography remain familiar today, if only vaguely: the British bombardment of Stonington, Connecticut, during the War of 1812; the “September Gale,” that felled entire New England forests in a day; the “Cold Summer” of 1816, a year that has been referred to elsewhere as “eighteen hundred and froze to death.” But much about the time of Jonathan Whipple’s youth is of interest today precisely because it is unfamiliar. It was a time when local militias trained on town greens; when workers were given a daily ration of rum to supplement their wages; when escaped farm animals charged through village streets, threatening the lives of any who crossed their way. It was also a time when a man like Jonathan Whipple, committed to living out his profession of faith as a Christian and a Rogerene Quaker, could face misunderstanding, taunts, and even persecution.

The original manuscript of the autobiography does not appear to have survived. Copies, made probably before 1930, still exist, one in the archives of Swarthmore College, and one (at least) that has circulated among the families of Quakertown. The goal of this present digital edition is to provide a text that is not only accurate (and thus a reliable source of historical and genealogical information), but also that can be read easily, and therefore enjoyed—just as a good story is supposed to be enjoyed. To that end, the present text, while preserving the exact words of Jonathan Whipple, is punctuated for clarity (it is not obvious that any of the copies made of the original manuscript strove to preserve whatever punctuation it may have used) and is divided into paragraphs and titled chapters, with chapter titles frequently taken from the words of the text. Where it has been necessary to insert words for clarity’s sake, these words have been placed within brackets.


Jonathan Whipple


Click on the title of the first chapter to begin reading The Autobiography of Jonathan Whipple in HTML; click on the subsequent titles to access particular chapters. It is also possible to view or download the entire work as a Word document.

  1. Teaching and Example
  2. Providential Circumstances
  3. Strictly Temperance
  4. Water Excursions
  5. Profession of Religion
  6. “The September Gale”
  7. Business
  8. Telling Our Views
  9. The Warrior’s Art
  10. Scholars
  11. Rum Sellers
  12. An Amazing Stroke
  13. “Do You Think I’m A Fool?”
  14. Blacksmithing and Breaking Horses
  15. A Poor Example and A Good One
  16. Uncle Noah Whipple
  17. A House Full of Orphans
  18. “The Cold Water Company”
  19. The Deacon and His Sons
  20. A Strange Man
  21. The Golden Rule
  22. The Tongue of the Dumb Shall Sing

Thanks to the following people for their invaluable help in producing a digital copy of this text: Mandy B., Jordan B., Kelly B., Jillian B., Will D., Emily H., Melissa M., and Jaime P.
Return to Quakertown OnLine Copyright © 2016 by D. I. Schultz