Rev. Woodworth’s Autobiography

James W. Woodworth (1813-1893) and his brother Ephraim were among the earliest settlers in Mequon. They came from Nova Scotia, as did several other early Mequon settlers and families, including Isaac Bigelow, Daniel Strickland and Stephen Loomer. On March 1, 1838, J. W. Woodworth married fellow Nova Scotia emigrant and Mequon neighbor Mary Cerena Loomer. The marriage was believed to be the first Christian marriage in old Washington county and was performed by Mary Turck Clark’s father, Peter Turck, “an anabaptist preacher.”

J. W. Woodworth, like so many Protestant Christians of his era, was a man in search of a powerful and authentic connection to God. He found his answer in the 1830s and ’40s through Methodism. And, after many years of intense self-instruction, camp meetings, private prayer and preaching at local worship services, Woodworth was certified as a Methodist minister.

For much of his life Rev. Woodworth kept a diary of both the spiritual and mundane events of his life. He published the diary in Milwaukee in 1878 as My Path and the Way the Lord Led Me. 

Woodworth My Path title page

The book begins with a short autobiographical sketch of his life and early years in Nova Scotia. There is a detailed and interesting description of his and his family’s migration to Wisconsin beginning in March, 1835. This is followed by more or less regular diary entries for the years 1835 through early 1878 (though with some substantial gaps in various years). The book also includes several diary pages written by Woodworth’s son Lewis and concludes with seven of Woodworth’s own sermons.

My Path… is an example of “spiritual autobiography,” a once-popular literary genre with roots in seventeenth-century English protestantism. Some modern readers may find the long passages of self-doubt and spiritual searching to be heavy going. But the book also includes page after page of detailed and interesting stories of local events and residents, many of which are not found elsewhere. Anyone with an interest in early Mequon, Washington and Ozaukee counties, or Milwaukee will find the book to be a unique and valuable resource.

The book is quite rare. The Polk Library at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh has a copy. The Jonathan Clark House Museum and the Ozaukee County Historical Society have searchable pdf copies of the book on DVD. Highly recommended for all local historians.

The information about J. W. Woodworth’s marriage is from The History of Washington and Ozaukee Counties, Wisconsin, published by the Western Historical Company, Chicago in 1881, and from Woodworth’s My Path…

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