Jemima Wilkinson

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Image of Jemima from David Hudson's "History of Jemima Wilkinson" (1821)

Jemima Wilkinson (29 November 1752 - July 1, 1819)[1] was a charismatic American evangelist who preached total sexual abstinence and the Ten Commandments to her Quaker "Society of Universal Friends." Her family were strict Quakers, most of her views were from her upbringing in the Quaker religion.

Early life and "resurrection"[edit]

Jemima was the daughter of Amy (née Whipple) and Jeremiah Wilkinson, the cousin of Stephen Hopkins, in Cumberland, Rhode Island. She attended silent worship with Quakers at the Smithfield Meeting House with her family. As a young woman in the mid-1770s, she attended meetings with New Light Baptists.

In 1776, a minor epidemic of typhoid spread throughout Rhode Island, and Jemima was infected. She was plagued by this debilitating illness which culminated in a fevered state, subsequent to which she was bedridden and near death. When she awoke she claimed that she was sent by God to preach his message. This propelled her to claim that she was "a holy vessel of Jesus Christ and God and the Holy Spirit". She became the "Publick Universal Friend", reborn at her eulogy, and never again responded to her original birth name.[citation needed]

Preaching 1777-1790[edit]

Wilkinson's "Seal of the Universal Friend"

The year "the Friend" came out, she was rejected by her Quaker brethren. Accompanied by several siblings, she began to travel and preach to residents of Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut. During the 1780s, she lived in Worcester and rode a white horse into Philadelphia, PA to preach, where she drew substantial audiences and grew her congregation of "Universal Friends". She was accused of plagiarizing documents authored by members of the Society of Friends, and her personal "seal" may have been adapted from the Quakers. Several Philadelphia newspapers made especial effort to condemn, expose, and discredit her preaching.[2] Being female in the 1700s made the friend a favorite target for libel and slander, but ironically the grandson of her brother Jeptha Wilkinson would later become the inventor of the modern press wheel.[3]

Wilkinson preached a regimen of strict abstinence, and friendship with everyone. She implored all to accept the Fatherhood of God. Many people came to visit her and her followers and were taken in with open arms. Many who came to visit were given all the comforts of home and were only asked to leave if they had done something against the Friends.

In March 1790, she began her "group exodus", travelling upstream along the Susquehanna River through present-day Wilkes Barre, PA and Elmira, NY. On 13 April 1790, she and her followers finally reached the north end of Keuka Lake.[4] She named her new township Jerusalem, NY, but it would later be called Penn Yan, NY. She and her followers were the first white people that the Native Americans in this region ever saw and traded with.[citation needed] She claimed to be called "Chief" by the Seneca nation-tribe.[citation needed]


The Jemima Wilkinson House is still standing in Jerusalem, New York, on a List of Registered Historic Places in Yates County, New York, located on the same branch of Keuka Lake as the birthplace of Seneca Red Jacket.[5]

Wilkinson was one of the first female visionaries of religion and Women's rights in the United States.[citation needed] Her followers pioneered the area between Seneca Lake and Keuka Lake, erecting a grain Mill at present-day Dresden, NY.


  1. ^ Hudson, David. History of Jemima Wilkinson: a preacheress of the eighteenth century, p. ii APPENDIX, NO II
  2. ^ Wisbey, Herbert A. Jr. Pioneer Prophetess Jemima Wilkinson, the Publick Universal Friend. Cornell University Press.
  3. ^ Rev. Israel Wilkinson, 1869 Memoirs of the Wilkinson Family in America
  5. ^ Davis, Miles Avery. HISTORY OF JERUSALEM.

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