Wilkinson, Jemima

Wilkinson, Jemima,

1752–1819, American religious leader, b. Cumberland, R.I. As a girl she was powerfully impressed by the sermons of George WhitefieldWhitefield, George,
1714–70, English evangelistic preacher, leader of the Calvinistic Methodist Church. At Oxford, which he entered in 1732, he joined the Methodist group led by John Wesley and Charles Wesley.
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 and also aspired to emulate the example of Ann LeeLee, Ann,
1736–84, English religious visionary, founder of the Shakers in America. Born in Manchester, she worked there in the cotton factories and then became a cook. In 1762 she was married to Abraham Stanley, a blacksmith. In 1758 she had joined the "Shaking Quakers.
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 ("Mother Ann"). She became very ill when she was about 20 and fell into a prolonged coma. On reviving, she maintained that she had died and her original soul had gone to heaven while her body was occupied by the "Spirit of Life," sent by God to warn the world of His impending wrath. Calling herself the "Public Universal Friend," she preached widely through Connecticut and Rhode Island. She established churches at New Milford, Conn., and at Greenwich, R.I. She aroused much hostility by advocating celibacy, and she did not restrain enthusiastic followers from representing her as the Messiah. To escape persecution she founded (c.1790) the colony of "Jerusalem" in Yates co., NW N.Y. (near the present Penn Yan). Dissension later developed in Jerusalem because the "Friend" demanded gifts of her followers and instituted punishments for breaking her rules. She spent her last years in a house far from the other dwellings. After her death the community dispersed.


See D. Hudson, Memoir of Jemima Wilkinson (1824, repr. 1972); H. A. Wisbey, Pioneer Prophetess (1964).

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Wilkinson, Jemima

(1752–1819) Protestant religious leader; born in Cumberland, R.I. The pretty, clever daughter of a prosperous farmer, she became deeply religious after hearing George Whitefield preach at age 18. Some years later she claimed to have fallen into a trance, died, and awakened with a new soul, that of a prophetess. Calling herself the "Public Universal Friend," she drew large crowds preaching in New England. Encountering increasing antagonism, she established a religious colony, Jerusalem, in western New York (1789–90). Her followers increasingly objected to her dictatorial ways, and she lived out her late years estranged and alone.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.