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 Whitefield and also aspired to emulate the example of Ann Lee (“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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