Image of Jemima from David Hudson's History of Jemima Wilkinson (1821).
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book excerpt / belief

The Person Formerly Known as Jemima Wilkinson

An excerpt from a new book on American messianic movements.
In her hour of mortal anguish, Jemima experienced a vision. Although not yet embodied, the Public Universal Friend was already present in spirit, and later transcribed the vision for posterity:

"The heavens were open’d And She saw too Archangels descending from the east, with golden crowns upon there heads, clothed in long white Robes, down to the feet; Bringing a sealed Pardon from the living God; and putting their trumpets to their mouth, proclaimed saying, Room, Room, Room, in the many Mansions of eternal glory for Thee and for everyone …"

The angels explained to the expiring young woman that “[t]he time is at hand, when God will lift up his hand, a second time, to recover the remnant of his People.” The “Spirit of Life from God,” the angels continued, had returned once more to Earth “to warn a lost and guilty, perishing dying World, to flee from the wrath which is to come.” The Spirit was “waiting to assume the Body which God had prepared, for the Spirit to dwell in.” This, of course, was the body of Jemima Wilkinson.

Thenceforth, Jemima’s body ceased recognizing her father and siblings as relatives, began to prefer male pronouns, and responded only to the names of “Public Universal Friend,” “the All-Friend,” “Friend of Sinners,” and “the Comforter.” The transformation was later complemented by the Friend’s preference for wearing men’s clothing when he began his public ministry, a quirk that became one of his most remarked-upon characteristics.

By Sunday the illness had retreated. Finding himself comfortably accommodated in Jemima’s body, the Friend of Sinners decided to attend services at the Elder Miller Baptist meetinghouse that Jemima had been rebuked for attending. The other congregants soon learned that, although Jemima Wilkinson’s body had returned to their midst, it was the Public Universal Friend who replied to their greetings. Those who were not repelled by this sudden transformation gathered after the service to hear the Friend deliver his first public sermon under a shade tree near the meetinghouse. Thereafter, the Friend began to hold meetings in the Wilkinson family home. The four Wilkinson sisters and Jemima’s brother Stephen became the Friend’s first followers. Patience and Stephen had already been ejected from the Smithfield Friends; the other three girls were forced out by 1779 for indulging their sister’s delusions.
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