Episode 7: F is for Friend Who Did Not Have Gender

R is for Revolutionary War, which is where hosts Leigh & Gretchen are headed in this, the very first episode dedicated to a single person from history: the Publick Universal Friend. Born Jemima Wilkinson, after suffering from Typhoid fever and experiencing a visionary death, the Publick Universal Friend, also called the Friend, arose and began preaching a message of repentance. The Friend presented as something entirely new: a genderless spirit from God who eschewed gendered pronouns and dressed and spoke in ways that purposefully blurred the lines between male and female in early American society. Their preaching may not have been as innovative as others from their time, but the Friend did something even more unique by embodying genderlessness as an aspect of resurrected life and creating a religious society marked by genderless linguistic forms. So come join us as we talk about this most special of Friends; to make things even more interesting, turns out one of our hosts is related to the Friend!

A Look at The Friend

 A portrait of the friend done after moving to new york, available to see at the  Scherer Carriage House Museum .

A portrait of the friend done after moving to new york, available to see at the Scherer Carriage House Museum.

 Drawing of the Friend.

Drawing of the Friend.

 REcreation of the friend's personal seal with star, cross, and initials.

REcreation of the friend's personal seal with star, cross, and initials.

 The Friend's CarrIAge, which can also be seen at the Scherer carriage House museum along with the Friend's Bible, Side Saddle, and other items. 

The Friend's CarrIAge, which can also be seen at the Scherer carriage House museum along with the Friend's Bible, Side Saddle, and other items. 

 Photo of the friend's house in Jerusalem, New York. It still stands but is not available to the public.

Photo of the friend's house in Jerusalem, New York. It still stands but is not available to the public.

 Sketch of the Friend's house in Jerusalem.

Sketch of the Friend's house in Jerusalem.

 Another Sketch of the friend's house in Jerusalem.

Another Sketch of the friend's house in Jerusalem.

 The Friend's home still stands today! photo courtesy of  waymarking.com

The Friend's home still stands today! photo courtesy of waymarking.com

 the sign outside the friend's home in jerusalem, ny. Photo courtesy of  waymarking.com

the sign outside the friend's home in jerusalem, ny. Photo courtesy of waymarking.com

 Title Page from David Hudson's defamatory "Memoir" of the friend that sought to present them as deluded and a fraud.

Title Page from David Hudson's defamatory "Memoir" of the friend that sought to present them as deluded and a fraud.

 Drawing of the friend from Hudson's "memoir". 

Drawing of the friend from Hudson's "memoir". 

 Act of Incorporation that established the Society of universal Friends in 1791, as seen on  History Detectives  and now currently in the  Communal Societies collection at Hamilton College . 

Act of Incorporation that established the Society of universal Friends in 1791, as seen on History Detectives and now currently in the Communal Societies collection at Hamilton College

Excerpts from the Death Book of the Society of Universal Friends.

The death book was kept by Ruth Prichard, and records the death names, last words and other relevant information, and the date when the member of the society "left Time". The following are entries, as found in Wisbey's book (see resource list); note just how many times the Friend was present at the death and/or the funeral, which is not at all unusual for the rest of the death book:

Susannah Porter, left Time, 19th of the 5th Mo 1780. 22 yeas of age. She died in the Arms of the Friend.
Lucy Holmes, left Time, 11th of the 8th Mo 1790: She found the Lamb of God. Believing in the Day of her Visitation. She went away rejoicing; giving glory to God and the Lamb. This departed Saint, as the avenues of mortal life were closing, lifted up her hands in Prayer, said Glory to God in the highest, and unto the Lamb forever and ever! Saying (with an emphasis no mortal language can describe) Looking at the Friend, My dear Redeemer; I love; I love; I love
Eunice Manswer Departed this life 13th of the 9th Mo 1793: It appeared She was prepared in a short time to fulfill a long time: the Friend attended the funeral
Sara Friend, or Sarah Richards, left Time 30th, and last of the 11th Mo 1793. Seventh Day of the Week which is the Sabath (sic), at Eve 7n on the clock She Expired! And left Her weeping friends to mourn for themselves! Seventeen weeks She patiently endur’d one fever after another, till at last — These scenes of grief and Sorrows inexprest; Did waft her soul to everlasting Rest! 4th of the 12th Mo. The Friend attended Her Funeral, and Preach’d a very great Sermon. The exhortatoin began thus, It is better to go to the house of mourning than to the house of feasting, for that is the end of all men, and the living will lay it to heart; And the Text was, The Righteous perisheth, and no may layeth it to heart; and merciful men are taken away, none considering that the Righteous is taken away from the evil to come; They shall enter into peace, They shall rest in their beds, each one walking in his uprightness. She was aged 36.
Armenia Potter 15th of the 2d Mo of 1794. The Friend was with her in her last moments, and had Satisfaction in her death; 18th, the Friend attended Her Funeral, held Meeting at Holmes’s, Text was in Micha VII. 18. Who is a God like unto Thee, that pardoneth iniquity, and passeth by the transgressions of the remnant of his heritage; For He retaineth not His Anger forever because He delighted in Mercy. She was aged 2[?]

If you liked "F is For Friend Who Did Not Have Gender", you'll probably like: 

If you want to learn more about the Friend, check out our full list of sources and further reading below!

Online Articles:

Books and Print Articles:

  • Saints, Sinners and Reformers: The Burned-Over District Re-Visited by John H. Martin: Chapter 5 Jemima Wilkinson Celibacy and the Communal Life The Re-Incarnation of the Divine in Female Form, 1758-1819
  • Pioneer Prophetess: Jemima Wilkinson, the Publick Universal Friend by Herbert A. Wisbey, Jr. (misgenders the Friend)
  • The Public Universal Friend by Paul B. Moyer
  • History of Jemima Wilkinson by David Hudson (the smear campaign “biography,” misgenders the Friend)
  • Women Who Were Called by Joel Whitney Tibbetts (misgenders the friend)
  • “‘Indescribable Being’: Theological Performances of Genderlessness in the Society of the Publick Universal Friend” by Scott Larson, Early American Studies Vol. 12 no 3 (2014).
  • “Demogogues or Mystagogues? Gender and the Language of Prophecy in the Age of Democratic Revolutions” by Susan Juster, American Historical Review 104, no. 5 (1999).
  • “The Political Threat of a Female Christ: Ann Lee, Morality, and Religious Freedom in the United States” by Adam Jortner, Early American Studies vol 7, no 1 (2009).

Until next time, stay queer and stay curious!