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Wilkinson, Jemima.

Journal and Letter.


The Public Universal Friend
[Wilkinson, Jemima]. Pritchard, Ruth. Manuscript diary of a journey into the wilderness with the Public Universal Friend. Unpublished, 1790.
16 pages; disbound; worn with some loss to margins.
Together with:
Autograph letter signed, "The Public Universal Friend," to "friends in Pensylvaina" [sic], December 5, 1785; 1 leaf, 2 pp.; tear along one crease; edgewear.
Together with
23 Autograph letters signed, Ruth Pritchard (Spencer); Justus P. Spencer; Betsy Spencer; Ruth Spencer (Shepherd); Almira S. Shepherd (Danforth); N.C. Spencer; Augustus Danforth; July 20th, 1785 - April 6th, 1855; worn with occasional loss.
Together with
Manuscript poems and prayers; ca. 75 pp.; worn with occasional loss; with tintype portrait of Ruth Spencer Shepherd.    
Together with
Hudson, David. History of Jemima Wilkinson, a Preacheress of the Eighteenth Century. Geneva, Ontario County, NY: printed by S.P. Hull, 1821.
8vo.; printed boards; spine perished; soiling; edgewear; loss to leaves in appendix.
First edition.
Provenance: Paul S. Barnes, great-great-grandson of Ruth Pritchard Spencer
A remarkable archive of journals, letters, and manuscripts pertaining to the life and legacy of Jemima Wilkinson, the first American-born woman to found a religious movement; as generated and maintained by a close female companion and follower, Ruth Pritchard [Spencer], and Pritchard's daughter and extended family.
In 1776, upon recovering from a serious illness, Jemima Wilkinson announced that she had in fact died, that an entity called the Public Universal Friend now occupied her body, and that she would devote the rest of her life to doing God's work. Over the next decade she won a sizeable following preaching throughout southern New England and into Pennsylvania. In 1788, at Wilkinson's behest, her followers established what became known as the Friends Settlement on the west side of Seneca Lake in New York. As the first permanent white settlement in western New York, it was crucial in opening that region to settlers that followed.
The Friend, as she was known to her adherents, joined the settlement two years later, reaching the outpost after an arduous mid-winter journey through the backwoods of Pennsylvania. The sole surviving first-hand account of that journey is the diary of Ruth Pritchard included in this archive. Pritchard, a school teacher in Wallingford, Connecticut when the Universal Friend passed through, describes her conversion experience in a 1786 letter also contained in this archive:
I with some more went on the First Day (hearing the Friend was to preach at such a house) about 7 miles to hear. And blessed be the day I went. O! ... I do testify unto thee, my dear friend, it was the voice that spake as never man spake. It is that which if obey'd will bring light, life & love unto the soul, that peace that the world can neither give nor take away.
Pritchard left her life behind to join the Universal Friend's retinue, and for a period served as her secretary and amanuensis. Pritchard was among a small group of the Friend's followers who, on February 18, 1790, set out from Worcester, PA to travel to the settlement in New York, to be joined en-route by the Friend herself on her inaugural trip to the colony. Winter weather, sickness, tedium, tired horses, and the threat of wolves were among the many obstacles the travelers faced. An entry in Pritchard's diary from the 23rd details some of these difficulties: "Snow this day, under the load of Snow, the lofty Pines do bend! - from thence 6 miles in the rain; through the Swamp; all on foot some of the time; a very bad road...Barnabas had like to been killed by one of the horses throwing him over its head..."
On March 18th, the group was joined in Wyoming, PA by the Universal Friend and a few other companions; the journey continued, with the Universal Friend preaching at all stops along the way. On March 21, Pritchard records: "The Universal Friend held Meeting at the innkeepers in this place, a great Meeting...the people strongly, tenderly, and pathetically urged to repentance & amendment of life." Pritchard's reverence for the Friend is scarcely disguised in an entry from March 30: "no Shelter 'till the dear Friend Came out of the boat, & erected for us a Tent, very comfortable, How could anyone think it tedious, to lay out when Such a hand spread the Tent!"
The group reached its final destination on April 13: "The Friend, Sarah & all of us set off in a boat for the Friends Settlement, reached this shoar before sun set, 20 miles. The Friend had a prayer by the shoar." Thus began the next chapter in Wilkinson's unlikely saga, though it proved to be a short one. In 1794, following land title disputes within the group, the Universal Friend, Pritchard, and several other followers relocated a few miles west to the town of Jerusalem.
Also of special significance in the archive is a letter headed "The Public Universal Friend to friends in Pennsylvania sendith Greeting." Dated December 5, 1785, it is a missive from the Friend reminding her followers of their spiritual principles and priorities, that, for example, "it is not sufficient only to feed your body on bread and water ...but you must pray to the father of Mercys [sic]."  Though signed "The Public Universal Friend," the letter is most likely in the hand of an amanuensis- almost certainly Pritchard, who is known to have fulfilled that role for a time.
The remainder of the archive consists of letters, poems, prayers, and documents written by and related to Ruth Pritchard and her family. Preceding the sixteen pages which comprise the journal, Pritchard copied out two letters, one to an old acquaintance and one to her parents, which she wrote with an eye towards converting them. There are also several affectionate letters from her husband, Justus Spencer, to their daughter Ruth, and from Ruth to her sister and to her half-brother. Among the many devout poems and prayers in the archive is one long poem titled "Sarah Friend," an homage mostly likely to Sarah Richards, the Universal Friend's closest companion. Also present are several poems copied out and signed by Almira (Danforth), Pritchard's other daughter, as well as a few items composed by Almira's son, Augustus Danforth.   
In the course of writing what remains the only full biography of Wilkinson, Herbert Wiseby consulted this archive, then in the possession of Ruth Pritchard's great-great-grandson Paul S. Barnes. In his article on Wilkinson for N.A.W., Wiseby explains that Hudson's 1821 biography- also included in this archive- "was inspired by malice and self-interest and inaccurate as to fact." Nevertheless, it remains an interesting exemplar, and a main source, of the many popular legends that arose around this unusual woman.   
N.A.W. III, 609-610.
History and Directory of Yates Co, vol. 1, by Stafford C. Cleveland, pp 260-261.

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