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  • Jemima Wilkinson, the Public Universal Friend

    Marian S. Henry

    Published Date : December 20, 2001

    Jemima Wilkinson is one of those colorful but little-known historical figures whose discovery delights genealogists. She was the first in a succession of religious leaders associated with "fringe" sects in upper New York State, which included Mormon Church founder Joseph Smith, pioneers of Spiritualism Margaretta and Kate Fox, and other movements of lesser note such as the New Light Baptists. Wilkinson is also recognized as the first American-born woman to organize a religious group.

    A modern biography of Jemima Wilkinson was written by Herbert Wisbey, 1who cautions his readers about an earlier effort 2by saying, "The only book devoted exclusively to Jemima Wilkinson was a small biography first published in 1821, and reprinted in 1844, which unfortunately contains some completely fictitious episodes and is largely inaccurate as to fact and misleading in interpretation." Lockwood Doty wrote in History of the Genesee Country3that Stafford Cleveland's History of Yates County4"contains the most reliable and fair-minded account of Jemima Wilkinson, gathered at the scene of her ministry in the Genesee Country, and much of it derived from those yet living who had been associated with her".

    Jemima Wilkinson was born in 1758 in Cumberland, Providence County, Rhode Island. She was the eighth of twelve children born to Jeremiah and Amy (Whipple) Wilkinson. Her father was a farmer of modest means and her mother was a Quaker who died when Jemima was eight. About 1774, she encountered religious zealots called Separatists who "rejected church organization and insisted upon constant and direct guidance from Heaven." 5She began regularly attending their meetings and experienced a sudden change of personality as she became more involved with the group's beliefs. Wilkinson went from being a normal, happy teenager to a sullen, introspective loner who took to locking herself in her room. In 1776, at the age of 18, she underwent a religious conversion described in Lewis Aldrich's History of Yates County, N.Y.6as follows:

    In the summer of 1776, then being eighteen years old, she fell sick…she wasted in bodily strength…Jemima constantly told them of her strange visions…in October she appeared to fall into a trance state and appeared almost lifeless for a space of about thirty-six hours…To the great surprise of her family she suddenly aroused herself, called for her garments, dressed, and walked among the assembled members of the household…she disclaimed being Jemima Wilkinson, but asserted that the former individuality had passed away and that she was another being, a minister of the Almighty sent to preach his gospel and to minister to the spiritual necessities of mankind. She took to herself the name of the Public Universal Friend.

    Known hereafter as the "Universal Friend" or "the Friend," she began to preach in her native Rhode Island, but soon spread her message across Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania. She developed a following known as the Society of Friends that established a settlement in 1788 on the west shore of Seneca Lake in the current town of Torrey. Wilkinson and her followers constituted the first actual settlers in the Genesee Country of central New York State at the end of the eighteenth century. In this article we first present an overview of the society's history and its settlements, followed by a detailed look at some of their pioneer families. Click on any name to find out more details about that person and their family.

    Pioneer Settlement at Kashong

    As the number of the Friend's various followers grew, they became determined to consolidate their scattered congregations and establish a community of their own. In 1786, Ezekiel Shearman was sent into the Genesee Country 7to find a suitable location for a permanent settlement. Due to unsettled relations with the local Indian tribes, his report was unfavorable. By the next year, Indian relations in the area had stabilized somewhat and Thomas Hathaway , Richard Smith , and Abraham Dayton formed a committee to search for a suitable site. They first explored areas of Pennsylvania, particularly in the Wyoming Valley, but soon set their sights on New York. After visiting Kanandesaga (now Geneva) at the northwest corner of Seneca Lake, they came down the west side of the lake to Kashong (now Torrey, Yates County), where waterfalls provided several sites for grist mills and sawmills. This time their report was favorable and the earliest settlers moved there in 1788, before they even had title to the land. James Parker , William Potter , and Thomas Hathaway attended a land sale in Albany and obtained a certificate of title dated 10 Oct 1792, for 14,040 acres to be used by the men and their associates as tenants in common. The first settlement of the society included pioneers Abel Botsford , Peleg Briggs , John Briggs , Isaac Nichols , George Sisson , Ezekiel Shearman , and Stephen Card . By the spring of 1790, the original settlement of 25 members grew to 260 (taken from census), and the Friend, accompanied by her closest companion Sarah Richards, moved into her permanent home. Elijah Malin built the dwelling and Anna Wagener primarily funded the project.

    Preemption line moved

    The land purchased at Kashong was originally thought to be to the east of the neighboring Phelps-Gorham tract (the history of the Phelps-Gorham purchase is told in a previous article on this website). However, when Robert Morris of Phelps and Gorham acquired the land about 1792-93, a new survey of its eastern boundary (the so-called preemption line) moved the line more than a mile eastward, causing it to pass through the society's settlement. Those 23 members who had farms west of the new preemption line thus found that their state grant was void. The members affected, many of them of the original families, were: Benajah Botsford , Eleazer Ingraham , Solomon Ingraham , Richard Smith , Abel Botsford , Enoch Malin , William Davis , John Briggs , Elnathan Botsford , Daniel Ingraham , Richard Mathews, Elnathan Botsford, Jr., Asahel Stone, Samuel Doolittle, John Davis , Benedict Robinson , Philo Ingraham , Samuel Parsons, Jonathan Davis , Elijah Malin , Thomas Hathaway , Mercy Aldrich (sister of the Friend, who married William Aldrich), and Elisha Ingraham . 8

    Dissension and the move to Jerusalem

    Sometime after 1792, for reasons that are unclear, both James Parker and William Potter became dissatisfied with the workings of the society and withdrew from its membership, which marked the decline of the Friend and her followers. Both Parker and Potter were directly involved in the internal hostilities that had begun to rage against the Friend and her society, which led to the Friend's change of residence from the Seneca Lake region to Jerusalem. On September 2, 1790, Thomas Hathaway and Benedict Robinson purchased a 36 square mile parcel at Jerusalem and many of the society's members relocated to this remote area. Much of the land was subsequently conveyed to Sarah Richards, in trust to the Friend (who did not own property in her own name). In the spring of 1794, after a residence of four years in the original settlement, the Friend removed to her new abode.

    Decline of the society

    In the autumn of 1799, on the complaint of William Potter, magistrate and former society member James Parker issued a warrant against the Friend for blasphemy. The Friend successfully eluded three attempts at arrest, but the following June, she was brought before a Grand Jury at the Circuit Court in Canandaigua. The Grand Jury listened to all the evidence and unanimously agreed that there was nothing on which to base an indictment. Communal ownership of the land also became a source of instability for the society, and led to litigation. William Potter sued George Sisson over a portion of the original tract and "claimed the sole title, by a deed from Parker and Hathaway to himself, their common title resting on a deed from the State." 9Determination in June of 1800 was in favor of the plaintiff. Interestingly, the court offered the opinion that the Friend's cause might find relief in equity. However, following the court's suggestion proved disastrous to the society. Society Trustees Richard Smith , John Briggs , and George Sisson advanced a note of $1500 as a retaining fee to lawyer William Stewart, which he then sold without providing services. Full payment of the note was demanded, and since the note was given to the lawyer without the society's permission, the three men were held solely accountable. Sisson and Briggs, both poor, were forced to sell all of their property and personal possessions and Sisson was jailed in Canandaigua for debt.

    Sarah Richards, head of the Friend's household, died in 1793. Her heir was Rachel Malin. Enoch and Eliza (Richards) Malin claimed that Eliza, as Sarah's daughter, was entitled to at least some of her mother's land and they proceeded to sell off portions of it. In 1811, Rachel Malin brought suit against them, but by the time the case was finally decided in 1828, both the Malins and the Friend were dead.

    The Friend died in 1819 and the society, fearing that physicians were conspiring to take her body and dissect it, deposited it in a vault in the basement of the house she had occupied since 1814 in Jerusalem. The body was later removed to a private graveyard for her followers. The entire graveyard was later disinterred and all remains were removed for burial at Penn Yan. The Friend's will names Rachel and Margaret Malin as both heirs and executors.

    Margaret Malin died in 1844, willing her interest in the estate to James Brown, Jr., with the wish that he replace her in the society and in the late Friend's household. Rachel Malin died in 1848, leaving her property to the descendants of her brothers and sisters. From this time the society may be considered extinct.

    Society of Friends Biographical Information

    James Parker10was one of the Friend's earliest converts and perhaps the most influential, due to his wealth, strong character, and position as a magistrate in Rhode Island. He was born in South Kingston, Rhode Island about 1743, the seventh child of George and Catharine (Cole) Parker of London. Although a Quaker, he served as a Captain in the Rhode Island military during the Revolutionary War. 11Parker was also the first Justice of the Peace in what is now Yates County.

    His first wife was Elizabeth Shearman. Their seven children were:


    d. young


    mar. Griffin B.Hazard 


    mar. Thomas Prentiss


    mar. his cousin, Hannah Shearman


    mar. Otis Barden


    mar. Levi Benton, Jr.


    mar. James Whitney of Hopewell

    Parker's first wife died before he came to New York in 1789 with their seven children. His second wife was Esther Whitney, daughter of Jonas Whitney. His third wife was Miriam, widow of Jonathan Hazard and sister of Reuben Gage. Parker died in 1829 at nearly 86 years of age and was interred in the family burial ground of his son-in-law Otis Barden in the present town of Benton.

    William Potter12was born 21 Jan 1722 in South Kingston, Rhode Island, the son of Col. John Potter (b. 20 May 1695, d. 1739; mar. Mercy, daughter of Rowland and Mary Robinson, 28 Oct 1714) In 1750, at the age of 28, William Potter married Penelope Hazard, (b. 11 Feb. 1730-1, daughter of Thomas and Alice [Hull] Hazard; Alice Hull was daughter of Teddiman and Sarah [Sands] Hull). Children of William and Penelope were:


    b. 26 Nov 1751, d. 1794; mar. 1769 Joshua Perry, son of Jonathan Perry, Sr. in Rhode Island where he d. leaving three children, Jonathan, Susanna, and Anna.

    Thomas Hazard

    b. 8 Dec 1753, d. 11 Sept 1807; mar. Patience Wilkinson (d. 1819), sister of the Friend. Their children were Susan, Eliza, and John.


    b. 20 April 1756, d. 1818; mar Capt. Arnold Hazard, son of Gov. George Hazard


    b. 25 April 1758, d. in Rhode Island, unmarried

    William Robinson

    b. 13 July 1760, d. young

    Benedict Arnold

    b. 12 Sept 1761, mar. Sarah Brown (dau Benjamin Brown, Sr.). He dropped the name "Benedict" after the Revolutionary War. He d. 1810, on a trip to Harrisburg, PA, and was buried there. Their children were William, Arnold, and Penelope.


    b. 7 Mar 1764, d. 1813; mar. 1784 Benjamin Brown, Jr.

    William Pitt

    b. 10 April 1766, d. 6 Nov 1800; mar. 1793 Mary Hazard


    b. 15 Feb 1768, d. 12 Aug 1849; mar. Eliza Johnson. who d. at age 75. Children: William, Susan, William Pitt, Samuel J., Penelope, and Francis M.


    b. 25 April 1770, d. 1 Feb 1817; mar. Catharine Klice at Hopeton. Children: Lucinda, Penelope, Mary and Sarah Ann


    b. 13 Dec 1771, d. 1830; mar. 1805 George Brown


    b. 24 May 1774, d. 1815; mar. Catherine Garrison


    b. 7 Dec 1776

    William Potter was a senator in the Colonial Legislature, treasurer of the State of Rhode Island, and was elected Chief Justice of the Court of Common Pleas in Washington County in 1775. He resigned the latter office in 1780 and joined the Friend's society. Judge Potter was by far the wealthiest adherent of the Friend, and the society's tract of 14,040 acres on Seneca Lake reverted largely to him upon the division of the original compact. After leaving the society, Potter returned to Rhode Island, sold his estate there in 1807, and resided with his son Benedict Arnold, whom he survived. He died suddenly at the age of 92 while returning from Jerusalem after a visit with his son-in-law George Brown.

    Ezekiel Shearman: Also from Rhode Island, Ezekiel Shearman was the brother of James Parker's first wife Elizabeth. Born about 1764, 13he married in 1790 Mary Supplee Bartlson, sister of John Supplee of Pennsylvania, and widow of John Bartlson. 14Mary died in 1843 at the age of 83. The children of Ezekiel and Mary (Supplee)(Bartlson) Shearman were:


    b. 1792, married Susan, daughter of Thomas Prentiss


    died young


    b. 1797, married, at the age of 48, Hannah Potter

    David Wagenerof Worcester, Pennsylvania, joined the society with his sisters Susanna and Anna in 1782 after the Friend came there to preach. Susanna married first Peter Supplee, and second ___ Clanford.

    Thomas Hathawaywas a native of New Bedford, Massachusetts. His wife died shortly after the Revolutionary War and he joined the society in 1784. Hathaway began to build a sawmill in 1796, but he died of a fever in 1798 before it could be completed. Thomas Hathaway and his wife had four children: Thomas, Mary, Elizabeth, and Gilbert.

    In 1793, Thomas Hathaway Jr. married Mary Botsford, daughter of Elnathan Botsford. He died in 1850, aged 84 years. His wife died in 1866 at the age of 96. Their seven children were:


    mar. Oliver Hartwell


    mar. Louisa McMath


    mar. Henry A. Wisner

    Thomas (twin)

    mar. Mary daughter of Samuel Headly

    Gilbert (twin)

    mar. Mary, daughter of Gen. Timothy Hurd


    mar. her cousin Capt. Wm. Hathaway, Jr. of New Bedford


    mar. John Tims Raplee

    Gilbert, son of Thomas Hathaway, Sr., married Mary, daughter of Richard Hurd, of Rock Stream, N.Y. Their children were: Gilbert Jr., Deborah, Bradford G.H., Richard H., Maria, and Charles. He lived to be 87 years old.

    Richard Smithwas a native of Groton, Connecticut. He married Elizabeth Allen and had five children:


    d. in Connecticut

    David (twin)

    b. 1778, died 1805 of yellow fever

    Jonathan (twin)

    b. 1778

    Avery b. ca. 1780

    mar. Lament , dau. of David Wagener



    Smith left his family to emigrate to the new settlement and there built a gristmill in July 1790. His family joined him about ten years later. Richard Smith died in 1836 at 90 years of age. His wife Elizabeth died two years later at the age of 84.

    Abraham Daytonis listed in the 1790 census as living in Jerusalem, Ontario (now Yates) Co., N.Y. Around this time, the Friend began to consider a more remote site for the society. Dayton was sent to Canada to negotiate with Governor J. Graves Simcoe and succeeded in securing a grant of land in the township of Beauford, Canada. However, the governor annulled the charter on the grounds that it was made under the mistaken impression that the members of the society were Quakers, for whom he had great respect. The grant, however, was renewed to Dayton in his own name. He moved his family and property to the township and lived there during the remainder of his life. Abraham Dayton and his wife Abigail had two daughters, Dinah and Anice. It is suggested 15that he may be the son of Henry and Abigail (Norton) Daton of Bookhaven, N.Y., who was said to have left Long Island for Connecticut in 1770.

    Abel Botsford(wife Mary) came from New Milford, Connecticut with his brothers Elnathan (wife Lucy) and Jonathan (wife Elizabeth). He died in 1817. Mary Botsford, daughter of Abel and Mary Botsford, married Robert Buckley.

    Children of Elnathan and Lucy Botsford:


    mar. Thomas Hathaway, Jr.


    mar. Deborah Wilkinson, youngest sister of the Friend 16


    b. 1766, d. 1845, mar., after 1776, Achilles (b. 1757 in CT., son of Daniel Comstock, d. 1832)


    mar. Stephen Wilkinson, a brother of the Friend


    mar. 1st Daniel Comstock, brother of Achilles, 2nd Rufus Gale

    Jonathan Botsford Jr.'s children were:


    mar. Abel Hunt


    mar. Jacob Nichols


    mar. John Supplee


    mar. John Fitzwater


    d. young


    mar. Margaret Scott

    Peleg Briggs(b. 1729, d. 1807) came from North Kingston, Rhode Island. He married Margaret Vaughn (d. 1800). Children of Peleg and Margaret Briggs:


    b. 1756, d. 1826, mar. George Bates from North Kingston, R.I. (b. 1754, d. 1827). Children: Mercy, George, Peleg, David, Mary, Lucy, Anna




    b. 1763, d 1850, mar. 1st Isabel Albro (10 children), and 2nd Olive Bell (2 children)

    Peleg Jr.

    b. North Kingston, R.I. 1765, d. 1837, mar. Elizabeth Chambers in R.I. (b. 1765, d. 1834). Children: James C., Peleg, Ester, Robert V., Stephen R., Hamilton J.



    John Briggs, cousin of Peleg Briggs, mar. Elizabeth Bailey of Rhode Island.

    Children of John and Elizabeth Briggs:


    mar. Ardery Place in Rhode Island, d. age 70, about 1825


    b. East Greenwich, Rhode Island, in 1776, d. 1857, mar Anna, dau. John Chambers (b. 1779, d. 1869)


    mar Peleg Gifford from Cape Cod



    Isaac Nicholswas born near Newport, Rhode Island, in 1748, and died 1829. He married Anna Boon, also of Rhode Island (b. 1754, d. 1838). Their children were:


    mar. Hannah Green


    mar Polly, dau John Chambers.


    unmarried, d. at about 80 years


    mar Abigail, dau Jonathan Botsford

    George Sissonmarried Bethany Luther. Their son Jonathan married Catharine Vosbinder and they had children: William, George, Joshua, David, Harrison, and Bethany. Both Jonathan and Catharine died in 1857; he was 73, she was 70.

    Stephen Cardwas born 1761 at Little Rest, Rhode Island and died in 1836. He and his brother-in-law John Reynolds arrived in 1788 to clear land and soon became the first residents to sow wheat in Western New York. They returned to their eastern homes during that winter. Card married Hannah Reynolds, (b. 1758, d. 1851), a devoted adherent of the Friend, and they had two children, John (mar. Jane Brown) and Sarah (mar. George W. Hazard).

    Jonathan Daviswas born about 1777 and died 1870. He was originally a Quaker. In 1801, he married Rachel Updegraff (b. 1777, d. 1858) in Philadelphia. Their children were Mary, Isaiah, Leah, Lydia. Anna, a sister of Jonathan, was the wife of Jared Cohoon, son of Nathaniel Cohoon.

     John Davis mar. Leah ___.  His sister Tamar mar. ___ Stone. 

    William Davis mar. Anna ____.

    Elisha Ingrahamand Eleazer Ingraham (wife Lydia) were brothers who came to the settlement with their cousin Nathaniel (wife Experience). Elisha's children were Jerusha, Asa, and Lament.

    Children of Eleazer and Lydia Ingraham were Daniel, Philo, Eleazer, Jr., John (wife Anna), Abigail, Lydia, Rachel (unmarried, d. 1873, was "one of the two last survivors of the Friend's colony" 17), Lament, Patience (mar. Asa Brown), and Menty (mar. Samuel Davis).

    Nathaniel and Experience Ingraham had a daughter Mary (unmarried) and a son Solomon. They were associated with the Friend in Philadelphia. Solomon turned against the society in 1814 and "was about to join Daniel Bracket, an eccentric religious zealot, when he was accidentally buried in a well he was digging and lost his life." 18

    Elijah Malinwas a carpenter from Philadelphia who built the Friend's house in the first settlement. He married Deborah, widow of Benajah Botsford and youngest sister of the Friend. Enoch Malin, who married Eliza, the only daughter of Sarah Richards 19, was also a carpenter. He died in Canada. Sisters Rachel (d. 1848) and Margaret Malin (d. 1844) lived in the Friend's household and were named as her heirs and executors

    Benedict Robinson, born Jamestown, Rhode Island, 10 Feb 1758, was the posthumous and only child of Robert and Phebe (Carr) Robinson. Robinson was a surveyor who married his housekeeper, Susannah Brown (b. 3 Sept 1760 at Stonington, CT., d. 10 June 1837) on 1 Sept 1792. Their children were:


    b. 1793, d. unmarried, 1864

    Daniel Arnold

    b. 1795, d. 1871

    James Carr

    b. 1797, d. 1856, mar. 1819 Susan Stewart


    b. 1802, mar. 1824 Dr. John Hatmaker

    Benedict Robinson died 18 Feb 1832.



    1. Pioneer Prophetess Jemima Wilkinson, the Publick Universal Friend, Herbert A. Wisbey, Cornell University Press, Ithaca, N.Y., 1964.
    2. History of Jemima Wilkinson, a Preacheress of the Eighteenth Century; containing an authentic narrative of her Life and Character, and of the Rise, Progress and Conclusion of her Ministry, David Hudson, Geneva, N.Y., 1821.
    3. History of the Genesee Country, Volume I, edited by Lockwood R. Doty, Chicago, 1925.
    4. History and Directory of Yates County, Stafford C. Cleveland, Penn Yan, N.Y., 1873.
    5. Cleveland, op. cit., p. 89.
    6. History of Yates County, N.Y., edited by Lewis Cass Aldrich, Syracuse, N.Y., 1892, p. 78.
    7. [previous article about Phelps-Gorham purchase]
    8. Robert Morris sold the land to a group of London businessmen whose agent was Charles Williamson, "a man of remarkable fairness and liberality in his dealings with all the settlers" (Cleveland, op. cit. p. 56.). These 23 members wrote a letter to him dated "13th of the 1st month, 1794" and he confirmed their titles.
    9. Cleveland, op. cit., p. 58.
    10. Parker in America 1630-1910, Augustus G. Parker, Buffalo, N.Y., N.D., pp. 46-7.
    11. Interestingly, his younger brother, Sir Peter Parker, an Admiral in the British Navy, commanded the fleet which attacked Charleston without success early in the Revolutionary War.
    12. William Potter's paternal grandmother was Martha Hazard and he was distantly related to his bride. For more on the Hazard and Potter families see The Hazard Family of Rhode Island 1635-1894, Caroline E. Robinson, Boston, 1845.
    13. In his History and Directory of Yates County, Cleveland states that Ezekiel Shearman d. in 1824 at the age of sixty, but that he was twenty-six in 1786, when he made his survey of the Genesee country.
    14. John Bartlson and their two children are buried in Pennsylvania.
    15. The Early Daytons and Descendants of Henry, Jr., Donald Lines Jacobus and Arthur Bliss Dayton, New Haven, CT., 1959, p. 35.
    16. Benajah Botsford d. in 1801 by falling from a load of hay; his widow then mar. Elijah Malin.
    17. History of Jerusalem, Miles A. Davis, Penn Yan, N.Y., 1912, p.22.
    18. Cleveland, op. cit., p. 85.
    19. Eliza Richards' care was entrusted to the Friend on the death of her mother, Sarah Richards, the head of the Friend's household. Apparently Eliza did not share the Friend's regard for celibacy; she eloped one night to marry Enoch Malin.

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