Geneva, New York: S.P. Hull, 1821. First edition. Original printed boards rebacked to style, overall with some rubbing and soiling. Endpapers renewed. Edges uncut. Bookplate of Edward G. Miner to front pastedown. Internally with the expected toning for the era, but overall pleasing, clean and unmarked. Measuring 180 x 110mm and collating x, 11-208, xx: complete including rear appendix. Scarce and important, it is the first full length biography of the gender non-conforming preacher known as Public Universal Friend. Of the 7 copies that have appeared at auction in the past 65 years, only three have been in the original boards and most with significant damage. Housed in a brown buckram slipcase.
"On 11 October 1776, family and friends were startled to discover that the person they had known as Jemima Wilkinson, a twenty-three year old Quaker woman from Rhode Island, had been, upon recovering from what looked like a fatal illness, reborn as the Public Universal Friend. A divine, genderless spirit had taken the body of 'an unremarkable person who lived in an unremarkable corner of early America'...The Public Universal Friend's embrace of male and female attributes would be a cause of wonderment -- and consternation -- for the next four decades" (Roberts). Beginning in the First Great Awakening, with followers keeping the movement alive for forty years and into the Second Great Awakening, the gospel Public Universal Friend preached was activist, abolitionist, and free from gender hierarchies. Socially involved, particularly in the Philadelphia area, the movement nevertheless also sought "sanctuary in the wilderness where they could live apart from the gendered conventions shaping early national America...west of Seneca Lake they established a community where women could be heads of households, limit their childbearing...and even remain single and celibate instead of becoming wives and mothers if they so chose" (Roberts). The resulting Faithful Sisterhood faced blowback from traditional churches and their white male leadership, who had no place in Public Universal Friend's social reorganization. And thus charges of blasphemy, accusations of lechery among the women, and questions of ownership of the land on Seneca Lake troubled the movement. The present work, which continually misgenders and dead names the Public Universal Friend is therefore important for capturing and preserving the lengths to which traditional church leaders went to undermine the Friend and their message. Written by a major detractor -- indeed, the lawyer hired to undermine the Friend's estate -- the biography provides us with a record of the methods Hudson and his ilk used to attack an individual, a community, and a movement centered outside the binaries so clung-to in traditional Christianity then and now. (Item #4254)