Public Universal Friend Exhibit in Penn Yan, New York

In 1776, after recovering from a serious fever, Jemima Wilkinson claimed to have died and been transformed into a spirit, neither male nor female, known as “The Public Universal Friend,” or more colloquially as “The Friend.”  Espousing beliefs drawn from their Quaker upbringing, The Friend and a group of followers moved from Rhode Island to western New York in the 1780’s, and eventually founded the town of Jerusalem.  At its apex, The Friend’s flock numbered close to 200 people, but internal disagreements over gender roles (women held many of the leadership positions) and land ownership fractured the movement irreversibly.

A small exhibit containing some of The Friend’s personal items and an overview of the religious group can be viewed at the Yates County History Center (YCHC) Underwood Museum.

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