Women of Righteous Discontent

Who established the first largely black Shaker family in Philadelphia?

Rebecca Cox Jackson (1795–1871) established the first largely black Shaker family in Philadelphia. Its existence in Philadelphia can be traced back to at least 1908. A religious visionary, Jackson became an itinerant preacher and spiritual autobiographer. She was free-born and lived in Philadelphia early on. When she was thirty-nine years old, she challenged the African Methodist Church that had nourished her until then. Jackson joined praying bands influenced by the Holiness movement within the Methodist church. Throughout the late 1830s and early 1840s she traveled in Pennsylvania, northern Delaware, New Jersey, southern New England, and New York, recounting her own experiences while also urging people to live free and celibate. In June 1847 Jackson and her friend and disciple, Rebecca Perot, joined the Shaker society; they lived in the Watervliet community, located near Albany, until June 1851 when they returned to Philadelphia. Jackson returned to Watervliet from 1858 to 1959 and negotiated with the Shakers about her right to establish a separate mission in Philadelphia. Jackson was known in the Shaker community as a very unusual speaker and one who gave impressive performances. Her spiritual writing survived; it traces her inner life and gives examples of her visionary dreams and various accounts of Shakerism.


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