Recollections of Jemima Wilkinson,
"The friend," an of Some Members of Her Society,
As Related in 1890 by Mrs. Huldah Barnes Davis
with an explanation by
The earliest recollection I have of Jemima Wilkinson or as my parents, who were of Her Society, called her, The Friend, is at the time she was living in the valley east of the road that runs from Larzalere's Hollow to Yatesville. The house in which she then lived was her first residence within the present limits of the town of Jerusalem. It stood on the south side of the highway that crosses the valley and a short distance west of where Leonard Stever now lives. When first erected it was a log house, but additions had been made from time to time until its appearance, as I first remember was frame and log house together. A few rods south of the house was a fine spring of water, and on the east side was The Friend's garden. This, like everything else about her premises, was always kept in excellent order. Some years after her decease, this dwelling, the first one she occupied in Jerusalem was burned down.
The Friend was in appearance tall and imposing with regular features, bright black eyes, and black hair which was combed back from her forehead, and worn in long ringlets about her shoulders. Her outside dress consisted on all occasions, of a robe of some fine texture with wide sleeves. About her neck she wore a silk cloth, arranged in plaits on her breast in front. On her head a beaver hat was generally worn, after the manner of the Quakers.
The Friend, when living in the valley, was a woman of an active disposition, and would not hesitate, if occasion required, to take hold of one end of a cross-cut saw and help work up a log into firewood. She would also assist in plucking live geese, pick berries, hoe and weed her garden, and perform other work about her premises. The different members of her Society, who were much devoted to her, would, however, claim the honor of doing the regular farm work, which was always done under her direction. She would often ride on horseback through the fields and along the roads, sometimes for many miles each day. But during the latter years of her life she rode about in her carriage, the one now owned by William T. Remer of Benton.
She was very fond of children, and the little girls especially, she would condescend to caress, and would at times hold one or more children on her lap. I, myself, remember sitting more than once on the lap of The Friend. She would also ask them questions about their conduct, etc. and while calling at the homes of her followers would often instruct the smaller children on their A, B, C's.
The meetings of the Society were generally held on Saturday forenoons, and in a room in her residence which was fitted up for the purpose. In this room were several benches arranged in rows, and on these benches the members of the Society would, when they came to meeting, seat themselves, all with their hats on. The Friend would enter and take her place at one end of the room, remove her hat, and hand it to Rachel Malin, who, during the service always sat at her right hand, and Margaret Malin at her left. She would usually commence the meeting with a prayer and proceed with a regular discourse to which her followers present would listen with close attention. When her sermon was concluded, different members of her Society would often rise and speak. The meetings were always dismissed with a general handshaking. She would first shake hands with Rachel Malin, and then all present would shake hands one with another and with "The Friend" especially. There would also be a meeting in the evening, but this would usually be a "silent meeting," that is, the Society when assembled would sit in silence, and silent prayer and meditation would constitute the entire service.
The parents of Jemima Wilkinson were Quakers and lived in Rhode Island. There she was born in 1758. Her remarkable trance was in 1776, and her ministry extended from that time until her decease in 1819, a period of forty-three years. Her sisters, Mercy, Deborah, and Patience and her brother Stephen were among the members of her Society. During her long ministry, she became, of course, greatly noted, and her fame as an extraordinary character attracted many visitors, some being persons of prominence, who came from various sections of the country. About every week, would be entertained at The Friend's house guests from such places as Canandaigua, or Geneva and even from Albany and Philadelphia.
Dissensions began to arise in The Friend's Society before the commencement of the present century. At this early period, some of the most influential of her followers such as James Parker and others ceased to be members of the community. Claims and counter claims, at different times to various portions of her estate, caused bitter feuds and clouded the latter years of The Friend with a long litigation. Absurd and scandalous stories, derogatory to the Friend in every way, were circulated by envious and spiteful parties. Many of these tales, ridiculous as well as untruthful, are considered even at the present day as actual facts. A principal one among her detractors was a lawyer named Hudson, who lived in Geneva and who wrote a book purporting to be a "History of Jemima Wilkinson." This book was printed in Geneva in 1822 and reprinted in Bath in 1844. In Cleveland's History of Yates County, Hudson's book is very properly referred to as "too evidently the work of embittered malice and uncharitable bigotry to be anywise fair or truthful in its statements."
The final residence of the Friend which is now occupied by Thomas J. White, and which stands on the hill above the valley, was begun as long ago as 1809, and was completed about five years after its commencement. The architect and builder of the house was Thomas Clark who came from Philadelphia and whose wife was a sister of Rachel and Margaret Malin. The work of erecting the house although done slowly, was evidently done well, as it now stands as substantial a dwelling as ever. While the work of building the house was going on I would often go up there and like any other little girl would run about through the house and premises. I recollect one circumstance in connection with the building of the house. One of the carpenters employed lost a pair of compasses and for sometime searched for them in vain. One of The Friend's followers, whose name I think was Amos Guernsey, happened to come on the premises during the search and on being appealed to for aid, at once directed the owner to look under a pile of shavings in the cellar, and there sure enough, the compasses were found. It was said that Friend Guernsey had the gift of second sight, but of that of course I have no idea. The Friend moved into the dwelling as soon as it was ready for occupancy, and resided in this house until her decease which occurred five years after the building was completed.
The Universal Friend, after a lingering illness, died at her home in Jerusalem on the first day of July, 1819. On the following day which, was Saturday and a regular preaching day I was present at The Friend's house. A meeting was held as usual and to the best of my recollection, Mercy Aldrich, one of the Friend's sisters, preached on this occasion. After the meeting was over my Aunt Mary Ingraham asked me if I would like to see The Friend. Accompanied by my Aunt I went to The Friend's room which is upstairs and toward the front of the house. In the center of the room, The Friend was laid out on a board and wrapped in a winding sheet. I remember that my Aunt said, as she lifted the covering from the face of the corpse, "Huldah, The Friend has left us." The countenance of The Friend had a calm and pleasant expression.
The board, on which The Friend was laid out was made of cherry wood, and for the special purpose for which it was used. The news of The Friend's decease, having been circulated throughout this section of the country, a large number of persons collected about the house and premises on the Sunday following, as it was expected that a regular funeral would be held. Instead, however a service was performed, similar to the one held on the previous day. Among the people present were four members of the Society of Quakers: two men and two women. These had all come together in a carriage from some part of Cayuga County. I remember that after service in the house was concluded, one of the four, above mentioned, a Quakeress stood on the horse block in the yard and delivered a short discourse. Her remarks were singularly prophetic. The Friend's Society being compared by her to a ladder or rather to a flight of steps, and she stated that as the main prop was now gone, all the other props would fall out, one after the other, until the whole fabric would come to nothing. What she declared, did indeed, strangely, come to pass. The story that The Friend, while dying told her followers that she would rise again within a certain time and in expectation of such an event was kept for several days unburied, is incorrect in every particular. The fact is that on the fourth day after the decease of The Friend, her remains were deposited in an apartment in the cellar. This apartment, or vault, was doubtless prepared for the purpose for which it was used. It was surrounded by a stone wall of some thickness and had a door constructed of heavy planks, which were fastened with large spikes. After several years had elapsed, her remains were removed from this apartment, and, it is believed, finally interred in what is now known as The Friend's burying ground, and where Rachel and Margaret Malin were afterward buried.
The two Malin sisters, whom I have several times mentioned, came from Philadelphia. Margaret Malin was more robust in appearance than Rachel, who seemed to be of a delicate constitution. In manner they were very sociable, and were also very generous in disposition. They inherited The Friend's place according to a will made by The Friend about a year before her decease.
The meetings of the Society were, after The Friend died, kept up and regularly attended, for many years. Several different families were comprised in The Friend's Society. Her followers usually called themselves "Friends" but by outsiders they were generally designated, somewhat irreverently, as "Jemimakins." Rachel Malin died three years after the decease of her sister Margaret.
James Brown was a prominent member of The Friend's Society. He was born in Connecticut, and from 1810 was superintendent of The Friend's domain, becoming afterward the proprietor of a portion of the same. He was supervisor of the town of Jerusalem in 1838 and 1839 and was in every way a worthy and upright citizen. He was known familiarly among his friends and neighbors as "Uncle Jimmy Brown." He died at the age of eight-six, on the 30th day of July, 1863. A fine monument stands to his memory in the Lake View Cemetery at Penn Yan.
Three members of the original Society of Friends lived to within recent years. These were Experience Barnes who was my mother, Rachel Ingraham who was my mother's second cousin, and my uncle, Henry Barnes. The maiden name of my mother was Experience Ingraham. My father, whose name was Elizur Barnes moved from Connecticut into this section of the country in 1791. The marriage of my parents was in 1804. I was the eldest of four children and was born in 1807 in the town of Jerusalem. Rachel Ingraham was never married. She died in January and my mother in August, 1873, both at the age of ninety-one years.
Henry Barnes, the last survivor of The Friend's Society, was the youngest of my grandfather's children. When a lad he was often an attendant on The Friend herself and among other services, would frequently accompany The Friend in order to let down and put up bars as she rode about her premises. For The Friend, he always had a high regard and remained true to her teaching through life. He was by occupation a farmer and a cooper, and afterward a school teacher. He taught successfully a number of terms in various schools in the different towns in Yates County and in later years would be often seen at the Teacher's Institute where his aptness in expressing his opinion on educational matters, caused some of his acquaintances to confer on him the appellation of the "Old Man Eloquent." He died in Benton June 7, 1874, aged eighty-five years, respected by all who knew him.
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These reminiscences of Huldah Barnes Davis were recorded in 1890 when she was eighty-three years old, ten years before her death. They were copied into a notebook by Walter Wolcott, Penn Yan Village Historian in 1927, and again in 1952 by Jay D. Barnes, Yates County Historian from 1951 to 1956. I received a copy from Mr. Barnes while doing research for my book, Pioneer Prophetess Jemima Wilkinson, the Publick Universal Friend, published by Cornell University Press in 1964.
Mrs. Davis's account is an important primary source of detailed information about the life of Jemima Wilkinson and her followers in her Jerusalem. Mrs. Davis was a descendant of members of the Friends' Society and a life-long resident of Jerusalem township. She is described in a 1914 obituary of her son written by Jerusalem historian Miles A. Davis in his characteristic style. "Huldah Barnes Davis died August 8, 1900, aged 92 years and 9 months. A more unselfish, kind-hearted, respected and beloved woman never lived in this region. 'Aunt Huldah' was the one most sought for by people all about in illness and when the shadow of death crossed the threshold of a friend, neighbor or acquaintance. A more kindly, helpful, considerate and comforting being, in all afflictions, was not to be found in any community."
© 1992, Herbert A. Wisbey, Jr.