In 1776, 23-year-old Jemima Wilkinson contracted a deadly disease, most likely typhus. Upon recovery, Wilkinson declared that she had died, and was now a new person. This new person identified as neither male nor female, and took the name “The Public Universal Friend.” Wilkinson was a Quaker, which is formally named the Society of Friends, so the name made some sense, however generic it was. The Friend began to preach and drew plenty of followers.
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For now, though, enthusiastic followers grew in number. Help the poor, said the Friend, and followers said, “Yeah, that sounds right.” Oppose slavery, said the Friend, and followers said, “Right on.” Stay celibate, said the Friend, and followers said, “Hold on, let’s not go crazy,” and most ignored this advice and married. An exception: 50 women stayed single and formed a group within the movement known as the Faithful Sisterhood. If that name make them sound like militants willing to respond with violence when necessary, good instincts. Keep that thought in mind.
The Quakers were not happy with the breakaway sect, and The Friend’s followers eventually formed a commune in the wilderness of New York. Read the story of The Public Universal Friend and their followers at Cracked.
(Image credit: David Hudson)