Biography and History

Joanna Southcott (1750-1814) was born in East Devon, England, the daughter of a poor farmer. She had little education except for a constant study of the Bible, and earned her living as a domestic servant. However, in 1792, during a time of political upheaval in France and social and industrial change in England, Joanna began hearing a voice which prophesied a solution to the world's troubles with the imminent arrival of the “Second Coming of Christ.” Her voices or “communications” appeared as visions to the “prophet” while asleep or awake, or as messages written automatically and unconsciously. These communications were usually dictated to and copied by her secretaries, Ann Underwood and Jane Townly. They primarily warned that man must turn to God because the end of the world was near, but they also offered explanations of scriptures and comments on historical and local events.

Southcott was generally ignored by the established church; so to spread her prophecies she published her first book, The Strange Effects of Faith (1801?) and went on to publish 65 books and circulated many manuscripts and letters containing copies of her communications. Very few writings have survived in her own hand. She often met with ridicule during her lifetime, and afterwards has often been relegated to the lunatic fringe of cult leaders, but Southcott managed to attract over one hundred thousand followers from all walks of life. Even after her death in 1814, in a failed attempt to give birth to “Shiloh” (the Second Christ), the Southcottian movement continued. Today, a descendant group of followers, the Panacea Society of Bedford, England, has in its possession a large (circa 156 lbs.) “Box of Sealed Writings” of Southcott, to be opened only in the presence of 24 Bishops of the Church of England.

Source: From the finding aid for C0755

  • Joanna Southcott Collection. 1793-1864 (inclusive).

    Call Number: C0755

    Southcott, an English domestic servant, began hearing voices at the age of 42 and believed these to be divine communications prophesying the Second Coming of Christ. She dictated her prophecies primarily to her secretaries, Ann Underwood and Jane Townley, and these were often copied by others and then circulated among the believers. Consists of a collection of manuscripts of Southcott and material related to her. Included are 12 notebooks and 63 pamphlets or loose writings containing copies (1793-1814) in various hands of Southcott’s divine communications, letters, poems, and prayers.

  • Joanna Southcott Collection. 1793-1864 (inclusive).

    Call Number: C0755

    Southcott, an English domestic servant, began hearing voices at the age of 42 and believed these to be divine communications prophesying the Second Coming of Christ. She dictated her prophecies primarily to her secretaries, Ann Underwood and Jane Townley, and these were often copied by others and then circulated among the believers. Consists of a collection of manuscripts of Southcott and material related to her. Included are 12 notebooks and 63 pamphlets or loose writings containing copies (1793-1814) in various hands of Southcott’s divine communications, letters, poems, and prayers.