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Collection Overview

Southcott, Joanna, 1750-1814
Princeton University. Library. Special Collections
Joanna Southcott Collection
Manuscripts Division
Permanent URL:
7 boxes and 2.4 linear feet
Storage Note:
Firestone Library (mss): Box 1-7


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.

Collection Description & Creator Information


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. Many of the notebooks or pamphlets are conglomerations of manuscript material gathered at random and bound or sewn together. One such manuscript is Divine and Spiritual Letters of Prophecies..., published by E. Spragg (1802?).

Also present are a few later writings and prophecies by others, copies of letters relating to Lavinia Jones's attempt to acquire Southcott's sealed writings after her death, and a manuscript list of Southcott's 65 published works and an index to them as prepared by Daniel Jones for his Catalog of Books Published by Joanna Southcott (1852). In addition, there is a pledge of commitment (1837) to "Satan's Destruction, and Christ's Kingdom to Come on Earth" signed by over sixty believers, as well as an embroidered sampler reading "Joanna Southcott 1807." Later accessions include letters (1820, 1828) by Thomas Philip, rector of Old Swinford, to Charles Taylor of Exeter about Southcott and her "believers," as well as a small archive (1803-1860), including 2 "proclamations of faith" (dated 1803) bearing Southcott's seal.


None of these manuscripts appear to be in Joanna Southcott's own hand. All items have here been numbered consecutively for ease in identification and description. In the following pages, preceding the detailed listing of contents (titles) of each item is a brief physical description of the manuscript volume, pamphlet, or loose leaves which may include any volume number or other writings on the covers, color, page numbers, type of binding, range of dates, and whether or not the volume contains an index. Some volumes contain duplicate writings. The titles, or first lines of the various writings within each item are then listed. If an item did not contain an index, the titles were taken directly from the text, and all titles are listed verbatim.

Collection Creator Biography:

Southcott, Joanna, 1750-1814

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.

Collection History


Purchased at a Sotheby's auction in 1993. Seal of Southcott purchased from Young's Antiquarian Books in 2000. Letters addressed to Charles Taylor and George Mitchell were purchased from Christopher Edwards in 2007. Small archive was purchased from Bonhams auction in 2008.


No appraisal information is available.

Processing Information

This collection was processed by Barbara Volz and Stephanie Henning in 1993. Finding aid written by Barbara Volz and Stephanie Henning in 1993.

Access & Use

Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research use.

Conditions Governing Use

Single photocopies may be made for research purposes. No further photoduplication of copies of material in the collection can be made when Princeton University Library does not own the original. Inquiries regarding publishing material from the collection should be directed to RBSC Public Services staff through the Ask Us! form. The library has no information on the status of literary rights in the collection and researchers are responsible for determining any questions of copyright.

Credit this material:

Joanna Southcott Collection; Manuscripts Division, Department of Special Collections, Princeton University Library

Permanent URL:
Firestone Library
One Washington Road
Princeton, NJ 08544, USA
(609) 258-3184
Storage Note:
Firestone Library (mss): Box 1-7