Public Universal Friend

Jemima Wilkinson’s home in Jerusalem, Yates County, New York Construction began in 1809 and was completed in 1815. The house was beautifully restored in the 1950s and 60s by Joseph and Rena Florance.This 1908 photograph was supplied by Betty Smalley of Dresden.From:



A great religious fervor seemed to develop in the newly established United States. From Rhode Island came a new sect, established by the first native-born American woman to organize a large group of followers with sufficient finances to seek new lands for a colony. This was Jemima Wilkinson, who called herself the “Publick Universal Friend.” The group’s land scouts came into this area in 1787 and chose land on the west shore of Seneca Lake near where the outlet of Crooked Lake flowed into Seneca Lake. The scouting party reported back to the society, some of whose members were still in Rhode Island and Connecticut, and others in eastern Pennsylvania. The Friend Society decided to make their settlement here by Seneca Lake. Twenty-five came and wintered here in 1788-89. It was a brutal and hazard-filled experience for them. They had managed to clear land and plant 12 acres of wheat using a harrow to break the ground. Wild game supplemented their food supply. Rude log houses sheltered them. The “Genesee Fever” invaded their ranks. Their outpost was at first called the “Friend’s Settlement,” but soon became “New Jerusalem.” By 1790 the census showed 260 people inhabiting the community. The Friend herself joined them in the spring of that year. A mill for grinding grain was set up on the outlet and a suitable house built for their leader.

The followers of The Friend were industrious and hard working. They built log houses and a log meeting house and a grist mill; the crop land and nearly level land lying near large Seneca Lake seemed good. She had nearly three hundred followers surrounding her “City Hill” settlement. Trouble came in the “clouded” land title to portions of the earliest cleared land. The Universal Friend’s agent, James Parker, had tried for bargain-priced land from a group called the “Lessees.” Unfortunately, the title was deemed null and void by New York State due to an unfair “leasing” deal the Lessees had made with the Indians.

By back-breaking work, land had been cleared, houses had been built so several of the Friends lost their investment. The bulk of the settlement was on land with good title from Phelps and Gorham, but Parker had been sure he was buying three or four thousand acres from, the “Lessees.” Final settlement on his purchase yielded only 1,100 acres, so some Friends lost much of their money and labor, with little or nothing to show for it.

Then, the survey of the Pre-emption line made in 1788 was found to be in error and a new survey was made in 1792.

The deeds were on the basis of the first survey and the line veered from its start at the Pennsylvania line to the northwest and at the Lake Ontario end, near Sodus, it made a difference of several miles. The area between the Pre-emption survey line of 1788 made by Col. Maxwell and the re-survey of 1792 made by Benjamin Ellicott was called The Gore, a long, triangular shaped piece of land containing 85,896 acres. The second survey was accepted as the legal Pre-emption Line by the State of New York.

The confusion of losing title to property crossed by “The Gore” and the earlier Parker-Lessee experience caused great stress in the Friend’s colony. The Universal Friend herself, became very upset over the clamor caused by these “Title” problems. Charles Williamson, by this time, was the administrator of the surrounding unsold property. An adjustment was worked out whereby, those who had lost land in the “Gore” would be able to obtain three acres for every one acre lost in the “Gore” survey mistake.

The Friend was uncomfortable with the atmosphere of uncertainty created by the title disputes. She hoped to withdraw to “where no intruding foot would enter.” In 1794 she moved about twelve miles to the west of the original settlement. She had a temporary house built on the bank of the inlet on the north end of Crooked Lake. This stream had been named Brook Kedron by a member of the Universal Friends, Thomas Hathaway, who, along with Benedict Robinson, had purchased the land in the so called “second seventh.” The followers who came to the new location, and the Friends household made maple sugar each spring from the sap of trees along the stream which later lost its biblical reference and became known as Sugar Creek.

The Friends held meetings on Saturday (their Sabbath) at the new log house. Jemima Wilkinson returned at regular intervals to hold meetings at the log meeting house at the City Hill location along Lake Seneca. Sometimes they met at David Wagener’s house situated on the site of present Penn Yan.

Jemima Wilkinson from Syracuse University Special Collections - Originally from David Hudson’s History of Jemima Wilkinson, a Preacheress of the Eighteenth Century, 1821.The Friend was not only a spiritual leader to her followers, but she also gave advice, settled minor disputes, consoled them at the loss of members of the flock, conducted their funerals and was skillful at treating their illnesses and injuries. Neighbors were well treated and the Indians regarded her as a good friend to them. Whenever groups of Indians came by, she, or members of her household, gave them food, and the Indians brought her deer meat or fish.

Travelers enjoyed the hospitality of the Friend, and even those hostile to her religion gave praise to her even-handed treatment of others around her.

Her temporary house in Jerusalem was enlarged several times before her permanent home was ready for occupancy. Situated on the hill to the west about a half mile from the “Brook Kedron” house, the sturdy, beautiful, New England style home has been restored by the present owners and stands today (2004) as a private dwelling.

She moved to her new house in 1814. In her later years, she became a victim of a slow and painful illness and rode in a coach fashioned for her on the under-carriage of the one she had owned in Pennsylvania. She kept active and continued to preach. The Friend was carried to the funeral of her sister, Patience Wilkinson Potter, on April 19, 1819, and preached her final public sermon. Jemima Wilkinson “left time” on July 1st that same year.