Today we visit Rebecca Cox Jackson.
Rebecca Cox Jackson was born February 15 in 1795. She was a black woman who became an eldress in the Shaker religion and founded a Shaker community in Philadelphia.
Rebecca was born to a free family, and lived until the age of three or four with her grandmother, who died when Rebecca was seven. Her mother was Jane Wisson (or Wilson), a free black woman, she never knew her father. From the time she was ten, she was responsible for the care of two younger siblings. Jackson’s mother died when she was thirteen, and her brother Joseph Cox, a thirty-one-year old AME minister, widower, and father of six children took her in. Sometime during the next twenty-two years, she married Samuel S. Jackson, who also lived in the Cox house. In addition to managing her brother’s home, she worked as a seamstress.
In July 1830, Jackson experienced a religious awakening during a severe thunderstorm. On that day, she felt as though “the cloud burst,” and the lightning that had been “the messenger of death, was now the messenger of peace, joy, and consolation.” After her conversion, Rebecca began to experience visions in which she discovered the presence of a divine inner voice that instructed her in the use of her spiritual gifts. She soon developed a large following among a neighborhood “Covenant Meeting,” typically comprised of women that in this case also included several men.
Rebecca’s religious activism soon led to the dissolution of her marriage, as well as a separation from her brother. Jackson became an itinerant preacher, inspiring both white and blacks. During her travels, she discovered the Shakers, whose religious views were remarkably similar to her own. Impressed by her spiritual gifts, they embraced her as a prophet, and she remained in their New York community for four years. Although devout in her commitment to Shaker doctrine, Jackson was not satisfied with Shaker outreach to other blacks. A conflict over authority soon led her to return to Philadelphia with her companion and protégé, Rebecca Perot. After six years in Philadelphia, they reconciled, and established a Philadelphia family of Black Shakers, but this time with the moral, legal, and financial support of Shaker society.
When Rebecca Jackson died in 1871, Rebecca Perot took the name “Mother Rebecca Jackson” and assumed leadership of the Philadelphia family, which carried on for another forty years. When Perot and other elderly sisters retired to New York in 1896, it was believed that “Mother Jackson’s colony had come to an end. However, that same year, in his pioneering study of Black Philadelphia, W.E.B. DuBois found two Shaker households in the seventh ward; and in 1908, a Shaker editor noted the discovery of “a colony of Believers in Philadelphia. In 1980, Rebecca’s writings were published in a single volume, called “Gifts of Power.”
After her death, Alonzo G. Hollister, a Shaker leader, collected her writings (including an incomplete narrative of her life) and interviewed Philadelphia family members. For some reason, he was never able to produce a complete, edited manuscript. And Rebecca remained virtually unknown until her manuscripts were rediscovered and published in 1980. In her writings, Rebecca focused on her spiritual experiences more so than her secular life before her revelation.
Thanks for your attention.