Index to the Works of Joanna Southcott

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

Chronological index by an unknown author to 10 volumes of Southcott's writings published between 1801 and 1814.

Administrative / Biographical History

Joanna Southcott (1750-1814) was an 18th-century English religious visionary. Born into a small Devon farming family she spent her earlier years in domestic service. Regarded by her family as being too religious, she joined the Methodist movement in Exeter in 1791 and in the following year began to claim the gift of prophecy, writing down her revelations and then sealing them for verification after the predicted event had happened. Her claims were not well received by her Methodist congregation and by the end of the year she had broken with them. For the next six years she sought attention from the Church authorities to verify her claims but to no real avail. However, in 1801 she took a new tack and began publishing her claims with her first work being The Strange Effects of Faith printed by T. Brice of Exeter, which invited any twelve ministers to try her claims. With this new appeal she began to attract followers, especially from former adherents of fellow visionary Richard Brothers, and in 1802 she settled in London.

From London she began touring the country giving lectures and holding meetings of her faithful where sealed testaments of salvation were given out. She carried on writing prophecies and her followers conducted public trials of them as well as continuing to publish them for a wider dissemination, all attracting the attention of the press.

In her third Book of Wonders (1813-14) she announced that, at the age of 64, she was to become the mother of Shiloh, an obscure messianic figure mentioned in Genesis. However, although displaying some of the outward signs of pregnancy, she became increasingly ill, and died, probably of a brain disease, on 29 December 1804, four days after she had predicted the birth that never came. According to her instructions her body was dissected four days after her death and no signs of pregnancy were found. Nevertheless many of her followers continued to study the sixty or more tracts and books of her writings and the sect only died out by the end of the 19th century. At its height her following was said to have numbered over 100,000 but a more realistic figure of 20,000 has been given by modern commentators. After her death she left a locked box with instructions that it should only be opened in the presence of 24 bishops and at a time of national crisis.

Source: Sylvia Bowerbank, 'Southcott, Joanna (1750-1814)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004. By permission of Oxford University Press - http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/26050.

Conditions Governing Access

The manuscript is available for consultation by any accredited reader.

Note

Description compiled by Henry Sullivan, project archivist, with reference to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography article on Joanna Southcott.

Other Finding Aids

Catalogued in the Hand-List of the Collection of English Manuscripts in the John Rylands Library, 1928 (English MS 93).