Gittisham, Devon, England
27 December 1814 (aged 64)|
Her father was a farmer and she herself was for a considerable time a domestic servant in Exeter. She was originally a Methodist, but about 1792, becoming persuaded that she possessed supernatural gifts, she wrote and dictated prophecies in rhyme, and then announced herself as the woman spoken of in Revelation — in the King James Version, Revelation 12:1-6:
- And there appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars:
- And she being with child cried, travailing in birth, and pained to be delivered.
- And there appeared another wonder in heaven; and behold a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and seven crowns upon his heads.
- And his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and did cast them to the earth: and the dragon stood before the woman which was ready to be delivered, for to devour her child as soon as it was born.
- And she brought forth a man child, who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron: and her child was caught up unto God, and to his throne.
- And the woman fled into the wilderness, where she hath a place prepared of God, that they should feed her there a thousand two hundred and threescore days.
The coming of the new Messiah, and death
Coming to London at the request of William Sharp (1749-1824), the engraver, she began to seal the 144,000 elect at a charge varying from twelve shillings to a guinea. At the age of sixty four she affirmed that she would be delivered of the new Messiah, the Shiloh of Genesis 49:10. 19 October 1814 was the date fixed for the birth, but Shiloh failed to appear, and it was given out that she was in a trance.
She died not long after. The official date of death is given as 27 December 1814; however, it is likely that she died the previous day, 26 December 1814, as her followers retained her body for some time, in the belief that she would be raised from the dead, and only agreed to its burial after it began to decay.
The movement did not end with Southcott's death in 1814. Her followers, referred to as Southcottians, are said to have numbered over 100,000 but had declined greatly by the end of the nineteenth century. A lady named Ann Essam left large sums of money for printing and publishing the "sacred writings of Joanna Southcott". The will was disputed by a niece on the ground that the writings were blasphemous, but the court of chancery sustained it.
She left a sealed wooden box of prophecies, usually known as Joanna Southcott's Box, with the instruction that it be opened only at a time of national crisis, and then only in the presence of all twenty four bishops of the Church of England (there were only 24 at the time), who were to spend a fixed period of time beforehand studying Southcott's prophecies. Attempts were made to persuade the episcopate to open it during the Crimean War and again during the First World War. Eventually in 1927 one reluctant prelate (the Bishop of Grantham, not even a diocesan bishop but a suffragan of the diocese of Lincoln) was persuaded to be present at the box's opening, but it was found to contain only a few oddments and unimportant papers, among them a lottery ticket and a horse-pistol.
However, the followers of Southcott later claimed that the box opened was not the authentic one. An advertising campaign on billboards and in British national newspapers such as the Sunday Express was run in the 1960s and 1970s by what is viewed as the most prominent group of Southcottians, the Panacea Society in Bedford (formed 1920), to try to persuade the twenty four bishops to have the box opened. Their slogan was: "War, disease, crime and banditry, distress of nations and perplexity will increase until the Bishops open Joanna Southcott's box." According to the Panacea Society, this true box is in their possession at a secret location for safekeeping, with its whereabouts only to be disclosed when a meeting with the bishops has been arranged. Southcott prophesied that the Day of Judgement would come in the year 2004, and her followers stated that if the contents of the box had not been studied beforehand, the world would have had to meet it unprepared.
The efforts of the Society have so far been unsuccessful; Church of England officials, including the Rt. Rev. David Farmbrough, then (Bishop of Bedford) have commented that for them to take part in the opening would be to unnecessarily arouse public interest in the affair. The story of the box has become something of a source of ridicule in Britain - for example, it featured in a sketch by Monty Python's Flying Circus in the 1970s.
Among her sixty publications may be mentioned:
- Strange Effects of Faith (1801-1802)
- Free Exposition of the Bible (1804)
- The Book of Wonders (1813-1814)
- Prophecies announcing the Birth of the Prince of Peace (1814)
- Joanna Southcott: A dispute between the woman and the powers of darkness, 1802. New York; Woodstock: Poole 1995. ISBN 1854771949. Facsimile.
- ↑ Thornton v. Howe, 54 Eng. Rep. 1042 (Ch. 1862).
- Richard Reece M.D.: A letter from Joanna Southcott to Dr. Richard Reece containing a circumstantial exposition of her present situation, as given by nine medical gentlemen ..., six of whom have pronounced her pregnant with her permission to Dr. Reece, in case of her death before the birth of the child, to open her body, to find out the cause which has produced such singular effects in a woman of her age. London 1814.
- Richard Reece M.D.: A Complete Refutation of the statements and remarks published by Dr. Reece relative to Mrs. Southcott ... By an impartial observer. London 1815.
- Richard Reece M.D.: A correct statement of the circumstances that attended the last illness and death of Mrs. Southcott with an account of the appearances exhibited on dissection and the artifices that were employed to deceive her medical attendants. London 1815.
- Library of Biography. Remarkable Women of different Nations and Ages. First Series. Boston. John P. Jewett and Co. (1858)
- Richard Pearse Chope: Life of Joanna Southcott. Bibliography of Joanna Southcott by Charles Lane, communicated by R. Pearse Chope read at Exeter, 25 July, 1912. Reprinted from the Transactions of the Devonshire Association for the Advancement of Science, Literature and Art. 1912.
- The trial of Joanna Southcott during seven days, which commenced on the fifth, and ended on the eleventh of December, 1804 at the Neckinger House, Bermondsey, London. Plymouth, England: Jas. H. Keys, 1916.
- Rachel J. Fox: The truth about Joanna Southcott (prophetess), the great box of sealed writings, together with a challenge to the bishops to support her writings, by a Member of the Church of England. Bedford: Swann & Cave, 1921.
- Rachel J. Fox: The sufferings and acts of Shiloh-Jerusalem, a sequel to "The finding of Shiloh." London: Cecil Palmer, 1927.
- Ronald Matthews: English Messiahs. London: Methuen, 1936.
- George Reginald Balleine: Past finding out, the tragic story of Joanna Southcott and her successors. London: S.P.C.K., 1956.
- Eugene Patrick Wright: A catalogue of the Joanna Southcott collection at the University of Texas. Austin: Univ. of Texas, 1968.
- Grayson, Emma: Had they had knowledge. New Plymouth, N.Z. 1974.
- Report on the papers of J. Southcott, 1750-1814, religious fanatic, and of her followers, 1801-1896. Middlesex Record Office 1040. London, 1975.
- John Duncan Martin Derrett: Nathaniel Brassey Halhed, his association with Joanna Southcott. Poona (India): B.O.R. Institute, 1979.
- James K. Hopkins: A woman to deliver her people. Joanna Southcott and English millenarianism in an era of revolution. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1981. ISBN 0-292-79017-1
- John Duncan Martin: Prophecy in the Cotswolds 1803-1947. Joanna Southcott and spiritual reform. Shipston-on-Stour: P.I. Drinkwater on behalf of the Blockley Antiquarian Society, 1994.
- Val Lewis: Satan's mistress, the extraordinary story of the 18th century fanatic Joanna Southcott and her lifelong battle with the Devil. Shepperton: Nauticalia, 1997. ISBN 0-9530458-0-3
- Susan Juster: Mystical pregnancy and holy bleeding, visionary experience in early modern Britain and America. In: William and Mary quarterly Vol. 57, no. 2 (2000). ISSN 0043-5597
- Frances Brown: Joanna Southcott, the woman clothed with the sun. Cambridge: Lutterworth, 2002. ISBN 0-7188-3018-0
- Frances Brown: Joanna Southcott's box of sealed prophecies. Cambridge: The Lutterworth Press, 2003. ISBN 0-7188-3041-5
- Dedicated to the life and writings of Joanna Southcott.
- The Panacea Society.
- Joanna Southcott's memorial stone.