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SOUTHCOTT, Joanna (1750-1814)

Identity Statement

Reference code(s): ACC/1040
Held at: London Metropolitan Archives
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Full title: SOUTHCOTT, Joanna (1750-1814)
Date(s): 1789-1888
Level of description: Collection
Extent: 1.66 linear metres
Name of creator(s): Southcott | Joanna | 1750-1814 | prophet and writer
Hayward | James | fl 1860-1890 | follower of Joanna Southcott
Baker | Edmund | fl 1809-1845 | minister and follower of Joanna Southcott


Administrative/Biographical history:

Joanna Southcott was born in Devon in April 1750, the daughter of a farmer. She promised her dying mother that she would devote her life to piety, and rejected all her suitors to work as a maid or labourer in households in and around Exeter. It was not until she was 42 years old, in 1792, that she began to experience the voices and visions which were to make her a celebrated public figure. She was spoken to by a voice which predicted future events. Joanna attempted to interest clergy of several denominations in her prophesies, sending them sealed copies of her predictions to be opened after a certain date - thus proving her foreknowledge of events. In 1801, spurred by the correct predictions she had made for 1796-1800, she spent her life savings and published a book of her prophesy entitled "The Strange Effects of Faith". Her publication was a success and began to attract followers. Joanna moved to London and received the patronage of Jane Townley, who promoted her cause, welcomed Joanna into her household and provided her with a maid to act as her amanuensis. Between 1801 and 1814 Joanna published 65 pamphlets outlining her prophesy and spiritual vision, becoming one of the most popular writers of her time. In 1815 it is estimated that her followers numbered 20,000.

At the age of 64 she claimed to be pregnant with Shiloh, the second coming of Christ. She was due to give birth in November 1814 but despite experiencing labour pains no child was forthcoming and instead Joanna died in London on 27 December 1814. An autopsy found no foetus, although the doctor noted swelling in the abdomen which could have mimicked the symptoms of pregnancy and caused pain similar to labour.

After Joanna's death a core of her inner circle kept the faith quietly, and protected the 'great box', which contained sealed prophecies that were to be opened some time in the unspecified future. In 1816 the box was passed to Jane Townley, and upon her death in 1825 to Thomas Philip Foley, and finally in 1835 to Foley's son, the Revd Richard Foley. In 1839, in order to gain control of Southcott's legacy, Lavinia Taylor Jones (niece of Lucy Taylor, one of Joanna's Exeter employers) dressed as a man to enter Richard Foley's rectory, where she tried to steal the box. Soon after that, rival boxes began to appear. As recently as 1977, the Panacea Society, a twentieth-century millenarian group dedicated to Southcott, claimed to know the secret whereabouts of the true box.

Source: Sylvia Bowerbank, 'Southcott, Joanna (1750-1814)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004.


Scope and content/abstract:

This collection consists of the papers and correspondence of James Hayward of Bridgewater, a wholesale confectioner, and one of the most energetic of Joanna's followers in the West Country, with a wide circle of correspondents throughout the country, 1789-1888. He also collected, during the middle and later nineteenth century, the papers of many other of Joanna's followers, most notably Edmund Baker, who was minister of a chapel held by the sect in Teddington, Middlesex from about 1809 to 1811, and later minister in Dowlish, Somerset. The collection includes a roll of members, and register book for the Teddington chapel and lists of members and signed testimonies from Dowlish and Ilminster. It also includes a large number of printed books by and concerning Joanna, many of them from the libraries of James Hayward and Edmund Baker.

Access & Use

Language/scripts of material:

System of arrangement:

In sections: Teddington Chapel, Dowlish Chapel, Papers of Edmund Baker, Papers of Samuel Eyre and the Sandell Family of Cheddar, Papers of James Hayward and Others, Manuscript Copies and Extracts from the Works of Joanna Southcott, Printed Material.

Conditions governing access:

Available for general access

Conditions governing reproduction:

Copyright: City of London

Finding aids:

Please see online catalogues at:

Archival Information

Archival history:

Immediate source of acquisition:

Received in 1969.

Allied Materials

Related material:

Further papers relating to Joanna Southcott can be found at Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center Library, University of Texas at Austin; Gloucestershire Archives; City of Westminster Archives Centre; British Library, Manuscript Collections; Worcestershire Record Office, County Hall Branch; Westcountry Studies Library and Princeton University Library. See the National Register of Archives on The National Archives website for more details.

Publication note:

A. Seymour, The Express containing the life and divine writings of the late Joanna Southcott, 2 vols. (1909); J. Hopkins, A woman to deliver her people: Joanna Southcott and English millenarianism in an era of revolution (Austin, 1982); A. W. Exell, Joanna Southcott at Blockley and the Rock Cottage relics (1977); G. R. Balleine, Past finding out: the tragic story of Joanna Southcott and her successors (1956); P. Mathias, The case of Johanna Southcott, as far as it came under his professional observation, impartially stated (1815); D. Jones, Catalogue of books published by Joanna Southcott [n.d., after 1852].

Description Notes

Archivist's note:

Rules or conventions:
Compiled in compliance with General International Standard Archival Description, ISAD(G), second edition, 2000; National Council on Archives Rules for the Construction of Personal, Place and Corporate Names, 1997.

Date(s) of descriptions:
January to March 2009

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