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COLLECTION Identifier: MS Eng 1680

Joanna Southcott papers


Manuscripts and printed materials by and about English prophet Joanna Southcott.


  • Creation: 1807-1823

Language of Materials

Collection materials are in English.

Conditions Governing Access

There are no restrictions on physical access to this material.


.25 linear feet (1 box)

Includes: one autograph signature by Joanna Southcott; numerous manuscripts in the hands of Jane Townley and Ann Underwood (many are transcripts of Southcott's words); letter from donor Grenville Howland Norcross to Harvard Professor George Lyman Kittredge; engravings of portraits of Joanna Southcott; and printed pamphlets by or about Southcott.

Biographical / Historical

Joanna Southcott (1750-1814) was an English prophet and writer. She was the daughter of a farmer and lived close to Exeter, England. From early youth she developed a habit of reading scripture and interpreting events within a spiritual framework, promising her dying mother that she would commit to a life of piety. Southcott worked as a farm laborer, maidservant and upholsterer, but in 1792, at age 42, she began to have visions in which she was spoken to by a voice predicting what would happen on earth. Over the next few years she attempted to have her visions accredited by the clergy and failing that, in 1801, began publishing her writings. She developed a following, moved to London, suffered numerous court trials, and in 1803-1804 went on a missionary tour of England.

Southcott's converts were part of The Southcottian movement, and prominent among them was Jane Townley who, in 1804, invited Southcott to live with her in London. From that time on Townley promoted Southcott's writings and cause and provided Southcott with her maidservant, Ann Underwood. Underwood became Southcott's amanuensis, as her handwriting was illegible. Southcott published 65 pamphlets between 1801-1814 and became one of the most popular writers of her time. In 1814, at age 64, she announced that she was pregnant and about to become the mother of "Shiloh," the expected divine incarnation of her past prophecies. While awaiting the supposed birth, she was examined by many medical specialists, but nevertheless she died on December 27, 1814. The movement continued after her death and it is estimated that by 1815 she had about 20,000 followers. In the following years much speculation grew over a "great box of prophecies" to be opened at some unspecified time in the future by church bishops in England. Source: Sylvia Bowerbank "Joanna Southcott" Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 2004.


Arranged into the following series:

  1. I. Manuscripts
  2. II. Printed materials

Physical Location


Immediate Source of Acquisition

No accession number. Gift of Grenville Howland Norcross via Professor George Lyman Kittredge; received: 1926 April 22. [Found with: MS Storage 281. Collection materials assembled by Carolyn Jakeman].

Processing Information

Processed by: Bonnie B. Salt

Southcott, Joanna, 1750-1814. Joanna Southcott papers, 1807-1823: Guide.
Houghton Library, Harvard College Library
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Repository Details

Part of the Houghton Library Repository

Houghton Library is Harvard College's principal repository for rare books and manuscripts, archives, and more. Houghton Library's collections represent the scope of human experience from ancient Egypt to twenty-first century Cambridge. With strengths primarily in North American and European history, literature, and culture, collections range in media from printed books and handwritten manuscripts to maps, drawings and paintings, prints, posters, photographs, film and audio recordings, and digital media, as well as costumes, theater props, and a wide range of other objects. Houghton Library has historically focused on collecting the written record of European and Eurocentric North American culture, yet it holds a large and diverse number of primary sources valuable for research on the languages, culture and history of indigenous peoples of the Americas, Africa, Asia and Oceania.

Houghton Library’s Reading Room is free and open to all who wish to use the library’s collections.

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