Jackson, Rebecca Cox (1795–1871)

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Jackson, Rebecca Cox (1795–1871)

African-American mystic . Born on February 15, 1795, in Hornstown, Pennsylvania; died in 1871; daughter of Jane Wisson (or Wilson); married Samuel S. Jackson; no children.

A free-born African-American, Rebecca Cox Jackson was born outside of Philadelphia in 1795. What little is known of her early life has been gleaned from her surviving spiritual writings. She knew nothing about her father; her mother was married at least twice before her death in 1808. At that time, Jackson was taken in by her brother Joseph Cox, the minister of an African Methodist Episcopal church in Philadelphia. After her marriage to Samuel S. Jackson, she continued to live with her brother, caring for his four children and earning her own living as a seamstress.

Jackson experienced a dramatic religious conversion at the age of 35, after which she claimed to have dreams or visions in which she could heal the sick, make the sinful holy, speak with angels, and even fly. The conversion and her subsequent dreams led her to flee her husband's bed so as to live a life of "Christian perfection." Jackson was further guided by an inner voice, which, among other directives, led her to leave home "to travel some and speak to the people." At first, she related her visionary experiences and conducted prayer meetings in private homes. During this time, Jackson, who had never attended school, was entirely dependent on her brother for assistance. While mourning her illiteracy, and praying for the gift of reading and writing, she claimed she was answered by God: "And when I looked on the word, I began to read. And when I found I was reading I was frightened—then I could not read one word. I closed my eyes again in prayer and then opened my eyes, began to read."

Jackson's ability to read allowed her access to the revelations of the Bible, through which she defended her practice of "holy living" against intense criticism from her husband, her brother, as well as the clergy of the African Methodist Episcopal church, who objected to women preaching in general and to Jackson's specific renouncement of "the flesh." By 1837, at the height of accusations against her, Jackson requested a formal trial for heresy from Methodist and Presbyterian ministers. When this request was refused, she completely severed her relationship with the church and her family.

Throughout the late 1830s and early 1840s, Jackson traveled through Pennsylvania, northern Delaware, New Jersey, southern New England, and New York, testifying to her powers and preaching. In 1847, she and her friend and disciple, Rebecca Perot , joined a Shaker community at Watervliet, near Albany, attracted by the sect's practice of celibacy and their recognition of the motherhood as well as the fatherhood of God. Jackson stayed with the community until 1851, then returned to Philadelphia where she established a small, predominately black and female, Shaker family around the time of the start of the Civil War. Little is known of how the family fared, as Jackson's diary entries ended in 1864. She died in 1871 and was taken to a Shaker community in New Lebanon, New York, for burial. Following Jackson's death, Shakers from the Watervliet and New Lebanon communities visited the Philadelphia family, which apparently survived until as late as 1908.

In 1980, Jackson's writings were collected in a single volume, titled Gifts of Power.


Smith, Jessie Carney. Notable Black American Women. Detroit, MI: Gale Research, 1992.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts

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Jackson, Rebecca Cox (1795–1871)

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