Livermore, Harriet (1788–1868)

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Livermore, Harriet (1788–1868)

American evangelist. Born on April 14, 1788, in Concord, New Hampshire; died on March 30, 1868, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; daughter of Edward St. Loe Livermore (an attorney, judge, and member of Congress) and Mehitable (Harris) Livermore; educated at Byfield Seminary and Atkinson Academy, New Hampshire; never married; no children.

Selected writings:

Scriptural Evidence in Favor of Female Testimony in Meetings for the Worship of God (1824); A Narration of Religious Experience (1826); The Harp of Israel, to Meet the Loud Echo in the Wilds of America (1835); A Testimony for the Times (1843); Thoughts on Important Subjects (1864).

A self-described "Pilgrim Stranger," Harriet Livermore was an itinerant minister who in the mid-19th century traveled alone through Kansas, New England, and along the Eastern Seaboard to deliver her message. In "Snow-Bound," his poem about the people and places of New England, the Quaker poet John Greenleaf Whittier wrote of her as the "not unfeared, half-welcome guest." She wrote several religious tracts, beginning with Scriptural Evidence in Favor of Female Testimony in Meetings for the Worship of God in 1824. The book was reminiscent of Margaret Fell 's 1660 text, Women's Speaking Justified, and Livermore may have been influenced at the time by Fell's English Quakerism in her own search for religious self-definition.

Born on April 14, 1788, in Concord, New Hampshire, Harriet Livermore was the third of five children of Edward St. Loe Livermore and Mehitable Harris Livermore . Mehitable died when Harriet was five, and Edward remarried. A practicing attorney first in Concord, then in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, Edward Livermore served as a justice of the Supreme Court of New Hampshire from 1797 to 1799. Shortly after this, the family moved to Newburyport, Massachusetts. The Livermores were descendants of John Livermore (also known as Leathermore, Lithermore, and Lyuermore), an English potter who had immigrated to Watertown, Massachusetts, in 1635.

Harriet Livermore exhibited signs of a distinct personality from the time she was a very young child, alarming her mother with bursts of temper. Sent to a boarding school in Haverhill, Massachusetts, at the age of eight, Livermore later attended the Byfield Seminary and the Atkinson Academy in New Hampshire. At the age of 20, she spent a winter in Washington, D.C., when her father was elected to Congress. (Her paternal grandfather, Samuel Livermore, had served as U.S. senator from New Hampshire, from 1793 to 1801.) During the short time she spent in Washington, Livermore eagerly entered the social life of the city. A skilled conversationalist, she was also noted for her beauty. She became engaged around 1811 to Moses Elliott of East Haverhill, Massachusetts, who later became an army surgeon. However, Elliott's parents forced the dissolution of the engagement, concerned by Livermore's eccentricity and tempestuous outbursts. Convinced that the broken engagement was God's punishment for what she called her "wild and irregular" disposition, she turned to religion for comfort and empowerment.

Born an Episcopalian, Livermore explored Congregationalism and Quakerism before joining the Baptist church and undergoing adult immersion. She devoted much time to Bible study. In 1824, she experienced a mental breakdown, after which she identified herself as a "solitary eclectic" and a "Pilgrim Stranger." In May 1824, she left her parents' home, writing in her journal, "I took leave of my parents, and brothers, and sisters, with an aching heart, not knowing but our next meeting might be at the bar of a Holy God." Eschewing any further formal ties with a specific religious sect, Livermore embarked on a life of itinerant preaching, writing, and wandering. Using the proceeds from her first book to pay travel expenses, she went throughout New England by stage and by foot, passionately pursuing her ministry and often exhausting her frail constitution. In 1826, she published A Narration of Religious Experience and also extended her travels to New York and Philadelphia. In Washington, D.C., Livermore was invited to preach at a Sunday service in the House chamber of the U.S. Congress in January 1827. She returned several times throughout the 1830s.

In 1832, Livermore traveled alone through miles of wild country to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, seeking Native Americans—whom she thought were the lost tribes of Israel—because her Bible studies had persuaded her that the millennium was at hand. Fort officials did not agree and refused to allow her to proselytize. Undaunted, Livermore turned the experience into The Harp of Israel, to Meet the Loud Echo in the Wilds of America (1835), and between 1837 and 1862 undertook ten Atlantic crossings to Jerusalem in anticipation of the second coming of Christ before poverty forced her permanent return to the United States. With a yearly income of $250 in a trust set up by her father, who had died in 1832, Livermore continued her solitary travels throughout the United States. She also published A Testimony for the Times in 1843, approaching John Quincy Adams, who had heard her preach before Congress, for contributions to help with expenses. He gave her five dollars out of kindness, writing in his diary that she insisted on spending what little money she had "to print books which nobody will purchase or read." In 1864, ever hopeful of returning to Jerusalem, she published Thoughts on Important Subjects to gain funds for travel.

Three years later, Livermore was committed to the Blockley Almshouse in Philadelphia by Thomas Haven, who was most likely her nephew. Impoverished and thought to be mad, Harriet Livermore died at the almshouse on March 30, 1868. She was saved from a pauper's burial by one of her few friends, Margaret W. Worrel , who donated her own burial plot in the Germantown Baptist Burial Ground in Germantown, Pennsylvania.

sources:

Edgerly, Lois Stiles. Give Her This Day. Gardiner, ME: Tilbury House, 1990.

James, Edward T., ed. Notable American Women 1607–1950. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1971.

Lolly Ockerstrom , freelance writer, Washington, D.C.