Rebecca Cox Jackson was a free black woman who became an elder in the Shaker religion, which was founded by Mother Ann Lee before the Revolutionary War. In 1859, when Jackson was 35, she underwent a religious conversion ceremony, after which she became a preacher and established a black Shaker community in Philadelphia.
Jackson was born on February 15, 1795, to a free family in Hornstown, Pennsylvania. She lived with her grandmother until the age of three or four; she died when Jackson was seven years old. After the death of her mother at the age of thirteen, she went to live with her brother Joseph Cox, an African Methodist Episcopal Minister who was raising his children on his own. She later married and continued to live with her brother to help care for his children.
At the age of 35, Cox had a religious awakening during a severe thunderstorm. Cox was normally paralyzed with fear during a storm. During this particular thunderstorm, she was unable to contain her fear, convinced that she would die during the storm. In her moment of greatest despair, as she prayed for either death or redemption, she suddenly felt as though “the cloud burst;” the lightning that had been “the messenger of death, was now the messenger of peace, joy and consolation.”
She soon began to have visions and claimed that she could heal the sick during these times. She reportedly could also make the sinners holy, speak with angels, and fly. She was criticized by many, but that did not stop her from traveling and speaking to people in order to heal them. She soon developed a large following inspiring both blacks and whites, mostly women, through neighborhood “Covenant Meetings.”
In 1847, Jackson and a friend, Disciple Rebecca Perot, joined a Shaker community at Watervliet, which was near Albany, New York. Amazed by Jackson’s spiritual gifts, the Shakers welcomed her as a prophet. She was attracted to the community’s practice of celibacy and recognition of the feminine and masculine aspects of God.
Jackson remained in the community for four years. She eventually moved on because she was not pleased with the Shakers’ mission work in the Black communities. Jackson died in 1871.