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Excerpt from Gifts of Power, Rebecca Cox Jackson

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Excerpt from <I>Gifts of Power</I>, Rebecca Cox Jackson

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After the death of Rebecca Cox Jackson, a Shaker eldress and founder of Philadelphia's black Shaker community, her incomplete narrative and other writings were assembled by Alonzo G. Hollister, a Shaker leader. Hollister interviewed surviving Philadelphia "family" members, took biographical notes, and compared the two existing versions of Jackson's autobiographical manuscript, but did not succeed in producing a complete, edited manuscript. Nearly a hundred years later, Jackson's writings were rediscovered and published.

Her autobiography provides few details of her secular life, concentrating instead on her spiritual experiences. Her prophetic dreams in particular are described in vivid detail. Because Jackson was not a professional writer, and probably never read a single work of fiction (having been taught to read in an instantaneous "unspeakable gift of Almighty God" and painstakingly teaching herself to write in her middle-age), her narrative lacks the literary conventions of the 19th century, and is told instead in a spare, occasionally flat style.

One of the most fascinating experiences described by Jackson is the series of incidents in 1831 that led to one of her most prized "gifts of power." Having failed in his promise to teach her to read, Rebecca resolved to "not think hard of my brother," Joseph Cox, who "had always been kind and like a father to me." Instead she would continue to rely on him to read and write for her.

When Rebecca realized that Joseph had made substantial changes in letters that she had dictated to him, she said, "I don't want thee to word my letter. I only want thee to write it." Joseph's rebuke brought Rebecca to tears, but she took comfort in the inner voice that told her "the time shall come when you can write." Sometime later, following her inner voice, she picked up her Bible and began to pray. To her surprise and fear, Rebecca discovered that suddenly she could read.

Jackson claims to have read no book other than the Bible for many years, having been so instructed by her inner voice, to which she had pledged absolute obedience in a covenant with God.

Image Credit: From the collections of the Berkshire Athenaeum, Pittsfield, Massachusetts

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