Libraries at University of Nebraska-Lincoln



Paul Royster

Document Type

Archival Material

Date of this Version



In 1712, nineteen-year-old Jane Fenn left her home, family, and friends in London to obey an inner voice that said ——“Go to Pennsylvania! ” Arrived in Philadelphia, she was soon cast into debtors’ prison for refusing to sign an indenture dictated by the man who had arranged her passage. Redeemed by a group of Quakers from Plymouth County who wished to employ her as a schoolteacher, she spent three years in their community and began to absorb their teachings and their ways.

Her narrative chronicles her inward struggles with her own sense of unworthiness, the temptations of Satan, her distaste of being noticed, and her resistance to speaking in meetings. In 1716, she moved to the Quaker community of Haverford, and in 1718 to Chester, where she became the housekeeper and protege of David Lloyd, a leading Quaker and the chief justice of Pennsylvania. In 1721, she began to travel locally as a minister, in company with Elizabeth Levis. In 1722, the women extended their ministry to Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina. In 1725, they journeyed to Barbados, Rhode Island, Nantucket, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Maryland, and Virginia. In 1727, with Abigail Bowles, she took the ministry to England and Ireland. Over the next thirty years, she continued to travel the eastern seaboard, speaking in Friends’ meetings and also preaching in public venues.

Hoskens’ narrative is considered the first spiritual autobiography by a Quaker woman published in America. It documents not only her own religious experience, but also the practices of the Quaker communities of early Pennsylvania, and, especially, the importance of the networks of female relationships around which women’s lives revolved.

Hoskens’ Life is presented here in an electronic text based on the first edition of 1771, which was prepared from a manuscript left at her death in 1764. This earliest version of the work has not previously been generally available; and later editions (notably the 1837 version published in The Friends Library) have undergone substantial editorial alterations. The 1771 text, which brings the reader much closer to Hoskens’ own usage and language, is presented in a format that closely emulates the first edition published in Philadelphia. Some explanatory notes have been added at the end, and a brief note on the text describes and lists the obvious printer’s errors corrected.