Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography/Lee, Ann

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LEE, Ann, religious teacher, b. in Manchester, England, 29 Feb., 1736; d. in Watervliet, N. Y., 8 Sept., 1784. She was the daughter of a blacksmith, and, after working in a cotton-factory and as cook in an infirmary, while yet a young girl married Abraham Stanley, also a blacksmith, by whom she had four children, all of whom died in infancy. When she was about twenty-two years old Ann came under the influence of James Wardley, who was at that time the chief exponent of the Camisards, or French Prophets, who had fled to England from France on account of persecution and found willing followers, especially among the Quakers. Ann joined the new sect that was founded in 1747, and called from their physical contortions “Shaking Quakers.” She was naturally of an excitable temperament, and her experience in the performance of these peculiar religious exercises was most singular and painful. At times her flesh wasted away under the discipline, and she became so weak that she had to be fed like a child, while on other occasions she would enjoy “intervals of releasement,” in which she asserted that her strength had been miraculously renewed and her soul filled with heavenly visions and divine revelations. By 1770 she had grown greatly in favor among her people, and being persecuted and imprisoned in that year by the secular authorities, she was acknowledged on her release to be their spiritual mother in Christ. She now also claimed to be the incarnation of infinite wisdom, and the “second appearing of Christ,” as really and fully as Jesus of Nazareth was the incarnation of infinite power or Christ's first appearing, and therefore did not hesitate to call herself “Ann the Word.” She now began to declare the wrath of the Almighty against marriage, and for this she was again imprisoned, this time on a charge of misdemeanor. On her release she returned to the attack on what she termed “the root of human depravity,” which so enraged her fellow-townsmen that she was shut up for several weeks in a mad-house. Thus harassed and persecuted on English soil, she declared that she had “a special revelation” to migrate to this country, and with several of her society, that had similar revelations she arrived in New York in May, 1774. In the spring of 1776 she went to Albany and established at Watervliet, eight miles from that city, a congregation that she called “The Church of Christ's Second Appearing,” and, after formally dissolving her marriage relation, became its recognized head. The new sect soon aroused the hostility of the authorities, Ann being accused by some of witchcraft and by others of secret correspondence with the British, probably because she was opposed to war. She was arrested on a charge of high treason and imprisoned in Albany during the summer of 1776, but was subsequently removed to the jail at Poughkeepsie, N. Y., where she remained until pardoned by Gov. George Clinton in 1777. It was not, however, until 1780 that the society increased materially in numbers. At the beginning of that year an unusually extensive revival occurred at New Lebanon, N. Y., in which Mother Lee took an active part. She succeeded in securing many converts and in establishing a branch society at that place. In 1781 she set out, in company with her elders, on an extended preaching tour through the New England states, where she founded societies at Harvard, Mass., and other places. She did not live long after her return to Watervliet, but died a natural death in spite of her claim that when she left this world she would “ascend in the twinkling of an eye to heaven.” Notwithstanding her fanatical excesses, it must be admitted that Ann was a remarkable woman. She was entirely without education, but founded a sect and inspired perfect faith in her divine mission, although it was sought to invalidate her claims by plausible charges that her life was shamefully impure.