where she rejected several suitors. For a short time she was a domestic in the family of a country squire, but was dismissed because a footman, whose attentions she had spurned, affirmed that she was ‘growing mad;’ she claims that her removal had been divinely intimated to her. She next got employment at Exeter, living for many years in various families, as domestic and assistant in the upholstery business. Her character was blameless and her service faithful. She attended church, usually the cathedral, twice every Sunday, and was a communicant; she also regularly frequented Wesleyan services before and after church hours. Though pressed to join the methodist society, she did not do so till Christmas 1791, and then ‘by divine command.’
On Easter Monday 1792, having reached the mature age of forty-two, she made in class meeting a confused statement about having been providentially sent to Exeter. It was not well received. Her agitation of mind threw her into a fever. For change of air she went to stay with a married sister, Carter, at Plymtree, Devonshire; there, after ten days' experience of ‘the powers of darkness,’ she began to pen prophecies, in a mixture of rambling prose and doggerel rhyme. Her sister, a practical woman, told her she was ‘growing out of her senses,’ and scouted her forecast of dearth when the best wheat would not fetch 4s. 6d. a bushel. Joanna adopted the plan of sealing up her writings, to be opened when the predicted events had matured. She used a small oval seal which she had picked up in 1790 while sweeping a shop after a sale. It bore the initials ‘I C’ with a star above and below. Leaving her sealed packet at Plymtree, she returned to Exeter, broke with the methodists, and in 1793 (when her prophecies were coming true) began to pester local clergy, from the curate to the bishop, with letters, soliciting an examination of her claims, at the same time writing and sealing up fresh prophecies year by year. Pomeroy, a clergyman of Exeter, afterwards of Bodmin, Cornwall, gave her some countenance, which he afterwards withdrew. In 1798 she visited Bristol in search of sympathisers.
She gained little notice until, in January 1801, she issued her first publication, ‘The Strange Effects of Faith,’ printed by T. Brice of Exeter, and inviting ‘any twelve ministers’ to ‘try’ her claims. Brice's bill for the printing included the item ‘For correcting the spelling and grammar of the prophecies, 2s. 6d.’ Her first important convert was Colonel Basil Bruce (d. 26 Dec. 1801) of London, a votary of Richard Brothers [q. v.], who introduced her writings to his father, Stanhope Bruce, vicar of Inglesham, Wiltshire, to Thomas Philip Foley (1758–1835), rector of Old Swinford, Worcestershire, and to William Sharp (1749–1824) [q. v.], the engraver. These last three, with Thomas Webster (1780–1840), vicar of Oakington, Cambridgeshire, and three others, visited Exeter in January 1802, and, after a ‘trial’ of Joanna's writings at the Guildhall, became her constant adherents.
At Sharp's suggestion she removed to London in May 1802, settled at High House, Paddington, and began the practice of ‘sealing’ the faithful, who were to be one hundred and forty-four thousand, certificated for the millennium on half-sheets of paper, signed by Joanna, and backed with a red seal. She was falsely accused of selling these ‘seals,’ of which ten thousand had been applied for by the beginning of 1805. None were ‘sealed’ after 1808, for among the ‘sealed’ was Mary Bateman, hanged for murder at York early in 1809. A severe illness prostrated Joanna towards the end of 1802. On 12 Jan. 1803 a second ‘trial’ of her writings was conducted at High House by fifty-eight persons, including her three clerical adherents. On 28 Feb. she first met Henry Prescott of Bermondsey, a lad of eighteen, known as ‘Joseph’ Prescott, a marvellous dreamer from his ninth year. On 4 March she began to interpret Prescott's dreams. Elias Carpenter, a paper-maker, of Neckinger House, Bermondsey, set up a ‘chapel,’ on the walls of which the subjects of the dreams were depicted; but after a few years both Prescott and Carpenter fell away from Joanna. In the autumn of 1803 she made a journey to the north, staying two months with Foley at Old Swinford, and visiting Stockport, Leeds, and Stockton-on-Tees. The third and final ‘trial’ of her writings took place at Neckinger House from 5 to 11 Dec. 1804. In the spring of 1805 William Tozer, an Exeter dissenter, a lath-render by trade, opened a chapel for her followers in Duke Street, Webber Row, Southwark, using the Anglican prayer-book.
Popular rumour connected her with Brothers, whose writings seem to have been first made known to her by Basil Bruce in 1801. Except for a mild universalism, her own theology was orthodox, and at the end of 1802 she denounced some of Brothers's positions as ‘blasphemy,’ and drew away from him Sharp, George Turner of Leeds, and other disciples. On 17 and 18 July 1806 she defaced with red paint a thousand copies of Sharp's fine engraving of Brothers. Her own likeness was engraved by Sharp in January 1812.