The Public Universal Friend (NOV.29.1752 – JUL.1.1819) was an American preacher born in Cumberland, Rhode Island, to Quaker parents. After suffering a severe illness in 1776, they claimed to have died and been reanimated as a genderless evangelist named the Public Universal Friend, and afterward shunned both birth name and gendered pronouns.
Identifying as neither male nor female, the Friend asked not to be referred to with gendered pronouns. Followers respected these wishes; they referred only to "the Public Universal Friend" or short forms such as "the Friend" or "P.U.F.", and many avoided gender-specific pronouns even in private diaries. The Friend dressed in a manner perceived to be either androgynous or masculine in long, loose clerical robes which were most often black. They did not wear a hair-cap indoors, like women of the era, and outdoors wore broad-brimmed, low-crowned beaver hats of a style worn by Quaker men.
The Public Universal Friend's theology was broadly similar to that of most Quakers. They stressed free will, opposed slavery, and supported sexual abstinence. The Friend did not bring a Bible to worship meetings, which were initially held outdoors or in borrowed meeting houses, but preached long sections of the scriptures from memory. The meetings attracted large audiences, including some who formed a congregation of "Universal Friends", making the Friend "the first native-born American to found a religious community".
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