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PBS films 'History Detectives' in Yates

YATES COUNTY—The Yates County Historical and Genealogical Society, and county historian Fran Dumas helped a PBS television program solve a mystery this past weekend.
“History Detectives” filmed a number of segments in the area Friday to Sunday, for a segment about Jemima Wilkinson, founder of the Publick Universal Friend in the late 1700s. Pat Kruis, marketing associate for Oregon Public Broadcasting, said History Detectives is looking into a document found by Jean Waite, a viewer from Maine. She said the three page record is dated 1791 and reads, “Act of Incorporation of the Universal Friends.”
Kruis said the Universal Friends was the first religion in America to be founded by a woman. The viewer wants to know what the document means, and how her family has had it for generations.
Filming locations in Yates County included the Oliver House Museum to interview Executive Director John Potter and Curator Charles Mitchell, Wilkinson’s former house for an interview with Dumas, and at the Esperanza Mansion. Waite was brought down to Penn Yan Sunday, to speak with her at the mansion. The film crew also made several stops in Canandaigua and to the Genesee Country Village Friday.
Mysteries on History Detectives are handled by hosts. Gwen Wright handled this mystery, looking into Jemima Wilkinson’s past as the founder of the Universal Friend. She interviewed Potter and Mitchell, because the museum houses a number of items from the founder’s past. Dumas was interviewed because she is in the final stages of completing a biography of Wilkinson. Elisabeth Harris, associate producer, explained Dumas even did some revising to the book based on what History Detectives found.
According to the Yates County historical society, Wilkinson was born in 1752. In her early 20s, she fell ill, and upon recovery said she had a vision to preach to “a dying and sinful world.” She did just that in the name of the Publick Universal Friend throughout her birth state of Rhode Island. She also preached in Connecticut and Pennsylvania.
The society said that she came to Jerusalem, N.Y., because she wanted a place where she and her followers could be apart from the world. The first party of Universal Friends, 25 in total, arrived on the western shore of Seneca Lake in 1788.
History Detectives was in the area as well, Friday, March 5, filming for another episode. The film crew descended on the Curtiss Museum to solve a mystery about early pilot Cromwell Dixon. Kruis said that episode will air Monday, July 19, 9 p.m./8 p.m. central time. Kruis added that stations do vary, and to check local listings.

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