January 15-16, 1858 - Spiritual Manifestations


Friday 15th. . . . Otis & I & DeWit went to father's P.M. to see Cyrus Packard & his wife. The latter is a speaking medium. Miss Mary Dodge, this winter's teacher; & Ellen Badger were there to supper. Mother invited in several. Uncle [Myron King's] family with exception of himself & Mr. [Henry] Garter [Sr.], Colonel [McKelvey] & wife, Mrs. Kinney, Anne & Ellen, the Mousehunt boys, J. Utter, J. Jackson, Mr. & Mrs. Howe &c. were there to witness spiritual manifestations. Rained a little.


Saturday 16th. Cloudy. Mother & Mrs. Packard called P.M. Mrs. P. was influenced to pray, sing, & speak as she was the night before. She is a very smart woman, & good.




This spooky and fascinating excerpt from the journal cried out for some expansion in the novel, so I have included some "Cousin Betsy" episodes. Note that at least two of the older men who might have attended this gathering chose not to. Rosette reports a mixing of Christian and spiritualist elements here - praying and singing. The Ramsdells were church-going people - "meeting" is mentioned many times through the journal, with "Elder Gown" or "Elder Lee" preaching, presumably in the school house.


A descendant of the Packard family, Mary E. Packard, has told me that Betsy was later a member of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union (founded 1873). Cyrus was a part-time Universalist minister.* One of his sisters married a Ramsdell, and another sister married into the Watson family, becoming the mother of Rosette's brother Solomon's two wives - Jennette and, after Jennette's death, Calista.


What was the spiritual climate of the time? 


During the decade before the Civil War, a growing number of Americans gathered around tables in dimly lit rooms, joined hands, and sought enlightening contact with spirits. The result was Spiritualism, a distinctly colorful religious ideology centered on spirit communication and spirit activity. Spiritualism in Antebellum America [by Bret E. Carroll] analyzes the attempt by spiritually restless Americans of the 1840s and 1850s to negotiate a satisfying combination of freedom and authority as they sought a sense of harmony with the universe.

--From the book description at Indiana University Press


Rosette herself uses generic, distant terminology for God, referring to the "Allseeing Eye" and "the help of God" when she is particularly introspective one day. She includes in the journal some copied poems/songs that have mention of Heaven.


*Consider this article on spiritualism created by the Unitarian Universalists.


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