Skip to Main Content

The Town & the City: Lowell before and after The Civil War

Originally created to be a digital archive for Lowell documents from 1826 to 1861, this website has grown to cover many periods and events in Lowell's history.

Spiritualism in 19th century Lowell

“To dismiss Spiritualists as a "lunatic fringe" is to ignore the significant ways in which their faith reflected the values of Victorian America. Every practice or idea developed within Spiritualism was an extreme form of an idea already afloat in American culture.”
 - Ann Braude, Radical Spirits (2001)

“He [John C. Dalton, M. D.] says: ‘My life has been emphatically a happy one. Not free, of course, from the natural vicissitudes. Although neither a Swedenborgian nor a Spiritualist, I enjoy communion with near and dear friends, who ·from time to time have gone to enjoy the nearer presence of their Creator.’”
 - A Memorial of John C. Dalton, M. D. An Address Delivered before the Middlesex North District Medical Society, April 27, 1864, by John O. Green. M.D. Lowell

       Spiritualism, defined here as the belief that living people can communicate with people who have died, grew in popularity in the United States from 1848 through the 19th century and spiritualist organizations continued into the 20th century.

Google Ngram for “Spiritualism”, “spiritualism”, and "SPIRITUALISM".

            March 31, 1848 is often set as the beginning of the Spiritualist movement. This is the date that the Fox sisters first claimed that mysterious rapping sounds were communications from the spirit world. This event was the trigger for the rapid increase in popularity of the movement; however, many of the beliefs and ideas of the movement had already taken root.


Google Ngram for the term "Modern Spiritualism"


Google Ngram for "Spiritualism" (all cases) and "rappings" (all cases). This Ngram lends support to the idea that Spiritualism was more than the Fox sisiters and rappings.

Lowell was one of the locations with the highest levels of spiritualist activity in the country, especially in the third quarter of the 19th century.

From - The Rise of 19th-century American Spiritualism, 1854—1873. David K. Nartonis.
Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, June 2010, Vol. 49, No. 2, pp. 361-373.

In the table above, locations 1 - 9 together, with Lowell at number 3, contributed about half of all the public meeting activity between 1859 and 1866 found in the Nartonis (2010) study.

Spiritualism, perhaps inevitably, became a subject for hucksters, charlatans, and con men and con women. Sometimes the frauds and tricksters swindled vulnerable and distraught people and sometimes their deceptions were primarily for entertainment value. There were also people who believed or were at least open to the possibility that spirits could communicate with or impart wisdom to the living. Most believers did not claim to be mediums, but were only curious and wanted to explore the possibilities presented by these beliefs.  

While Lowell attracted plenty of the tricksters, it was also a center for those with sincere beliefs or curiosities about the concepts of Spiritualism.

         Lowell had a good supply the factors that led to the growth of spiritualism in the 19th century.

         Spiritualism wasn’t just seances. There were inquirers, questioners, seekers, the interested, the curious, the skeptics, and those looking to entertain and be entertained. Spiritualism was a broad spectrum of views with nothing approaching an orthodoxy, doctrine, or religion. Many saw themselves as genuine inquirers or “investigators”, looking for scientific evidence and empirical proof of the immortality of the soul by establishing communication with the spirits of the dead. As opposed to being creepy, Spiritualism was in many ways more optimistic than many of the beliefs of the era. Huge changes, discoveries, and paradigm shifts were taking place in the social/cultural, religious, economic, political, scientific/technological, medical, and areas.

         In the social/cultural area, for example, Lowell had a large population and was close to Boston and accessible by railroad. There were numerous churches, lecture halls, and entertainment venues available. Considering the religious and philosophical atmosphere at the time, Lowell had a Swedenborgian Church, a diversity of religious beliefs including Freewill Baptist, Unitarian, Universalist, and Wesleyan Methodist, a rural or garden cemetery, and a community of Transcendentalists just up the Concord River.

        Economically, it was the period of, rapid Westward expansion, The Gold Rush, urbanization, mass immigration, industrialization, railroads, and canals. Politically there were abolitionist and anti-slavery activities, Temperance movements, and women’s rights advocacy.

         In the scientific and technological areas, there were scientific discoveries, advances, and inventions that did not seem to many people to be that different from Spiritualism, including magnetism, electricity, the telegraph, gravity, astronomy, and anatomy. In medicine, there was movement away from heroic, regular, orthodox medicine and towards irregular, heterodox, benign medical treatments, in addition to the recent discovery of ether. There was also public and professional interest in mesmerism or animal magnetism and phrenology.

Churches and Pastors from the 1849 Lowell City Directory

The Public Gatherings

Spiritualists of this era typically rejected hierarchy, doctrine, dogma, and formal organization. The following groups were mentioned in the newspapers and other primary documents at the time:

Independent Spiritualist Circle

Lee Street Church Spiritualist Society

Lee Street Spiritualist Society

Lee Street Church and Society

First Spiritualist Society

(Church of the) The First Spiritualist Society

Union Association of Spiritualists

First Society of Spiritualists

Children's Progressive Lyceum

The following halls, buildings, and churches were mentioned as places where Spiritualist meetings took place in the newspaper articles below (belief, curiosity, skepticism, and entertainment often overlapped).

Welles Hall

Appleton Hall

Huntington Hall

112 Merrimack Street

Mechanics' Hall

Lee Street Church

Lyceum Hall

Music Hall

Reed's Hall

Grand Army Hall

Relevant Articles from the Lowell Newspapers

The following clippings were taken from Lowell newspapers of the era. While the emphasis is on events in Lowell, sometimes news from other areas is included.

Key -
LDCN - Lowell Daily Citizen and News
LDJC - Lowell Daily Journal and News
LDC - Lowell Daily Courier

Newspaper articles - 1851 to 1859

Lowell Courier 1851-05-05 New Books
Lowell Courier 1852-01-15 Emigration of the Rappers
Lowell Courier 1853-01-04 Modern Spiritualism
Lowell Courier 1853-01-24 Government "Spiritual Knockings"
Lowell Courier 1853-01-26 "How the Spiritual Rappings are Made"
Lowell Courier 1853-01-27 Spiritual Manifestations
Lowell Courier 1853-01-28 Electro-Reflex Currents of the Brain
Lowell Courier 1853-02-19 The Bank of Chicago conducted by Spirits
Lowell Courier 1853-03-07 Rapped out of Thirteen Thousand Dollars
Lowell Courier 1853-03-14 Spirits in London
Lowell Courier 1853-03-24 The Case of Mr. George Doughty
Lowell Courier 1853-04-09 Spiritual Convention
Lowell Courier 1853-04-13 Rev. John Spear in a Trance
Lowell Courier 1853-04-16 Legislative
Lowell Courier 1853-05-03 Spiritualism vs. Common Sense
Lowell Courier 1853-05-04 Clerical Spiritual Rappings
Lowell Courier 1853-05-14 A Challenge to Rappers
Lowell Courier 1853-08-20 Two new and neat pamphlets
Lowell Courier 1853-08-22 To the Candid and the Curious
Lowell Courier 1853-09-01 Ballston Spa
Lowell Courier 1853-09-09 Exorcism and Superstition
Lowell Courier 1853-10-18 Book - "Page's Psychomancy"
Lowell Courier 1853-10-21 Judge Edmonds of New York
Lowell Courier 1853-11-28 Book - Swedenbourg [sic]
Lowell Courier 1853-12-05 Lawrence Debating Union
Lowell Courier 1853-12-21 Buffalo - first visit of the Foxes
Lowell Courier 1854-03-04 Spiritualism - lecture by Andrew Jackson Davis in Lowell
LDCN 1856-05-02 Spirits Wrong
LDCN 1856-07-14 cured of a six year old cancer
LDCN 1856-08-16 Mrs. Huntley, will speak in Appleton Hall
LDCN 1856-11-11 Spiritualism?
LDCN 1856-11-15 A Fair Test for the "Mediums"
LDCN 1856-11-17 "Spiritual."
LDCN 1856-12-13 Religious Items
LDCN 1856-04-28  Judge Edmonds
LDCN 1856-09-09  Spiritualism lecture at Welles Hall - Dr. John Bouvee Dods
LDCN 1856-10-03  Spirit rapping at Welles Hall - Mrs. [Ada L.] Coan
LDCN 1856-12-15  Suicide by a Spiritualist - "Hattie A. Eager" of Boston
LDCN 1857-01-03  Discharged
LDCN 1857-03-04  Lecture against Spiritualism - Rev. B. F. Clark of North Chelmsford, at Huntington Hall
Lowell Courier 1857-04-24 Harvard expelled divinity student
LDCN 1857-05-02  Editor of N. E. Spiritualist at Prescott st. Church [A. E. Newton of Boston]
LDCN 1857-07-02  The Investigation of Spiritualism [Committee of professors at Harvard]
LDCN 1857-10-27 Mr. Editor - Davenport Boys [Brothers] at 112 Merrimack Street
LDCN 1857-11-12 Davenport boys
LDCN 1857-11-12 "An afternoon with the spirits"
LDCN 1857-11-13 printer's ink
LDCN 1857-11-17 "An evening among the spirits"
LDCN 1857-11-20 The Davenport Boys
Lowell Courier 1858-01-28 Lecture on Spiritualism- Mrs. Henderson, Welles Hall
Lowell Courier 1858-02-02 Mr. J. Garland
Lowell Courier 1858-02-17 Lecture under spirit influence - Anna M. Henderson, Welles Hall, "Clergymen are respectfully invited to attend free"
LDCN 1858-03-23 Nothing like printer's ink
Lowell Courier 1858-04-24 Animal Magnetism and Spiritualism - Dr. G. W. Stone, at Huntington Hall
LDCN 1858-05-25  Deluded
LDCN 1858-07-03  Trance-speaker lecture - Father Pierce, Independent Spiritualist Circle, Mechanics' Building
LDCN 1858-07-10  Mrs. Thompson lecture, Independent Spiritualist Circle, Mechanics' Building
LDCN 1858-08-14  Margaretta Fox
LDCN 1858-09-01  Pic-Nics
LDCN 1859-01-27 M. V. Bly - The "Detective Medium", Huntington Hall
LDCN 1859-01-31  Spiritualism, Dr. Wm. F. Channing, Miss Susan E. Burdick
LDCN 1859-02-03 Instructive Lectures - Dr. J. Turner, at Huntington Hall
LDCN 1859-02-05  Mr. Editor: L. E. Lincoln
LDCN 1859-02-10  Spiritualism lecture at Welles Hall - Miss Emma Hardinge
LDCN 1859-03-29 Spiritualism
LDCN 1859-06-29 The Davenport Boys
LDCN 1859-07-25  Miss Abby A. Goddard - Singular Developments in the History of a Lowell
LDCN 1859-07-28  Spiritualist pic-nic
LDCN 1859-07-29  Spiritualist pic-nic
LDCN 1859-09-14  Spiritualist pic-nic
Lowell Courier 1859-09-15 a political party

Newspaper articles - 1860 to 1864

LDCN 1860-07-21  A Monster Pic-nic
LDC 1860-09-08 Thoreau lecture, at Welles Hall
LDJC 1860-09-08 Thoreau will speak, at Welles Hall
LDCN 1860-12-18  Spiritualist Funeral, at Welles Hall
LDC 1861-04-13 The Coroner's Inquest - Miss Anna A. Dower
LDC 1861-04-15 The Inquest - Miss Anna A. Dower
LDCN 1861-05-16  Police Court - Miss Anna A. Dower
LDCN 1861-05-17 The court room is filled with ladies, old and young. - Miss Anna A. Dower

LDCN 1861-05-23

mixed up with mesmerism, spiritualism, affinity, &c, &c. - Miss Anna A. Dower

LDCN 1861-12-03  Lectures on Prophecy, in Mechanics' Hall
LDCN 1861-12-04 “supreme court of East Cambridge, before the full bench.” - Miss Anna A. Dower
LDCN 1863-03-10  Union Association of Spiritualists, Huntington Hall
LDCN 1863-03-14 Rev. Mr. Gunner - "Sign of the Times", Lee st. Church
LDCN 1863-04-29  Free Lecture -W. K. Ripley, Henry Morgan
LDCN 1863-05-26 H. Melville Fay
LDCN 1863-06-18  S. J. Finney of Ohio, Welles Hall, The Spiritualists will in the future meet in Welles Hall instead of Central Church
LDCN 1863-08-19  Picnic
LDCN 1863-08-25  Pic-nic To-morrow
LDCN 1863-08-27 The Pic-Nic
LDCN 1863-08-29  postponed
LDCN 1863-09-30  holding services in the Lee street church, and will commence their meetings there the first Sunday of the coming month
LDCN 1863-11-07  Miss Susie M.Johnson, Lee-street Church
LDCN 1863-12-10 Mr. W. A. Hume, in the Lee street Church
LDCN 1863-12-12  Miss Martha E. Beckwith, trance speaker, Lee street Church
LDCN 1863-12-24 Exhibition - Christmas Day Evening, LEE-STREET CHURCH
LDCN 1864-01-02  Miss Nellie Temple, Lee-street church
LDCN 1864-02-03  The Lecture
LDCN 1864-02-20  Mrs. C. P. Works, Lee street church
LDCN 1864-03-30  Entertainment - Lee-street Church
LDCN 1864-06-04  Miss Martha L. Beckwith, Lee street church
LDCN 1864-10-03  Funeral, Mrs. Lydia Leonard, Lee Street Church
Lowell  Courier 1864-10-17 Farewell Discourse - Rev. Hinckley
LDCN 1864-10-17  Rev. Frederick Hinckley
Lowell Courier 1864-12-24 Sunday Services - Miss Nellie Temple, Lee Street Church
Lowell Courier 1864-12-24 Christmas Gatherings
Lowell  Courier 1864-12-31 Charles Hayden, Lee Street Church
Lowell  Courier 1864-12-31 Children's Progressive Lyceum, Lee Street Church and Vestry

Newspaper articles - 1865 to 1869

LDCN 1865-01-07  Clairvoyant Physician - Mrs. A. L. Hobart
LDCN 1865-02-11  Mrs. A. A. Currier, Lee street church
LDCN 1865-03-04  Mrs. Nellie Temple Brigham, Lee street church
LDCN 1865-03-11  Mrs. E. A. Bliss, Lee street church
LDCN 1865-04-01  J. G. Fish, Lee street church
Lowell  Courier 1865-04-08 Mrs. Pillsbury, Lee Street Church
LDCN 1865-04-22  Miss Sarah A. Nuit, Lee street church
Lowell  Courier 1865-05-13 Charles Hayden, Lee Street Church
LDCN 1865-07-17 Robert Heller, Huntington Hall
LDCN 1865-12-20  Exhibition, Lee Street Church Spiritualist Society
LDCN 1866-02-16  A Fair and Festival, Lee Street Church and Society
LDCN 1866-03-03  Mrs. Anna A. Middlebrook, Lee Street Church
LDCN 1866-03-29  Discussion, Revs. J. G. Fish and Miles Grant, Lee street church
LDCN 1866-03-31  Fred. L. H. Willie [Willis], Lee street church
LDCN 1866-04-28  Funeral, Lee street church
LDCN 1866-05-21  Temperance Lecture, Huntington Hall
LDCN 1866-06-08  Miss Laura V. Ellis - Cabinet Manifestations, Lee Street Church
LDCN 1866-06-08 Laura V. Ellis - The Child Wonder, Lee Street Church
LDCN 1866-07-21  Mrs. Waisbrooker, Lee-street church
LDCN 1866-09-15  S. J. Finney, Lee street church
LDCN 1866-10-04  Sale of Pews, Lee Street Church
LDCN 1866-10-16  Fair and Festival, The Children's Progressive Lyceum, Vestry of the Lee Street Church
LDCN 1866-12-22  Mrs. Fannie D. Smith, Lee Street Church
LDCN 1866-12-29  Mrs. S. A. Byrnes, Lee Street Church
LDCN 1867-01-05  Mrs. N. J. Willis, Lee Street Church
Lowell  Courier 1867-02-16 H. G. Smith, Lee Street Church
LDCN 1867-02-16  H. G. Smith, Lee Street Church
Lowell  Courier 1867-02-18 not the Man
Lowell  Courier 1867-03-16 Miss Julia J. Hubbard, Lee Street Church
Lowell Courier 1867-03-21 Festival! - First Spiritualist Society, Huntington Hall
Lowell  Courier 1867-04-12 City Library
Lowell  Courier 1867-04-27 Wm. A. Hulme, Miss Julia J. Hubbard
Lowell  Courier 1867-05-06 to be sold by auction
Lowell  Courier 1867-05-07 Trustees' sale of the Lee Street Church
Lowell  Courier 1867-05-15 Common Council
Lowell  Courier 1867-05-23 Sale of the Lee Street Church
Lowell Courier 1867-06-05 Spiritualism in the United States
LDCN 1867-06-06  Lecture - A. J. Davis, Lee Street Church
LDCN 1867-10-12  Mrs. Richard C. Pillsbury, Children's Progressive Lyceum, the Lee Street Church
LDCN 1867-11-16  Funeral, Lee Street Church
LDCN 1867-11-23  Rev. J. O. Barrett, Lee Street Church
LDCN 1868-02-08  Mr. E. S. Wheeler, Lee Street Church
LDCN 1868-02-11  Funeral, Capt. James Townsend, Lee street church
LDCN 1868-03-21  Miss Eliza H. Feller, Lee Street Church
LDCN 1868-04-03  The exhibition, Childrens' Progressive Lyceum at Lee Street Church
LDCN 1868-04-11  Rev. Moses Hull, Lee Street Church
LDCN 1868-04-20 Horace Greeley
LDCN 1868-04-24  was sold yesterday
LDCN 1868-04-30  the first religious services, French Canadian Society of Catholics
LDCN 1868-05-02 Davenport brothers
LDCN 1868-05-06  first installment of $3,500
LDCN 1868-06-03  French Canadians
LDCN 1868-06-11  Marriage in Church
Lowell Courier 1869-01-30 "the Eddy Cabinet", Huntington Hall
Lowell Courier 1869-02-06 Spiritualism - Chas. H. Reed / Table Committees
Lowell Courier 1869-03-16 Planchette, the Despair of Science
LDCN 1869-03-30  The twenty first anniversary of modern spiritualism, Lyceum Hall
Lowell Courier 1869-04-15 Huntington Hall Meetings, Elder Grant
Lowell Courier 1869-04-16 Huntington Hall Meetings, Elder Grant
Lowell Courier 1869-04-17 Lowell Church Directory, First Society of Spiritualists. Huntington Hall Meetings
Lowell Courier 1869-05-13 The Davenport Brothers
Lowell Courier 1869-06-02 A Physical Medium in Grief - Mr. Read
Lowell Courier 1869-06-03 "Physical Medium In Grief" letter
Lowell Courier 1869-06-09 The famous Davenport Brothers, Music Hall
LDCN 1869-06-10 Davenport Brothers - Music Hall
Lowell Courier 1869-06-14 Davenport Brothers
Lowell Courier 1869-06-15 Davenport Brothers
LDCN 1869-06-15 The Davenport Brothers
Lowell Courier 1869-06-16 Davenport Brothers - Music Hall
LDCN 1869-06-16 The "Séance" last night
Lowell Courier 1869-06-18 Davenport Brothers and Mr. Fay
LDCN 1869-12-20  Carbonelle vs. Spiritualism, Huntington Hall

Newspaper articles - 1870 to 1878

LDCN 1870-03-05 The Davenport Brothers - San Francisco
LDCN 1870-06-13 The Children's Progressive Lyceum, First Spiritualist Society, Welles Hall
LDCN 1870-07-07  Spiritualism on Trial
LDCN 1871-03-09  Fair and Festival, The Children's Progressive Lyceum, First Spiritualist Society, Welles Ha
LDCN 1871-07-14 Picnic - The Children's Progressive Lyceum, First Spiritualist Society
LDCN 1871-12-26  causes of insanity
LDCN 1874-02-21 Albert Colby will lead off in a discussion, Welles Hall
LDCN 1874-02-28  At Welles Hall - Albert Colby
LDCN 1874-03-07 Albert Colby - prominent Spiritualists will reply
LDCN 1874-03-13 reply to Prof. Colby's three lectures, Brother Griffin, Welles Hall
LDCN 1874-03-21 Albert Colby will make his closing argument against Spiritualism, Huntington Hall
LDCN 1874-03-28  The Discussion on Spiritualism
Lowell Courier 1874-11-25 The science of Spiritualism, as it is called
LDCN 1876-01-25  First Spiritualist Society
LDCN 1876-04-17  First Spiritualist, Reed's Hall
LDCN 1876-05-22  First Spiritualist - "Radicalism"
LDCN 1876-08-31  Spiritualist Mass Meeting
LDCN 1876-09-30 Reed's Hall - Spiritualist Society, Mrs. S. B. Moore, test circle, fire test, Mrs. N. J. Willis
LDCN 1876-10-09  First Spiritualist, Mrs. S. B. Mooren Mrs. N. J. Willis
LDCN 1876-11-20  Kirk Street Congregational - so-called "Spiritualism"
LDCN 1876-12-11  First Spiritualist - Rev. Wm. Brunton
LDCN 1876-12-18  First Spiritualist - Messrs. Plimpton, Goward, Mrs. Sarah A. Byrnes
LDCN 1877-01-05  Wonderful Entertainment, Music Hall - W. Irving Bishop
LDCN 1877-01-15  First Spiritualist - Messers. Plimpton, Albert Colby, Mrs. C. Fannie Allyn
LDCN 1877-01-17  First Spiritualist - officers
LDCN 1877-01-22  First Spiritualist - Mrs. Allyn
LDCN 1877-02-05  First Spiritualist - Mrs. Abbie N. Burnham
LDCN 1877-02-12  First Spiritualist - Mrs. Abbie N. Burnham
LDCN 1877-02-19  First Spiritualist - Mrs. Burnham
LDCN 1877-02-26 First Spiritualist - Mrs. Juliette Yeaw
LDCN 1877-04-21  Debate - Reed's Hall
LDCN 1877-05-05  Spiritualism at Reed's Hall - Mrs. Cushman, medium
LDCN 1877-08-28  The  Spiritualist camp-meeting
LDCN 1878-06-05 The Spiritualist trance speaker - Mrs. C. Fannie Allyn, Grand Army Hall