Séances in the archives

Well, not exactly. Just to be clear: we’re not conducting the séances…just preserving records of some that were conducted by other people, in the late 19th century!

Perhaps one of the most unusual groups of manuscripts that we have here in the archives are Edward Shippen’s Spiritualism Papers, which are included as Series V in the Martha McClellan Brown Papers (MS-147).

Edward Shippen, the father-in-law of the Browns’ second daughter Charme Brown Shippen, was a prominent businessman in the lumber industry of Meadville, Pennsylvania, and later Louisville, Kentucky. He eventually moved to Ellijay, Georgia, where he died in 1904 at the age of 84.

His papers in this series reflect his involvement with Spiritualism, a late 19th century religious movement based on communication with the spirits of dead persons. Materials consist of letters to Martha McClellan Brown, which are mainly transcripts of séances, two notebooks containing records of séances, published articles by Shippen on Spiritualism, and an issue of the Spiritualist periodical, Banner of Light.

The séance transcripts (found in MS-147, Box 15, Folders 1 & 2) include conversations reportedly involving historical figures such as Pythagoras, Confucius, Pontius Pilate, and General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson (shown below).

Stonewall Jackson seance transcript, MS-147

Stonewall Jackson seance transcript, MS-147, Box 15, File 2

The first few lines of the above séance with Stonewall Jackson read:

The last words I uttered as a mortal were “Let us cross over the river and rest in the shade of the tres.” Wearied with the perils and dangers, the fatigues and privations of my earth-life existence, the above expressions, were a fitting climax to such a career as I had followed. There is a significance in those utterances, I wish, as a spirit, to impress upon every mortal, and it is to that purpose, I now make this manifestation…

To read more of Edward Shippen’s Spiritualism papers, you’ll want to have a look at MS-147, Martha McClellan Brown Papers, Box 15. If you are interested in Martha McClellan Brown herself, who was an important figure in the temperance movement, you might be interested in a previous blog post we wrote about her: “To Vote But Not To Drink” (March 20, 2012).

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