Edmonds, John Worth (1799-1874)
Edmonds, John Worth (1799-1874)
One of the most influential early American Spiritualists. Edmonds was born March 13, 1799, at Hudson, New York, and educated at local public schools. In 1814 he entered Williams College, Williamstown, Massachusetts, moving a year later to Union College, Schenectady, New York, where he graduated in 1816. He went on to read law at Cooperstown, New York. After a great public career in the course of which he was a member of both branches of the state legislature of New York, president of the senate, and judge of the supreme court of New York, he resigned the latter position on account of the outcry raised against him because of his beliefs in Spiritualism.
His interest in the phenomena called the Rochester rappings was aroused in January 1851; the first account of his experiences was published on August 1, 1853, in the New York Courier in an article entitled "To the Public." To meet the continual attacks of the press against Spiritualism, he confessed his complete conversion to this belief and told the story of his investigation. This bold step produced a great sensation. His sub-sequent copious writings aroused a furious controversy.
In a letter published in the New York Herald on August 6, 1853, he writes:
"I went into the investigation originally thinking it a deception, and intending to make public my exposure of it. Having from my researches come to a different conclusion, I feel that the obligation to make known the result is just as strong. Therefore it is, mainly, that I give the result to the world. I say mainly because there is another consideration which influences me, and that is, the desire to extend to others a knowledge which I am conscious cannot but make them happier and better."
He witnessed both physical and mental phenomena, kept a careful record running to 1,600 pages, struggled against conviction, and resorted to every expedient he could devise to detect fraud and to guard against delusion. He told the story of his experiences and conversion again and again in his Appeal to the Public (published in answer to the abuse heaped upon him) and in his series of letters on Spiritualism, published in the New York Tribune.
Later his experiences became more direct. He himself developed the gift of mediumship. Between 1853 and 1854, in a small circle formed with a few chosen friends, he received many spirit communications. The chief communicators were alleged to be Emanuel Swedenborg and Francis Bacon. Their messages were published in the two-volume Spiritualism (1852-53), by Edmonds and George T. Dexter, which had an enormous sale.
Laura, the daughter of Edmonds, also became a medium. She developed great musical powers and the gift of tongues. Although she knew only English and a smattering of French, she spoke in nine or ten different languages in trance with the fluency of a native. Spanish, French, Greek, Italian, Portuguese, Latin, Hungarian, and Indian dialects were identified.
These phenomena and many others were carefully recorded by Edmonds. The account of his experiences with raps, as given in the New York Tribune, March 1859, is especially illustrative:
"And finally after weeks of such trials, as if to dispel all idea in my mind as to its being done by others, or by machinery, the rappings came to me alone, when I was in bed, when no mortal but myself was in the room. I first heard them on the floor, as I lay, reading. I said 'It's a mouse.' They instantly changed their location from one part of the room to another, with a rapidity that no mouse could equal. 'Still, it might be more than one mouse.' And then they came upon my person—distinct, clear, unequivocal. I explained it to myself by calling it a twitching of the nerves, which at times I had experienced, and so I tried to see if it was so. It was on my thigh that they came. I sat up in bed, threw off all clothing from the limb, leaving it entirely bare. I held my lighted lamp in one hand near my leg and sat and looked at it. I tried various experiments. I laid my left hand flat on the spot—the raps would be then on my hand and cease on my leg. I laid my hand edgewise on the limb and the force, whatever it was, would pass across my hand and reach the leg, making itself as perceptible on each finger as on the leg. I held my hand two or three inches from my thigh and found that they instantly stopped and resumed their work as soon as I withdrew my hand. But, I said to myself, this is some local affection which the magnetism of my hand can reach. Immediately they ran riot all over my limbs, touching me with a distinctness and rapidity that was marvelous, running up and down both limbs from the thighs to the end of the toes."
Edmonds never wavered in his belief in later years. His reputation and fearless championship of the cause for a period of more than two decades was an important factor in the growth and spread of American Spiritualism. In addition to his legal work, Report of Select Law Cases (1868), he also published Letters and Tracts on Spiritualism (1874). He died April 5, 1874, in New York City.