Sunderland, La Roy (1804-1885)
Sunderland, La Roy (1804-1885)
Methodist minister, abolitionist, and magnetist. Sunderland was born May 18, 1804, in Exeter, Rhode Island. He was apprenticed to a shoemaker. He became converted to Methodism and became a revivalist preacher at the age of 18. He had a reputation as an orator of great power and was prominent in the temperance and antislavery movement, presiding at the meeting in New York in October 1834 when the first Methodist antislavery society was organized. He was a delegate to the first antislavery convention at Cincinnati in 1841 and the World Convention in London in 1843.
In 1833 he withdrew from the ministry and two years later became one of the founders of Zion's Watchman, the antislavery periodical for the Methodist abolitionists in New England. He edited the tabloid for the next seven years. In 1842 he joined with a number of his socially active colleagues in withdrawing from the Methodist Episcopal Church and founding the Wesleyan Methodist Church. However, at the same time, he was undergoing a crisis of faith. A noted evangelist, he had come to feel that his abilities were a result of hypnotic powers. He had concluded that conversion was a natural, not a supernatural, action. His line of reasoning led him to the conclusion that religion was a fraud.
In 1842 he founded and also edited the Magnet in which he expounded his beliefs in mesmeric power and suggestion. He made a special study of animal magnetism and mesmerism, and in 1843 published Pathetism; With Practical Instructions: Demonstrating the Falsity of the Hitherto Prevalent Assumptions in Regard to What Has Been Called "Mesmerism" and "Neurology," and Illustrating Those Laws Which Induce Somnambulism, Second Sight, Sleep, Dreaming, Trance, and Clairvoyance, with Numerous Facts Tending to Show the Pathology of Monomania, Insanity, Witchcraft, and Various Other Mental or Nervous Phenomena.
He moved on to support Grahamism, an early school of natural diet, and Spiritualism. In 1851, he founded The Spiritual Philosopher, the first Spiritualist periodical in America. A year later, the title changed to The Spirit World. Although in the first issue he criticized the spirit theory and the evidence adduced on its behalf, he quickly became a believer when his own daughter, Margarette Cooper, became a medium. His enthusiasm cooled somewhat in the following year as a result of a hoax played upon him, and he warned his readers against believing that all the phenomena ascribed to spirit intervention had necessarily an extra-mundane cause, as many might be due to unconscious action on the part of the medium.
Sunderland was also an exponent of phrenology. Of special interest is the fact that he sometimes exhibited painless tooth extraction with entranced subjects, and on two occasions even the dentist was hypnotized. Sunderland's ideas were mentioned by James Braid, whose term "hypnotism" eventually won general consent.
In 1868, Sunderland's doubts about spirit phenomena returned, and in his book The Trance and Correlative Phenomena he states that neither mediums nor spirits have ever been able to show where human actions end and the real spiritual begins in phenomena.
In the last years of his life he became an infidel and advocated atheism. He died in Quincy, Massachusetts, on May 15, 1885, reportedly having a happy end in spite of his disbelief in any afterlife.
Sunderland, La Roy. "An Appeal on the Subject of Slavery." Zion's Watchman (December 5, 1834).
——. The Book of Human Nature. New York: Stearns, 1853. ——.
"Confessions of a Magnitizer" Exposed. Boston: Redding, 1845.
——. Ideology. Boston: J. P. Mendum, 1885-87.
——. Pathetism; With Practical Instructions: Demonstrating the Falsity of the Hitherto Prevalent Assumptions in Regard to What Has Been Called "Mesmerism" and "Neurology," and Illustrating Those Laws Which Induce Somnambulism, Second Sight, Sleep, Dreaming, Trance, and Clairvoyance, with Numerous Facts Tending to Show the Pathology of Monomania, Insanity, Witchcraft, and Various Other Mental or Nervous Phenomena. Boston: White and Potter, 1847.
——. Testimony of God Against Slavery. Boston: D. K. Hitchcock, 1836.
——. The Trance. Chicago: J. Walker, 1868.