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 subsequent
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
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
Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed. Edmonds, John Worth
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

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