Spiritualists Correct the Record about Garrison


1. Luther Colby, “William Lloyd Garrison,” Banner of Light (Boston), June 7, 1879.

As we intimated last week, Mr. Garrison gave another manifestation of his fearlessness of soul by investigating into the verity of the spiritual phenomena, at their earliest appearance, the result being in his case as it is with all honest and independent inquirers into the subject.  We have been ourselves privileged to sit with him in circles at the residence of Mrs. Mary M. Hardy, (afterward Perkins,) and we have received additional proof of Mr. Garrison’s interest in the subject from John M. Spear and other old and well-known disciples of the New Dispensation of Modern Spiritualism, who are cognizant of his belief for a score of years or more.

Just previous to his departure for New York to visit his daughter before her sailing for Europe, Mr. Garrison called upon Mrs. Susie Nickerson-White, of Boston, test medium; during the sitting she was controlled by his spirit-wife, who, in answer to his question if he should live to welcome his daughter on her return from the Old World, informed him that his time on earth was short, and that he would not be living when she (the daughter) returned.  So Mr. Garrison stated to Mrs. White before leaving her house.  On his arrival in New York he became afflicted with the serious illness that resulted in his decease, and the contemplated journey of his daughter was consequently postponed.

Though no public mention was made of Mr. Garrison’s spiritualistic convictions at the funeral, it seems the Methodist ministers of Boston are well acquainted with the fact, as at the forenoon meeting of their conference on Monday, June 2d, a series of resolutions complimentary to the deceased philanthropist were with difficulty (and only after amendment to suit the prejudices of the bigots present) passed.  During the spicy debate the following statements were made which we desire to put on record by the side of the eloquent utterances of Mr. Phillips and others, as an evidence of the true ruling spirit of the Church of to-day.  The extract is from the Boston Herald:

“The great fight was upon the third resolution, that ‘New England has lost a prophet who admirably represented the philanthropic and liberal aspect of her civilization, and was true to her most generous impulses and ideas.’  Rev. Messrs. Upham, Smith, McDonald, Twombly and others, spoke earnestly against the adoption of the above quoted words, the main objection appearing to be that Garrison was not a Christian, but was denouncing the churches for not being true to liberty, and, in his sweeping denunciations, he did not except the Methodist Church.

Dr. Upham urged that Garrison was a Spiritualist, and Spiritualism was of hell, he declared.”

The words objected to were finally stricken out, and bigots made happy thereby agreed to what was left; to our mind, however, they achieved a barren victory, and well merited the remarks of Rev. Mr. Bates during the discussion, who called attention to the fact that not a line had ever been written to impugn the character of Mr. Garrison, but that this meeting had spent an hour and a half trying to find something against him; “but thank God,” said he, “you can’t do it.”

2. T. B. Taylor, “William Lloyd Garrison’s Religion,” Banner of Light, July 5, 1879.

To the Editor of the Banner of Light:

By your permission I wish to say a few things as to what I know about Mr. Garrison’s religious sentiments; for I confess to a feeling of pain and deep regret that in all the newspaporial reports of the funeral obsequies, not one that spoke on that occasion had the bravery to say what they must have known to be true of Mr. Garrison upon—what shall I call it? the strength or weakness of the strong ones, who, by his request, spoke on the occasion of his funeral?  The brave Mr. Phillips, who could easily face a mob, and composedly wipe the blood from his cut and bruised face, after being dragged through the streets of Cincinnati, because of his advocacy of the principles of Abolitionism—even he, this brave defender of the rights of the poor slaves, had not the courage to tell the people who were present, that this grand and noble man, whom he was only too glad to almost canonize as a saint, or deify as a sort of demi-god, was a pure, genuine, out-and-out SPIRITUALIST!  No, on the question that the great, crude, outside, bigoted world needs the most light upon, in these days, Mr. Phillips and all the other brave (?) ones were silent; therefore I feel called upon to add to the testimony of your last issue what I know of Mr. Garrison as a Spiritualist.

In the fall of 1876 I visited Mr. Garrison at his quiet, pretty home in Roxbury.  I had never met him before.  But as I was expecting soon to go South to serve the people of Baltimore for one year, as the advocate and expounder of the philosophy of “the life that now is and of that which is to come,” I felt as if I would be glad to have it to say that I had once met, face to face, the noble expounder and defender of a political sentiment very dear to my own heart, to wit: the unconditional abolishment of American slavery.  So a mutual friend of his and mine informed me that if I could go out to Mr. Garrison’s that day I would be sure to find him at home, and I did so.  After the usual courtesies were over I said to Mr. Garrison, “There are two subjects upon which I shall be delighted to hear you converse, Mr. Garrison.  One is that upon which you have spent the best part of your life: the interests of the colored people.  The past we know; but what, in your opinion, is to be the future of the black man in this country?”

The foregoing inquiry opened up the whole question of slavery and freedom, upon which, in his remarkably felicitous style, he conversed with great freedom and ease.  In the goodness and generosity of his heart, he was inclined to apologize for the Southern people on the score of education, saying, “Many of the Southern people would have felt differently upon the subject if it had not been that they were educated to believe that slavery is righteven divine.”

“True,” I said, “but I can’t see the force of that sentiment, since I, too, was nursed and educated in the very lap of slavery, and at one time was possessed of a large amount of slave property; yet I could never see that any man had a right to the unpaid-for labor and toil of any other man.”

“So you are a Southerner and an anti-slavery man,” responded Mr. Garrison; “and what disposition did you make of the slaves bequeathed to you, may I ask?”

“I emancipated them immediately,” I responded (with some emphasis), “in the face of terrible threats.”

“Allow me to shake your hand cordially again,” said Mr. G., grasping my hand, and adding: “I am glad to know you at even this late day.”

And so we chatted for an hour or longer, when a lull occurred in the conversation, and I ventured to say (I say ventured, for I was not sure it would be agreeable to the dear, good old man): “I would be glad to know your religious views, especially on the question of a future life and of human responsibility.”

“I have always felt a very liberal sentiment in my heart toward all religionists when I was sure they were sincere.  And as to the doctrine of a future life I have always believed it to be true, but for the last twenty or twenty-five years I have never questioned it, any more than I question my present existence.”

“Then you have undoubtedly had demonstration of that fact,” I said.

“I have indeed!” replied Mr. Garrison, his face growing radiant as he spoke.  “Twenty-five years ago, among other things I carefully inquired into the spiritual phenomena and found them genuine.  Since then I have never doubted a future life nor the possibility of spirit return and communion with us in the mortal form.”

“Have you had an extensive acquaintance with mediums and mediumship, Mr. Garrison?”

“I have indeed, from the Fox girls down to the mediums of our own city and the present day, and have found a small per cent. of fraud, but a vast deal of genuine mediumship, and it has been a great comfort to me.”

We then went into quite an extensive exchange of experiences which I will not detail.  Suffice it to say that Mr. William Lloyd Garrison gave me to understand that his religion was the sweet and blessed assurance that came to him through mediumship of a future and better life.

This is the man concerning whom Mr. Phillips said so earnestly in the form of an interrogative declaration:

“What American ever held his hand so long and so powerfully on the helm of social, intellectual, and moral America?  There have been giants in our day.  Great men God has granted in widely different spheres; earnest men, men whom public admiration lifted early into glad power.  I shall venture to name some of them.  Perhaps you will say it is not usual on an occasion like this, but long-waiting truth needs to be uttered in an hour when this great example is still absolutely indepensable to inspire the effort, to guide the motive, to cheer the hope of the nation not yet in the promised land.  I want to show you the vast breadth and depth that this man’s name signifies.  We have had Webster in the Senate, we have had Lyman Beecher in the pulpit, we have had Calhoun at the head of a section, we have had a great philosopher at Concord with his inspiration that penetrated the young mind of the Northern States.  They are the four men that history perhaps will mention somewhere near the great force whose closing in his scene we commemorate to-day.  And yet, if any one remembers, not the inadequate means merely at this man’s control, not the bitter hate simply that he confronted, not the vast work that he must be allowed to have done, measured by the opposition he encountered and the strength he held in his hands, but dismissing all those considerations, measuring nothing but the breadth and depth of his hold, his grasp on American character, social change, general progress, what man’s signet has been set so deep, planted so forever, on the thoughts of his epoch?  Trace home intelligently, trace home to their sources, the changes that have come over us in fifty years, social, political, intellectual, and religious, and you will find close at the sources of the Mississippi this boy with his proclamation.”

Yet Mr. Phillips (nor any of the balance of his grand eulogists) had not the courage to say, “And this grand man was a Spiritualist in religion.”

A grand opportunity was afforded at the funeral of Mr. Garrison to strike a blow—to “break the back” of this foolish, unreasonable and bigoted “rebellion” against a great natural truth.  But it was not improved, and this work will be left to Mr. Garrison’s biographer, who, I hope, as Gerald Massey says, “will write the future history more truthfully.”

T[imothy] B. Taylor, M. D.
1128 Vine St., Philadelphia, Pa., June 9th.

3.  Giles Badger Stebbins, “Wm. Lloyd Garrison a Spiritualist—Testimony of G. B. Stebbins,” Banner of Light, December 27, 1879.

To the Editor of the Banner of Light:

In a late Banner of Light I see mention made that Mrs. Caroline Dall denies that Mr. Garrison was a Spiritualist.  A woman who has done so much good work can spend her time to much better purpose than in such poor denial.  On page 2856, in his Liberator, he declared his conclusion that the manifestations were from and by spirit-intelligences and persons, and has never swerved from that conclusion since.  I remember, some ten or twelve years ago, at his house, listening to his narration of some interesting experiences at Worcester.  After the departure of his old and cherished friend, Henry C. Wright, he told me of remarkable messages from him, afterwards verified, in regard to the final resting-place of the body.  Three times within some six years I have visited him at his home, and on each visit Spiritualism was a leading topic, made so by his warm interest in it.  He showed me a spirit-photograph of Charles Sumner, taken at Mumler’s, nine days after the funeral of the distinguished senator, and told me how he sat alone, and both figures came on the plate in such a way as to give the idea of genuineness.  It was on Saturday, and I was to speak in Music Hall in Boston the next day in the lecture course of the Spiritualists.  I asked Mr. Garrison if he was willing I should state these facts to the audience, and he readily consented.

In the presence of over fifteen hundred people I told the story of this experience, as he told it to me at his own home.  I met him last in Philadelphia, at the Centennial, in June, 1876,and went to the Longwood Yearly Meeting of Progressive Friends, at Kennett, with him, where he again conversed with me, and affirmed his inspiring faith, his knowledge of facts of spirit-presence.

He used good judgment, aimed to see only reliable mediums, kept all this thought and ideal on this great matter in the realm of fine morals and spiritual culture, and was earnest in expression of the peace, and strength, and joy, and the clear views of life and its work and duty, which Spiritualism gave him.  In Portland, Me., I was told of his lecturing for the Spiritualists several times, but my testimony is that of direct personal intercourse.  I know that William Lloyd Garrison was and is a Spiritualist.

Truly yours,
Giles B. Stebbins
Detroit, Mich., Dec. 8th, 1879.

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