The Spirit of Benjamin Franklin Delivers a Sermon through John Spear


One well known trance speaker of the early spiritualist movement was John Murray Spear, a Universalist minister from Boston, who had been active in the reform community as a leader of the Garrisonian wing of the Abolitionists, and as an influential worker in the cause to abolish capital punishment and to ameliorate prison conditions.

Note on the life of John Murray Spear in the Dictionary of Unitarian and Universalist Biography

When Spear first began speaking and acting under “spirit control,” he incorporated it into his clerical activities: giving sermons, giving spiritual healings, and engaging in travel and “missions” to people and places he did not know beforehand.  Not long after he became known as a spiritualist, however, the Universalists dropped him from fellowship, although he continued to act as a kind of missionary (and “general agent”) for the spirits for the rest of his life.

According to his friend, spiritualist Allen Putnam, John Spear was more capable than any other medium he knew of placing himself, without reservation, at the complete disposal of the spirits.  During Spear’s public speeches, lectures, and sermons, he would go into a deep trance.  Afterwards he would remember nothing of what had been communicated through him.

The following article was written by Adin Ballou, the founder of the Hopedale Community, a utopian, socialistic community founded on Christian principles, not far from Boston.  It describes an early stage of Spear’s career as a spiritualist.  By the time Ballou wrote this article in his newspaper, The Practical Christian, he, too, was well on his way to becoming a spiritualist.

J. M. Spear at Hopedale.

    By arrangement with Br. Wm. H. Fish, Br. Spear, of Boston, took his place, and addressed the Hopedale Friends last Sabbath, forenoon and afternoon.  Being at home I had the pleasure of listening to his discourses.  In the morning he announced a sermon by Benjamin Franklin, from Isaiah xi:10—“And his rest shall be glorious.”  The novelty of this announcement required some explanation.  It appeared that Br. Spear, being a spirit Medium, found his hand moved a few days since, to write.  His hand proceeded to write, as nearly as I can now recollect to repeat, the following:—“A sermon to the Hopedale people, by Franklin, through John M. Spear, mouth piece.  Text, his rest shall be glorious.”  An able skeleton of the discourse was written out at the same time for the preacher.  Br. Spear filled up this skeleton with a very pertinent and solid amplification.  He frequently used the expression, “Franklin desires to say to you.”  The drift of the discourse was, Franklin’s satisfaction at the rise and progress of a people so practical, in respect to all that is necessary to human welfare, morally, intellectually and physically.  The prominent points of that practicality were specified, illustrated, and commended with admirable clearness and force.  The framework and capital points of the sermon were very little like J. M. Spear, and very much in the Franklinian strain.  Fortunately, our people are too free minded and familiar with strange things, to be startled by such developments.
    How many really believed that Franklin had anything to do with the discourse, I cannot say.  But I read in various countenances skepticism enough to save the place from the utterly overwhelming scorn of the wise and prudent.  It would however, be useless for some of us to think of ever again being considered persons of common sense.  Nevertheless, I hope our disgusted friends here and there, (for I hear we have such) who are sorry to see us making fools of ourselves, will rest in the serenity and patience of their superior wisdom, a few months, before they take measures to place us in the Hospital.  Perhaps it will turn out that we have reason and calmness enough left, not seriously to harm any one.  Time is a great pacificator of these disquietudes.  “Wait a little longer.”
    In the afternoon Br. Spear gave us a narration of his experiences, as a spirit Medium.  They were truly wonderful and instructive.  The reliefs given to the sick by the touch of his hand, the errands of mercy on which he has been sent, the drawing of mystic figures, (which were presented to the congregation) &c., all directed and wrought by invisible intelligences, without his own conscious mental activity, appeared to me utterly unaccountable on any hypothesis which discards the intervention of departed spirits, or which would impiously ascribe them to an infernal agency.
    I understand that our worthy brother finds himself almost daily called on to relieve the sick, and to perform works of mercy, as a spirit medium; insomuch, that it is not improbable he may be obliged to give himself up to the dispensation of these new gifts.  May heavenly wisdom guide him, and heavenly love sustain him.  Let those who receive spiritual benefits through him, be considerate enough to keep him comfortably suppplied with temporal ones; that neither he nor his family may lack what is needful to a decent physical sustenance, on account of this peculiar work.  These things are marvelous in our old materialistic eyes; but if we cannot welcome them, let us at least suspend opposition, and say, with Gamaliel of old,—“If this counsel or this work be of men, it will come to nought; but if it be of God, ye cannot overthrow it; lest haply ye be found even to fight against God.”  Some may be thought silly fools, for believing too much; but others, I wot of, are in danger of becoming learned and wicked fools by a bigoted, pertinacious, irrational and persecuting skepticism. —A[din] B[allou].

The Practical Christian, July 17, 1852.


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