The Practical of Spiritualism

Titusville Morning Herald, July 11, 1866.


It is hereby announced that ABRAHAM JAMES, Esq., of the Artesian Well celebrity, Chicago, Ill., will be at Titusville during the present week, and will remain a few days, being en route for New York city and Boston.  All persons wishing appointment with him will address A. JAMES, Titusville, Pa., in care of John McMillen, P. O. Box 365.

A history of the Chicago Artesian Well can be obtained at the Post-office North Depot.

James Martin Peebles, The Practical of Spiritualism: Biographical Sketch of Abraham James, Historic Description of His Oil-Well Discoveries in Pleasantville, Pa., through Spirit Direction.  Chicago: Horton & Leonard, 1868.  A. James’ Address, Lock Box 7, Pleasantville, Pa.


The Future Dimly Shadowed.

While yet a resident of Chicago, parties frequently calling upon Mr. James sought to induce him to engage in wild speculative schemes, to go on exploring expeditions, and especially to visit at once the oil-well regions of Pennsylvania.  No offers, no temptations, could cause him to swerve from his convictions of right.  His uniform reply was: “Gentlemen, I must move in these matters as I’m moved upon.”  At length, half entranced, the spirit of prophecy upon him, the controlling circle said:

“The time is not yet; be patient and firm; there will be a tide in your affairs that we shall see is taken at its flood; the future has wonderful things in store for you and others, who, like an old apostle, are obedient to the heavenly vision.  Some of those oil-associations you refer to are doing comparatively well; but they are all at work in the dark.  It is with them opinion, guess-work and surface calculation; hence the few fortunes and many failures.  The time, however, is near when we shall take this medium into that country, and open up a vast territory in strict harmony with the principles of geological science; a territory rich in this production, not even dreamed of now by oil companies.  The oil stratum will be fully reached by drilling through the fourth sand, making the receiver in the underlying slate.  So sure as the prophet said, ‘the rocks shall pour forth rivers of oil,’ so sure will this work when commenced eclipse all others in that direction.”

This communication seemed designed both for the medium and those present.  The band withdrawing their more positive influence, the purport of their words bloomed out fully into the outer consciousness and memory of the medium.  He had seen the same imaged in vision.  Leaving his body, he had also visited the locality in company with the geological portion of his spirit circle.  “Coming events casting their shadows before,” other media had similar visions of the successes that would attend his movements in a petroleum country.


There is a vast difference between a wild oil-excitement fever, resulting in the organization of oil companies for speculation, with the aim to fill the coffers of individuals, speculation, with the aim to fill the coffers of individuals, and a steady legitimate business such as Mr. James prosecutes under spirit guidance, for the noble purpose of aiding the true and faithful in disseminating the beautiful principles of the Harmonial Philosophy.

Occasionally mediums invited visited the oil regions; but, owing to the peculiar electrical conditions of the locality, the dependent phase of their clairvoyance, or perhaps—what was more potent to prevent success—a powerful psychological influence would be thrown upon them by the parties securing their services.  This defeated the purpose, however wisely conceived.  When mortals attempt to dictate, or control, high spiritual intelligences, there is certain to be discord, and generally absolute defeat, touching the matter under consideration.

Mr. James’ First Visit to the Oil Country.

[But see the notice from the Titusville Morning Herald, above, from July 1866.  During that visit, James advertised to hear from people who were looking for oil, so that he could advise them about the merits of the sites in which they were interested.—JB]

Though frequently visiting these Pennsylvania oil regions, as a spirit, accompanied by his spirit-guides, yet to the outer world that cognizes only time, space and physical forms, it must be recorded, that he first planted his feet in the borough of Pleasantville, Venango Co., Pa., Oct. 31st, 1866.  At this time he was accompanied by Mr. C. P. Eaton, Laona, N. Y., Mr. George Porter, Fredonia, N. Y., and Mr. George McBride, Sheridan Center, N. Y.—all on their way to examine some property a few miles South of Pleasantville, belonging to two of the above named gentlemen.

Seated in a buggy with Mr. Eaton, they had proceeded but a little distance, when Mr. James became violently influenced by his attending spirit-guides.  This invisible power increased, till Paul-like, he hardly knew whether he was “in the body or out.”  The control soon becoming absolute, he was taken over the fence into a lot on the east side the road, moving rapidly and his companions following.  Nearly unconscious, the locomotion seemed to him like gliding or sailing.  The last he distinctly remembers was being hurriedly forced over the fence.  Proceeding towards the south side, then back and near the north end of the field, he moved more cautiously, as though tracing some lode or vein.  Reaching a certain locality he was thrown heavily upon the ground, and making a mark with his finger, thrust a penny some inches into the earth.  He then fell upon the bosom of the earth, stiff, and apparently lifeless.  His eyes were closed, the face pale, the pulse feeble, and the limbs rigid as in death.  Messrs. Porter and McBride, unaccustomed to witness this superior condition, or trance-state, were frightened, till assured by Mr. Eaton—a gentleman long familiar with the spiritual phenomena—that there was not the least danger to be apprehended.  As Peter “fell into a trance,” as Paul, the Apostles, and primitive Christians were frequently entranced, so trance is common in the ranks of Spiritualists.  There are three general divisions of spirit-control, the mechanical, the psychological and the inspirational.  In the trance-instance referred to above, Indian spirits controlled his body mechanically, while wisdom spirits induced the trance condition.

Lying upon the surface of the earth, calm and pale, apparently at death’s door, some little time, he was partially raised up by these unseen influences; and then, controlled by highly intelligent spirits to address those present.  The intelligences gave them to understand in language at once pointed and positive, that they were then upon a superior oil-producing territory, extending many miles in a certain direction.  That directly under their feet then, were flowing streams of oil that if opened, would yield rich supplies.  This was the spot—the precise location of “Harmonial Well, No. 1.” The accompanying parties noted the point; measured from it certain distances, and adjusting the stakes, left the penny in the earth at the precise point designated by the spirits.

The gentlemen present were further informed by these immortals that a certain class of minds on earth, quite devoid of selfishness and full of philanthropy, had, unconsciously to themselves, called to their aid the intelligence and guidance of a large number of exalted spirits, who, when clothed in mortality, were deeply interested in the study of chemistry, geology and the natural sciences.  Remember, that passing into spirit life does not immediately change the loves, the desires and tendencies of the individual.  [. . .]  Accordingly, during the same entrancement, those listening were assured by the geological portion of the circle, that they had long been aware of these petroleum deposits, and had patiently awaited the opportunity and conditions to develop them for the purpose of promoting the spiritual interests of the children of men upon earth.  And now in developing this oil territory through spirit direction, the trance and other spiritual phenomena, they felt they could at the same time demonstrate their own conscious existence; could show that changing worlds does not destroy identity; does not effect individuality; that all true knowledge gained here is retained there, and that the future life is one of intense activity and progress.  Furthermore, they could put into the hands of many true and faithful workers such a competency as would aid them to be more serviceable instruments and missionaries under the supervision of guardian angels for the upbuilding of the great temple of the Harmonial Philosophy.

Pleasantville, formerly small and very quiet, is situated on high land some 500 feet above Oil creek, and entirely out of the supposed immediately petroleum region, at the time of locating the first Harmonial Well, Mr. James entranced, the spirits breathed many prophecies from his lips.  Some of them seemed incredible; and others absolutely impossible of fulfillment in the space of time mentioned.  Among others, it was said remarkable changes would be wrought in this whole vicinity of country within the next two and three years.  Strangers would gather from different points; the streets would be lined with people; a vast amount of business would be done; many poor would exult in a competence; old buildings would be repaired, and new ones erected; more liberal religious principles would be taught; and the first well, though put down amid the jeers and sneers of the thoughtless and creedal, would become a Mecca whither thousands would flock to behold the oil bubbling and flowing, as from a perpetual fountain.  To-day, Aug. 7th, 1868, less than two years, several of these prophecies have been actualized, and the others are in the process of a speedy and liberal fulfillment.  Let it no more be said, “a prophet is not without honor, save in his own country.”


Work on the Well Commenced.

Land having been previously leased of the owner, William Porter, Mr. James was informed by his heavenly teachers the last of June, 1867, that the time had arrived for taking active measures to secure the funds necessary for sinking the first well.  This was afterwards named by the spirits “Harmonial Well.”  [. . .]

The means at hand, derrick and engine-house erected, the workmen commenced in earnest on the 31st of August, 1867.  Prosperity attended the work.  The accidents were few; and those foreshadowed by the dwellers on the other side the river of death.  The subject of this brief history was fixed upon by these banded spirits as the head-center, or rather as the central mediumistic magnet for the continuance and consummation of the enterprise; and Mr. [Norman] Potter [of Titusville] was appointed by the powers above, the business agent, who frequently counseling, was governed by the suggestions of this controlling circle.  When a few hundred feet down, they said to him:

“You will not have to go to the depth you expect.  There are obstacles, however, to encounter, that wisdom will not disclose at present.  Hold on to your first petroleum supplies, as there will soon be an advance in the price of the article.  Secure, soon as arrangements can be made, certain lands in — directions for future extensive operations.  Keep your own counsels.  When you strike the oil-strata in the first well, scores will apply to this medium for shares and interests.  Others will seek to secure leases adjacent to his locations, and others still in different States will hold out strong inducements for him to go and locate oil-wells, coal-mines, and mineral territory.”

[. . .]

49:  While the drill was penetrating the rock, while the work was favorably progressing, and spirits uttering prophetic words of cheer and success, sectarists and atheistic wiseacres treated the project and those engaged therein with derision, and newspaper paragraphists wrote either in a coarse, rude, or cavalier style, concerning the movement and the prospective consummation.  The following are samples:

“For four years past, a party of Spiritualists in Chicago have been diligently boring a hole in the earth, on the western edge of the city, in quest of oil.  A ‘medium,’ led by an invisible spirit, promised that by the exercise of much faith and a small augur, the well would spout oil; but the more the deluded borers bored, the less signs of oil they saw.  A depth of 790 feet was reached—and there was a prodigious artesian well, with plenty of water, but no oil.”—Fredonia Censor.

This appearing in the Censor of Jan. 1, 1868, contained, saying nothing of the ungentlemanly insinuation, a direct misstatement. [. . .]


The Titusville Morning Herald, speaking of oil companies and the sale of territories for petroleum purposes, referred several times to the Pleasantville “spiritual well”—such was the editorial phrase.  Under date of Dec. 3, 1867, it said:

“The well near Pleasantville, owned by Spiritualists, will be completed during the next ten days.  The medium who located the well sold several sixteenths at $5,000 each.”

The Herald of Dec. 6th contained the following correction from the pen of Mr. James:

TITUSVILLE, Dec. 5th, 1867.

Editor Morning Herald:

“Seeing a notice in your paper in reference to our well in Pleasantville, which reflects somewhat upon me, I wish to set the matter right.

“That the Harmonial Well was located by me, is true; that it belongs to Spiritualists, is also true; but that I have sold the sixteenths as high as $5,000, making for myself a grand speculation, is not true.  With the same good luck that has marked the progress of our work thus far, a few more days will show the truth or falsity of our prophecies.

“Very respectfully yours,


Days, weary days of thought and mental labor passed, and surely the expected letter came charged with a magnetic thrill of joy and triumph.  The drill had probed the vein, the tubing had been adjusted, and the petroleum was flowing, pouring in great force and in large quantities!  The sensation produced by this strike was perfectly indescribable.  A good portion of Pleasantville and of the immediately vicinity poured forth their inhabitants to witness the gushing proceeds from the “spiritual well” in this upland territory, heretofore tabooed by oil men.  Mr. John D. Farwell, a most upright estimable man who had the direct management of putting down this Harmonial Well, estimated, that, on the first day of its flowing, a thousand individuals visited the locality, some from curiosity or a listless drifting propensity, and others with an eye to the ulterior object of future speculations.  Reporters noticed it handsomely in the Chicago and New York papers.  The Titusville Morning Herald and other periodicals in Western Pennsylvania mentioned the result in terms of marked gratification, though necessitated to connect the enterprise with clairvoyance and Spiritualism.

Upon credibly hearing, the following was written for the Western Department of the Banner of Light, under this caption:

“A. James’ Harmonial Well a Success—Prophecy Fulfilled, and Spiritualism Further Vindicated.”

“The faintest spirit ‘raps’ from immortal guests are exceedingly precious, because echoes of conscious existence from the dwellers of [57] the Better Land.  Trance, the outer consciousness, partially or completely suspended, the mental operations spiritually toned by magnetic influx and the soul rapt in visions of ecstasy—inspiration, with the whole organism sensitized, and the brain-faculties stimulated and illuminated, enabling poets to conceive images of beautify, and speakers, angel-attended, to speak with tongues of fire—these, all these phases of mediumship with their modifications have convinced millions of immortality and a present heavenly ministry.  But they pale into twilight, in the estimation of the more inductive and business-like masses, before the clairvoyant and mediumistic powers of Mr. Abraham James, so frequently exemplified in locating mineral beds, tracing subterranean water-courses, such as the great Artesian well of Chicago, and just recently in the discovery and successful issue of ‘Harmonial Oil-Well, No. 1.,’ in Pleasantville, Pa., pouring out from depths some eight hundred feet, from sixty to one hundred barrels of oil each twenty-four hours.  In ages agone, on Horeb, a legendary rock was smitten by a mediumistic hand, and fresh waters streamed out a full supply for those journeying towards the promised land.  In the living present, Mr. James, piercing and smiting rocky strata, brings up not only gurgling waters, clear as crystal, but rivulets of oil, to illumine our dwellings and lubricate our machinery. [. . .]

[59] Pleasantville [sic] Morning Herald, of February 1st, tells the story in brief:

“‘This morning, soon after breakfast, news spread like wildfire among the staid denizens of this pleasant village, that a new well had just commenced producing oil.  With many others, we repaired to the scene, where, indeed, the so-called spiritual well, in the south part of the borough, was astonishing the throng with its production of oil.  On inquiry, I learned the oil was first produced from the well about nine o’clock this morning, and near noon, when we saw it, was more than fulfilling the expectations of its immediate friends.  It is claimed that this well was spiritually located by a celebrated “medium,” Mr. James.

“We were informed by Mr. Farwell, of the firm of Farwell & Potter, who has put down the well, that its depth is eight hundred and thirty-five feet, that the last and fourth sand rock was eighteen feet thick, of which fifteen feet was white sand, and the last three feet was coarse and dark colored.  While many of the more enthusiastic place a very high estimate upon its prospective yield, we think it prudent to say, having witnessed the Nettleton wells here in their beginning, (and now producing in their third year) that it will give a daily product of fifteen barrels of oil and may be more.  With this well as an additional fact, there is no longer a doubt that this locality is, and is to be in future, permanent producing oil territory.

[60] [From the Buffalo Express] The “Harmonial Well” is on the farm of William Porter, in the borough of Pleasantville, and was located by Mr. A. James, October 1867, under spirit control, and while passing, for the first time, through that section of the country.  [. . .] [61] And be it said to his praise, he purposes, (and with him to purpose, having the means, is to accomplish, for his integrity stands unquestioned) in accordance with a pledge to his heavenly influences, to devote most of the proceeds of these gigantic undertakings to the interests of spiritualism; the erection of halls; sustaining genuine media, and putting into the field more lectures upon the Spiritual Philosophy.  Heaven, and the angels who there dwell attired in spotless white, cannot fail of smiling upon such practical purposes for the elucidation and disseminating of truth. [. . .]

The special correspondent of the New York Tribune, under date of August 1st and 3d, writes thus:

“Pleasantville was supposed to be outside the oil ‘belt.’  The developments which have within a few months given it so wide a fame, were made by Mr. Abraham James, a well-known spiritual medium, who claims to have a peculiar power of detecting subterranean currents.  Some years ago he declares that the spirits had revealed to him the existence of oil just on the outskirts of Chicago.  A company of believers was formed to bore for it, and at the depth of 715 feet they struck—not oil, but water.  The result was rather a disappointment, of course, in a pecuniary point of view; but to make up for that it gives Chicago one of the most remarkable artesian wells in the country, which yielded 200,000 gallons of water a day. [. . .]

“With Mr. James’s latest vaticinations there is certainly no fault to be found.  He lives at Pleasantville, in a neat, white, old-fashioned farm house, with a broad green sward before the gate—a pretty place, such as it is rare to see in these dirty regions.  ‘It is about two years,’ he told me, ‘since I made this discovery.’ [. . .] [64] Such is Mr. James’s story.  The business is all a lottery, say the operators, and if you get a prize it is only your luck.  Don’t you suppose a hundred other men have been just as certain as Mr. James that oil would be found in a particular spot, and have tried it and failed?  We hear of the ten big strikes, but we don’t hear of the thousand failures.  The Harmonial Well No. 1, as Mr. James’s venture was called, produced at first 45 or 50 barrels a day, rose after a while to 100, and has now fallen to 80 or 90.  Of course he secured all the land he could in the neighborhood, and put down his drills again.  His second well (Harmonial No. 2) yields 100 barrels a day, and a third, not yet finished, gives 60 or 70.  He is sinking ten more, and he has leased twenty-two to other persons.  Over a space of a mile or more the derricks are reared as thick as masts in a harbor.  There are now some fifteen wells in operation just about Pleasantville village, and as many more near by, and between 100 and 150 are now drilling. [. . .]

“Owners are parcelling out their fields in quarter acre leases; and the excitement approaches close to that of former years when Pithold and Oleopolis were in their glory.  At the one little tavern there is never a bed to be had, and charge fifty cents a night to lay you out on the floor.  Every house is per force a boarding house and many of the workmen can find no shelter but a pile of shavings in some shed or unfinished building.  The neat little white houses which composed the place before the rush set in this summer were scattered along the roads at wide intervals, in the pretty New England style, and now great rows of pasteboard shanties and large frame tenements are strung between [65] them, making a curious mixture of new and old.  The people from Pithold and other dead towns are tearing down their houses and rushing off with them to Pleasantville.  I left a hotel and theatre on the road from Pithole, and many other buildings were coming, some of them having been moved once or twice before.  It would be more convenient to build the houses on wheels, as I believe folks do in Chicago. [. . .]  On the 1st of August, the Pleasantville wells were discharging 1,250 barrels a day, while Shamburg yielded 2,250.  Yet people are leaving Shamburg in considerable numbers and going over to Pleasantville, taking their houses with them.

“It is a curious fact, that Pleasantville, where all the excitement of the oil region now centers, the first good well was discovered by a Spiritualist who professes to have been guided by the spirits.  Whether he was or not, nobody seems to care, but the whole country is rushing to the spot.  The success of the borings at Pleasantville has not been so splendid as at some other places, but there has been absolutely no failure; every well has produced, and all but two have yielded handsomely.  People talk of nothing else, and every conveyance going in that direction carried crowds of eager operators.  G. R. G. H.

The reporter of the Herald, says:

“In the immediate vicinity of Pleasantville, are located two of the celebrated Harmonial Wells, number one and number three.  They [66] are each producing about one hundred barrels of oil every twenty-four hours, and steadily increasing.  They are on the tract known as the Porter Farm.  No. 2 is on the Armstrong Farm, three quarters of a mile south of Pleasantville, and is also producing about one hundred barrels per day.  The principal owner in these three wells is Mr. A. James, the clairvoyant, who located them and intends putting down ten more within a very short time on the Porter, Armstrong and other farms near Pleasantville.”

The Titusville Herald in its “Petroleum Report” for the month ending July, says:

“The number of drilling wells is steadily increasing.  On August 1st, the total reached 327, being an increase of 28 from the same date last month, and of 70 from the first of June.  About one-half of these wells are situated in the districts of Pleasantville and Upper Cherry Run.  Of these, between twenty-five and forty will be completed within the next thirty days, and probably, as many more within the next sixty or seventy days.  In all parts of the region large numbers of leases have been given, and operations have been commenced on many of them.

“The demand for territory lying adjacent to the producing districts, (“such as Pleasantville, located by A. James, the clairvoyant”), and at considerable distances from them, has been unusually large, and a greater area has changed hands than during the previous three months.  In the vicinity of Pleasantville and West Pithole Creek, tracts have been sold at from $300 to $6,000 per acre, while in other parts of the region, sales have been made at from $100 to $1,000 per acre. [. . .]

[67] Every well that Mr. James has located in this vicinity, whether for himself or others, has proved a complete triumph.  So oracular have become his hints, suggestions and movements, that whenever he leases or makes a new purchase, others rush wildly forward, buying or leasing near him as possible.  Outwardly these people profess to have no faith in Spiritualism, or that phase of it known as clairvoyance; but their deeds tell a different story.  “By their fruits ye shall know them,” said Jesus.


TITUSVILE, PA., Feb. 6, 1868.

“We, the undersigned, owners in Harmonial Well No. 1, recognizing and acknowledging the wisdom and truthfulness of the band of Spirits controlling Bro. Abraham James, in the work of developing oil, and believing them to be the proper intelligences in the direction and advancement of this enterprise, do hereby agree and appoint Mr. Abraham James (their medium) as our sole agent to transact all business pertaining thereto; to receive all moneys; to sell the oil, and employ such measures as may seem to him best for our mutual interest, in storing, selling, etc., at such times and in such quantities as will embrace the interests of all connected with the enterprise.

“Witness our hands and seals:
W. B. HAWLEY, and others.”

“The Green Oil Belt,” Titusville (Pennsylvania) Morning Herald, August 10, 1868.

It is said that a noted Spiritualist who has turned his observations to great practical account in the oil business, has recently expressed an opinion that oil will be developed in the region of Enterprise quite as plenteously as at Pleasantville, and moreover that the best quality of green oil may doubtless be obtained at any point on a direct line between Shamburg or Atkinson Farm, and the [Aaron] Benedict estate at Enterprise.  Any practical oil miner who is family with this stretch of territory must have readily adopted the same conclusion, and “there need no ghost come from the grave to tell us this” through the agency of a trance medium.  First, we have the evidence of unlimited quantities of oil at Shamburgh and Atkinson, the point of beginning, and then we have the development of the Benedict well at Enterprise, which is producing fifty barrels per day, of the same quality of green oil.  Taking the [William] McCaslin Farm as the intermediate point lying one quarter of a mile south-west of the plank road, and on the road leading direct from Hon. M[anly] C. Beebe’s residence to Shamburg, we find that a well sunk by a Company in 1865, on land bought of the McCaslins at that time, actually pumped over two hundred and fifty barrels of green oil from the third sand, the well being tested at the depth of seven hundred and fifty feet.  But the tools becoming fast in the attempt to clean out the well, and the owners getting embarrassed for want of funds, operations were suspended, and the property again fell into the hands of the original owners.  Another well was sunk by a Chicago Company on the McCaslin farm about the same time, to the depth of 800 feet, when the tools became fast and after ineffectual attempts to extricate them, the work was suspended.

This farm, as before stated, is the intermediate point between Enterprise and Shamburg, and would seem to confirm the opinion of many of the most experienced and intelligent oil operators of the existence of a “green oil belt” from Shamburg or Atkinson in a direct line to Enterprise.


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