Was Abraham Lincoln a Spiritualist? by Nettie Colburn Maynard 1917



In the “Preface to the First Edition”, published in 1917, these words were printed, the only clue to the writer being the initials RCH.

“Abraham Lincoln was the most prominent President that America has known; his actions, official and unofficial, have been, for thirty years, the constant theme of biographers and historians, and the fondness of the Americans for him is as warm and widespread today as though he had died but yesterday.

“The statements contained in this volume regarding him are given to the public for the reason that they are not less true than surprising; and being so, they must see the light. Praise from some quarters is natural; censure from others is to be expected. Nevertheless, what is here written is truth, fact, history, and what is more, no man should question them. Should he do so, the field for adequate investigation is quite accessible.

“It is well known that from time to time stray notices on the subject of Lincoln and Spiritualism have appeared in various papers, not, however, in connection with any attempt on the part of the writers or editors to verify the same. For this reason we deemed it wise, before entering into this matter extensively, to examine the subject with deliberation and care. The fruits of this examination have placed upon record information of a remarkable character, which will have a marked bearing upon the history of Spiritualism and upon the literature of today.

“That Abraham Lincoln should have been a believer in, or follower of, Spiritualism, in any form, will be an unusual statement, and to use the words of a leading New York daily: ‘If it can be proven that Abraham Lincoln was in any way connected with Spiritualism, or did take counsel from any medium at a time when the nation’s weal or woe hung in the balance, or was in any manner governed by such counsel, it would be the literary event of the nineteenth century, and the most astonishing statement of modern times.’

“In February of this year, the writer had the good fortune to meet a gentleman who related that he knew from personal experience and contact that Abraham Lincoln was a Spiritualist, and implicitly believed in the guidance and teachings of that science and religion whichever it may be. He further stated that he attended a séance where the President with several other persons had sat upon a piano, and that the instrument had been bodily lifted from the floor by means of spirit power, while the President and his friends remained seated upon it!

“He further stated that he knew from personal knowledge that the President had been instructed and guided by spirits in times of particular stress in affairs of state, and that at a period when the nation’s future was uncertain, and while the States were in the middle of the throes of a great civil war. He also stated that he knew of his own personal knowledge and experience that numerous Spiritualistic séances were held in the White House, and that they were frequented by many of the leading men of the time, who were then located in Washington.

“This gentleman’s statement, being of such peculiar significance, the writer did not believe it. This recitation, however, caused the writer to become greatly interested in the subject from a purely historical standpoint, and, therefore, he immediately started


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an investigation regarding the matter, the results of which he is now obliged to state, reveal to the world, matters of decided interest and importance, and which, as far as they are related in this volume, are capable of proof, and based upon circumstances of fact.

“The writer incidentally learned that Mrs. N.C. Maynard, of White Plains, New York, had resided in Washington during several years of the War of the Rebellion, and had upon numerous occasions given sittings for the President of the United states, his wife and friends who were present by invitation, and that she was preparing a record of these experiences, together with other incidents connected with an eventful life, for publication in book form.

“He suggested that as many of the statements therein were of a personal and unusual nature, revealing habits of character in many persons who were prominent before the nation, it might be well to have the accounts of circumstances verified as described, and affidavits secured from the persons who must necessarily constitute her witnesses, as to the truthfulness of her narrative, especially such persons as were living today, and were connected with the subject in any manner, and who would be willing to come forth and testify; to which suggestion she readily assented. Immediately thereafter investigation was commenced by the writer.

“The initiatory movement was to ascertain from those who resided in the neighbourhood of her home, or thereabouts, the character and standing of Mrs N. C. Maynard. He was informed by those who had known the family for a lengthy period, that her husband had been a resident of White Plains for twenty-five years, was cordially indorsed by many of the leading residents, was trustworthy and honourable, and had been doing business during the whole of that period in that village, and that he was a man noted for truthfulness, honesty, and general integrity of character.

“The family physician stated that he knew Mrs Maynard and had attended her for about fifteen years; that she is now a hopeless invalid, has been confined to her bed for nearly three years, and cannot possibly recover; that during his experience and contact with her, he has always found her to be an exemplary woman, but possessed of a peculiar organism and sensitiveness of condition, and likewise of some peculiar power of magnetism, which, to say the least, was unexplainable, and that nothing within the science of medicine could clearly explain her ‘psychic’ condition, or briefly, in common-place words: ’We confess there is something about Mrs Maynard that we do not understand; we, however, believe her to be a thorough Christian woman of irreproachable character and antecedents.’

“Hon. Melville C. Smith, of New York city, a well known and responsible gentleman, informed the writer that he had known Mrs Maynard for more than thirty years, and had placed full confidence in her integrity of character, and of his own knowledge of her found her to be a very remarkable woman and possessed of a peculiar ‘psychic’ condition, which permitted her to see and foresee and comprehend that which could not be understood by ordinary people.

“Francis B. Carpenter, the distinguished artist, and the painter of the ‘Emancipation Proclamation’ which is in the Capitol at Washington, who is also the author of the Inner Life of Abraham Lincoln, and the painter and possessor of the last portrait in oil of Lincoln, a copy of which is in the frontispiece of this volume states:


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“’I have known Mrs Maynard for some years. She is a talented woman; I do not believe she would tell an untruth; she is a medium of remarkable quality.

“’I am not prepared to state that Mr Lincoln was a Spiritualist. I do not know that he had a faith in spiritual comfort and believed that we were, in a measure, directed by spiritual teachers and guidance’.

“Mrs Daniel E. Soames, of Washington, wife of the late Hon Daniel E. Soames, Representative from Maine, in the thirty-sixth Congress, informed the writer that she attended séances at the White House during the war when Miss Colburn [Maynard] was the medium there, and upon one occasion met Major-General Daniel Stickles, and that the circumstances recorded as to that séance are fully described in this volume. This statement she fully and completely indorses; and further adds that her husband was closely and intimately connected with President Lincoln, and had repeatedly informed her of interesting and remarkable incidents which occurred at the White House at séances as herein described and mentioned. She also states that she knows Miss Colburn did not give séances in the White House for money.

“Col. Simon P. Case, of Philadelphia, states that he was present at a séance with Mr. Lincoln, and that he, with several other gentlemen, the President included, sat upon the piano, while it was lifted bodily from the floor by spirit power, and that Mr. Lincoln was not only interested in this physical phenomenon, but was also intensely interested in the statements which the medium made to President Lincoln while in a trance condition.

“Mrs Elvira M. Debuy, of Washington, stated to the writer: ’My husband was a visitor to séances where Mr Lincoln was present, and he told me of many interesting occurrences which happened thereat…In the winter of 1862-3, I attended a séance at Mrs Laurie’s, at Georgetown, where Mrs Lincoln was present. She was accompanied by Mr Newton, Commissioner of Agriculture. At this séance remarkable statements were made by Miss Colburn [Maynard] which surprised Mrs Lincoln to such a degree that she asked that a séance might be given to Mr Lincoln…I have always known from my husband and others that Mr Lincoln attended circles and séances, and was greatly interested in Spiritualism.’

“Mrs Parthenis Colburn, whose name finds place in this volume, now resides at White Plains; she was with Mrs Maynard [Colburn] during 1862-3-4-5, and frequently visits the White House with Miss Colburn [Maynard] when Hon Daniel E. Somes and others were present, and she has filed with the publisher an affidavit made before the county clerk of the county of West Chester, N.Y., wherein she solemnly avers that the statements regarding her, found in this book, are true and fact in each and every particular. A similar affidavit is on file with the publisher made by Mrs Nettie Colburn Maynard, the writer of this book, taken by the county clerk of the county of West Chester, at her bedside, and attested by him in regular legal form.

“The publisher wishes it distinctly understood that the statements contained in this book are free from all bias or interest from any cause or purpose other than as an historical picture of the conditions and influences which were connected with, and had bearing upon, those turbulent times, which are known as ‘the War Years of the Rebellion’. He trusts that nothing in these prefatory remarks will be construed in any way to indicate an opinion, either for or against Spiritualism, and a decision whether Abraham Lincoln was or was not, a Spiritualist, must be reached by conclusion,


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through and by the judgement of the individual reader, who will find this work of special and continuous interest, and, therefore, as the title is suggestive, and the information which the book conveys is extraordinary, it is perhaps pertinent to ask the question, as given in the title – ‘Was Abraham Lincoln a Spiritualist?’”

In preparing the present edition for publication, I decided to omit, albeit reluctantly, a great deal of interesting matter, simply because it was not germane to the book’s title. It seemed to me that now sixty years had elapsed the historical references to Lincoln were the most unimportant facts to be preserved. The earlier chapters, however, are valuable for their biographical nature and show how the medium was led to Lincoln.

The White House séances with the President were no secret. On March 7, 1891, the Banner of Light, an American Spiritualist journal, published a letter from Hudson Tuttle, a well-known author of psychic books, which included this statement regarding Nettie Colburn Maynard:

“For the last three years of the war she was constantly consulted by President Lincoln, and the communications he received through her were of the most astonishing character. The results of battles were foretold before the telegraphic despatches, and on several occasions advice was given and accepted, which, acted on, proved of momentous consequence.”

When the book was first published it had as a subtitle, Curious Revelations from the Life of a Trance Medium.

I am sure that you, the reader, will derive as much interest from this work as I found in preparing it for publication.


Author’s Preface