Was Abraham Lincoln a Apiritualist? by Nettie Colburn Maynard 1917



About half past eight o’clock of the evening of this day I was lying exhausted on the sofa, when a carriage halted at the door. Mr. Laurie entered hurriedly, asking if the “children” had gone (Parnie and myself). Mr. Foster explained that we were still there, and the reason therefore. Mr. Laurie seemed delighted that we had been delayed; and came at once to my side, and kindly said, “Get ready at once and go to my house with me, and I think we can remedy the loss of this furlough.”

It was a ray of light in dense darkness. Without saying a word, I hastily prepared myself and was surprised to find a most elegant carriage at the door to receive us. Its crimson satin cushions should have told me whose carriage it was; but my mind was so fraught with my trouble that I barely noticed the fact that a footman in plain livery opened the door for us, and we were soon on our way to Georgetown. On my arrival I was astonished to be presented first to Mrs Lincoln, (1) the wife of President Lincoln, then to Mr. Newton, secretary of the Interior Department, and the Rev. John Pierpont, (2) at that time one of the chief clerks in the Treasury building. The Hon. D.E. Somes was also present.

(1) At this time Mrs. Lincoln was a pre-possessing-looking woman, apparently about thirty years of age, possibly older, with an abundance of rich dark-brown hair, large and impressive eyes, so shifting that their colour was almost undecided, their brightness giving a peculiar animation to her countenance. Her face was oval, the features excellent, complexion white and fair, teeth regular, and her smile winning and kindly. She was somewhat over medium height, with full, rounded form, and under any circumstances would be pronounced a handsome woman. In manner she was quick and excitable, and would, while under excitement or adverse circumstances, completely give way to her feelings. In short, she was lacking in the general control, demeanour, and suavity of manner which we naturally expect form on e in high and exalted position. She was ever kind and gracious to me; yet I could never feel for her that perfect respect and reverence that I desired to entertain regarding the chief lady of the land.

(2) Rev. John Pierpont was a tall, slender man, straight and commanding in appearance, and over eighty years of age, with a quick step and alert manner of a boy. He was an uncompromising temperance advocate, and attributed his great age, excellent sight and hearing, and general good health to this virtue. He had been a Unitarian (?) minister for many years, from which denomination he resigned his pastorate to embrace the truths of spiritualism. He was a poet and writer of recognised ability, a scholarly, refined gentleman, respected by all who knew him, and at the time mentioned was in possession of a valuable post in the treasury Department. He had the absolute confidence of Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln, and I often met him in the company of Mrs. Lincoln. In brief, He was just the sort of man to cement a lasting friendship with the President.

Mrs. Lincoln informed me that she had heard of the wonderful powers of Mrs. Miller, Mr. Laurie’s daughter, and had called to witness the physical manifestations through her mediumship. She had expressed a desire to see a trance medium, when they had told her of myself, fearing that I was already on my way to Baltimore with my brother, as I had expected to leave that evening. She had said at once, “Perhaps they


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have not gone; suppose you take the carriage and ascertain.” Mr. Laurie went, and found me, as I have stated, prostrated from my long anxiety and trouble. But for the loss of that furlough this meeting would not have taken place.

Mrs. Lincoln noticed my swollen eyes and inflamed cheeks, and inquired kindly the cause. Mr. Laurie briefly explained. She quickly reassured me, saying, “Don’t worry any more about it. Your brother shall have another furlough, if Mr. Lincoln has to give it himself.” Feeling once more happy and strong, I was in a condition to quiet my nerves long enough to enable my spirit friends to control me.

Some new and powerful influence obtained possession of my organism and addressed Mrs. Lincoln, it seemed, with great clearness and force, upon matters of state. For one hour I was under this control. When I awoke there was a most earnest and excited group around me discussing what had been said; and Mrs. Lincoln exclaimed, with great earnestness, “This young lady must not leave Washington. I feel she must stay here, and Mr. Lincoln must hear what we have heard. It is all-important, and he must hear it.”

This seemed to be the general impression. Turning to me she said,” Don’t think of leaving Washington, I beg of you. Can you not remain with us?” I briefly explained that my livelihood depended upon my efforts as a speaker, and there was no opening in Washington of that kind for me. But, said she, “There are not other things you can do. Surely young ladies get excellent pay in the different departments, and you can have a position in one of them, I am sure. “ Turning to Mr. Newton, who sat at her right, she said, “You employ ladies, do you not, Mr. Newton? (1) And you can give this young lady a place in your department?”

He bowed, all smiles, saying, “I have only very old ladies and young children in my department; but I can give this young lady a position if it pleases you. “ She turned to me then in her sprightly manner, as if the whole thing was settled, and exclaimed, “ You will stay then; will you not?” I said I would consult my friends, and see what was best. But she said, “You surely will not go until Mr Lincoln has had a chance to see you?” I replied I would not, if he desired to see me. She then turned to Mrs. Laurie, and said, “Now, to-morrow, you go with this young lady to Mr Tucker; tell him you go by my direction, and just how the case stands. Tell him he must arrange it to have her brother secure another furlough.” Soon after, she left, and Mr. Somes kindly escorted me back to Mr. Foster’s.

(1) The Hon. Isaac Newton, Chief of the Agricultural Department, was about sixty or sixty-five years of age, about five feet six or seven inches, thin grey hair, smooth, round, full face, fleshy, and rather corpulent of figure; of kindly heart, easy, pleasant manners, and possessed of considerable ability in the management of people, but not what one would call brilliant or master-minded. It is needless to state that this criticism is the result of later and maturer judgment, which comes from years of contact and friendship.

The next morning Mrs. Laurie came for me, and we went to the office of the Assistant-Secretary of War. I hid as closely as possible behind the stately person of Mrs. Laurie; but my old friend saw me and came forward to inquire how I was and if all was well with my brother. I could only shake my head and sink into a chair, leaving Mrs. Laurie to explain matters. He listened patiently, and came to me and said in the kindest manner; “You seem to have been delayed for some important purpose,


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my young friend, so I would not be overtroubled about it. You get any commissioned or United states surgeon to examine your brother again, and if he affirms he is till unfit for service in the field or camp, I will issue a new furlough, if you bring me the paper.”

With a light heart I could only thank him; and that afternoon my brother and myself went to Mr. Laurie’s, and in a few hours a United States surgeon from the Georgetown Hospital made the requisite examination and recommended him a furlough. The next morning I carried it to Mr. Tucker, and a furlough was re-issued by the War Department - this time for thirty days’ leave of absence. With a light heart I went to my brother with the paper; and that night Mr. Laurie, on his return from the Post-Office department, placed in my hand an envelope, which, I was surprised to find, contained one hundred dollars in greenbacks, and a slip of paper on which was written “From a few friends who appreciate a sister’s devotion.” No name anywhere to tell who were the generous donors; and I know not to this day whence came this most welcome tribute.

The friends I had made in Washington were determined I should not leave that city, and it was decided that my brother should take my mother back to Hartford with him, with all her household effects; that I should resign my position in Albany; and that my friend Miss Hannum should join me in Washington. This programme was carried out.

The day following my brother’s departure for home, a note was received by Mrs. Laurie, asking her to come to the white House in the evening with her family, and to bring Miss Nettie with her. I felt all the natural trepidation of a young girl about to enter the presence of the highest magistrate in our land; being fully impressed with the dignity of his office, and feeling that I was about to meet some superior being; and it was almost with trembling that I entered with my friends the Red Parlour of the white House, at eight o’clock that evening (December, 1862).

Mrs Lincoln received us graciously, and introduced us to a gentleman and lady present whose names I have forgotten. Mr. Lincoln was not then present. While all were conversing pleasantly on general subjects, Mrs. Miller (Mr. Laurie’s daughter) seated herself, under control, at the double grand piano at one side of the room, seemingly awaiting someone. Mrs. Lincoln was talking with us in a pleasant strain when suddenly Mrs. Miller’s hands fell upon the keys with a force that betokened a master hand, and the strains of a grand march filled the room. As the measured notes rose and fell we became silent. The heavy end of the piano began rising and falling in perfect time to the music. All at once it ceased and Mr. Lincoln stood upon the threshold of the room. (He afterwards informed us that the first notes of the music fell upon his ears as he reached the head of the grand staircase to descend, and that he kept step to the music until he reached the doorway).

Mr and Mrs. Laurie and Mrs. Miller were duly presented. Then I was led forward and presented. He stood before me, tall and kindly, with a smile on his face. Dropping his hand upon my head, he said, in a humorous tone, “ So this is our ‘little Nettie’ is it, that we have heard so much about?” I could only smile and say, “Yes, sir,” like any school girl; when he kindly led me to an ottoman. Sitting down in a chair, the ottoman at his feet, he began asking me questions in a kindly way about my mediumship; and I think he must have thought me stupid, as my answers were little beyond “Yes” and “No”. His manner, however, was genial and kind, and it was then suggested we form


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a circle. He said, “Well, how do you do it?” looking at me. Mr. Laurie came to the rescue, and said we had been accustomed to sit in a circle and join hands; but he did not think it would be necessary in this instance. While he was speaking, I lost all consciousness of my surroundings and passed under control.

For more that an hour I was made to talk to him, and I learned from my friends afterward that it was upon matters that he seemed to fully understand, while they comprehended very little until that portion was reached that related to the forthcoming Emancipation Proclamation. He was charged with the utmost solemnity and force of manner not to abate the terms of its issue, and not to delay its enforcement as a law beyond the opening of the year; and he was assured that it was to be the crowning event of his administration and life; and that while he was counselled by strong parties to defer enforcement of it, hoping to supplant it by other measures and to delay action, he must in no wise heed such counsel, but stand firm to his convictions and fearlessly perform the work and fulfil the mission for which he had been raised up by an overruling Providence. Those present declared that they lost sight of the timid girl in the majesty of the utterance, the strength and force of the language, and the importance of that which was conveyed, and seemed to realise that some strong masculine spirit force was giving speech to almost divine commands.

I shall never forget the scene around me when I regained consciousness. I was standing in front of Mr. Lincoln, and he was sitting back in his chair, with his arms folded upon his breast, looking intently at me. I stepped back, naturally confused at the situation – not remembering at once where I was; and glancing around the group, where perfect silence reigned. It took me a moment to remember my whereabouts.

A gentleman present then said in a low voice, “Mr. President, did you notice anything peculiar in the method of address?” Mr. Lincoln raised himself, as is shaking off his spell. He glanced quickly at the full length picture of Daniel Webster, that hung above the piano, and replied, “Yes, and it is very singular, very!” with a marked emphasis.

Mr. Somes said, “Mr. President, would it be improper for me to inquire whether there has been any pressure brought to bear upon you to defer the enforcement of the Proclamation?” To which the President replied: “Under these circumstances that question is perfectly proper, as we are all friends [smiling upon the company]. It is taking all my nerve and strength to withstand such a pressure.” At this point the gentlemen drew round him, and spoke together in low tones, Mr. Lincoln saying least of all. At last he turned to me, and laying his hand upon my head, uttered these words in a manner that I shall never forget: “My child, you posses a very singular gift; but that it is a gift from God, I have no doubt. I thank you for coming here tonight. It is more important than perhaps than anyone present can understand. I must leave you all now; but I hope I shall see you again.” He shook me kindly by the hand, bowed to the rest of the company, and was gone. We remained for an hour longer, talking with Mrs. Lincoln and her friends, then returned to Georgetown. Such was my first interview with Abraham Lincoln, and the memory of it is as clear and vivid as the evening on which it occurred.

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