Was Abraham Lincoln a Apiritualist? by Nettie Colburn Maynard 1917



On the Monday following I found employment (through the kindness of Mrs. Lincoln) in the seed-room, a division of the Department of the Interior, which was under the control of Mr. Newton. This room was part of a building on F Street near seventh, where fifty to sixty occupants, the majority old ladies, and the balance children between the ages of ten and twelve, found employment. My duties consisted of sewing together the ends of curious little sacks – each sack containing a gill of seed corn, beans etc., as the case might be; which work was little more than mere pastime. We entered the room at nine in the morning, leaving it at twelve; returning at one, and leaving again at three in the afternoon. For this work I received one dollar a day. A few days later my friend Parnie joined me, also entering this room, doing the same work, and receiving the same compensation.

In the meantime my evenings were filled with circles, which were attended by many of the most prominent people in Washington. Among those I met and learned to love, and who in turn became warmly attached to myself and friend, was Mrs. Anna M. Cosby, whose father, Mr. Robt. Mills, was the architect of the public buildings in Washington; he designed and built the Capitol of Washington. Her home was a solid brick mansion on Capitol Hill. The first floor of her house was occupied by John W. Forney; and a beautiful chamber on the second floor was usually occupied by General Simon Cameron when in Washington.

This lady, after a time, insisted upon making her house our home; and in its refining and elevating atmosphere, surrounded by all that wealth could give, we passed many happy weeks and formed many pleasant associations. At her house I met with Mr Joshua Speed, Mr. Lincoln’s former law partner. Here I gave many private sittings to distinguished people, whose names I never knew; but who were apparently earnest investigators, and seemed satisfied with the truths they obtained. In short, every moment was filled to the uttermost, and the time so occupied passed quickly and pleasantly.

Prior to leaving Mr. Laurie’s to become the guest of Mrs. Cosby I had another important interview with President Lincoln. One morning, early in February, we received a note from Mrs. Lincoln, saying she desired us to come over to Georgetown and bring some friends for a séance that evening, and wished ‘the young ladies’ to be present. In the early part of the evening, before her arrival, my little messenger, or ‘familiar’ spirit, controlled me, and declared that (the ‘long brave,’ as she denominated him) Mr Lincoln would also be there. As Mrs. Lincoln had made no mention of his coming in her letter, we were surprised at the statement. Mr. Laurie rather questioned its accuracy; as he said it would be hardly advisable for President Lincoln to leave the White House to attend a spiritual séance anywhere; and that he did not consider it ‘good policy’ to do so.

However, when the bell rang, Mr. Laurie, in honour of his expected guests, went to the door to receive them in person. His astonishment was great to find Mr. Lincoln standing on the threshold, wrapped in his long cloak; and to hear his cordial ‘ Good evening,’ as he put out his hand and entered. Mr. Laurie promptly exclaimed,


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“Welcome, Mr. Lincoln, to my humble roof; you were expected.” Mr. Lincoln stopped in the act of removing his cloak, and said, “Expected! Why, it is only five minutes since I knew that I was coming.” He came down from a cabinet meeting as Mrs. Lincoln and her friends were about to enter the carriage, and asked them where they were going. She replied, “To Georgetown; to a circle.” He answered immediately, “Hold on a moment; I will go with you.” “Yes.” Said Mrs. Lincoln, “and I was never more surprised in my life.” He seemed pleased when Mr. Laurie explained the source of our information; and I think it had a tendency top prepare his mind to receive what followed, and to obey the instructions given.

On this occasion, as he entered the parlour, I made bold to say to him, “I would like to speak a word with you, Mr. Lincoln, before you go, after the circle.” “Certainly,” he said; “Remind me, should I forget it.”

Mr. and Mrs. Laurie, with their daughter, Mrs. Miller, at his request, sang several fine old Scottish airs – among them, one that he declared a favourite, called Bonnie Doon. I can see him now, as he sat in the old high-backed rocking-chair; one leg thrown over the arm; leaning back in utter weariness, with his eyes closed, listening to the low, strong, and clear yet plaintive notes, rendered as only the Scots can sing their native melodies. I looked at his face, and it appeared tired and haggard. He seemed older by years than when I had seen him a few weeks previously. The whole party seemed anxious and troubled; but all interest centred in the chief, and all eyes and thoughts were turned to him.

At the end of the song he turned to me and said, “Well, Miss Nettie; do you think you have anything to say to me to-night?” At first I thought he referred to the request I had made when he entered the room. Recollecting myself, however, I said, “If I have not, there may be others who have.” He nodded his head in a pleasant manner, saying, “Suppose we see what they will have to tell us.”

Among the spirit friends that have controlled me since my first development, was one I have before mentioned – known as “old Dr. Bamford.” He was quite a favourite of Mr. Lincoln. His quaint dialect, old-fashioned methods of expression, straightforwardness in arriving at his subject, together with fearlessness of utterance, recommended him as no finished style could have done. This spirit took possession of me at once. As I learned from those in the circle, the substance of his remarks was as follows: “That a very precarious state of things existed at the front, where General Hooker had just taken command. The army was totally demoralised; regiments stacking arms, refusing to obey orders or to do duty; threatening a general retreat; declaring their purpose to return to Washington.” A vivid picture was drawn of the terrible state of affairs, greatly to the surprise of all present, save the chief to whom the words were addressed.

When the picture had been painted in vivid colours, Mr. Lincoln quietly remarked: “You seem to understand the situation. Can you point out the remedy?” Dr. Bamford immediately replied: “Yes, if you have the courage to use it.” “He smiled,” they said, and answered, “Try me.” The old doctor then said to him, “It is one of the simplest, and being so simple it may not appeal to you as being sufficient to cope with what threatens to prove a serious difficulty. The remedy lies with yourself.

“Go in person to the front; taking with you your wife and children; leaving behind your official dignity, and all manner of display. Resist the importunities of officials to


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accompany you, and take only such attendants as may be absolutely necessary; avoid the high grade officers, and seek the tents of the private soldiers. Inquire into their grievances; show yourself to be what you are. ‘The Father of your People.’ Make them feel that you are interested in their sufferings, and that you are not unmindful of the many trials which beset them in their march through the dismal swamps, whereby both their courage and numbers have been depleted.”

He quietly remarked, “If that will do any good, it is easily done.” The doctor instantly replied, “It will do all that is required. It will unite the soldiers as one man. It will unite them to you in bands of steel. And now, if you would prevent a serious, if not fatal, disaster to your cause, let the news be promulgated at once, and disseminated throughout the camp of the Army of the Potomac. Have it scattered broadcast that you are on the eve of visiting the front; that you are not talking of it, but that it is settled that you are going, and are now getting into readiness. This will stop insubordination and hold the soldiers in check; being something to divert their minds, and they will wait to see what your coming portends.” He at once said, “It shall be

A long conversation then followed between the doctor and Mr. Lincoln regarding the state of affairs, and the war generally. The old doctor told him “ that he would be re­nominated and re-elected to the Presidency.” They said that he sadly smiled when this was told to him, saying “It is hardly an honour to be coveted, save one could find it his duty to accept it.”

After the circle was over, Mr. Laurie said, “Mr. Lincoln, is it possible that affairs are as bad as has been depicted?” He said, “They can hardly be exaggerated; but I ask it as a favour of all present that they do not speak of these things. The major there,” pointing to an officer of that rank who was in their party, “has just brought despatches from the front depicting the state of affairs pretty much as our old friend has shown it; and we were just having a Cabinet meeting regarding the matter, when something, I know not what, induced me to leave the room and come downstairs, when I found Mrs. Lincoln in the act of coming here. I felt it might be of service for me to come; I did not know wherefore.” He dropped his head as he said this – leaning forward in his chair as if he were thinking aloud. Then, looking up suddenly, he remarked, “Matters are pretty serious down there, and perhaps the simplest remedy is the best. I have often noticed in life that little things have sometimes greater weight that larger ones.”

As they rose to depart, he turned to me and said, “Now I will hear what you wish to say to me.” Going to one side of the parlour, we sat down, and I laid before him the case of a friend who had been nearly two years in the service in the Army of the Potomac, and who was a lieutenant in the Thirtieth N.Y. Regiment. He had seen hard service in camp and field, and had never asked for a furlough during that period. At this time, as his colonel was ordered to Washington on duty for a few weeks, he sent in a petition to the War department for a furlough, signed by all the superior officers of his regiment and brigade. Not doubting the granting of the furlough, nor waiting for its arrival, feeling sure of its coming and being forwarded, he went with his colonel to Washington. Unfortunately, the day before, he had received the announcement that the application had been rejected, and that an order was then at the department for his arrest for “absence without leave.”


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I stated these facts in full to Mr. Lincoln, and said to him, “This young man is a true soldier, and was one of the first to respond to the call for troops. He has no desire or disposition to avoid or shirk his duty, and is intending to return and give himself up as soon as his colonel’s business is completed. It occurred to me that you would be kind enough to interpose your hand between him and the consequences of his rashness in leaving the camp before the arrival of his furlough.” He pleasantly smiled, and said, “I have so much to think of now, I shall forget all about this. You write it all out to me, giving me his name and regiment, and bring it to me tomorrow.” Feeling sure of my cause, I was delighted, and thought of the pleasant surprise I had in store for my friend.

Mr. Lincoln bade us all a pleasant “good night” and departed, leaving us to talk over the curious circumstances of his coming and of its results.

It was at this séance that Mrs. Belle Miller gave an example of her power as a “moving medium,” and highly amused and interested us by causing the piano to “waltz around the room,” as was facetiously remarked in several recent newspaper articles. The true statement is as follows: Mrs. Miller played upon the piano (a three­corner grand), and under her influence it “rose and fell,” keeping time to her touch in a perfectly regular manner. Mr. Laurie suggested that, as an added “test” of the invisible power that moved the piano, Mrs. Miller (his daughter) should place her hand on the instrument, standing at arm’s length from it, to show that she was in no wise connected with its movement other than as agent. Mr. Lincoln then placed his hand underneath the piano, at the end nearest Mrs. Miller, who placed her left hand upon his to demonstrate that neither strength nor pressure was used. In this position the piano rose and fell a number of times at their bidding. At Mr. Laurie’s desire the President changed his position to another side, meeting with the same result.

The President, with a quaint smile, said, “I think we can hold down this instrument.” Whereupon he climbed upon it, sitting with his legs dangling over the side, as also did Mr. Somes, S.P. Kase, and a soldier in the uniform of a major from the Army of Potomac. The piano, notwithstanding this enormous added weight, continued to wobble about until the sitters were glad “to vacate the premises.”

We were convinced that there were no mechanical contrivances to produce the strange result, and Mr. Lincoln expressed himself perfectly satisfied that the motion was caused by some “invisible power”; and when Mr. Somes remarked, “When I have related to my acquaintances, Mr. President, that which I have experienced to-night, they will say, with a knowing look and wise demeanour, ‘You were psychologised, and as a matter of fact (versus fancy) you did not see what you in reality did see’”; Mr. Lincoln quietly replied, “You should bring such person here, and when the piano seems to rise, have him slip his foot under the leg and be convinced (doubtless) by the weight of evidence resting upon his understanding.”

When the laughter caused by this rally had subsided, the President wearily sank into an armchair, “the old tired, anxious look returning to his face.”

This never-to-be-forgotten incident occurred on the fifth day of February, 1863.

I believe that Mr. Lincoln was satisfied and convinced that the communications he received through me were wholly independent of my volition, and in every way superior to any manifestation that could have been given by me as a physical being.


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This he affirmed in my presence and in my hearing in answer to a question by Mr. Somes as to what he thought of the source of what he had experienced and heard from time to time in the form of Spiritualistic manifestations. He replied, “ I am not prepared to describe the intelligence that controls this young girl’s organism. She certainly could have no knowledge of the facts communicated to me, not of what was transpiring in my Cabinet meeting prior to my joining this circle, nor of affairs at the front [the army], nor regarding transpiring events which are known to me only, and which I have not imparted to any one, and which have not been made public.”

As he spoke, his face was earnest and in repose, and he laid one hand in the other impressively (as was his custom). He likewise comprehended that I was ignorant of the very facts surrounding the information of which I was the agent.

It has frequently been stated that Mr. Lincoln was a Spiritualist. That question is left open for general judgement. I do know that he held communication with numerous mediums, both at the White House and as other places, and among his mediumistic friends were Charles Foster, Charles Colchester, Mrs. Lucy A. Hamilton, and Charles Redmond, who warned Mr. Lincoln of the danger that faced him before he made that famous trip between Philadelphia and Washington, on which occasion he donned the Scotch cap and cape; and which warning saved him from assassination.

If he had not had faith in Spiritualism, he would not have connected himself with it, and would not have had any connections with it, especially in peculiarly dangerous times, while the fate of the nation was in peril. Again, had he declared an open belief in the subject, he would have been pronounced insane and probably incarcerated.

A man does not usually follow or obey dictation in which he has no faith, and which does not contain information of active present value to him. This argument, together with his following of the spirit dictation which passed through me, goes a great way towards critical and correct judgement in this matter, especially when verification is at hand. It is also true that Mrs. Lincoln was more enthusiastic regarding the subject than her husband, and openly and avowedly professed herself connected with the new religion.

Mr. Somes frequently warned me that it would be unwise to talk with newspaper men, or to answer any of the many inquiries that were constantly made regarding the subject of our Presidential séances-saying impressively, “Do not make these matters public property in any such manner at the present time. Reserve your statements of experiences until sufficient time has elapsed to remove any condemnatory criticism, which would naturally be caused by the present excitement of war, and for the time when the people are ready to look upon past and present events with coolness and correctness, at which time a true dispassionate judgement will be reached, for you will then receive impartial hearing, and at the same time make evident the truths of Spiritualism.”

He added, “You are at liberty to quote me and to use my name in connection with any events herein stated in which I was a participant.” The value of his opinion is apparent, and I may add that I followed this advice implicitly. The time has arrived when we can criticise freely, judge dispassionately, and reach a true conclusion regarding those events which had o do with the greatest man of his time - the chief actor in the tragedy of modern years, which centred upon us the gaze of the civilised world.

Perilous Times