The Birth Place of Spiritualism

In 1847 John D. Fox moved his family to the little community of Hydesville in west-central New York, about 35 miles east of Rochester. John and his wife Margaret had two daughters, Margaret, and Kate who were 14 and 11, respectively when the family settled down in Hydesville.

Interestingly enough their new home was rumored to be haunted. The previous occupants of the home had described how they had encountered a variety of strange phenomena. The list included strange noises which sounded like rapping or tapping on the walls. Margaret and Kate were initially terrified when they encountered this phenomena for themselves. Their bedclothes were pulled off their beds and furniture was moved around the room, all seemingly executed by invisible hands.

Over time the girls mustered up enough gumption to dismiss their fears and began to explore the cause behind the strange happenings in their home, especially the rappings. They eventually developed a code which they used to communicate with the unseen rapper and modern spiritualism was born.

They conducted seances in their home and communicated with the rapper who claimed to be a peddler who had died in the house and had taken up residence there on a permanent basis. The girls soon began to function as mediums who communicated with the spirit of the pedlar and also other spirits.

Many people dismissed the Hydesville rappings and seances as a hoax while others believed the phenomena to have a supernatural origin. In March of 1849, Ellen White was given a vision regarding the Hydesville rappings. She was shown that the rappings were not the result of “human trickery or cunning, but the direct work of evil angels, who thus introduced one of the most successful of soul-destroying delusions”

The Hydesville rappings established an almost universal belief in the immortality of the human soul and the possibility that the dead were able to communicate with the living. However, the Biblical truth regarding the state of man in death was also widely broadcast around the same time, especially by Sabbatarian Adventists.

George Storrs and The State of The Dead

A key figure in this movement was George Storrs. Storrs was born in Lebanon, New Hampshire in 1796 as the youngest of 8 children. He went on to become a Methodist Minister who joined the Millerite movement in 1842. In 1840, after years of Bible study, Storrs became convinced that man does not possess an inherently immortal soul. He believed that immortality is a gift, given to those who are saved through and by Christ and that those who chose not to be saved will be completely consumed by fire at Christ’s second coming. These conclusions led him to leave the Methodist ministry. In 1841 he anonymously published a tract titled “An Inquiry: Are the Souls of the Wicked Immortal? In Three Letters. A year later in 1842, he published a more detailed version of the same tract under his name and with the title of “An Inquiry: Are the Souls of the Wicked Immortal? In Six Sermons”

Storrs went onto become a prominent figure in the Millerite movement but his beliefs regarding the state of the dead didn’t gain much traction because the Millerite movement was so intensely preoccupied with the Prophecies of Daniel and the Second Coming of Christ. However, this topic would resurface among Sabbatarian Adventists after 1844. It gained traction because of its own biblical foundation but also because those who came out of the Christian Connexion, such as James White and Joseph Bates, also had a similar view regarding the state of the dead. All of these elements would come together to form a more accurate biblical understanding of what happens to us beyond the grave.

The concept of an eternally burning hell was not consistent with the picture of a loving God in Storrs’ mind and it was this dissonance that led him to dig deeper. What he found out about the state of the dead was consistent with the picture of a loving God. The truth is that every single biblical doctrine we hold must be rooted in the same consistency. The Bible tells us God is love, not just any kind of love, self sacrificing love. Everything we believe must be consistent with that single picture of who God is. It is central to who we are as Christians and how we engage with God.

Further Reading

  • White, E.G. (1888) – The Great Controversy
  • Schwarz, R.W. and Greenleaf, F. (1979) – Light Bearers: A History of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church (Revised Edition)
  • Knight, G.R. (2000) – A Search for Identity: The Development of Seventh-Day Adventist Beliefs
  • Burt, M.D. (2011) – Adventist Pioneer Places (New York and New England)