The Rappings

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Josiah Warren

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Claims that Josiah Warren, an atheist and freethinker, was interested in spiritualism have been met with skepticism, despite the prominence of those making the claims. Clarence L. Swartz, in his review of William Bailie's The First American Anarchist, questioned Bailie's failure "to point out that, not only in his later life, but almost from the beginning of modern Spiritualism, Warren was a believer in it." But there hasn't been much evidence in Warren's own writings to substantiate the claim. Some time ago, I did run across two separate articles by J. M. Beckett in The Boston Investigator, where he cites Warren's belief in spiritual phenomena against skeptics (including, as it happens, one-time Utopia, OH resident and Warren collaborator A. E. Senter.) I really began to hope that the Investigator might be the place to find some direct evidence from Warren's hand. And, at long last, after pouring over a lot of pages of debate on "the manifestations," I ran across the following (slightly reformatted) notice:


The communications mentioned below, will appear in our next number:—

  • “Matter and Motion,”—conclusion of Mr. Porter’s reply to Mr. Morrison.
  • “Spiritual Knockings and Swedenborg,” by Joseph Lawton.
  • “Character of Hume,” b G. A. Hammett.
  • “A Christian’s Discourse at a Funeral,” by S. B.
  • “Letters to Christians, No. 53,” by M. B. Church.
  • And “Conscience,” by Thomas Robinson.

Received—“The Other Side—A Reply to Dr. Olcott’s Explosion,” by John Hardy; also, an article on “Spiritual Rappings,” by Josiah Warren, which will appear the first opportunity.

But a search of the subsequent issues revealed no article on the subject under Warren's name, although there were no shortage of articles on the subject by others.

I actually gave up the search once, a year or so back, and returned to it again just yesterday with what I hoped were fresh eyes, and fairly quickly discovered what I had missed in the past: an article announced as on "Spiritual Rappings," which actually appeared under the title "The 'Rappings,'" signed "An Investigator." And although I have no conclusive proof that it is the work of Josiah Warren, there are plenty of good circumstantial indications that this is indeed the case.

The 'Rappings'

For the Boston Investigator.

The “Rappings.”

Mr. Editor:-For the last twenty-five years, I have been entirely averse to spending my time in any disquisitions relative to existence after death. I have repudiated the whole subject and every thing dependent on it, as being entirely beyond our knowledge and beyond our means of knowing. I did not see any evidence sustaining any of the theories of the priesthood that would be taken in any court of law for the amount of sixpence, and I have uniformly refused to have my time and attention wasted upon merely wild conjectures, or in refuting them; and I have wondered at your perseverance in tugging cannon up hill to demolish moschetoes, and I have marvelled at your patience in refuting a thousand times over and over again, that which contains no argument, data, no reason, and which refutes itself.

I am, therefore, a thorough Infidel of twenty-five years standing, and expect always to remain so; and yet I have a few words to say in favor of investigating the new phenomena that are presenting themselves, commonly called the “Rappings.” I have been favored with opportunities for investigating them, and although previously to this, insisted that it was all humbug—that there was not a particle of difference between these “spiritual manifestations” and the famous imposture of the Cock Lane ghost, yet, I now take this all back, and say that I am perfectly satisfied that all the “Rappings” are not impostures. I will not undertake to say what is the agency at work; this is entirely another matter, and one that I am still investigating; but it is not all humbug, as I supposed, and as the majority still suppose. That the priesthood uniformly denounce them as the works of the devil, &c., I take to be the greatest recommendation to us Infidels to investigate them, as likely to contain something worth our pains.

The “communications” that I have witnessed all agree in one respect, at least; they all blow the priesthood and all their pretended knowledge about heaven, hell, God, &c., sky high—knock the whole of their schemes and all their pretensions absolutely into “cocked hats.”

In the very outset of the subject, you must understand that they do not claim infallibility—they say that they have no other means of knowledge than we have, except what mere development gives them,—that, like us, they are progressing—therefore, if their accounts disagree, this is no proof of humbug, nor of delusion.

I see, in an article from Dr. Olcott in your paper of the 26th of March, (among other things that I was sorry to see) a suggestion that this may be the effect of mesmeric influence of one upon another; (involuntary, perhaps.) I think this idea well worth investigating, but the conclusion that there was imposture or collusion, because one showed indignation and another looked confused, by having the one imputed or the other thought, is not proof. It is often impossible to distinguish between the blush of mortified innocence and that of detected guilt—there must be something more scientific than this, to constitute proof in such an extraordinary matter.

I have attended Burr's exposition lecture in New York, and paid money for it, and have listened to and read several other “expositions,” but no one of them is any exposition at all. None of them afford any parallels or any explanation of what I have seen at the house of private friends where I did not have to pay money for them.

I will not now listen to any more “expositions” that attempt to account for all these phenomena on the score of imposition; nor will I take any amount of syllogisms, however logically they may be, as conclusive evidence, while I have the privilege of witnessing the facts themselves with my own senses. I admire the good sense and firmness of the young lady who accompanied Dr. Olcott—think she did perfectly right in persisting in her right to sit where she could investigate to the best advantage. I think that any thing short of this does not deserve the name of investigation. I suppose Mrs. Cooper does not claim infallibility even in the clairvoyant condition, much less in the every-day state.

I think the question is fairly up now, what are these manifestations? and for one, I acknowledge myself


P. S.—I see, by your paper, that some persons have been prosecuted for exhibiting these “manifestations,” all the ground of “taking money under false pretences,” &c. If I was afraid of investigation and wished to stop it by persecution, I should be proposing that Burr be immediately arrested and brought to trial for “getting money under false pretences.” He announced that he would expose and explain the “spiritual knockings”—produce parallels, &c., and he did not do either.

I am disappointed in Dr. Olcott; he was precisely the one that I was looking to for philosophical explanations. I supposed him to be entirely posted up in regard to every thing of the kind; but I see I have got to “investigate” for myself, as I would advise every one else to do.

  • “To Correspondents,” The Boston Investigator 20, no. 48 (April 2, 1851): 3.
  • An Investigator, “The ‘Rappings’,” The Boston Investigator 20, no. 51 (April 23, 1851): 1.