This Place in History: Spiritualist Achsa Sprague

Vermont Historical Society

PLYMOUTH NOTCH, Vt.

At ‘This Place in History‘ we’re in Plymouth Notch, Vt. with Executive Director of the Vermont Historical Society Steve Perkins.

“We’re going to talk about Achsa Sprague, who was a spiritualist from the mid-19th Century. She talked to dead people. This is a great story. She lived and was born here and taught at the stone school house here. She died fairly young. I think the best place to talk about a spiritualist is at her gravesite. So, we’re going to go across town to the cemetery to go check it out,” began Perkins.

“Achsa Sprague was living in the mid-19th Century. She was born in 1827. By the time we got to the 1840s, 1850s, let’s just say, it was ‘a thing’. Often, young women would go into a trance and would then become a vehicle or a conduit for a spirit to embody or come through them and speak to an audience of people. It’s not like what we think of today with ghost hunters. It was more about spiritualism and being closer to God, being closer to yourself and communing with ancestors who have gone before you,” explained Perkins.

“She had what we now think was probably rheumatoid arthritis. She was quite the diarist and she wrote a lot of letters. In fact, a poet, too. She wrote a lot of poetry. And she wrote about this and she said, ‘A young girl in a darkened room, chained by disease, a living tomb.’ So that was describing her illness,” said Perkins.

“She attributed the remission of this illness to a spiritual intercession. She felt she was in the depths of this illness, this disease and she was in pain. She couldn’t move. An angel came to her and spoke to her. And she was able to move again. She was able to go out and that’s how she became a medium.”

“She started speaking locally and she became so famous that she started going on this tour. She traveled to Chicago, Milwaukee and back to Boston speaking to huge auditoriums full of people. She had a huge fan club. Men especially would write to her, proposing marriage and they had never met her before. It seems she may have been in love with one of these letter writers, a married man. They had quite the letter writing exchange.”

“In fact, an author published a book a few years ago with the Vermont Historical Society using those letters and talking about her life through letters. We talk a lot about spiritualism, but she was also a huge proponent of women’s rights. She said that women could be one of two things, a slave or a butterfly, and she did not want to be either one.”

“She was a big proponent of temperance and also abolitionism. She talked a lot about the horrors of slavery and used this people talking from the other side to talk about these aspects of society,” said Perkins.

“She died in 1862, relatively young. She had about seven years of good health and in fact, the book is called Seven Years of Grace. But, then she got sick again and died. You can see here it says ‘Went Home’ and then at the bottom, it says ‘I Still Live’. And so her friends said after she died, they could come to this grave site and still commune with her and she would still give them messages to bring back to the living,” concluded Perkins.

At ‘This Place in History’!

For more from our ‘This Place in History’ series, click here.

To view a map of Vermont’s roadside historic site markers, click here.

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