Spiritualism in the 1800s: Marysville, CA

The Spiritualist Movement A Brief History

In the 1800’s a booming religious movement began, that proved to have over 8 million followers by 1897.
Spiritualism is a religion postulating the belief that spirits of the dead residing in the spirit world have both the ability and the inclination to communicate with the living. Spiritism, a branch of Spiritualism developed by Allan Kardec and today found mostly in continental Europe and Latin America, especially Brazil, has emphasised reincarnation.
As a movement, many spiritualists were women, and supported other causes such as the abolishment of slavery and the women’s suffrage.
Throughout the 1800’s Spiritualism flourished. People were delving so deeply into what these Spiritualist would say, they would be willing to give up entire fortunes at the demands of these spirits, and the advice of these spirit workers. Spiritualism was at its peak after the Civil War, when many people were grief-stricken. They were vulnerable to mediums who would promise a connection to the dearly deceased. During the Gold Rush, people were moving westward in hopes of striking it big. This came at the cost of losing everything, like their families during storms in the Sierras, and large outbreaks of disease. Many did not make it. People lost spouses and children daily. The need for comfort and absolution was much-needed.
The Fox Sisters
March 31, 1948 is the date many Spiritualist consider the day the Spiritual movement began. On this date, The notable Fox sisters made contact with a spirit, which was under the watchful eye of many spectators. The spirits began rapping out a series of messages, wowing the audience witnessed it.
Their journey began by making claims that a spirit would try to communicate with them  in their Hydesville, New York farmhouse, growing up. The Fox sisters called him a murdered peddler spirit.  They claimed in a series of “rapping” the spirit was capable of relaying complex messages to them, nearly creating its own language. They claimed that the spirit conveyed to them that his body had been hidden somewhere with the farmhouse, within a “false wall”.
Word of their gifts got around quickly and soon they were performing seances all over. Communication was still given to them through the form of “rapping”. This instantly launched them into fame, and sat them in the seat of being Pioneers to the new religion.
Later, the Fox sisters recanted, and admitted their practices were a hoax. In 1888, Maggie, in a written confession to New York World, admitted that the rappings were actually caused by muscles in their legs which cause their toes to make a very loud and convincing rapping on the floor. She later once again recanted her confession, saying she had lied about the hoax, in November of 1889. They died 5 years later.
In 1904, when a false wall fell within the farmhouse, bones of what is believed to be the peddler, were discovered within a tin box.
Did Maggie and her sisters fake being frauds after all?

Sarah Winchester

Sarah Winchester is yet another extreme example of how Spiritualists, and the spirits influenced people and their way of thinking. Heir to the Winchester Rifle Fortune, Sarah felt her inheritance was cursed of by all the spirits, who had ever been killed by the name brand rifle. Legend says she was given the message by a Boston medium, to build a house for the spirits, in order to keep them from killing her. To appease them, legend says she kept building until her death on Sept. 5, 1922.
2,000 doors, 1,257 windows, 47 fireplaces, 40 stairwells, 40 bedrooms,  17 chimneys, 13 bathrooms, 6 kitchens, 3 elevators, 20,000 gallons single coated paint; are the spirits appeased?

Examples of Spiritualist Practice

Spirit Photography
Spirit Boards (Ouija), Planchettes
Levitation and Manipulation
 Other Spirit Photography; Ectoplasm
By the 1880’s the movement began to slow due to accusations of fraud. Christians and other religions, as well as science based believers, began calling out many operations for using the sting-pull, photographic trickery, and leading “bait and trap” questions during seances. In 1887, many of these fraud cases were punishable by law, and prosecuted in courts. The Seybert Commission is one of the better known cases of this.

Spiritualism in Marysville

Theodore Cordua

In 1842, Theodore Cordua, a Mecklenburg, Germany native buys land from John Sutter. By 1843, Cordua is began building adobe style structures, building the foundation for what is now Marysville, Ca. At the time he names the small trading post there, New Mecklenburg, but people refer to it as “The Plaza” or “Cordua’s Ranch”.

New Mecklenburg began growing swiftly. People from all around saw the land as the perfect place to build a new life, and set up claim. The river systems proved valuable to the Gold Rush Era. Between the mountain claims up into the Sierra’s, down to San Francisco. Steam Ships made their way back and forth, and the town flourished. Later in 1841, Charles and Mary Covillaud arrive in the United States. Covillaud becomes Cordua’s partner. And the township is renamed as Marysville (1849), after Mrs. Covillaud.

“Colonel” Lyman W. Ransom  The Weekly Spiritualist 

 By 1840, New York native “Colonel” Lyman W. Ransom made his way to California, from Colchester, CT. He arrived with his wife Elizabeth and 5 children; Elijah, Lyman Jr., Augusta, Winfield, and Phebe. (There is also a Julia 32yrs old, by a different last name, not sure who she is). It is unknown exactly when he arrived in Marysville, but by July 1851, Colonel purchases one-third interest in the Marysville Herald, the local newspaper. He became publisher for the paper. He was also a well-known Spiritualist. His son Elijah, is also listed as a known Medium. A number of Spiritualist periodicals began to appear throughout the 19th century. The Banner of Light, out of Boston, was one of the most prominent. This paper listed everything from public meetings, lectures, advertisements, to prominent leaders in the Spiritualism community. As a practicing Spiritualist, Colonel Ransom took it upon himself to distribute the periodical all over Marysville. By February 1857 Ransom had produced a paper called the Weekly Spiritualist. The paper was met with very little support from the community. To Ransom’s disappointment as publisher and editor, the periodical was discontinued by May 1857.  This may also be in part, that The Banner of Light that Ransom so proudly supported, accused him of pirating articles without permission as of May 21, 1857.

By this time, Spiritualism was openly advocated by “Advanced Thinkers” throughout the United States, prominently on the east and west coasts. Many Spiritualist urged people to move to the west coast. San Francisco became a hot spot for these meetings. Apparently Lyman felt he belonged with this community, rather than the small town of Marysville. Seances were frequently held by prominent people in the Spiritualist community throughout the city, by The San Francisco Supreme Grand Lodge. At the forefront of this movement was African-American Spiritualist, Dr. Paschal Beverly Randolph. Randolph was very well-known and some say he had more to do with the movement than the Fox sisters. He was even friends with President Abraham Lincoln and his wife Mary Todd, who were also a known Spiritualists.
Paschal Beverly Randolph, mixed race African-American Spiritualist
“Colonel” Lyman W. Ransom, a major supporter of Randolph, became Grand Sentinel and Supreme Grand Master of this chapter. Several members were dropped from this organization because they “were never really Rosicrucians at heart”. Rosicrucians by definition are members of a secretive 17th- and 18th-century society devoted to the study of metaphysical, mystical, and alchemical lore.

Other Records of Spiritualism in Marysville Mrs. S. M. Miles

 It seems that by my research, Spiritualism was not received well by the people of Marysville, despite the fact that it was highly regarded by the middle and upper class. People like Ransom struggled to find their place in such a small working class township. Large cities such as Boston, New York City and San Francisco were much more fitting to such practices. But as I research further, there are more stories of people who practiced Spiritualism within Marysville, quietly.
In a journal written by prominent Marysville resident W.T. Ellis, he recants memories of a grade school teacher he had, Mrs. S.M. Miles;
“THE first school I ever attended was a private school for small children, in the second story of a brick residence where the present Hall of Records is now located. The teacher was Miss Ella Moody whose parents had a ranch situated on the south side of the Buttes in Sutter County. I attended her school, I believe, about two years, and then went to another private school which was conducted by Mrs. S. M. Miles, wife of the first Mayor of Marysville. The school was in the present two-story brick residence situated at 427-8th Street. Mrs. Miles was a spiritualist and, occasionally, when she was conducting the school classes, she would excuse herself for a short while, saying “that she wanted to talk with her husband for a little while”; (he had been dead for a good many years). We could hear her “talking” to the Doctor in the next room but of course could not hear his replies, although she told us she could hear them; whether she did or not, she seemed to get a great satisfaction out of her conversations with her deceased husband.”
According to records, Mrs. S.M. Miles, opened a school on 8th street called “Marysville Select School” in 1874-75. It was a private institution.
Dr. S.M. Miles

California state legislature approved the original charter, incorporating the “City of Marysville” in January, 1851. On March 5, 1851, 521 votes are cast in a local election to formally ratify this approval from the state. Marysville is divided into four districts and Dr. S.M. Miles, a former GA resident and army surgeon is elected the first mayor. Ironically, the same election resulted in the selection of L.W. Ransom for President of the 1st Ward for the City of Marysville.
I can’t help but guess, that the close working relationship that Miles and Ransom had, that perhaps Ransom’s views may have had an influence on Mrs. Miles. Could this relationship have ultimately inspired her “meetings” with her husband long after death? Dr. Miles was buried in the Mason’s section of Marysville City Cemetery.


Regardless of the lack of support of the community, Spiritualism was alive and well in California Gold Rush Country towns like Marysville. Many of these believers kept to themselves it seems, but allowed spirits to be a part of their everyday lives. Much like the late Sarah Winchester, a lot of women saw their wealthy and powerful husbands and children come, and then go. In this era it seems loneliness crept in, and many were desperate to hang onto their late loved ones. For many women, their husbands were all they had, and did not know how to go on, nor function without them. With a movement like Spiritualism a staple for everyday living, it gave them hope to be still be connected with their dearly departed.
Today, Spiritualism is still alive and well….

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