The Hydesville Rappings and How Spiritualism Began.

The Hydesville Rappings

Distant Learning ProgrammeThis is an extract from The Psychics & Mediums Network Teaching Manual that is used as support material for our on-line classes and distance learning projects.

You can join the classes or get a free Kindle edition of this manual at the link below.


The spirit world has always communicated with mankind and examples of such communications have been registered in historical records. The fact that so much communication has been recorded leads us to believe that such communication was also taking place before records were kept and it is fair, therefore, to say that there has always been contact with man by the inhabitants of that world which is known as the spirit world.

That communication was, in the main, one-way, in that the spirit world contacted man and two-way communication did not really begin in a big way until 1848 when it exploded upon the world. Prior to 1848 individuals had enjoyed personal two-way communication; people such as Emanuel Swedenborg, the famous Swedish Scientist and Andrew Jackson Davis, the founder of the Modern Lyceum Movement and there were others also using their mediumistic abilities to communicate with family, friends and spirit guides.

It was in 1848, however, the spirit world really let its presence be felt and the following quotation is taken direct from the book The University of Spiritualism written by Harry Boddington and explains how the world became aware of spirit and how it became possible for the two worlds to co-operate and so assist in the re-enlightenment of mankind.

“The story of the murdered pedlar who was subjected to cross-examination on the night of March 31, 1848, and thereby established intelligent methods of communication between embodied and disembodied humanity, has been told so often that, beyond stating the leading incidents drawn from sworn testimony of writers and witnesses of the period, I shall refrain from tedious details.

Briefly stated, it may be said that John D Fox became tenant of a house in Hydesville, Wayne County, and New York State. Inexplicable knockings took place all over the house and on the doors while sentinels kept watch on either side. Mrs Fox’s hair turned grey in a week. It was presently discovered that the knockings followed their two children from place to place.

They were separated, stood on feather pillows, insulated by standing on glass plates and tested in every way human ingenuity could devise a code of signals was arranged and thus it was discovered that a pedlar had been murdered and his body buried in the cellar of the house. Committees, formed at public meetings in Rochester, reported the impossibility of trickery.

Soon it was discovered that hundreds of people could produce the phenomena by following simple instructions fuller development embraced all the psychic faculties mentioned by St. Paul in the twelfth chapter of Corinthians. Thus Modern Spiritualism was born.

Hydesville Rappings - Fox Sisters

Spiritualists do not claim that the Fox family were the first to establish communication with the spirit world. But they were the first critically to examine the phenomena while in progress and devise methods of communication which are now duplicated all over the world.

Prior to the Fox family residing at Hydesville, the previous tenants, named Weekman, had been similarly disturbed. The Weekmans lived there during 1846-7. They recorded the many unsuccessful attempts made to discover the cause at work. The sounds varied from footfalls in the cellar, where the pedlar’s body was later found, to loud raps on the floors, doors and walls. Sudden opening of doors and systematic attempts to catch the perpetrator of the annoyances signally failed. Their eight-year-old daughter was wakened in the night by feeling something cold fumbling on her face. Her screams brought in her parents, who took her into their own bed and it was a long time before the terrified child could be induced to return. Mr Weekman heard his name called when he was alone. their servant, Mrs Lape, while working in the kitchen, saw the apparition of a man in the bedroom. She rushed off to find Mrs Weekman, but by the time they got to the bedroom the man had disappeared. Her description tallied with that of others. It was presumably the spirit form of the pedlar.

The most definite description of the pedlar was given by a schoolgirl named Lucretia Pulver who lived with the Bell family and saw the pedlar before he was murdered. The girl examined the goods he offered to sell. The same day Mrs Bell discharged her with the excuse that she could no longer afford to keep her. Three days later she was reinstated.

Thereafter the uncanny sounds and experiences became common occurrences. But the pedlar who had promised to visit her was never seen again.

Soon after the pedlar’s visit, Lucretia had occasion to go into the cellar and sank deep in loose soil. In her fright she screamed. Mrs Bell inquired the cause and explained the loose soil as the result of “rats.” Mr Bell soon afterwards got busy filling up the “rat” holes. In view of the story told by the pedlar these statements are significant. But Mrs Bell was herself a haunted woman and even the dog would sit under the window and howl all night long.

John David Fox with his wife and two daughters, Catherine, aged twelve, and Margaretta, aged fifteen, moved into their home at Hydesville on December, 11, 1847. They were frequently disturbed at night. Sounds as of furniture being moved or knocking on the doors and walls were incessant. A curious vibration accompanied the sounds. As time passed the noises grew more alarming. They heard gurgling, as of something being choked, and a body falling to the floor. Bedclothes were pulled, chairs travelled from their accustomed places. Once the children were frightened by what seemed to be a large dog lying across their feet. Presently they felt a cold hand passing over their faces. Search for the author of these happenings was continuous but useless.

Normal sleep became impossible. Mrs Fox therefore moved their bed into her room on March 30 they were disturbed all night. The noises seemed to come from everywhere. Mr Fox stood on one side of the door and his wife on the other, but the rappings seemed to emanate from the door between them. In desperation they decided the house was haunted. Friday, March 31, 1848 was bleak and cold, for now had fallen. The family retired early to their bedroom to snatch some sleep before darkness again produced the unwelcome manifestations. The wind rattled the sashes. Thinking they might be loose Mr Fox shook them and Katie remarked that the rappings seemed to respond. Every time he shook a window the raps would imitate the number.

An entirely new situation speedily arose. The girls, emboldened by the presence of their parents, started talking to the spirits. Katie snapped her fingers and said, “Here, old splitfoot, do as I do.” To their surprise the spirit responded with as many raps as the child snapped her fingers. Margaretta joined in the game. Clapping her hands a number of times she called out: “Now do as I do. Count one, two, three, four.” The rapper correctly responded. Katie now varied the game by making motions as if snapping her fingers but without producing any sound. The invisible telegraphist again responded correctly, which produced the child’s comment, “Only look, mother, it can see as well as hear!”

That simple comment heralded the dawn of the great idea. It recognised human consciousness possessing both sight and hearing as the operator of the telegraphic code at the other end. Mrs Fox was quick to put the issue to the test. “Count ten,” she demanded. The number was rapped out. “How many children have I?” she added. “Seven,” replied the telegraphist. She thought this a mistake, but the rapper insisted. Then she remembered that six were on earth but one had passed away. Test now followed test in quick succession.

The ages of all her children were tapped out to order. A pause was made between each one to distinguish it from the next. Before the seventh was rapped out a little longer pause ensued followed by three louder raps, which correctly indicated the age of her spirit child.

Here we pause in order to note the implications. Hundreds of houses had been similarly haunted, but nobody had the quick wits of this American child to recognize the human element behind the manifestations. The founder of Methodism, John Wesley, left on record that similar hauntings occurred in his home at Epworth. Many others have made similar statements, but nobody had previously established definite communication and tested the manifestations while in operation. All great scientific advances start from similar simple beginnings. The fall of an apple witnessed by Newton set the stage for the law of gravitation. The twitch of a frog’s leg showed Galvani a power that was unleashed, and Galvanism arose. A Stevenson, noting power rushing from a steaming kettle, laid foundations for the steam engine and the railway system. Colliding clouds projected devastating lightning, but Franklin, as a kite flyer, trailed it to earth.

Lightning conductors soon made man immune from its action and he has learned to harness the electric forces and runs his trains, trams and lighting systems by its power.

Similar great possibilities are gradually being revealed by invisible communicators from the world of spirit. Hell and the concept of a vindictive God were the first to go. Angel guidance is but telepathy from the greater life. Law is discovered operating in all worlds both seen and unseen. The spirit of man clearly recognizes his relationship to God. He promptly throws off priest-created fears and knowing that Truth is the language of God dares to follow wherever it may lead.

The success of the unseen operator merely whetted the experimental appetites for further evidence. A code was arranged. A shower of raps meant “Yes.” Silence meant “No.” Special requests introduced variations. When Mrs Fox told the rapper to knock twice if it was a spirit, it did so.

A man named William Duesler had lived in the Fox homestead about seven years earlier. As no uncanny noises were heard in his time he took a personal interest in the manifestations. He was a painstaking researcher. He hunted up all the people, so far as they could be found, who had lived in the house and thus discovered that the disturbances began with the Weekmans, who came after the Bells had left. Duesler improved the code and his sworn testimony explains his process. If he got no reply he reversed the question.

“I asked if it was an injured spirit and it rapped,” he said. “I asked if it had come to hurt anyone who was present. It did not rap. I then reversed the question and it rapped. I asked if I or my father had injured it, and there was no noise. If we had not injured it (please) manifest by rapping. And we all heard three distinct raps.” He thus cross-questioned the spirit about everybody known to have lived in the house and elicited the following story.

The spirit rapper, claiming to be a peddler named Charles B. Rosna, said he was murdered by Bell, who buried his body in the center of the cellar about four or five years earlier. He said it was not any of the neighbors but John C Bell, a blacksmith who lived in the house at the time he “disappeared.”

Bell’s name was obtained by calling over the names of the neighbours and all who had lived in the house prior to the Fox family. Rosna said he was thirty-one years of age and he was murdered in the bedroom at twelve o’clock, on a Tuesday night when he and Bell were alone in the house. The maid, Lucretia Pulver, and Bell’s wife were away at the time. His body had been carried down to the cellar early next morning and buried ten feet deep. The spot was located by a Mr Redfield moving from point to point in the cellar and asking, “Was it here?” this method was repeated by Duesler sitting in the room above while a Mr Hyde, in the presence of witnesses, moved around the cellar. Always the center of the cellar was indicated as the burial place.

The next move was to dig up the cellar at the place indicated, but at three feet water flowed in from a nearby stream and stopped the digging. In the summer of 1848 they restarted digging operations. At the depth of five feet they found a plank. Digging deeper they found pieces of crockery and evidences of quicklime and charcoal. Finally they found human hair, part of a skull and some human bones. They were satisfied they had found the actual skeleton of the pedlar, but later evidence shows that they had probably unearthed part of another skeleton. The cellar was dug up over and over again to satisfy skeptical minds.

Nothing further was discovered until about fifty years later when schoolchildren, while playing in the now deserted “Spook House,” as it was called, noticed some human remains apparently embedded in the crumbling walls. William H Hyde, as owner of the house, thereupon made a further investigation. He found that the crumbling walls were permitting part of a skeleton to show itself. Further search revealed the fact that a cavity had been formed by building a wall inside the outer wall.

From this cavity he not only recovered a perfect skeleton minus part of its skull, but also a pedlar’s tin pack which was commonly used in those parts fifty years earlier.

It will be remembered that the original diggers found part of a skull in the course of their digging. The evidence thus substantiates the pedlar’s story that his body was buried in the cellar. But what he failed to reveal was that it was later exhumed and sealed up in what was thought to be a safer place – the cavity in the wall.

These details, much amplified, were given in the “Sunflower” of December, 1904, and the “Boston Journal,” of Rochester, N.Y., for November 22, 1904, thus finally clearing the Fox family from any suspicion of deception.

News of the rappings spread far and wide. Hundreds of inquirers from miles around tested the knockings. Following the procedure of the neighbors they asked the ages of their children and personal questions answerable by “Yes” or “No.” One and all testified to the impossibility of the Fox family producing results by trickery. This is the usual conclusion of people who hear of spirit manifestations for the first time. Correct replies were everybody’s stumbling block. Even by trickery the Fox family could not have answered the questions so satisfactorily. These were quite outside their knowledge.

The family were so pestered by visitors that they gladly accepted their son David’s invitation to leave the house and live with him on his farm two or three miles away. But their troubles did not cease. The rappings followed them. Mrs Fox’s married daughter Leah, thinking to break up the conditions, took her mother and Katie to her home in Rochester, New York State, leaving Margaretta with David. But the rappings continued. The presence of either child apparently supplied the power the knocker used. Eventually Margaretta was sent to join her sister in Rochester.

At the suggestion of a Quaker named Isaac Post the spirit rappers were asked to tap out their replies by means of the alphabet. When the correct letter or cypher was named the raps immediately responded. This marked a great stride forward in the method of communication, permitting more detailed information to be given. Hundreds of people visited the “Rochester Knockings,” as they were now called, and seriously tested the information given. The results were so startling that they readily followed the spirit instructions to form investigating seances in their own homes. Each family became independent researchers on a strictly scientific basis. This type of independent research now forms the backbone of Modern Spiritualism.

Developing circles, following the simple rules originating from the Fox sisters, found that nearly every home produced a psychic or somebody in whose presence the phenomena readily occurred. This centre of power was termed a medium. Corroborative testimony from every country in the world placed the phenomena on a scientific basis. The greatest difficulty arose from emotionalists or religionists who grossly exaggerated results or accepted them as proof of their wholly incorrect ideas regarding the after-life. In later chapters I shall show the folly of secrecy and how auto-suggestion as the basis of occultism misleads investigators.

Spirit instructors everywhere emphasise the need for harmonious co-operation among researchers. The formative action of the mind is stressed and sitters told that their own minds measurably affect all phenomena. The law behind the phenomena was found to be exactly what the original Rochester knockings taught. This consists of a blending of spiritual and physical magnetisms. These in turn are influenced by the prevailing attitude of mind of those present. Harmony of thought and feeling is therefore essential to good results.

One would think that this stupendous revelation was hailed with joy by everybody. The contrary was the case. The Fox family found themselves treated with suspicion and open derision. Active persecution followed. The daughter Leah, as a music teacher, lost most of her pupils. As the Fox family were Methodists their parsons at first prayed with them that the “curse” might be removed. Failing in their attempts to exorcise the spirits they accused the family of being in league with the devil. This last resort of fear and ignorance is still active, and modern mediums are facing persecution by the resurrection of the antiquated Witchcraft Act for following St Paul’s advice to “desire earnestly spiritual gifts, but rather that you may prophesy.”

The Fox family begged the spirits to cease manifesting their presence. They retorted with a request that they should hold public meetings and prove their genuineness. The family flatly refused to add to their troubles. The spirit intruders then told them they would leave as requested and would not communicate any more. The news was received with thankfulness. But reaction soon set in. Only those who have been favoured by sittings with good mediums understand what the loss of contact with the spirit world means.

The circle felt that the house was deserted. Loneliness, in a very real sense of the word, followed. Finally, they begged the spirit people to resume their talks. But not until they volunteered to give the required public demonstrations did the manifestations return.

The first public demonstration was given at Rochester on November 14, 1849, in the Corinthian Hall. Margaretta was the only known medium on the platform. Mr Capton, as lecturer, told the story of the knockings and the results. His remarks were punctuated with clear and distinctive rapping all over the hall. A committee of five was formed from among the audience to test the medium and report to a later meeting. To everybody’s surprise their report was favourable. This did not please meeting number two, so another committee was appointed from among them. Again the report was favourable. They could find no rational explanation for the sounds.

The mediums never knew at whose house the tests would be applied. There was no mechanism employed that could be discovered. This incensed meeting number three, so yet another meeting was arranged with a committee instructed how to discover the “trick.” The mediums were made to stand on feather pillows and insulated from electrical contacts by glass slabs. Their clothing, stockings and underclothes were previously searched. The women on the committee reported that they had also tied the mediums’ knees and ankles to check any toe or knee cracking noises, a theory which at this period held sway.

The whole committee testified that despite all their precautions sounds were produced on the walls and ceilings. Even mental questions had been answered. But the crowd was determined to find them guilty of fraud. So when the third committee had presented its report rowdies let off fireworks and created disturbances. Matters got so serious that a burly Quaker named George Willets forgot his passive resistance doctrine, stood in front of the mediums and declared that nobody would touch them except over his own dead body. The police soon after escorted the mediums to their homes.”

This is an extract from The Psychics & Mediums Network Teaching Manual that is used as support material for our on-line classes and distance learning projects.

You can join the classes or get a free Kindle edition of this manual at the link below.


COPYRIGHT This article is part of our Distance Learning Project DLP – a course specially written for us by the great Spiritualist Violet Kipling and long time worker on this website and the charitable organisation  Rainbows End. No part may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the copyright owner. This material may not be published as web pages or in email correspondence courses without the permission of the copyright owner. World serial rights are owned by the “Psychics and Mediums Network” (

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