1830: The Boy After this Excited Much Wonder

Peter Vanderlyn - Portrait of Adam Winne, (1730)

From John Fanning Watson’s Annals of Philadelphia, being a collection of memoirs, anecdotes, and incidents of the city and its inhabitants, from the days of the Pilgrim founders (1830):

The good people of Caledonia [Scotland] have so long and exclusively engrossed the faculty of “second sight,” that it may justly surprise many to learn that we also have been favoured with at least one case as well attested as their own! I refer to the instance of Eli Yarnall of Frankford. Whatever were his first peculiarities he in time lost them. He fell into intemperate habits, became a wanderer, and died in Virginia, a young man. He was born in Bucks county, and with his family emigrated to the neighbourhood of Pittsburg. There, when a child of seven years of age, he suddenly burst into a fit of laughter in the house, saying he then saw his father (then at a distance) running down the mountain side trying to catch a jug of whiskey which he had let fall. He saw him over-take it, &c. When the father came in, he confirmed the whole story, to the great surprise of all. The boy after this excited much wonder and talk in the neighbourhood. Two or three years after  this, the family was visited by Robert Verreé, a public Friend, with other visiting Friends from Bucks county. I have heard, in a very direct manner, from those who heard Verreé’s narrative, that he, to try the lad, asked him various questions about circumstances then occurring at his own house in Bucks county ; all of which he afterwards ascertained to have been really so at that precise time! Some of the things mentioned were these, viz: “I see your house is made partly of log and partly of stone; before the house is a pond which in now let out; on the porch sits a woman, and a man with gray hairs; in the house are several men,” &c. When Verreé returned home he ascertained that his mill-pond before his house had just been let out to catch muskrats; that the man in the porch was his wife’s brother Jonathan; that the men in the house were his mowers, who had all come in because of a shower of rain. In short. he said every iota was exactly realized.

The habits of the boy, when he sought for such facts, was to sit down and hold his head downward—his eyes often shut; and after some waiting declared what he saw in his visions. He has been found abroad in the fields, sitting on a stump, crying—on being asked the reasons, he said he saw great destruction of human life by men in mutual combat. His descriptions answered exactly to sea-fights and army battles, although he had never seen the sea, nor ships, nor cannon all of which he fully described as an actual looker-on. Some of the Friends who saw him became anxious for his future welfare, and deeming him possessed of a peculiar gift and a good spirit, desired to have the bringing of him up. He was therefore committed to the mastery of Nathan Harper, a Friend, engaged in the business of tanning in Frankford. There he excited considerable conversation; and so many began to visit him as to be troublesome to his master, who did what he could to discourage the calls. Questions on his part were therefore shunned as much as he could. He lost his faculty by degrees, and fell into loose company. which of itself prevented serious people from having any further wish to interrogate him.

To instance the kind of inquiries which were usually presented to him it may be stated, that wives who had missed their husbands long, supposed by shipwreck for instance, would go to him and inquire. He would tell them (it is said) of some still alive, what they were then about, &c. Another case was a man, for banter, went to him to inquire who stole his pocket-book, and he was answered—no one; but you stole one out of a man’s pocket when at the vendue—and it was so!

His mother would not allow him “to divine for money,” lest he should thereby lose the gift, which she deemed heaven-derived. The idea is not novel, as may be seen in John Woolman’s life, where he speaks of a rare gift of healing, which was lost by taking a reward.

These are strange things, evidencing matters “not dreamed of in our philosophy.” I give these facts as I heard them—I “nothing extenuate, nor aught set down in malice.”

Image: Peter Vanderlyn: Portrait of Adam Winne (1730)

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