by Diane Jackman Skolfield
Harrison D. Barrett dedicated much of his short life to promoting Spiritualism. Let us start at the beginning of this great man's life touching on some of his contributions to the religion of Spiritualism; a scientific religion, a religious philosophy and a philosophical religion.
Harrison Delivan Barrett was born in 1863 to life long Canaan, Maine residents Levi P. and Lucetta (Merrow) Barrett in the homestead established by Levi's great grandfather Capt. Joseph Barrett in 1805. According to an article from The Bangor News dated December 12, 1904;
Head of the Spiritualists In U.S. And Canada A Maine Man
The most of the 50,000 Spiritualists in the United States and those of the belief in Canada are within an organization of the National Spiritualist Association. To be the head of this organization is an honor and mark of eminence, and such has come to native and present residence of eastern Maine, Harrison D. Barrett of Canaan... Harrison was educated in the schools of Maine, attending at different times Canaan High School, Bloomfield Academy in Skowhegan, and Lewiston High School. He fitted for Bates College but did not enter that institution on account of failing health. He went west in 1881 with hopes of regaining his health, and so far recovered it that in 1886 he entered the Meadville, Pennsylvania Theological School from which he graduated with honor in 1889. From 1889 to 1892 Mr. Barrett was principal of two high schools in New York and Pennsylvania, abandoning the profession of teaching in the latter year because of ill health. He had the experience of several terms as instructor in the common schools of several states between 1881 and 1886.
Early in the year 1880 Mr. Barrett became interested in Spiritualism, and has made that field of search in the realm of psychic science his special study. Since 1885 he has been actively engaged in the public propagandism of that line of thought. From 1889 to 1895, inclusive, he was chairman of the great summer assembly at Cassadaga, New York. In 1893 he was elected president of the National Spiritualistic Association (NSA) of the United States and Canada. When Harrison's sister Ollie passed to spirit at the age of twelve she communicated with her brother through rappings to let him know she was still here, willing and able to “talk” with her loved ones. Harrison became a dedicated Spiritualist and began attending summer sessions at Camp Etna in Etna, Maine, a spiritualist camp with uninterrupted summer meetings since 1876. In 1902 he became president of The First Maine Spiritualists State Camp Meeting Association, now called the Etna Spiritualist Association, located at Camp Etna. A history of Harrison D. Barrett found on the web site of the church in Bangor (www.hdbspiritualistchurch.org) bearing his name states;
Mr. Barrett's mediumship unfolded at Camp Etna. He became president of Camp Etna and was a welcome worker at all the early Camps. He was an excellent platform worker; presenting a pleasing voice and an analytical mind that his audiences seemed to never tire of. It has been told he would walk the 25 miles from Canaan to Camp Etna, barefoot, with his shoes over his shoulder in order to present himself polished and prepared for his appointment with Spirit. His wonderful mediumship and his deep resonant voice made him a splendid missionary and he traveled all over the United States many times without funds and with cardboard in his shoes.
The organized NSA (National Spiritualist Association) came into existence due to Harrison's quick thinking at the trial of a woman accused of fortune telling and witchcraft. Harrison was called to court to be a witness and when the judge explained to him if he could prove this religion was a true religion with a creed he might let the woman go free. Harrison asked for a recess, wrote the first three Spiritualist Principles as they stand today, and the woman was allowed to go free.
1-We believe in Infinite Intelligence.
2-We believe that the phenomena of Nature, both physical and spiritual, are the expression of Infinite Intelligence.
3-We affirm that a correct understanding of such expression and living in accordance therewith constitute true religion.
Harrison married his wife Margarite M. Coffyn of Grand Rapids, Michigan in 1897 and together they published The Banner of Light, the largest Spiritualist publication in the world from 1897 to 1904. Its readership included thousands of doctors, judges, scientists, researchers, clergymen and people from all walks of life, many who came to the religion as skeptics and joined as believers once they received accurate messages from Spirit World. Believers said Spiritualism was a religious science and a scientific religion, a religious philosophy and a philosophical religion. Many Spiritualists believed, and still do, that because their religion proved the continuity of life they had the potential to bring the world together in one religion while still honoring the individual beliefs and practices of its followers.
Our educated disciple from Canaan was not only an avid promoter of Spiritualism, but, according to the previously mentioned 1904 Bangor News article:
Mr. Barrett takes a deep interest in political, educational and reformatory work of all kinds. He is an ardent admirer of Abraham Lincoln and the principles the great martyr represented...In 1900 Mr. Barrett was the Democratic (Candidate) for the general court from his district in Massachusetts, but was defeated by a very small plurality. The district was Republican by an overwhelming majority, but Mr. Barrett ran largely ahead of his ticket.
In 1903 Mr. Barrett returned to his native town to reside, and was nominated in the summer of 1904 for the State Senate by the Democrats of Somerset county. Here he held his party vote and ran slightly ahead of his ticket in several precincts. As Somerset is Republican by two to one on a full poll, Mr. Barrett was defeated in the contest by the Hon. W. G. Bailey of Harmony. He attended the Democratic national convention in St. Louis and sat with the Maine delegation as alternate for Hon. F. O. Gould of Oldtown...Mr. Barrett holds his residence in Canaan but his services are in demand as a lecturer upon scientific, reformatory and religious subjects in all sections of the Union.
Harrison wrote many books during his lifetime including Life Work of Cora. L. V. Richmond, Cassadaga; Its History and Teaching, The Evolution of Worship, The Soul's Song of Triumph, Psychic Romances and his last book Pantheistic Idealism.
Harrison's wife, Margarite, passed to spirit a few months before her husband. Together they lost their dear two year old baby daughter, Xelia a few years before Margarite died. Xelia's headstone sits in the small cemetery next to the large monument honoring Mary Vanderbilt in Barrett Square at Camp Etna.
According to the Bangor Semi-Weekly Newspaper dated January 17, 1911, Harrison D. Barrett's obituary read;
America's Most Distinguished Spiritualist Succumbs After Long Suffering
Harrison D. Barrett died in Canaan at the home of his mother, Mrs. Lucetta Barrett, Thursday. He was 47 years old. He had been sick for about a year and a half, having undergone an operation several months ago from which he never recovered. Funeral services will be held Monday at 2pm. Dr. George A Fuller of Greenwich, Mass, to whom Mr. Barrett dedicated his last book, officiating. Besides his mother, the deceased is survived by three sisters, one son; Mrs. Oscar Nutting, Miss Lucetta Barrett and Mrs. Viola Rand of Canaan. The son is living in the west... He was a lecturer of no mean repute, having delivered lectures in every large city throughout the United States...He had been for 13 years president of the National Spiritualist Association and for ten years president of the Maine State Spiritualist Association, and was chairman for several years at Etna and Cassadaga camp meetings. He was as orator of unusual ability, had fine poetic touch in language, and what is rare with this type of mind, he combined a keenness of analysis and profound philosophical graspe of those basic truths which the varied aspects of cosmic activity disclose.
For decades after his death Spiritualists throughout Maine celebrated his life with a motorcade from Camp Etna to the Canaan Town Hall where a stone commemorating his legacy sits in a park bearing his name. Maine Spiritualists now hold a service on the third Sunday of September each year in the very same park while Spiritualists around the world honor Harrison D. Barrett for his contributions to this scientific, philosophical religion.
Etna Spiritualist Association 77 Stage Rd. Etna, Maine 04434 (207) 269-2094
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