Remarkable Visionary Dreams [Frederic Swan]- 1822

Remarkable Visionary Dreams [Frederic Swan]- 1822

Preface: This is a transcription of an 1822 pamphlet that claims to record the visionary dreams of a teenaged mulatto boy, Frederic Swan. He had been at work at a farm outside his mother's home, likely bound out as an indentured servant, but returned distressed to his mother, became sickly, and then came to recount a series of dreams in the months before his death. The pamphlet exists, as far as the current writer knows, in only one copy, held at the American Antiquarian Society, Worcester, Massachusetts. Since this transcription is meant to be a resource for students, who usually have little access to rare materials held in archives, it is followed by a few questions to guide interpretation and a short list of suggested readings.

Courses in American religion, African American history, or autobiography might have a place for this account. This file will be held in the IEAHCNET gopher space, which can be reached at the University of Illinois at Chicago gopher (gopher, under "The Researcher," then "History," then "H-NET," then "IEAHCNET," then "Archives." Comments from students or teachers are welcome at Saillant@Brownvm.Brown.EDU. All the original spelling has been retained; page numbers of the pamphlet are given here to indicate the top of the page in the original. John Saillant, Department of History, Brown University

                     VISIONARY DREAMS,
                       BY THE NAME OF
                     FREDERIC W. SWAN,
                    AGED THIRTEEN YEARS,
                       TOGETHER WITH
 Taken from the mouth of his mother, his father being dead.
                   OF CHESTERFIELD, N.H.
   (At the request of his mother and other relatives and

[page 3--no pages intervening between title page and this]

Nothing remarkable took place with him till he was eleven years old. He then being at work in the field with two other boys, and hearing them swear most profanely, it struck him with such horror, knowing that he was no better than they by nature, that he ran away from them to cry aloud to God for mercy. He was then at work for Mr. Asa Stratton in Northfield. He soon after came home, and became serious, and told his mother that at times his distress of mind was such that he knew not what to do. He then took to reading the Bible, and said he knew if he died as he then was he should go to hell. He appeared to have remarkable discoveries of the odious nature of sin, and that without religion he and all mankind must be miserable. He thus lived about two years, between hope and fear, and then was taken sick, and passed through many trials and temptations of mind, and dreamed a number of remarkable dreams before he was converted. In the fifth dream, it was stated that if he would read the Bible three months, he should be well, which appears to allude to the time of his obtaining heaven and immortal glory; for at the expiration of the three

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months, he fell asleep, as we trust, in the arms of Jesus. His soul was made happy in the love of God, at the time of dreaming the sixth dream, when he lost his load spoken of, and drank the wine from the angel's hand. He dreamed about once a week, generally on Monday. The dreams were copied by his mother and friends, in childlike language, as near as possible as he delivered them in short terms; for he was so weak that he could talk but a little at a time. He well knew many people that he saw in his dreams, in different places, both in happiness and in misery. He knew all the houses spoken of, and the people who live in them; and there were many things seen and done, which he would not have written, because of giving offence; but eternity will unfold the whole. I will remark, that after he was converted, although confined to his bed, he was baptized by Elder Amasa Taylor; and soon after died in the triumphs of living faith.

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                     MEMORANDUM OF HIS
                     REMARKABLE DREAMS.


I dreamt I set out to go to my mother in a thunder storm--I thought I saw the devil coming towards me--I thought I had no way to shun him but to go back, and as I turned, I saw one all in white, and he said unto me, 'You should not fear him, but fear me;' and I awoke, and was terrified.


I dreamt that I saw a large white temple in the air--I thought it was full, but saw no one.


I dreamt that I set out to travel with something to sell, and on the road I saw a large white building, and I saw people going in and out; and I saw another building, equally as large as the first, but it was further on; it was wood color; and I saw people passing in and out. I thought the keeper of the house was the devil, in the appearance of a man all covered with bells. I passed the white house, and saw a guide-post at my right hand, and it read the way to the old house was

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destruction, and the way to the white house was peace; and I awoke.


I dreamt I saw a ladder set upon the earth, and it reached a vast way into the air--I climbed to the top of this ladder, and turned and came down, and at the foot I saw two men all in white--they said to me, 'Follow us, and we will take care of you.' I followed them, and they led me to where there was a multitude of people singing, and I awoke.


I dreamt I went to the brook, and saw a boat coming towards me with white sails hoisted--I called to my mother to come and see it--the sails came off from the boat, and followed my mother and me to the house, and stood before the door. I saw one man all in white that stood with the sails; he reached his hand to me and said, 'Take this and read my holy Book, and you shall be well in three months;' and the sails went down into the earth, and I awoke.


I dreamt I set out to travel with a great load upon my back--I became very tired; but I left my load behind me, and went on my way until I met an angel--I told him what a load I had when I set out--he told me that I should not have it again if I would continue in prayer. He passed on and left me. Then I went on my way again till I became very hungry and dry--I looked towards

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the south and saw the largest white bird I ever saw, flying towards me, and when it got to me it was an angel; he had got wine to give me; he said, 'You remember what you have read, Take this in remembrance of me.' I took the cup and drank, and was satisfied; and this angel left me a short time, and then returned with three other angels--they took me and carried me beyond the sun, and I awoke.


I dreamt that two angels came to me; one of them sat upon the top of the door, the other upon the looking-glass--the one on the door read a hymn and sung, then read a chapter in Ezekiel and took a text from it and preached to me--I could not remember the chapter nor verse, nor words so as to repeat them, but when he had done I heard the pleasantest voice I ever heard, say to them, 'You must come now;' and both of them came to me and squeezed my hand and went out, and I awoke.


I dreamt I saw two men standing a small distance from the house, their faces towards the street--I saw a silver chain come down before them; the men kneeled down to pray--I saw another angel much smaller than the first, he had a sword in his hand, he came to me and put his arm around my neck and led me to where these men were praying--there something like a skreen came down and covered us over; the small angel took

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his sword and struck the skreen and said, 'I will show you a sketch of damnation;' there was a hole so that we all could see out of it--I saw the place of torment, and I saw dreadful sights there and heard dreadful noises amongst them; it did appear to me that I saw the devil pushing souls into the burning lake--I heard a voice, and then the devils were bound, they seemed to be in great horror; then came the loudest clap of thunder I ever heard, and all was still, and the skreen left us; and I looked up into the air, and saw Jesus sitting upon the clouds; and the angels carried us all there to Jesus, and set us down by him--Jesus had a silver trumpet in his hand; he blowed it and the dead arose; some appeared to shake and be dismayed, and some were smiling; and they all came before Jesus, and then he opened a book and read to them, and some of them had to go back to the earth again; and after the division was made, I saw fire come down from above, the rivers burnt like oil, and the hills like a brush-heap--I saw the earth full of wicked people and devils, and the devils appeared to be tormenting the people, and I awoke.


I dreamt of being upon a hill not far from the house, and my mother and brothers and sister were with me looking towards the house; it appeared to be all on fire; we set out to go towards it, an angel met us and said that it belonged to the devil, he told my mother she must give it up willingly. Then we turned towards the south, I looked and saw a road that led to the

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sun, upon the sides it was very steep, I saw a great many people travelling this road; and this great angel took my mother by the hand and led her up this road, and we all followed after them--the angel sung a part of a hymn,

             'Why should the children of a King
                Go mourning all their days?'

I saw a great many of these people that set out to travel this narrow road fall out by the way, and were never able to recover themselves again--some got half way up and fell off and I never saw them any more--I saw one woman fall, she caught hold of a bush and hung half an hour; she continued to pray all the time she hung there; at length she was able to gain the top; here we were upon a beautiful green plain; here I saw something like a water-spout, it was hollow, with a ladder in the middle of it--then we all set out to go up this ladder, there was no falling back--there this great angel had a rule and a chain, he took the rule and measured the chain, and said, this is the measure of the city where we were going; and when we got to the city, I saw a window on the bottom, so that we all could look down and see devils and fire, the devils appeared to be employed in putting people into the fire--then the angel came to me and shewed me two walks, one was a narrow one and the other a wide one, the wide one led to the north and the other to the south, they led very nigh together a little sidelong; it appeared that some went one way, and some the other--then I west a little to the west and saw Jesus Christ, and the angel Gabriel

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with him, and he blowed a trumpet, then the dead arose, then Christ opened a book and read, then all people came before him, to some he read, 'Come ye blessed,' and to some, 'Depart ye cursed;' then some went the narrow walk that led to the south, and some went the wide walk that led to the north. When we were on our way to this city, the angels sung an hymn: 'My Jesus, my King, my heavenly Guide, will lead his saints strait on to Canaan; Jesus they he most beautifully shall see, and sweet anthems sing, and praise the Lord upon the wing.' And I awoke.


I dreamt of being at the meeting-house, and saw an angel come there; he said, 'This is my house, I set my servants to build it for a house of prayer;' he then went to a house and read the first chapter of Romans, and turned to go to the next house, and I saw a woman with a bottle of ardent spirits in her hand going before us, the earth opened and took her and then shut, and I saw her no more--we came to the next house, there the angel read Matthew the third chapter, and told them what few remained of them that they were not prayerful, if they would accept of offered mercy, he would grant them his light and knowledge so that they might pray; he told them he would give them power to fight the adversary, and grace to stand in time of persecution, and would guide them safe through this world, and give them a robe of righteousness that should fit them to enter into the kingdom of heaven where God and Christ are, and there he would give

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them a new name; then he sung a hymn and went to the next house, there he told them if they were not more engaged and prayerful he should cast them off as he had done some before, and read to them and then went to the next house, and there told the man of the house that he must live watchful and prayerful, and he would guide him safe through this world and give him a robe of righteousness when he reached the next; he then left that house and went to the next, and told them that he would bear with them a little while longer, and if they did not hear to his trail he would cast them into hell; and I awoke.


I dreamt of its being a very dark night--I stood upon the earth, and saw a temple in the air, it was white; I thought as it sat in the air it made a light as the sun in the day time--I saw a band, and in the band a company of angels--I thought I had wings so that I could fly, and I flew up to them, and while I was there the angels began to sing a hymn--I thought my brother went to them and sung with them, and the words of the hymn were these,

           'Fly swifter round, ye wheels of time,
                And bring the welcome day.'

I thought there was one hymn that my brother could not sing with them, the name of the hymn was 'Judgment,' it was to be sung before the throne of God. When they had done singing, I thought I flew back to earth again--I thought one of these angels preached a sermon to the

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people upon the earth; he took his text in Revelations, the twelfth chapter and the eleventh and twelfth verses, and the words that he spoke from it were these: 'If you do not hear my servants that preach, and soften your hearts, I will pour out my judgments upon you, I will send my army to destroy your things; if you do not repent and be more earnestly engaged in the cause of religion, I shall send sickness and death and judgments upon you, your portion shall be where the fire is not quenched and the worm dieth not;' and I thought a number of men in the street were troubled at the preaching, and I awoke.


I dreamt of a man coming into the house and making a prayer; after he had done, the house was full of ministers--upon a sudden we seemed to be out of doors, I looked up and saw a black cloud coming down from above, and in this there was a bright cloud come out of the black one, and out of the bright cloud came an angel having a silver chain in one hand and a rule in the other; he laid the chain down upon the earth, and took the rule and measured the chain, and it measured 110 feet long; he looked upon all the ministers but one, and that one he went to and bound him with one end of the chain, and the other he bound round himself, and the bright cloud received them up out of my sight--then I saw another bright cloud come out of the black one, and then an angel come out of the bright cloud, and the first cloud I saw burst in the air, and the sec-

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ond came to the ground and burst, and this last one I thought my brother Calvin came to see what it was, and he was afraid and turned to go away, and the angel spoke to him and told him he was sinking like Peter of old, and took hold of the skirts of his coat and pulled him back, and he was glad to come back--I looked and saw a ladder set up in the air, and I saw these two black clouds coming together under the ladder; I thought it was hell, and people had to climb up this ladder, and those that could not climb this ladder fell into the lake--then I was carried by the angels up this ladder to where I entered in; and there were great multitudes singing on things, they gave me one of those things and I could sing as well as any of them, and I was well and happy, and then I awoke out of my dream.


I dreamt of standing at the foot of my bed on crutches, and I looked towards the window and saw the devil come to fight with me; I thought I had a sword, but did not fight with that, but kneeled down and prayed; I thought he could not send his darts so low as to hit me, they looked to me like darts; he seemed to give back and went towards the window, and gave a dreadful shake and went off--I looked towards the door and saw a great angel, he was higher then the eaves of the house, he seemed to be kneeled down, and he pulled my mother to him and told her she did not believe in the power of God, and if she did not be more believing and faithful, and

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pray more, she would fall back into sin; the he sung a hymn; then turned to my brother, and told him he had got the word of God, and if he had not, it was in the house; if he did not read more, and try to be more faithful, and do his duty at every opportunity, his robe would be taken from him and given to another; he said he had taken the tempter from him once, and if he came again his prayers should be in vain, the Lord will turn a deaf ear to his cries; and then he sung the third hymn and read Matthew the fourth chapter, then went to the meeting-house and laid his hand on the banisters that are round the bell, and said, I will take my text here in Timothy, the third or fourth chapter, I cannot remember which--he said, 'This is my house, I have made it for a house of prayer, and you have made it a house of witchcraft; your preacher is not fit to preach to you, he is a Jew, he is not fit to preach to any nation; I will send you a servant that will tell you the truth, and if the wicked will not hear and try to understand, I will cast them into hell.' I saw the devil--he appeared in the shape of a great many men--he came to tempt two men that were professors of religion; he told them there was no need of their being so religious, that there was no harm in civil recreation, such as fiddling and dancing, they might take their comfort in that way; one of them said, 'if I was going to take my comfort, I should take it in reading my bible and in praying to my God.' The devil then transformed himself into the shape of one man, and he had, as it appeared, one foot like a man and

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the other like a bear, and told the man he was a fool, and that he would divide his soul and body there, that he should not go any further--This great angel took the devil and wound him all up in a heap, and held him a vast way into the air, and let him fall into the midst of the congregation, and as he fell he seemed to burst, like a puffball, into a sulphurous flame of fire; and the angel said, this is the old Serpent which is called Satan--he then turned to the man and said, 'You are right, that is the way to take comfort, to read your bible and pray to God;' and I awoke.


Again I dreamt of being on a high mountain, and my mother and brothers and sister were with me--I looked off a great distance and saw a place of happiness which lay before us; my elder brother said, 'O that I had wings that I could fly there.'--I thought I looked off at my left hand and saw a black pitchy smoke, which I thought was the place of torment--my mother told him that the place of happiness was not for him.--Then I saw a silver walk, it was strait and narrow, it led to the place of happiness; I saw one coming to us on this walk, it was a minister of my acquaintance, and when he had come to where we stood, his clothing was a long white robe, and a crown on his head that was dazzling to my sight, and as he prayed his face seemed to shine--when he had done, he took my elder brother by the hand and

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led him away on silver walk, he was gone awhile with him, and when he came back, my brother had become a new creature as it were, he had a new suit of clothes, his old suit was gone into pitchy smoke, and he could sing to the astonishment of all who heard him--my mother set out to travel this silver walk, and we all followed after; we could all walk very well except one of my brothers, he slipped a good deal, but an angel met him and took him by the hand and led him, but Jacob went so fast he outwent us all; at length we all entered in where I heard singing, and the angel said they must all go back but me; he said there was no need of my going back, for they would all be there in a little while, and I awoke.


I dreamed on the day that I was baptized, that I saw the minister that baptized me, all in white, standing at the foot of my bed, and he stood on a white pole up from the floor, and he opened the bible and read the ninety-ninth psalm--he read with great solemnity, with his hand and eyes toward heaven, and when he had done he closed the book and went out, and I awoke.


I dreamed I saw a burning bush, and a lamb, and a band of angels, and between the bush and the angels I saw the greatest angel I ever saw; and I stood with him, and he had a key as big as a man's leg, and he unlocked the ground, and

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it was the mouth of hell; and I saw all people and the band of angels were singing, and stood ready to receive all those whose names were written in the Lamb's book of life, and those that were not were pitched headlong into the mouth of hell, by the great devil, and there were a great many little ones with spears aiming at the heads of the saints, and the great angel fended off the spears with the point of his sword.


I dreamed of being on the road south of our house--I saw a man that was sent to tell the people in that neighbourhood that a preacher would come there and an angel with him, and the preacher's errand was to ask the man of every family if his house was a house of prayer--after this inquiry was made, there appeared an angel that was higher than any house, and he had in his hand a great sword and a great bible--being at the first house, he inquired of the man, and the man said his house was a house of prayer, then the angel read to him in Matthew the eighteenth chapter, and then came to the next house (every man stood in the doorway of his own house) and the angel said, 'Is your house a house of prayer?' and he said it was, then he read to him Revelations the thirteenth chapter; at that house there were two families, and when the angel had read to them, he took his sword and divided the house and the north part fell, and the earth opened and took it in and shut up again and I saw it no more, and it looked as though that part had nev-

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er belonged to the house; then he came to the next house and said to the man, 'You say your house is a house of prayer, but it is not;' and as he spoke he raised his hand over the house and it fell, and the earth opened and took it in and shut again, and the ground appeared as though there had never been a house there; and he came to the next house, and he said to the man, 'You say your house is not a house of prayer,' and he read to him Luke the fifth chapter, and then went to the next house, and said to the man, 'Your house is not a house of prayer,' and read to him Ezekiel the ninth chapter, then came to the next house and said to the man, 'Your house is not a house of prayer,' and then read to him Ecclesiastes the third and fourth chapters; we then went on to a hill at the right hand of the road, and as we turned about we went a small space up into the air, and there he waved his sword, and there came a table to put his bible on and a seat for me to sit on, and then the angel read an hymn in the second book, thirtieth hymn, and sung it, and took a text from Ezekiel, thirteenth chapter, eighth and ninth verses, the words of which he spoke from it were these, 'How long shall I say come thou faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I preach this doctrine unto you?' and then he went to the meeting-house, and Mr. Mason attempted to preach to him, and he said, 'Preach not to me, but to my people;' the preacher said, 'I have preached here above twenty years, and they will not hear;' and the angel said, 'O though of little faith, knowest thou

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not that I am thy Lord and can give thee power to cast out unclean spirits; my sheep know my voice, and they follow me; be thou faithful, like my servants, John Rogers, John Wesley, and Asa Simons, or I will make thee less than the least;' he then lifted up his voice like a trumpet, so that all could hear, and sung,

'The Philistine hosts are great and strong, but shall not drive the hosts of heaven; but we will drive the hellish tribes beneath the darkest shades of hell!'

Editor: Dr. Ali B. Ali-Dinar, Ph.D.
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Short List of Questions

(1) Who is the author of this pamphlet? It was "published" by a white Methodist whose only other publications were collections of hymns favored by Methodists, but it purports to be transcriptions of the remembrances of dreams, written down by Frederic Swan's mother and friends. Does the pamphlet look different if we think about Frederic Swan as the author, then his family and friends as collectively the author, and then the white Methodist as the author?

(2) How is race relevant to this pamphlet, if at all? Frederic Swan is identified as a mulatto, but there is no further explicit mention of race in the account. Is race articulated or masked in this pamphlet, or is it both?

(3) How is the message of the dreams conveyed? There seems to be something symbolic in the colors, which appear repeatedly in the account. Also, there are a number of references to the Bible. Is the text of those references present in some way to this text? If Frederic Swan really was speaking in this account--whether or not he was recalling dreams--what was he saying about himself with his extravagant visions and his literate use of the Bible?

(4) The dreams are sometimes terrifying and sometimes inspiring. How do these different elements convey a message?

(5) Are there elements in this pamphlet that are specifically Methodist? Or is it more generally Christian?

Short List of Suggested Readings

William L. Andrews, To Tell a Free Story: The First Century of Afro-American Autobiography (Chicago 1986) is a contemporary classic in the treatment of early African American autobiography.

Sylvia R. Frey, "Shaking the Dry Bones: The Dialectic of Conversion," in Black and White Cultural Interaction in the Antebellum South, ed. Ted Ownby (Jackson 1993) treats "the conversion of African-Americans to Protestant evangelical Christianity," with special reference to Methodism.

Nathan O. Hatch, The Democratization of American Christianity (New Haven 1989) is a sweeping view of American evangelicalism in the first half of the nineteenth century.

Charles H. Long, Significations: Signs, Symbols, and Images in the Interpretation of Religion (Philadelphia 1986) focuses on an African American access to the "mysterium tremendum."

Iain McCalman, Radical Underworld: Prophets, Revolutionaries, and Pornographers in London, 1795-1840 (New York 1988) gives a fascinating account of Robert Wedderburn, a mulatto Jamaican who emigrated to London, converted to Methodism there before 1800, and published several works between 1802 and 1824.

Benilde Montgomery, "Recapturing John Marrant," in A Mixed Race: Ethnicity in Early America, ed. Frank Shuffelton (New York 1993), and Sondra A. O'Neale, Jupiter Hammon and the Biblical Beginnings of African-American Literature (Metuchen, N.J., 1993) both include efforts to understand an African American's use of references to the Bible as vehicles of communication.

William D. Piersen, Black Yankees: The Development of an Afro-American Subculture in Eighteenth-Century New England (Amherst 1988) is essential reading for all studies in Northern black life.

Albert J. Raboteau, Slave Religion: The "Invisible Religion" in the Antebellum South (New York 1978) is another modern classic, with much to say about Methodism.

Russell E. Richey, Early American Methodism (Indianapolis 1991) provides excellent material for understanding the evolution of American Methodism in the early nineteenth century.

Leland Scott, "The Message of Early American Methodism," in The History of American Methodism, ed. Emory Stevens Bucke (New York 1964), Volume 1, is a reliable introduction to one of the most important topics in the history of American religion.

John H. Wigger, "Taking Heaven by Storm: Enthusiasm and Early American Methodism, 1770-1820," Journal of the Early Republic (1994): 167-194, discusses Methodist supernaturalism and describes African American Methodism as a self-validating faith for those alienated from mainstream institutions.

Donald R. Wright, African Americans in the Early Republic, 1789-1831 (Arlington Heights, Ill., 1993) is a synthetic work with a detailed bibliography.

***NET: INTERNET RESOURCES************************************
This is a quite lengthy primary source document posted by John Saillant of Brown University. As he explains below it is meant to be a self-contained, online instructional package containing a previously unpublished narrative account from the 1820's, as well as some reading and study questions and selective bibliography at the end. I encourage everyone to browse through the account and the material at the end, even if not everyone is interested reading the whole account, and to consider the possibilities for primary materials packaged with pedagogy as an important part of the Internet's future. Feedback can be sent to the T-AMLIT or to John.--RBass
Subj: Experimental instructional package

This is a file I assembled & "published" on IEAHCNET. It should be self-explanatory. I'd appreciate having comments. The original pamphlet is in the public domain; no copyright is exercised over the transcription & accompanying material.
John Saillant

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Subject: "Remarkable Visionary Dreams"
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Editor: Dr. Ali B. Ali-Dinar, Ph.D.
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