Tag Archives: Richard Vance

Rapping With Spirits

Charles Foster; Richard Vance

Charles Foster; Richard Vance

During his long military career, Warren County, Kentucky native Richard Vance (1833-1902) indulged many extracurricular interests – French, ornithology, botany, literature, politics, religion, travel, and women.  He also cast a curious, if doubtful, eye on spiritualism.

In March 1873, while stationed in New Orleans, Vance paid a visit to the “celebrated Spiritualist, Mr. Charles Foster,” who was offering seances featuring “rappings” and other manifestations said to emanate from the realm of the dead.  Ushered into Foster’s room at the St. Charles Hotel, Vance found an amiable, somewhat heavy-set man of about thirty-five.  Foster listened politely while Vance made clear that he believed neither in life after death nor in the power to summon those who had passed to the other side.

At Foster’s request, however, Vance wrote down on slips of paper the names of acquaintances who had died.  Holding one of the slips, Foster then asked if the spirit of the person named thereon would communicate with Vance, and received in reply a “series of loud raps,” first from the table, floor and walls, then from “all parts of the house.”  To Vance’s astonishment, Foster then proceeded to relate details about three deceased individuals from his past—a servant, Tony, killed by a gunshot; Rachel, an elderly female servant of his grandmother’s; and an old friend, Gus Montague.

At a loss to explain Foster’s revelations, Vance insisted to himself that this spiritualist must have had the power to read his thoughts.  Writing of the encounter in his diary, he reviewed his religious evolution—from “firm believer” to skeptic to a refusenik on the subject of immortality.  That “was where I was this morning,” he admitted, but where “I will drift after what I have seen to day remains to be seen.”

Richard Vance’s diary recording his spiritual experience is part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives collections of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections .  Click here for a finding aid.  During this Halloween month, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat for other collections relating to spiritualism, ghosts and views about death.

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The Falling Leaves

Leaves from the Antietam Battlefield

Leaves from the Antietam Battlefield

I now promise to be less attentive to my military duties, which will enable me to pursue my other schemes more successfully.  This is the first feature of my new ‘leaf.’  So wrote Captain Richard Vance in his diary on January 1, 1887.  An Army career of more than 20 years had taken him to postings in the South, the western frontier, and now Texas, but Vance, who had never been particularly fond of the military, was yearning to retire.

By his own account, Vance resembled the stereotypical soldier:  a devoted hunter and scrapper (he was once acquitted of murder), he chided himself over his chronic weakness for women (more about that at a later date).  But he was also widely read and self-taught, and his resolution for 1887 was to focus on the things that truly interested him and that he believed he could master.  “For the present,” he wrote, “I shall confine myself to French, German, Botany & Ornithology.”

Sample from Richard Vance's Ringgold, Texas herbarium

Sample from Richard Vance’s Ringgold, Texas herbarium

While stationed in Texas at Fort Clark, Vance had begun work on an herbarium, but now, garrisoned at Ringgold, he began collecting, analyzing and preserving samples of local flora.  Though he made no claims to being an amateur, let alone professional botanist, Vance carefully researched, organized and classified his finds.  The result was a thick volume of specimens “collected and arranged entirely for my own amusement,” which enabled him to “pass a very pleasant summer at this place.”  While traveling, Vance also preserved leaves from the Antietam battlefield in Maryland and horse nettle from Warren County, Kentucky, where he was born.

Richard Vance’s herbaria are part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives collections of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  Click here for a collection finding aid.  For more relating to botany and botanists, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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