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Spiritualism in Nineteenth-Century New Orleans - The Life and Times of Henry Louis Rey

Spiritualism in Nineteenth-Century New Orleans

The Life and Times of Henry Louis Rey

By Melissa Daggett
Paperback : 9781496818379, 228 pages, 25 b&w illustrations, April 2018
Hardcover : 9781496810083, 228 pages, 25 b&w illustrations, December 2016

Extraordinary insight into Creoles of color and their religious culture


Modern American Spiritualism blossomed in the 1850s and continued as a viable faith into the 1870s. Because of its diversity and openness to new cultures and religions, New Orleans provided fertile ground to nurture Spiritualism, and many séance circles flourished in the Creole Faubourgs of Tremé and Marigny as well as the American sector of the city. Melissa Daggett focuses on Le Cercle Harmonique, the francophone séance circle of Henry Louis Rey (1831-1894), a Creole of color who was a key civil rights activist, author, and Civil War and Reconstruction leader. His life has so far remained largely in the shadows of New Orleans history, partly due to a language barrier.

Spiritualism in Nineteenth-Century New Orleans focuses on the turbulent years between the late antebellum period and the end of Reconstruction. Translating and interpreting numerous primary sources and one of the only surviving registers of séance proceedings, Daggett has opened a window into a fascinating life as well as a period of tumult and change. She provides unparalleled insights into the history of the Creoles of color and renders a better understanding of New Orleans's complex history. The author weaves an intriguing tale of the supernatural, of chaotic post-bellum politics, of transatlantic linkages, and of the personal triumphs and tragedies of Rey as a notable citizen and medium. Wonderful illustrations, reproductions of the original spiritual communications, and photographs, many of which have never before appeared in published form, accompany this study of Rey and his world.


"If you've ever wondered about the challenge of telling the story of New Orleans's free people of color, consider the surprising value of a book like Melissa Daggett's Spiritualism in Nineteenth-Century New Orleans: The Life and Times of Henry Louis Rey. . . . After exhaustive research that included translating many records from French, author Daggett gained a glimpse into a culture that expressed its hopes, fears, and even activism through words believed to hail from the afterlife."

- David Lee Simmons, The New Orleans Advocate

"Ever since seeing the Grandjean Séance Registers at the University of New Orleans decades ago, I wondered when they would be brought to the public's attention. Author Melissa Daggett is to be thanked for skillfully and sensitively doing that."

- Mary Gehman, author of The Free People of Color of New Orleans: An Introduction

"Melissa Daggett's unrivaled grasp of a voluminous collection of French-language spiritualist texts makes Spiritualism in Nineteenth-Century New Orleans: The Life and Times of Henry Louis Rey a must-read for anyone interested in the city's multifaceted religious culture with its links to the North, the Caribbean, and Europe. With Henry Louis Rey as her focus, the author adds a valuable new chapter to religious studies while making an important contribution to the historiography of the city's Afro-Creole Francophone community. With this first book-length study of New Orleans spiritualism, Daggett joins a new generation of revisionist scholars who view the movement seriously and consider its vision for the future as important as its concern for the past. As Daggett makes abundantly clear, her history of New Orleans spiritualism and Henry Louis Rey is long overdue."

- Caryn Cossé Bell, author of Revolution, Romanticism, and the Afro-Creole Protest Tradition in Louisiana, 1718-1868