Late in her life, the Vermont historian Abby Maria Hemenway recalled that, while she was a young girl in the early 1840s, she had a vision of Our Lady in a field behind her house in Ludlow. Not a common occurrence for a Yankee Baptist girl, you might think. But in fact such visions were not unknown at the time. Still very much a frontier territory, Vermont was far removed from the steadying influences of mainstream Protestantism in the more settled regions of New England, and the local religious landscape often reflected a highly unconventional aspect. So, after the Rev. John Weeks of Danville died in 1838, he was taken by an angel—named neither Virgil nor Beatrice as far as we know—on a tour of Hell and Heaven (no Purgatory—this is a Protestant story) and promptly returned to life to tell the tale. Though Joseph Smith was visited by the angel Moroni in upstate New York, he was, like the other great Mormon founder, Brigham Young, born and reared in Vermont. So was John Humphrey Noyes, who started the Oneida Community, with its “complex marriages” (“free love,” others called it).
There are other such stories. Fanny Allen—daughter of Ethan Allen, the hero of the Green Mountain Boys, real-estate operator, and freethinking deist—was (according to one version of the story) rescued from a monster on the banks of the Onion River by the timely appearance of St. Joseph. Later educated in Montreal, she became a Catholic and joined a nursing order in that city, the first New...
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About the Author
Nicholas Clifford, a professor emeritus of Middlebury College, is a frequent contributor to Commonweal.