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ABRAHAM JAMES: Spiritualist and Oilman


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Abraham James and his twin brother were born in 1827 in Chester County, Pennsylvania near Philadelphia. His parents, originally Quakers, left the church because of their more liberal principles. Unfortunately, Abraham’s twin brother died as an infant. His mother had clairvoyant abilities and took her son to an astrologist in the city who said a “charmed life lay mapped out before him.”

Abraham’s early life was spent on the farm. When he was around the age of six, he saw dead men walking in his bedroom at night. He was afraid of them at first, but when he found the courage to speak with them, his mother insisted that he tell her all the details.

When he became a young man, Abraham left home for a clerkship and later got permission to attend Unionville Seminary to become a teacher. He moved to South Carolina where he taught school and traveled extensively. Probably attracted by the adventure of trains heading westward, he became employed as a station agent for the Illinois Central Railroad in Chicago. His clairvoyance came in handy one stormy night when he saved a train by warning them to slow down. A piece of track had been washed out by the rain.

Abraham moved to San Francisco where he first used his clairvoyant sight to trace subterranean water courses and discover oil and mineral veins. A friend and spiritualist, James Chandler, introduced him to the writings of Andrew Jackson Davis. When he returned east and found a copy of Banner of Light in the house of another friend, Abraham began to take a serious interest in Spiritualism. He called upon a trance medium who connected with his deceased mother. “Be true to the silent voice within,” his mother told him. “It will guide thee aright, while holy angels above hold thee in charge.”

Abraham’s journeys took him to western Pennsylvania. In 1868, the writer J. M. Peebles chronicled his activities in the oil fields in a book called The Practical of Spiritualism: Biographical Sketch of Abraham James. By tuning in to unexplained transmissions, Abraham struck oil in 1866. “A good portion of Pleasantville and of the immediate vicinity poured forth their inhabitants to witness the gushing proceeds from the ‘spiritual well’ in this upland territory, heretofore tabooed by oil men.”  The first well was named Harmonial Well No. 1. It produced 60 to 100 barrels of oil per day. He discovered more wells in the Pleasantville and Upper Cherry Run areas, numbering in the hundreds.

Throughout the account, Peebles suggested that the oil itself was a kind of medium that acted like a wireless broadcast and transmitted information about its origins and changing environments. “Those petroleum veins and basins in Pennsylvania,” wrote Peebles, emit “currental or flame-like corruscations, corresponding somewhat with incense from plants and flowers.” It is possible that Abraham was sensitive to those emanations. How he detected the wells is not clear, but it appears the medium’s prediction was true. Abraham had a charmed life.

Additional Reading:

Peebles, J.M. (1868) The Practical of Spiritualism: Biographical Sketch of Abraham James. Horton and Leonard Printers, Chicago.
Thank you to Karen Heasley for the above research and write up.

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