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Henry Louis Rey was born in 1831 in New Orleans to a wealthy creole family. They were part of the les gens de couleur libre (free people of color). Rey became actively involved with the spiritualist movement and studied under well-known medium, Sister Louise, and J. B. Valmour, a medium and healer. In the early 1850s, he formed his own séance circle, Le Cercle Harmonique (French for Harmonic Circle), after the civil war.

The members of the Cercle Harmonique were men of African, French and Spanish descent. They were educated, mostly Catholic, and from economically successful families who were free during the antebellum period. They formed two circles with different regular members that met on Mondays and Fridays. The participants numbered seven, an important number for preserving the circle’s harmony. Two primary mediums were Francois “Petit” Dubuclet and Victor Lavigne.

Records of the meetings were documented in 35 large register books over a 20-year period. The messages were from many well-known spirits, including Voltaire, Vincent de Paul, Abraham Lincoln, and Confucius, as well as from deceased family of the spiritualist group. Some were the spirits of martyrs who called for change and gave the members hope for political progress. Numerous communications from benevolent spirits were in the form of letters later transcribed by Henry Rey. Often, the messages were addressed to one of the participants.

Although the journals were protected at the time, only one remains today, the René Grandjean Séance Registers, housed in the Special Collections Department of the Earl K. Long Library at the University of New Orleans. René Grandjean was born in France in 1889 and arrived in the United States in 1911, settling in New Orleans.  Because of his French and Haitian background, he became acquainted with members of the Creole spiritual community.  Grandjean translated the records of a group which detailed séances by listing mediums and messages.

French Creole séance circles followed the lead of mediums from the North such as Emma Hardinge Britten, Thomas Lake Harris, and the Banner of Light editors. Rey’s circles were a mixture of Spiritualism from the North, radicalism from the Caribbean and France, and Andrew Jackson Davis’ Harmonial Philosophy.

Most of the messages were communications to relatives and friends of the deceased, assuring them that they were in a better place and no longer suffering. Other messages discussed social reform through non-violent means. They contradicted the views of the Catholic Church and encouraged circle members to transform the antebellum order into a new egalitarian society during shifting cultural and political times.

Reconstruction was marked by political struggles between Union supporters and wealthy whites who controlled the state government. During the late 1860s and the 1870s, battles erupted in the streets of New Orleans. The members of the Cercle Harmonique withdrew and insulated themselves in their homes. The end of Reconstruction in 1877 put an end of the battle for equal rights as well as the Cercle Harmonique. Their last spiritual message was dated November 24, 1877. It said, “we are with you for an eternity.”

Additional Reading:

Clark, Emily Suzanne (2016) A Luminous Brotherhood: Afro-Creole Spiritualism in Nineteenth-Century New Orleans. University of North Carolina Press.

Clark, Emily Suzanne (2018) “To Battle for Human Rights: Afro-Creole Spiritualism and Martyrdom” in Journal of Africana Religions, Vol 6, No. 2, pp 161-189.

Daggett, Melissa (2017) Spiritualism in Nineteenth-Century New Orleans: The Life and Times of Henry Louis Rey. Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi.

 

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