Some years ago a New England family welcomed me into their home to look over the journal of their ancestor, Ziba Pope. Pope (1779-1852) was a Massachusetts-born trader and entrepreneur. Just after the US declared war in 1812, he was driving contraband cattle from Maine towards Fredericton when he paused for the Sabbath at a fording place on the Oromocto River, attended a New Light meeting, and experienced a religious conversion. Soon, Pope the convert was Pope the preacher.
As he set out preaching Pope began recording his gospel travels in northern New England and the Maritimes in a journal. Soon also, he was identifying himself with the New Light tradition associated with the charismatic but long-dead Henry Alline (“there never lived a more Godly man”). The Canadian parts of Pope’s journal, set mostly in NB and NS in the 1810s, are now collected for a volume in the Baptist Heritage publication series.
Pope’s journal is important for mapping the persistent influence of Henry Alline decades after his 1784 death, even as many shaped in his tradition were submitting to Calvinist Baptist discipline. Pope’s depiction of Maritime revivalism in the early 19th century is uniquely vivid. His own conversion story also has two surprising sidenotes. The preacher under whose labours Pope was converted was Jason Mack. He is a fascinating character in his own right, whom many historians consider an important influence on his nephew, the Mormon founder Joseph Smith. Assisting Mack at Pope’s conversion in the Oromocto backwoods was Ann Phillips. The Pope book reveals Phillips as the apparently first woman in what is now Canada to author a free-standing imprint. It was Pope who assisted her in getting it into print.
Ann Phillips’s pamphlet tells of falling into a trance state as an angel conducted her through scenes of heaven and hell. In the aftermath of conversion Pope, too, was given to trances, and there are other accounts of Maritimers falling “apparently dead” into a religious trance. The introductory notes for Pope’s published journal discuss this phenomenon. Here are excerpts.
submitted by David Bell
adapted by permission from the Acadiensis blog
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Ziba Pope and the Visionary World
In conversion’s afterglow, Pope experienced God’s gracious ordering of his affairs to an extent unique in the journal. The Spirit stayed by him in wonderful ways. Now, even his smuggled cattle seemed to drive more easily. He entered a space where religious seekers stood on psychic tiptoe to discern what Jonathan Scott disparaged as “Visions and Revelations of Things that are not contained in the Bible”. This ran counter to orthodox opinion that the age of immediate revelation had closed with the Apostles. Warned Bishop Charles Inglis, the crediting of “extraordinary Revelations and Visions to Individuals” would bring in its train “many and crying irregularities”, civil as well as religious. Usually, such illuminations arrived in dreams but sometimes as waking visions or trances. Two contemporary cases, one of them linked to Pope personally, give insight into the visionary world of turn-of-the-century converts.
One favoured soul was Mary Coy, a child of Connecticut migrants to the central St John River valley in the 1760s. Coy was eight in 1779 when Henry Alline’s preaching set her on the path to awakening. By the point of conversion, at age 15, she was writing down her spiritual impressions. God sent a rich but unsettling train of whispers, visions, dreams, and what look like trances, giving views of the “upper world”, hell and judgment. Obscure personally and remote from the great events of the age, she brooded nonetheless to find meaning in the revolutionary upheavals in America and France until God revealed the pattern of “past, present, and future events — religious and political: time like a wheel rolling round, the events of providence and the transactions of the world forming a wheel within a wheel…”. Other perceptions were domestic, as when flames shot out from hell for a brother she disliked.
During adolescence and even after marriage, Coy felt called to exhort in religious meetings and evangelize door to door, promptings she never dared answer. Apparently it did not occur to her that she might share her impressions in print. It was different for Pope’s friend Ann Phillips, living half a day from Coy in the Oromocto River valley. A fortnight after her 1811 conversion, God began reaching out through trances. Encouraged by local New Lights, Phillips managed via Pope to circulate some of these “discoveries” as A Vision of Heaven & Hell. Printed on the cheapest paper and running to only four pages, it was literature of the type peddlers sold to an immediate audience for a cent, not for shelving in village book-rooms or including on a bookseller’s list. Copies are powdery, chipped and torn but the wonder is that any survives at all.
Vision locates its author to the parish of “Lincoln, (Province of N. Brunswick)” but otherwise the text is without geo-political flavouring. It is ungendered, classless and might have come from nearly any awakened Protestant anywhere. Ephemeral in its day and unremembered now, its account of spirit travel is nevertheless the earliest imprint by a woman living in what would become Canada. Yet as a specimen of turn-of-the-century visionary literature it had quite a few US precedents, several by women.
Phillips’s tale is a late, brief, otherwise typical instance of the genre of heavenly journey by dream or, as in her case, catalepsis. It features episodes of falling “dead as to knowing any thing in time”. Once, she had “no appearance of life for three hours as they told me”. Guided by a male angel, she had views of hell and heaven. In both spheres there were folk she knew. Hell’s devouring red dragon (as depicted in the book of Revelation) terrified but could not harm her. In heaven she was privileged to see Enoch and Elijah (Hebrew Bible figures taken from Earth without dying) and other “Scripture Worthies” and even God’s throne (though alas not God). Finally, she was returned to consciousness that she might “declare to a dying World what I had seen”. Overcoming writer’s block, she did so “by the desire of many of God’s people”. Supplementing her narrative was editorial filler intended to bolster credibility: praise for her character (“a young woman of an excellent understanding, eminent for her piety, and…an Ornament to the Religion she professes”) and vision-affirming scripture verses. Her publisher added Emanuel Swedenborg’s argument that God had not confined visions to the Apostolic age.
Literature of heavenly travel was typically undoctrinal and in that sense uncontroversial, but Phillips seized on her moment of favour to wonder whether the “cruel” but orthodox “doctrine of Reprobation” reflected a right understanding of God’s will. Viewed theologically, the Second Great Awakening that began with Henry Alline’s labours in the 1770s and climaxed in the revivalism of the 1830s was in good measure a revolt against the understanding that God had elected only some to salvation. The rest would be damned inevitably. The very phenomenon of awakenings — evangelists preaching for clustered conversions — eroded the notion that those who repented lacked ability to influence their eternal fate. Alline was greater New England’s first notable evangelical anti-Calvinist theologian, an outlook spread by Benjamin Randel and the Freewill Baptists and shared by Methodists, Universalists and the Christian Connexion. In the second decade of the 19th century the contest between Calvinistic determinism and the optimistic, seemingly democratic belief that God allowed freedom of will — self-determinism — was still in issue, as Phillips and “God’s people” in the Oromocto valley were obviously aware. What her vision revealed, to her satisfaction, was that Christ’s death opened the door of salvation for “the whole World of Mankind”. A decade earlier Mary Coy had worked her way through to the same conclusion. Ziba Pope would spend 20 years of his life upholding it.
Visions and dreams carried the seeds of antinomianism. Mere nobodies, waking from a tour of the unseen world, might claim anything. Revelations in the 1790s to Mary Coy’s New Dispensationalist neighbours that “lambs of God” might “play all together” brought them scandal and criminal prosecution. Joseph Smith’s angel visions from the 1820s prefaced a new religion. But Ann Phillips’s message was simple: heaven and hell were real, and God granted people the free ability to choose their eternal portion. Its warning to repent was earnest to the point of naïveté, a mark of truthfulness. It did not tend to antinomianism, either personally or socially. No Anglican justice of the peace need take alarm. “God’s people” on the northwest Oromocto might lack for a pastor and regular preaching, but Phillips did not seek to fill the need by building a following of her own. Unlike a notorious pair of teenagers half a dozen years earlier in New Brunswick’s Shediac district, she did not pivot from her status as visionary to that of prophet. She did not profess to hear the “midnight cry” of Matthew 25, announce the pending return of Christ or consign folk around her to salvation or perdition. Her divine discoveries were not the sort to incite the credulous to commit murder, as had the lurid Shediac pronouncements.
The acute visionary mind-frame of Ann Phillips and Mary Coy was shared by Pope for a time. Religious conversion puts everything into a new light. Converts find the Bible a fresh, meaning-filled book: “oh I never read the bible before”, exclaimed Pope. Conversion might also transform perception. In the early days of post-conversion spiritual travel, Pope detected signs and marvels largely absent from his later narrative. The revelations to Phillips and Coy addressed great questions of the age: What does Bonaparte signify in God’s plan? Can all who repent be saved? Pope’s divine discernings were on a personal scale: the sudden healing of a persistent leg sore, guidance derived from opening the Bible to a random passage, clairvoyant dreams. The convert recognized these as God’s workings. One special providence came in a humble cabin on a tributary of Maine’s Penobscot River.
as I sat in this Dudley’s house and speaking of the crucifiction of our blessed Saviour how the rocks rent & there was a bake kettle which stood perhaps 7 feet from the fire came in two pieces and rang/ on examination found the kettle to be a new one and entirely sound and no visible cause but the power of god
This was a divine intervention, “worthy of naming and very remarkable”.
Also very remarkable were experiences of photism, the perception of God’s presence in bright light. Once, on Long Island (NB), “[t]here apeared to be lights about me flashing and darting by me”. In reducing this experience to words, Pope blurred a distinction the orthodox drew between perceptions attributable to pious imagination (“eyes of my mind”) and visions claimed as experienced literally (“with my natural eyes”), which tended to delusion.
I thought I saw them with my natural eyes but have no idea that I did but it was the eyes of my mind/ it seemed as though the heavens where opened to me/ oh Glory to God for his goodness to the children of men/ I then knew that I felt something that I never felt before and believed that the Lord was to work with me and it gave me great Strength/ it seemed that my boddy was a Clog of clay that kept me out of heaven and it appeared to me that my body was very light/ I thought I could almost fly from this earth…
Only later would he read of similar photistic episodes in Alline’s Life and Journal but he knew of supernatural light at the conversion of St Paul. For the Popes, Phillipses and Coys, these visitations and discoveries at the margins of seen and unseen worlds were gracious favours worthy of writing down and perhaps sharing, but they were not bewildering or alien. What they brought Pope was validation of his call to preach. Such references are concentrated in months just following conversion, though he continued ascribing agreeable coincidences to divine favour and praised God on encountering occasional “Mericals” of healing.
 Were trance incidents recorded not as remarkable in themselves but when some feature was unusual? After a 1786 sacrament meeting at Birchtown (NS), three people fell “apparently dead” for many hours: Journal of the Rev. John Marrant , 33-34. In the 1790s a servant in Sackville (NB) was entranced for three days and “saw and heard most singular things”, though she would seldom speak of them: J. Marsden, Narrative of a Mission to Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and the Somers Islands (1816), 24. Pope himself fell into a trance-like state (“I was lost to any thing here below”) during and after his conversion experience.