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Wednesday, November 13, 2019

History and Genealogy: Lily Dale and Jeremiah Carter

Jeremiah Carter
by Joanne Polizzi Mansfield

How do We Remember? --or Forget

Lily Dale, New York is Jeremiah Carter. Or Jeremiah Carter is Lily Dale. Jeremiah Fales Carter (1814-1897), is honored in Lily Dale and is known as the founder of the present-day World’s Largest Center for the Religion of Spiritualism. Search the libraries and internet for information about either Jeremiah Carter or "Lily Dale" in Chautauqua County, and the subjects will always be connected.

We remember Jeremiah Carter. The residents of Lily Dale know of Jeremiah and his link to the founding of Spiritualism. His picture hangs in prominent places, churches, and offices, and his story is highlighted in brochures and programs. The history of Lily Dale and, of course, Jeremiah Carter, is repeated in lecture and philosophy classes, mentioned at public medium demonstrations and spoken of reverently at all times. Jeremiah Carter and his place in the history of Lily Dale is remembered. History gives us these facts.

In the winter of 1844/45, mesmerism was a popular health treatment. Jeremiah Carter of Laona, New York, was having health issues and was requesting treatment from Dr. Moran from Vermont, who was demonstrating mesmerism in Laona. Before this could be done, Dr. Moran left the area. The locals decided to experiment with Dr. Moran’s techniques and were amazed when Jeremiah Carter became entranced, gave messages, and demonstrated the laying on of hands. A group was formed, and they called themselves Spiritualists. In 1855, the religious society of Free Thinkers was formed in Laona, NY. In 1873, Dr. Carter, as he was now called, heard spirit voices that urged him to walk the six miles to Cassadaga to the Alden farm, asking him to use his land to start a camp meeting ground. Alden, practicing the same beliefs, allowed his property to be used for camp meetings that were held every June. The story continues with the land eventually being purchased, and the Association was named Cassadaga Lake Free Association. The organization grew, and the name was changed to "The City of Light" and later to "The Lily Dale Assembly."

We have also forgotten Jeremiah Carter. Those of us in Lily Dale that mention his name and accomplishments so lightly are only remembering a very small part of who he was. There are some, but not many, that know of Jeremiah Carter’s life before Lily Dale, of his personality, friends, and family. Our museum curator, Ron Nagy, has the knowledge and so many details of Lily Dale and its residents and history and has written extensively of Jeremiah Carter. Do we know who Jeremiah married, his children, where he lived, before Lily Dale? Do we know where he died and is buried? What happened to his family? Did they move away, follow in his spiritualist footsteps? Are there descendants that share family history, photos, and reminders of his life? How do we find this identity and face of Jeremiah Carter?

Genealogy research can add details and dimensions through life events, relationships, and historical records. In historical or genealogical research, prominent people, facts, and circumstances are remembered, and the everyday, considered-to-be mundane life, and family can be ignored or forgotten. In the case of Jeremiah Carter, we know his wife’s name to be Joan or Joanna, (or some variation), Bull from Laona, outside Fredonia. The Bull family had mills and factories along the creek and were important early settlers. Sadly, that’s all we know about Joan Bull. We do not know the names of her parents or siblings and cannot seem to connect her to one of the many Bull families from the area. Although she was active in the summer activities and growth of Lily Dale, she has been forgotten. With the help of Ron Nagy and the museum in Lily Dale and general internet research, we have located maps and pictures of the Carter house in Laona. We can visualize his walk from Laona to Lily Dale to meet farmer Alden. It is reported that his house in Lily Dale was located in the current Melrose Park. On the hill behind the homes of Laona is the cemetery. Jeremiah died in Lily Dale and is buried in this place. There we find broken and unreadable headstones for Jeremiah and Joan, as well as other Carter family members. They are only identified on cemetery plot maps that have survived. This part of Jeremiah Carter has disappeared and is forgotten. We can see the formation of the burial plots, and imagine family coming to the cemetery to pay respects. We stand quietly and give blessings to the Carters for their contribution to Spiritualism and Lily Dale.

And what of the descendants of Jeremiah Carter? Do we have any surviving relatives? Do they live close by or did they move away from the area? What family stories have been passed to them? The internet provides us with the ultimate modern-day tool for genealogical research. Ancestry sites allow us to find family members and descendants and some of the information in between. We found Jeremiah’s family.

Jeremiah and Joan had six children, five sons, and one daughter. Three sons died young, the daughter was unmarried, and of the two sons, one had no children. The surviving son had two sons that survived him, producing four Carter male descendants. The immediate sons lived several miles from Laona and did not appear to be connected to Lily Dale. The continued family children stayed close to the area, Fredonia, Forestville, Buffalo, for a generation and then began moving further afield, out of New York. Of these five great-grandchildren of Jeremiah Carter, we have so far located three great-great-grandchildren.

The descendants of Jeremiah Carter were not aware of his involvement with Lily Dale, his history or how important he is to the community. They had not heard any stories associated with Lily Dale or Spiritualism, and no one in the family is a Spiritualist or medium. For whatever reason, that part of their history has been forgotten or not told. They do have their family history in names and dates, but not the stories of Jeremiah Carter. These are the stories that give him an identity and face in the community and family history.

We honor our past by remembering our founders and forefathers/mothers. We also can see that we are not honoring our past when we forget them and their stories. We are fortunate that some stories and notes and artifacts have been preserved for generations. We are also so very fortunate to have access to technology for research, finding information, histories, and family. History gives us the facts, genealogy gives us the faces. Jeremiah Carter’s descendants are pleased to find their ancestor and can now add his story to their family. We are so grateful they can now see him.

For further information, please research Lily Dale, New York, and Jeremiah Carter, and books and website for Ron Nagy,

About the author: Joanne Polizzi Mansfield is a trustee and genealogy researcher for the Chautauqua County Historical Society and a retired educator addicted to genealogy puzzles.

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