Frederic Swan's Dream


This is a transcription of an 1822 pamphlet that claims to record the visionary dreams of a teenaged mulatto boy, Frederic Swan. He had been at work at a farm outside his mother's home, likely bound out as an indentured servant, but returned distressed to his mother, became sickly, and then came to recount a series of dreams in the months before his death.

The pamphlet exists, as far as the current writer knows, in only one copy, held at the American Antiquarian Society, Worcester, Massachusetts. Since this transcription is meant to be a resource for students, who usually have little access to rare materials held in archives, it is followed by a few questions to guide interpretation and a short list of suggested readings.

Courses in American religion, African American history, or autobiography might have a place for this account. This file will be held in the IEAHCNET gopher space, which can be reached at the University of Illinois at Chicago gopher (gopher, under "The Researcher," then "History," then "H-NET," then "IEAHCNET," then "Archives."

Comments from students or teachers are welcome at Saillant@Brownvm.Brown.EDU. All the original spelling has been retained; page numbers of the pamphlet are given here to indicate the top of the page in the original.

John Saillant, Department of History, Brown University



PUBLISHED BY JOSEPH MERIAM, OF CHESTERFIELD, N.H. (At the request of his mother and other relatives and friends.) 1822.

[page 3--no pages intervening between title page and this]

Nothing remarkable took place with him till he was eleven
years old. He then being at work in the field with two
other boys, and hearing them swear most profanely, it struck
him with such horror, knowing that he was no better than
they by nature, that he ran away from them to cry aloud to
God for mercy. He was then at work for Mr. Asa Stratton in
Northfield. He soon after came home, and became serious,
and told his mother that at times his distress of mind was
such that he knew not what to do. He then took to reading
the Bible, and said he knew if he died as he then was he
should go to hell. He appeared to have remarkable
discoveries of the odious nature of sin, and that without
religion he and all mankind must be miserable. He thus
lived about two years, between hope and fear, and then was
taken sick, and passed through many trials and temptations
of mind, and dreamed a number of remarkable dreams before he
was converted. In the fifth dream, it was stated that if he
would read the Bible three months, he should be well, which
appears to allude to the time of his obtaining heaven and
immortal glory; for at the expiration of the three

[page 4]

months, he fell asleep, as we trust, in the arms of Jesus.
His soul was made happy in the love of God, at the time of
dreaming the sixth dream, when he lost his load spoken of,
and drank the wine from the angel's hand. He dreamed about
once a week, generally on Monday. The dreams were copied by
his mother and friends, in childlike language, as near as
possible as he delivered them in short terms; for he was so
weak that he could talk but a little at a time. He well
knew many people that he saw in his dreams, in different
places, both in happiness and in misery. He knew all the
houses spoken of, and the people who live in them; and there
were many things seen and done, which he would not have
written, because of giving offence; but eternity will unfold
the whole. I will remark, that after he was converted,
although confined to his bed, he was baptized by Elder Amasa
Taylor; and soon after died in the triumphs of living faith.

[page 5]


I dreamt I set out to go to my mother in a thunder
storm--I thought I saw the devil coming towards me--I
thought I had no way to shun him but to go back, and as I
turned, I saw one all in white, and he said unto me, 'You
should not fear him, but fear me;' and I awoke, and was


I dreamt that I saw a large white temple in the air--I
thought it was full, but saw no one.


I dreamt that I set out to travel with something to sell,
and on the road I saw a large white building, and I saw
people going in and out; and I saw another building, equally
as large as the first, but it was further on; it was wood
color; and I saw people passing in and out. I thought the
keeper of the house was the devil, in the appearance of a
man all covered with bells. I passed the white house, and
saw a guide-post at my right hand, and it read the way to
the old house was

[page 6]

destruction, and the way to the white house was peace; and I


I dreamt I saw a ladder set upon the earth, and it
reached a vast way into the air--I climbed to the top of
this ladder, and turned and came down, and at the foot I saw
two men all in white--they said to me, 'Follow us, and we
will take care of you.' I followed them, and they led me to
where there was a multitude of people singing, and I awoke.


I dreamt I went to the brook, and saw a boat coming
towards me with white sails hoisted--I called to my mother
to come and see it--the sails came off from the boat, and
followed my mother and me to the house, and stood before the
door. I saw one man all in white that stood with the sails;
he reached his hand to me and said, 'Take this and read my
holy Book, and you shall be well in three months;' and the
sails went down into the earth, and I awoke.


I dreamt I set out to travel with a great load upon my
back--I became very tired; but I left my load behind me, and
went on my way until I met an angel--I told him what a load
I had when I set out--he told me that I should not have it
again if I would continue in prayer. He passed on and left
me. Then I went on my way again till I became very hungry
and dry--I looked towards

[page 7]

the south and saw the largest white bird I ever saw, flying
towards me, and when it got to me it was an angel; he had
got wine to give me; he said, 'You remember what you have
read, Take this in remembrance of me.' I took the cup and
drank, and was satisfied; and this angel left me a short
time, and then returned with three other angels--they took
me and carried me beyond the sun, and I awoke.


I dreamt that two angels came to me; one of them sat upon
the top of the door, the other upon the looking-glass--the
one on the door read a hymn and sung, then read a chapter in
Ezekiel and took a text from it and preached to me--I could
not remember the chapter nor verse, nor words so as to
repeat them, but when he had done I heard the pleasantest
voice I ever heard, say to them, 'You must come now;' and
both of them came to me and squeezed my hand and went out,
and I awoke.


I dreamt I saw two men standing a small distance from the
house, their faces towards the street--I saw a silver chain
come down before them; the men kneeled down to pray--I saw
another angel much smaller than the first, he had a sword in
his hand, he came to me and put his arm around my neck and
led me to where these men were praying--there something like
a skreen came down and covered us over; the small angel took

[page 8]

his sword and struck the skreen and said, 'I will show you a
sketch of damnation;' there was a hole so that we all could
see out of it--I saw the place of torment, and I saw
dreadful sights there and heard dreadful noises amongst
them; it did appear to me that I saw the devil pushing souls
into the burning lake--I heard a voice, and then the devils
were bound, they seemed to be in great horror; then came the
loudest clap of thunder I ever heard, and all was still, and
the skreen left us; and I looked up into the air, and saw
Jesus sitting upon the clouds; and the angels carried us all
there to Jesus, and set us down by him--Jesus had a silver
trumpet in his hand; he blowed it and the dead arose; some
appeared to shake and be dismayed, and some were smiling;
and they all came before Jesus, and then he opened a book
and read to them, and some of them had to go back to the
earth again; and after the division was made, I saw fire
come down from above, the rivers burnt like oil, and the
hills like a brush-heap--I saw the earth full of wicked
people and devils, and the devils appeared to be tormenting
the people, and I awoke.


I dreamt of being upon a hill not far from the house, and
my mother and brothers and sister were with me looking
towards the house; it appeared to be all on fire; we set out
to go towards it, an angel met us and said that it belonged
to the devil, he told my mother she must give it up
willingly. Then we turned towards the south, I looked and
saw a road that led to the

[page 9]

sun, upon the sides it was very steep, I saw a great many
people travelling this road; and this great angel took my
mother by the hand and led her up this road, and we all
followed after them--the angel sung a part of a hymn,

'Why should the children of a King
Go mourning all their days?'

I saw a great many of these people that set out to travel
this narrow road fall out by the way, and were never able to
recover themselves again--some got half way up and fell off
and I never saw them any more--I saw one woman fall, she
caught hold of a bush and hung half an hour; she continued
to pray all the time she hung there; at length she was able
to gain the top; here we were upon a beautiful green plain;
here I saw something like a water-spout, it was hollow, with
a ladder in the middle of it--then we all set out to go up
this ladder, there was no falling back--there this great
angel had a rule and a chain, he took the rule and measured
the chain, and said, this is the measure of the city where
we were going; and when we got to the city, I saw a window
on the bottom, so that we all could look down and see devils
and fire, the devils appeared to be employed in putting
people into the fire--then the angel came to me and shewed
me two walks, one was a narrow one and the other a wide one,
the wide one led to the north and the other to the south,
they led very nigh together a little sidelong; it appeared
that some went one way, and some the other--then I west a
little to the west and saw Jesus Christ, and the angel

[page 10]

with him, and he blowed a trumpet, then the dead arose, then
Christ opened a book and read, then all people came before
him, to some he read, 'Come ye blessed,' and to some,
'Depart ye cursed;' then some went the narrow walk that led
to the south, and some went the wide walk that led to the
north. When we were on our way to this city, the angels
sung an hymn: 'My Jesus, my King, my heavenly Guide, will
lead his saints strait on to Canaan; Jesus they he most
beautifully shall see, and sweet anthems sing, and praise
the Lord upon the wing.' And I awoke.


I dreamt of being at the meeting-house, and saw an angel
come there; he said, 'This is my house, I set my servants to
build it for a house of prayer;' he then went to a house and
read the first chapter of Romans, and turned to go to the
next house, and I saw a woman with a bottle of ardent
spirits in her hand going before us, the earth opened and
took her and then shut, and I saw her no more--we came to
the next house, there the angel read Matthew the third
chapter, and told them what few remained of them that they
were not prayerful, if they would accept of offered mercy,
he would grant them his light and knowledge so that they
might pray; he told them he would give them power to fight
the adversary, and grace to stand in time of persecution,
and would guide them safe through this world, and give them
a robe of righteousness that should fit them to enter into
the kingdom of heaven where God and Christ are, and there he
would give

[page 11]

them a new name; then he sung a hymn and went to the next
house, there he told them if they were not more engaged and
prayerful he should cast them off as he had done some
before, and read to them and then went to the next house,
and there told the man of the house that he must live
watchful and prayerful, and he would guide him safe through
this world and give him a robe of righteousness when he
reached the next; he then left that house and went to the
next, and told them that he would bear with them a little
while longer, and if they did not hear to his trail he would
cast them into hell; and I awoke.


I dreamt of its being a very dark night--I stood upon the
earth, and saw a temple in the air, it was white; I thought
as it sat in the air it made a light as the sun in the day
time--I saw a band, and in the band a company of angels--I
thought I had wings so that I could fly, and I flew up to
them, and while I was there the angels began to sing a
hymn--I thought my brother went to them and sung with them,
and the words of the hymn were these,

'Fly swifter round, ye wheels of time,
And bring the welcome day.'

I thought there was one hymn that my brother could not sing
with them, the name of the hymn was 'Judgment,' it was to be
sung before the throne of God. When they had done singing,
I thought I flew back to earth again--I thought one of these
angels preached a sermon to the

[page 12]

people upon the earth; he took his text in Revelations, the
twelfth chapter and the eleventh and twelfth verses, and the
words that he spoke from it were these: 'If you do not hear
my servants that preach, and soften your hearts, I will pour
out my judgments upon you, I will send my army to destroy
your things; if you do not repent and be more earnestly
engaged in the cause of religion, I shall send sickness and
death and judgments upon you, your portion shall be where
the fire is not quenched and the worm dieth not;' and I
thought a number of men in the street were troubled at the
preaching, and I awoke.


I dreamt of a man coming into the house and making a
prayer; after he had done, the house was full of
ministers--upon a sudden we seemed to be out of doors, I
looked up and saw a black cloud coming down from above, and
in this there was a bright cloud come out of the black one,
and out of the bright cloud came an angel having a silver
chain in one hand and a rule in the other; he laid the chain
down upon the earth, and took the rule and measured the
chain, and it measured 110 feet long; he looked upon all the
ministers but one, and that one he went to and bound him
with one end of the chain, and the other he bound round
himself, and the bright cloud received them up out of my
sight--then I saw another bright cloud come out of the black
one, and then an angel come out of the bright cloud, and the
first cloud I saw burst in the air, and the sec-

[page 13]

ond came to the ground and burst, and this last one I
thought my brother Calvin came to see what it was, and he
was afraid and turned to go away, and the angel spoke to him
and told him he was sinking like Peter of old, and took hold
of the skirts of his coat and pulled him back, and he was
glad to come back--I looked and saw a ladder set up in the
air, and I saw these two black clouds coming together under
the ladder; I thought it was hell, and people had to climb
up this ladder, and those that could not climb this ladder
fell into the lake--then I was carried by the angels up this
ladder to where I entered in; and there were great
multitudes singing on things, they gave me one of those
things and I could sing as well as any of them, and I was
well and happy, and then I awoke out of my dream.


I dreamt of standing at the foot of my bed on crutches,
and I looked towards the window and saw the devil come to
fight with me; I thought I had a sword, but did not fight
with that, but kneeled down and prayed; I thought he could
not send his darts so low as to hit me, they looked to me
like darts; he seemed to give back and went towards the
window, and gave a dreadful shake and went off--I looked
towards the door and saw a great angel, he was higher then
the eaves of the house, he seemed to be kneeled down, and he
pulled my mother to him and told her she did not believe in
the power of God, and if she did not be more believing and
faithful, and

[page 14]

pray more, she would fall back into sin; the he sung a hymn;
then turned to my brother, and told him he had got the word
of God, and if he had not, it was in the house; if he did
not read more, and try to be more faithful, and do his duty
at every opportunity, his robe would be taken from him and
given to another; he said he had taken the tempter from him
once, and if he came again his prayers should be in vain,
the Lord will turn a deaf ear to his cries; and then he sung
the third hymn and read Matthew the fourth chapter, then
went to the meeting-house and laid his hand on the banisters
that are round the bell, and said, I will take my text here
in Timothy, the third or fourth chapter, I cannot remember
which--he said, 'This is my house, I have made it for a
house of prayer, and you have made it a house of witchcraft;
your preacher is not fit to preach to you, he is a Jew, he
is not fit to preach to any nation; I will send you a
servant that will tell you the truth, and if the wicked will
not hear and try to understand, I will cast them into hell.'
I saw the devil--he appeared in the shape of a great many
men--he came to tempt two men that were professors of
religion; he told them there was no need of their being so
religious, that there was no harm in civil recreation, such
as fiddling and dancing, they might take their comfort in
that way; one of them said, 'if I was going to take my
comfort, I should take it in reading my bible and in praying
to my God.' The devil then transformed himself into the
shape of one man, and he had, as it appeared, one foot like
a man and

[page 15]

the other like a bear, and told the man he was a fool, and
that he would divide his soul and body there, that he should
not go any further--This great angel took the devil and
wound him all up in a heap, and held him a vast way into the
air, and let him fall into the midst of the congregation,
and as he fell he seemed to burst, like a puffball, into a
sulphurous flame of fire; and the angel said, this is the
old Serpent which is called Satan--he then turned to the man
and said, 'You are right, that is the way to take comfort,
to read your bible and pray to God;' and I awoke.


Again I dreamt of being on a high mountain, and my mother
and brothers and sister were with me--I looked off a great
distance and saw a place of happiness which lay before us;
my elder brother said, 'O that I had wings that I could fly
there.'--I thought I looked off at my left hand and saw a
black pitchy smoke, which I thought was the place of
torment--my mother told him that the place of happiness was
not for him.--Then I saw a silver walk, it was strait and
narrow, it led to the place of happiness; I saw one coming
to us on this walk, it was a minister of my acquaintance,
and when he had come to where we stood, his clothing was a
long white robe, and a crown on his head that was dazzling
to my sight, and as he prayed his face seemed to shine--when
he had done, he took my elder brother by the hand and

[page 16]

led him away on silver walk, he was gone awhile with him,
and when he came back, my brother had become a new creature
as it were, he had a new suit of clothes, his old suit was
gone into pitchy smoke, and he could sing to the
astonishment of all who heard him--my mother set out to
travel this silver walk, and we all followed after; we could
all walk very well except one of my brothers, he slipped a
good deal, but an angel met him and took him by the hand and
led him, but Jacob went so fast he outwent us all; at length
we all entered in where I heard singing, and the angel said
they must all go back but me; he said there was no need of
my going back, for they would all be there in a little
while, and I awoke.


I dreamed on the day that I was baptized, that I saw the
minister that baptized me, all in white, standing at the
foot of my bed, and he stood on a white pole up from the
floor, and he opened the bible and read the ninety-ninth
psalm--he read with great solemnity, with his hand and eyes
toward heaven, and when he had done he closed the book and
went out, and I awoke.


I dreamed I saw a burning bush, and a lamb, and a band of
angels, and between the bush and the angels I saw the
greatest angel I ever saw; and I stood with him, and he had
a key as big as a man's leg, and he unlocked the ground, and

[page 17]

it was the mouth of hell; and I saw all people and the band
of angels were singing, and stood ready to receive all those
whose names were written in the Lamb's book of life, and
those that were not were pitched headlong into the mouth of
hell, by the great devil, and there were a great many little
ones with spears aiming at the heads of the saints, and the
great angel fended off the spears with the point of his


I dreamed of being on the road south of our house--I saw
a man that was sent to tell the people in that neighbourhood
that a preacher would come there and an angel with him, and
the preacher's errand was to ask the man of every family if
his house was a house of prayer--after this inquiry was
made, there appeared an angel that was higher than any
house, and he had in his hand a great sword and a great
bible--being at the first house, he inquired of the man, and
the man said his house was a house of prayer, then the angel
read to him in Matthew the eighteenth chapter, and then came
to the next house (every man stood in the doorway of his own
house) and the angel said, 'Is your house a house of
prayer?' and he said it was, then he read to him Revelations
the thirteenth chapter; at that house there were two
families, and when the angel had read to them, he took his
sword and divided the house and the north part fell, and the
earth opened and took it in and shut up again and I saw it
no more, and it looked as though that part had nev-

[page 18]

er belonged to the house; then he came to the next house and
said to the man, 'You say your house is a house of prayer,
but it is not;' and as he spoke he raised his hand over the
house and it fell, and the earth opened and took it in and
shut again, and the ground appeared as though there had
never been a house there; and he came to the next house, and
he said to the man, 'You say your house is not a house of
prayer,' and he read to him Luke the fifth chapter, and then
went to the next house, and said to the man, 'Your house is
not a house of prayer,' and read to him Ezekiel the ninth
chapter, then came to the next house and said to the man,
'Your house is not a house of prayer,' and then read to him
Ecclesiastes the third and fourth chapters; we then went on
to a hill at the right hand of the road, and as we turned
about we went a small space up into the air, and there he
waved his sword, and there came a table to put his bible on
and a seat for me to sit on, and then the angel read an hymn
in the second book, thirtieth hymn, and sung it, and took a
text from Ezekiel, thirteenth chapter, eighth and ninth
verses, the words of which he spoke from it were these, 'How
long shall I say come thou faithless and perverse
generation, how long shall I preach this doctrine unto you?'
and then he went to the meeting-house, and Mr. Mason
attempted to preach to him, and he said, 'Preach not to me,
but to my people;' the preacher said, 'I have preached here
above twenty years, and they will not hear;' and the angel
said, 'O though of little faith, knowest thou

[page 19]

not that I am thy Lord and can give thee power to cast out
unclean spirits; my sheep know my voice, and they follow me;
be thou faithful, like my servants, John Rogers, John
Wesley, and Asa Simons, or I will make thee less than the
least;' he then lifted up his voice like a trumpet, so that
all could hear, and sung,

'The Philistine hosts are great and strong, but shall not
drive the hosts of heaven; but we will drive the hellish
tribes beneath the darkest shades of hell!'

Short List of Questions

(1) Who is the author of this pamphlet? It was "published"
by a white Methodist whose only other publications were
collections of hymns favored by Methodists, but it purports
to be transcriptions of the remembrances of dreams, written
down by Frederic Swan's mother and friends. Does the
pamphlet look different if we think about Frederic Swan as
the author, then his family and friends as collectively the
author, and then the white Methodist as the author?

(2) How is race relevant to this pamphlet, if at all?
Frederic Swan is identified as a mulatto, but there is no
further explicit mention of race in the account.

(3) How is the message of the dreams conveyed? There seems
to be something symbolic in the colors, which appear
repeatedly in the account. Also, there are a number of
references to the Bible. Is the text of those references
present in some way to this text? If Frederic Swan really
was speaking in this account--whether or not he was
recalling dreams--what was he saying about himself with his
extravagant visions and his literate use of the Bible?

(4) The dreams are sometimes terrifying and sometimes
inspiring. How do these different elements convey a

(5) Are there elements in this pamphlet that are
specifically Methodist? Or is it more generally Christian?

Short List of Suggested Readings

William L. Andrews, To Tell a Free Story: The First Century of Afro-American Autobiography (Chicago 1986) is a contemporary classic in the treatment of early African American autobiography.

Sylvia R. Frey, "Shaking the Dry Bones: The Dialectic of Conversion," in Black and White Cultural Interaction in the Antebellum South, ed. Ted Ownby (Jackson 1993) treats "the conversion of African-Americans to Protestant evangelical Christianity," with special reference to Methodism.

Nathan O. Hatch, The Democratization of American Christianity (New Haven 1989) is a sweeping view of American evangelicalism in the first half of the nineteenth century.

Charles H. Long, Significations: Signs, Symbols, and Images in the Interpretation of Religion (Philadelphia 1986) focuses on an African American access to the "mysterium tremendum."

Iain McCalman, Radical Underworld: Prophets, Revolutionaries, and Pornographers in London, 1795-1840 (New York 1988) gives a fascinating account of Robert Wedderburn, a mulatto Jamaican who emigrated to London, converted to Methodism there before 1800, and published several works between 1802 and 1824.

Benilde Montgomery, "Recapturing John Marrant," in A Mixed Race: Ethnicity in Early America, ed. Frank Shuffelton (New York 1993), and Sondra A. O'Neale, Jupiter Hammon and the Biblical Beginnings of African-American Literature (Metuchen, N.J., 1993) both include efforts to understand an African American's use of references to the Bible as vehicles of communication.

William D. Piersen, Black Yankees: The Development of an Afro-American Subculture in Eighteenth-Century New England (Amherst 1988) is essential reading for all studies in Northern black life.

Albert J. Raboteau, Slave Religion: The "Invisible Religion" in the Antebellum South (New York 1978) is another modern classic, with much to say about Methodism.

Russell E. Richey, Early American Methodism (Indianapolis 1991) provides excellent material for understanding the evolution of American Methodism in the early nineteenth century.

Leland Scott, "The Message of Early American Methodism," in The History of American Methodism, ed. Emory Stevens Bucke (New York 1964), Volume 1, is a reliable introduction to one of the most important topics in the history of American religion.

John H. Wigger, "Taking Heaven by Storm: Enthusiasm and Early American Methodism, 1770-1820," Journal of the Early Republic (1994): 167-194, discusses Methodist supernaturalism and describes African American Methodism as a self-validating faith for those alienated from mainstream institutions.

Donald R. Wright, African Americans in the Early Republic, 1789-1831 (Arlington Heights, Ill., 1993) is a synthetic work with a detailed bibliography.