Some time between 1790 and 1820 a man named Thomas C. Prentiss journeyed from Boston on his way to Grafton, New Hampshire, stopping at a public house in the town of Plymouth. He ate, drank and participated in lively political discussion. Then he went to sleep. He was awakened during the dark night and had visions, then had more visions the next day as he traveled on the road. He claimed to see an angel with a flaming sword. He even had a ‘broadside‘ printed with details and a quite beautiful engraving of the angel with its fiery blade.
An excerpt of the broadside as follows: “On the 3d of May last, as I was on my journey from Boston to Grafton, in New Hampshire, I called for entertainment for the night at a public house in Plymouth–after some time spent in the evening in conversation with some gentlemen on the late unhappy situation of our country relative to our late contest with Great Britain, and our present internal divisions, &c. by reason of so many designing characters among us who are actuated more from sinester views than any real patriotic zeal for the general welfare; with a mind burdened with these reflections, I returned to my lodge, at a late hour. –Whether the conversation of the evening had a tendency to influence the vision of the night, I will not pretend to determine, but as no one ever paid less attention to the rambles of mopus than myself, I conceive there must be some thing evidently supernatural in the singular phenomenon I am about to relate. A few minutes before the clock struck one, as I conceived, I awoke, and turning my eyes toward the window, beheld an uncommon glean of light which induced me to leap from my bed……”
The author continues on to write about continuing his journey and encountering “an Angel or some supernatural Being,” with a “Flaming Sword in her hand…” Jeremy Belknap, the famed New Hampshire historian wrote in 1831 that “our gravest historians have recorded many omens, predictions, and other alarming circumstances, . . . .When men’s mind are rendered gloomy by the horrors of a surrounding wilderness, and the continual apprehension of danger from its savage inhabitants; when they were ignorant of the causes of many of the common appearances in nature, and were disposed to resolve every unusual appearance into prodigy and miracle, it is not to be wondered that they should imagine they heard the noise of drums and guns in the air, and saw flaming swords and spears in the heavens,* and should even interpret eclipses as ominous. [*The rays of the rising or setting sun, illuminating the edge of a cloud frequently produce appearances of this kind. Marginal Note of the Author in the corrected copy.].” The honored Mr. Belknap was talking about an earlier decade than that of the flaming sword author, but the psychological and emotional premise for its writing is the same.
The New Hampshire Historical Society dates the broadside between 1800-1820 while the Library of Congress believed it was printed about 1790. It was created in an age of great change and uncertainty in New England. As for Thomas C. Prentiss, there is very little known about him.
I discovered a Thomas C. Prentiss buried in Central Burying Ground, Boston MA. He died on 5 Dec 1833 aged 54, at the House of Correction — a suicide. This would mean he was born about 1779 which would certainly make him a correct age to be the author of the flaming sword missive. Whether this is the same man is uncertain.
Around the same time there were two Prentiss brothers who moved from Massachusetts to Keene, Cheshire Co. New Hampshire, one being John Prentiss publisher of the Keene Sentinel newspaper from 1828-1834, follow by his son, John William Prentiss. Potentially there is a connection.