February 8, 2019
Hopedale was heartbroken. The Community’s favorite son, Adin Augustus Ballou, was dead.
In the early 1850s, young Augustus was well on his way to his future. He graduated from the Bridgewater “Normal” School – a training school for teachers of the time – and began working there as an instructor, honing his skills. The hopes of his father, esteemed minister Adin Ballou, hinged on Augustus finishing his training and taking over the Hopedale Home School, a private facility created to help the Community raise much-needed funds.
In January 1852, Augustus was making that dream a reality, but like many young people he took on too much. The hard work taxed the 18-year-old, and he wrote about the joy of a day off. “You say you see me in your dreams, and that I appear to look tired,” Augustus wrote to his mother, Lucy Ballou on January 25. “Sunday is a welcome day – welcome, because on that day books are laid aside, and the tired brain is rested.”
But Augustus didn’t stop to rest. At the end of January, he delivered a much-heralded oratory at the school’s Lyceum on “cooperative Associations” like Hopedale – a more expert voice on the subject could not be found. Augustus lived much of his boyhood in Hopedale hearing the ministrations of his father. He wrote for the local youth group’s handwritten newspaper, The Inductive Harbinger, and his future persona was evident. “Be an independent man, a free thinker, a mighty actor. Be a wise man, a careful discriminator,” Augustus wrote in 1851. “Be a good man, blending humanity, with impetuosity; humility with power. Be independent and bold for the right, and let your whole strength go to improve.”
But within days of his triumphant presentation at the Lyceum, the young man was ill. According to his father, a bout of influenza just after the holidays had “left his physical system an easy prey to the renewed onsets of disease.” Unfortunately, the disease was typhoid fever, and little could be done to save Adin Augustus Ballou. His parents rushed to bedside, spending four days nursing their son, praying in vain for his life to be spared.
Augustus died February 8, 1852. His parents were distraught. This was a family that had suffered loss, and it did not get easier. Adin Ballou lost his first wife, Abigail, in 1829, and his first son, Adin Junior in 1833. Adin and Lucy lost their first son, Pearley, within days of Adin Junior’s death. Adin Augustus was born that same year, and the loss of him left Lucy inconsolable. The couple’s only surviving child was Adin’s grown daughter, Abbie Heywood, and when she heard the news of her brother’s death “the shock nearly crushed her.”
“They are bowed in sorrow as never before,” William Fish wrote of the couple’s pain in the town’s newspaper, The Practical Christian, but everyone was shocked at the young man’s passing. “He had pure and high aspirations within him, and noble objects before him, for the realization of which he had already marked out some of his life-plans.” Even famous abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison was stunned by the news, calling Augustus “a beautiful and most promising youth” in his paper The Liberator.
“And even now, may one not think of Augustus as being dead, for he is not dead,” his friends wrote in the Harbinger. “Perhaps his spirit is here with us to night, seeking to elevate our minds and thoughts, and to raise us from this Low and groveling earth, to more holy thoughts and pure aspirations.”
For Adin Ballou, the spiritualist movement – the idea that the living can communicate with the dead – became a way to deal with his loss. Adin turned to his pen, writing two books, The Memoirs of Adin Augustus Ballou and Spirit Manifestations, in an effort to work through the death of his son. “And in tears there is relief to the overburdened heart,” he wrote. Adin Ballou turned his tears into words.