A bit of Sullivan history comes to life through documents, descendants, and the vivid imagination of an author! While the Nelly Butler hauntings took place over 200 years ago, their connection to present day is still strong. WABI 5 News came down to investigate, with author Michelle Shores, Selectman Reg Bud Means, and Sullivan-Sorrento Historical Society’s Tobey Connor.
Things began with an ending – the death of Eleanor Hooper Butler in childbirth, first wife of George Butler in 1797. They had lived at Butler’s Point, a part of Sullivan that became Franklin later on. Two years later in 1799, her supposed spirit began communicating and eventually manifesting in the cellar of Abner Blaisdell’s home, which was located near what is now Taunton Drive in Sullivan. The spirit’s target appeared to be Abner’s young daughter, Lydia, and was insistent that Lydia and George be married. In prophesying, the specter began to draw crowds, and proved itself to Nelly’s family to be Nelly herself. Documenting this in real time was the Rev. Abraham Cummings, a Harvard-educated pastor tending to the area. He took down over 35 eyewitness accounts of locals, who were divided over whether the spirit was in fact Nelly, or a sinister influence. When he himself saw the spirit, his view on the afterlife was forever changed.
The specter could manifest into the full form of a woman and led crowds on walks to the homes of nonbelievers. George and Lydia did marry in 1800, but she died a year later in childbirth.
Utterly distraught by these events, George took all of her clothes and put them in a rowboat, set them on fire, and pushed it into the outgoing tide. This took the flaming vessel right past the home of Abner Blaisdell, who was horrified at the sight. His feud with George would continue for the rest of their lives, even leading to the dissolution of the First Baptist Church in Sullivan.
Rev. Cummings published his documentation in 1826 with the title A Question on Immortality.
Marcus Librizzi and Dennis Boyd researched and published Cummings’ work anew in 2011.
Michelle Shores’ book The Gathering Room is based upon the true events.
View the segment here: