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Post by Admin Fri Jan 09, 2009 11:36 pm

Lis has kindly given me permission to reproduce her recent Psypioneer article on the forum I remind everyone of the copyrights on this. Once again, like any article on the forum, if you wish to use material please ask the writer first


The exact ages of the Fox sisters has long been debated, with various conflicting possibilities put forward by members of the Fox family, others who claimed to know them, as well as biographers, researchers and historians . This article provides a brief review of the conflicting records, and evaluates them in the context of available census information.

Margaretta Fox, daughter of John D Fox and Margaret Smith, died on March 8, 1893. Two days later The New York Times reported:

“Margaret Fox Kane, the youngest of the once celebrated Fox sisters, through whose agency the ‘Rochester rappings’ were developed, died early Wednesday morning at the house of Mrs Emily B Ruggles, 492 State Street, Brooklyn. Funeral services will be conducted to-night in Bradbury Hall, 292 Fulton Street, Brooklyn, at 8 o’clock, by Titus Merritt of this city, one of Mrs Kane’s oldest friends.”

Margaretta Fox was not the youngest of the Fox sisters; that honour, if it be one, belonged to Catharine Fox. She had died the year before, on the afternoon of July 2, 1892 at her home at 609 Columbia Avenue, New York. The following day one newspaper related that her death had resulted from:

“a complication of kidney and heart troubles……. Mrs. Jencken had been sick for nearly a week.” The paper noted “she was famous years ago in Spiritualist circles”, and “at an early age she and her sister Margaret attracted attention as mediums…”

Notably missing from the reports of Margaretta and Catharine’s deaths was any mention of their age. However, an article published in the Washington Daily Star, on March 7, 1893, the day before Margaretta’s death, describes her as “a woman nearly 60 years of age”, though in this report she is said to be inhabiting one room in an otherwise deserted tenement house at 456 West 57th Street, New York.

When Margaretta died, her body was placed for a year in a receiving vault at Greenwood cemetery. Later, Joseph La Fumee, who had first met the Fox sisters in New York in 1850, offered to have the remains of Margaretta and Catharine placed in his plot at Cypress Hill cemetery. The tomb stone records a birth date of Oct. 7, 1833, for Margaretta and March 27, 1837, for Catharine. The dates were provided by Titus Merritt, friend and confidante of Margaretta Fox.

Today, the inscriptions on the Fox sister’s grave markers are all but worn away, and the burial site is sadly neglected.

1 The New York Times March 10th 1893

2 The New York Times July 3rd 1892

3 Hydesville in History. M. E. Cadwallader. The Progressive Thinker Publishing House, 1917, Birth, Demise and
Interment of the Justly Celebrated Fox Family, as Reported by Titus Merritt. Page 29

4 A copy of a statement signed by Merritt, dated May 7, 1896 confirming the dates is found in R. G.
Pressing, ‘Rappings that Startled the World – Facts About the Fox Sisters’, 1948. a 90 (reference provided
by Paul Gaunt).

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Post by Admin Fri Jan 09, 2009 11:39 pm

Merritt claimed that it was Maggie herself, who had provided him with her own, and Kate’s dates of birth. Based on Merritt’s information, Maggie Fox was 59 years and 5 months old when she passed to spirit and Kate 55 years 3 months and 5 days on her demise almost nine months earlier.

If this is correct, on Friday night March 31st, 1848 in the tiny hamlet of Hydesville in New York State, Margaretta Fox was 14 years and 5 months old, while Catharine Fox had turned 11 just five days earlier.

On Oct 21, 1888, four and a half years before her death, Margaretta had stood before a large assembly gathered in the New York Academy of Music, in the presence of her sister Catharine for the purpose of repudiating their ‘powers’ as a fake, and confessing that Spiritualism was “an absolute falsehood from beginning to end….” In defence of their claimed fraudulent actions at Hydesville, she and Catharine suggested that they were but “small children so simple and innocent” that they could hardly be expected to have had “even the shade of a realization of the real meaning of this deception.”

In an apparently heartfelt manner, Margaretta Fox professed that after so many years of deceit, she was “now prepared to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth…” and shortly after, in what was claimed as a true account of the origin of Spiritualism, Margaretta is recorded as born in 1840, and Catharine one and a half years later, while Ann Leah, the eldest Fox daughter, had been born some twenty-three years before Margaretta.

If this ‘true account’ has credence, then on March 31st 1848 Margaretta Fox was just 8 years old, young Catharine a mere 6 and a half, and Ann Leah, their sister, then residing in the town of Rochester some 30 miles from Hydesville, about 31 years old, and therefore born around 1817. The statement made in 1888 clearly contradicts the information provided by Merritt.

In 1886, Mrs Margaret Fox Kane, as she was generally known, wrote to the Rochester ‘Union’ in response to an article headed ‘The Rochester Rappings: The Fox Sisters and the Beginning of Spiritualism.” Her letter, reprinted in ‘The New York Times’, was to ‘correct’ a number of statements in the article, which had reported her as “12 years old, and Kate, 9 years old” in 1848.

“In the article published in The New York Times of Sunday, the 18th, and copied from the Rochester Union of April the 13th, it is stated that I am residing in Brooklyn, and that my sister, Mrs Kate Fox Jencken, is in Europe. Both statements are incorrect, as are also the ages given of Mrs Jencken (Kate Fox) and myself at the time the rappings were first heard. When Spiritualism first originated at Hydesville, Wayne County, in 1848, we were little children, and have no recollection of the events said to have occurred at that early period.”

5 Statement of Margaretta Fox Kane, quoted in ‘The Deathblow to Spiritualism, R. B. Davenport, 1888 at
page 76.

6 Ibid. ‘Deathblow to Spiritualism, R. B. Davenport, 1888, at page 89.

7 Op. cit. at page 76.

8 ‘The Deathblow to Spiritualism’

9 The New York Times April 18th 1886

10 The New York Times April 29th 1886

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Post by Admin Fri Jan 09, 2009 11:50 pm

Margaretta’s correspondence is of interest for several reasons. It is the first time, one of the Fox sisters can be found referring to themselves as “little children” but, perhaps even more significant is that less than three years before declaring the rappings at Hydesville to be a fraud, she is claiming neither she or Kate have any “recollection of the events said to have occurred” at that time.

The ages of 12 and 9, disputed by Margaretta in 1886 were just one of a number of different possibilities recorded over the previous 38 years. The first put forward were in E. E. Lewis’s booklet published a few weeks after the events at Hydesville. In it a signed statement made on April 11th 1848, Mrs Margaret Fox detailed her recollection of the events in her home 12 days earlier. In passing, she records that her youngest daughter was “about 12”, and the other girl was “in her 15th year”.

Evidence in support of these stated ages can be found in the correspondence of Isaac and Amy Post, important Quaker and abolitionist figures of the time. The Post’s were “well acquainted” with the Fox family. In a letter to his brother and sister-in-law, Isaac Post commented that Kate and Margaret Fox were: “Girls of 12 and 14 years who used to live in our house at Cornhill and with whom we always had good understanding.”

By mid 1848, Margaretta and Catharine Fox were staying with their sister, Ann Leah Fox Fish in Rochester. In other correspondence, Isaac Post reported that within days after Kate and Margaret had arrived from Hydesville, they had visited the Post’s and demonstrated for them the rappings. As a result, Isaac and Amy Post became great supporters of the Fox sisters, and gathered together a small group to meet weekly to communicate “with the dead through the girl’s mediumship.”

This couple who had known the Fox family prior to the events at Hydesville, had renewed that acquaintance shortly after, and subsequently maintained a close relationship for a number of years, seemed certain how old Margaretta and Catharine Fox were in 1848.

On August 29, 1850, M G Warner, Assistant Marshal, recorded the free inhabitants of Rochester 3rd Ward, as part of the National Census.
Ann L Fish 29 N York
Margaretta Fox 16 Canada
Catharine Fox 14
Alfa Annis 20 Holland
Calvin R Brown 29 Confectioner N York
Margaret Fox 52 N. York

The 1850 census occurred just two years and 5 months after the happenings in Hydesville


11 ‘A Report of the Mysterious Noises, Heard in the House of Mr John D Fox, in Hydesville, Arcadia, Wayne County’, E. E. Lewis, 1848.

12 Ibid., at page 4.

13 Letters of Isaac and Amy Post, quoted in ‘Radical Spirits’, Ann Braude, at page 10-11.

14 Ibid., at page 11.

15 1850 Census: Dwelling House 375; Family 457. Rochester 3rd Ward. Dwelling 375, Family 456.

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Post by Admin Fri Jan 09, 2009 11:51 pm

It is evident that at sixteen and fourteen, the Fox sister’s ages correspond well with their mother’s 1848 statement of ‘about twelve’ and in their ‘fifteenth year.’ That the age of Ann Leah Fox, who had married Bowman Fish in 1829, was recorded as twenty-nine, presents more of a difficulty, as it suggests a birth year of 1821.

There seems little doubt however that Ann Leah Fox was born in 1813, though many writers have subsequently suggested 1814. By March 1848, Ann Leah was 34 or 35, and by 1850 in her 37th year.

The presence in her household in 1850 of 29 year old Calvin Brown, whom Ann Leah was to marry a few months later, might, however, provide an explanation for the apparent discrepancy in her age. Ann Leah would not be the first, nor the last, woman to lie about her age when about to marry a younger man.

In 1850, the inhabitants of the Town of Arcadia, Wayne County, in the state of New York, were not enumerated until October 18th, by Assistant Marshal C Mason. Mrs Fox and her daughters were recorded for a second time, now shown as residing in Arcadia.

John D Fox 61 Blacksmith N York
Margaret Fox 53 N York
Margaretta Fox 16 Canada
Catharine Fox 14 Canada

The apparent anomaly of the same people being recorded in two different places in the same census is not at all uncommon. More often than not, it is due to the head of household including in the census documents members of the family who are usually present, even though on the actual census day, they are residing elsewhere.

The most significant factor is that Margaretta and Catharine are recorded as 16 and 14 in both.

The census taken ten years earlier, though it contains only limited information, is also worth a brief mention. In 1840 John D Fox is found in Rochester, New York, as head of the family, being between 50 and 60 years of age, while in the household are also a female 50 to 60, and two female children both recorded as being “under 5”.

Though the two female children are not named, it is reasonable to posit that they are Maggie and Kate. John and Margaret Fox’s other children, Ann Leah, Elizabeth, Maria and David, had all been born between 1813 and 1820 and by 1840 were no longer living at home.


16 Barbara Weisberg, ‘Talking to the Dead: Kate & Maggie Fox & The Rise of Spiritualism’, Harper, San
Francisco, 2004. (Give reference – refer to Weisberg’s email comments)

17 1850 Census: Arcadia. Wayne County, N. Y. Page 242, Folio 483, Dwelling 1765, Family 1856.

18 Extensive experience as a genealogist, and family historian over the past 10 years has taught the author
that the likely accuracy of children’s ages in census records, is highest when children are under twenty and
residing with their parents who generally provide the enumerator with information about the family members
and their ages. The level of accuracy with adults in the census information can be consistent over a large
number of different census years, or be wildly varying and inconsistent. Such inconsistencies are generally
accounted for by illiteracy on the part of the informant or due to deliberate falsification for reasons unknown.

19 1840 Census. N.B. Reference details unavailable in copy of census page held by the author.

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Post by Admin Sat Jan 10, 2009 12:00 am

In 1855 Eliab Wilkinson Capron, who had the honour of speaking at the first public demonstration held in Corinthian Hall, New York in November 1849, offered his record of the early years of Spiritualism. Though his book introduces some minor changes in the Hydesville story, the girl’s ages are again recorded as around 12 and 15.

The first inkling of uncertainty about the ages is found in a letter to the Editor of the New York Times, in August 1858, when one of Maggie Fox’s supporters wrote:

“Miss Margaretta Fox …..renounced Spiritualism and separated herself from all association with Spiritualists five years ago, when she was but sixteen years of age.”

Suggesting that Maggie was just sixteen in 1853 indicates she was 10 or 11 years old in 1848. The article further relates that Maggie had ceased her involvement with Spiritualism as a result of:

“ the request of a friend, whose wishes were sacred to her, and her promise never in any way whatever, to have aught to do with Spiritualism, was religiously kept, even after the death of this friend.”

There is little doubt that the ‘friend’ was Elisha Kent Kane, Arctic explorer, whom Margaretta Fox had met in 1852. In the summer of 1858, a year and a half after the death of Kane, Margaretta sought to obtain from his family her ‘inheritance’; a sum of some $5,000, which she and others believed Kane had left provision for in his will. She claimed to have married Kane in a clandestine ceremony, shortly before he departed for England on October 11, 1856.

Around the same time Maggie gave the many letters written to her by Kane to a publisher while La Fumee, a journalist with the Brooklyn Eagle, helped her “write up a narrative to connect the letters.” It was not, however, until 1866, that ‘The Love-Life of Dr Kane’ was finally published. In it Maggie Fox claims she was thirteen when she first met Kane. He was undoubtedly 33 at the time. It is hard to conceive of a man of the world in his early thirties entering into a ‘liaison’ with a thirteen year old.

If born in 1833, however, as Merritt stated, Maggie was actually nineteen. Maggie’s version, if it were true, suggests she was 8 or 9 in 1848, a view that seems to reflect the claims she made later in 1888.

Yet in 1860, Owen records a meeting in August 1859 with Mrs Fox, daughters Margaretta and Catharine, and their brother David S Fox, who, he claims, provided him with a new

20 ‘Modern Spiritualism: Its Facts and Fanaticisms, its Consistencies and Contradictions’., E W Capron, 1855

21 The New York Times, 18 August 1858, ‘Miss Fox & the Spirit Rappers’, un-named writer.

22 Ibid.,

23 ‘Raising Kane: The Making of a Hero, The Marketing of a Celebrity’, Mark Horst Sawin, The University of
Texas at Austin, August 1997, at page 70.

24 Ibid., at page 71. Quoting Miriam Buckner Pond, Time is Kind, p. 219; See also undated & unsigned letter in
Elisha Kent Kane collection, American Philosophical Society, Philadelphia.

25 Ibid., at page 72.

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Post by Admin Sat Jan 10, 2009 12:11 am

narrative of the events of March 31, 1848 including a statement that at the time Maggie was “twelve years old; and Kate, nine.”

The information found in the 1860 census once again proves most interesting.

Name Age Sex Occupation Value of PropertyPlace of Birth
John D Fox 70 M Blacksmith 2000 N York
Margaret Fox 63 F N York
Margaretta Fox 23 F Canada
Catharine Fox 21 F Canada

John Fox was also recorded on the 1860 census in the Township of Arcadia.

Name Age Sex Occupation Value of PropertyPlace of Birth
John D Fox 71 M Blacksmith 500 N York

Mrs Fox and her daughters had moved to New York during the 1850’s. The duplicate census records suggest that John Fox was visiting his wife and daughters in June 1860 though he continued to normally reside in Arcadia.

In referring to the census data, it is important to note that the information recorded by the enumerators is only as accurate as the honesty of the informant. In evaluating the 1860 census information showing Maggie as 23 and Kate as 21, it seems to reflect the revised information apparently provided to Owen by the Fox family just a few months earlier.

The ages recorded in 1860 suggest years of birth of 1837 and 1839 indicating that in March 1848 Maggie had been 11 (in her 12th year) and Kate 9. How much credence can be placed on the 1860 census given the 1850 data is a matter for debate.

Just ten years later, Emma Hardinge, in ‘Modern American Spiritualism’, at first wrote:

“At the time of the manifestations, the house was tenanted by Mr. and Mrs. Fox and their two youngest children, Margaret and Catharine, the respective ages of whom Mrs Fox’s published statement represents as twelve and fifteen years.”

In the final pages of her work, however, Hardinge offers a correction:

“* Since the earlier chapters of this volume were in type, the author has been requested to correct the statement made by the witnesses at Hydesville, respecting the ages of Catherine and Margaretta Fox at the time of the first disturbances. The mother of the ladies, Mrs Fox, addressed a letter to the President of the anniversary meeting held in New York City in 1868, in which she stated that, at the time of the first ‘Rochester knockings,’ her daughter Kate was seven years old, and Margaretta ten. The ages of the


26 Robert Dale Owen, ‘Footfalls on the Boundary of Another World, J. B. Lippincott & Co. Philadelphia, 1860,
at page 285.

27 1860 Census: 1st Division, 19th Ward, New York City. Page 208. Dwelling 816, Family 1603. Enumerated on
June 25th by Stephen M Iren.

28 1860 Census: Arcadia, Wayne County. Dwelling 1,131, Family 1,119. Enumerated by P Tucker.

29 Emma Hardinge, ‘Modern American Spiritualism: A Twenty Years’ Record’, NY, 1870 at page 29

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Post by Admin Sat Jan 10, 2009 12:12 am

children being as the family allege, ‘incorrectly rendered in the first printed report, have been erroneously represented in all subsequent accounts.”

Emma Hardinge’s ‘errata’ statement is perhaps the most puzzling of all made regarding the ages of Maggie and Kate Fox, for in March 1868 when it is claimed Mrs Margaret Fox had written, she had been deceased some 2 years and seven months, having passed into spirit at the age of 68, on August 3rd 1865 as a result of typhoid fever. She was laid to rest in Greenwood Cemetery, in Brooklyn, New York.

It appears that in 1870, someone, though presumably not Mrs Fox (unless her missive arrived from beyond the veil of death) wanted to establish new ages for Kate and Maggie; ones that contradicted those recorded in 1848 through to 1860.

Perhaps the ages recorded for Maggie and Kate, in the National Census of 1870, would shed light on the matter. Sadly, to date neither has been found in the 1870 or the later American census records, though the search continues.

Kate is, however, recorded in the 1881 English census. On Dec. 14, 1872, she had married Henry Diedrich Jencken. Born around 1824 in then small village of Peckham in Surrey, England, Jencken was a Barrister. In 1881 Henry, Catharine and their two children were residing in St James Square, Kensington.

Name Status Age Occupation Place of Birth
Henry D Jencken Head 57 Barrister b. Surrey Peckham
Catherine “ Wife 37 b. United States
Ferdinand L “ Son 7 b. Brompton Mdx
Henry D L “ Son 6 b. New York U.S.

For Catharine Fox Jencken to be 37 in 1881 requires a birth year of 1843 or 1844. Were this true, she would have been just 4 or 5 in March 1848!

It would be remiss not to also take a closer look at Ann Leah Fox. In her 1885 account “of the initiation of the movement known as Modern Spiritualism” she wrote:

“Starting from three sisters, two of them children, and the eldest a little beyond that age, clustered round a matchless mother…..”

That Ann Leah should suggest she was little more than a child herself in 1848 stretches the bounds of reality too far. The propensity for Ann Leah Fox to distort the truth about her age is also evident in the census records. In 1850 in the census she claimed to be 29 when at least 36. On November 2, 1858, Ann Leah married for a third time to Daniel


30 Ibid., at page 563.

31 M. E. Cadwallader, ‘Hydesville in History’, The progressive Thinker Publishing House, 1917, ‘Birth, Demise &
Interment of the Justly Celebrated Fox Family’, as reported by Titus Merritt, at page 29.

32 GRO Marriages December Quarter 1872 Marylebone Vol 1a Page 972.

33 1881 UK Census: RG 11/31 Folio 135 Page 9, HSN 265, ED 30b. Address: 16 St James Square, Kensington,

34 Ann Leah Fox Underhill, ‘The Missing Link in Modern Spiritualism’ at page 1.

35 Ibid., at page 1-2.

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Post by Admin Sat Jan 10, 2009 12:41 am

Underhill. Underhill was born in 1821. The 1860 census shows Daniel and Ann Leah Fox Underhill residing in New York City.

Name Age Sex Occupation Value of PropertyPlace of Birth
Daniel Underhill 38 M Seely Insurance Co 61,000 10,000 Dist. Columbia
Ann Leah 34 F N York
Ann 6 F N York
Lise Fish 23 F N York
Susan Prophy 35 F Servant Ireland
Johanna Welsh 20 F Servant Ireland

Given Underhill’s year of birth, the census correctly reflects that he would be 38 or 39 in 1860, depending on the month of his birth. Ann Leah, however, somewhat amazingly shown as 34, has apparently only aged five years in the ten since the previous census was taken. Ann Leah was actually 46 or 47 in 1860.

The age discrepancy in the 1870 census is even more extreme.

Name Age Sex Occupation Value of PropertyPlace of Birth
Underhill Dan’l 45 M President Ins 61,000 10,000 N York
“ Leah 40 F N York
“ Lillie 15 F N York
Fox Frank 18 M N York
Blauwell Lizzie 26 F N York
Kerr Mary A 25 F Domestic Servant Ireland
Gallagher Sabina 22 F Domestic Servant Ireland

Having again apparently aged only 6 years since 1860, shown now as 40 years old, the age recorded is incorrect by some 17 years. In 1870, Ann Leah Fox Underhill was in the 57th year of her life.

The search for her in the 1880 and 1890 census continues. Ann Leah Fox Underhill died November 1st 1890 in New York City when 77 years old.


At present the census information that has been gathered represents an incomplete record of the years covering 1840 to 1890. Nevertheless, the census data that is available provides significant new insight into the probable ages of the Fox sisters in 1848.

The 1840 census effectively puts to rest the claim by Maggie and Kate in 1888, that they were young and innocent children of 8 and 6 and a half in March 1848. That much, at least, of their claimed ‘true account’ must be discarded.

The 1850 census, which twice records them as 14 and 16, is perhaps the strongest evidence available supporting the veracity of Mrs Margaret Fox’s statement of April 1848.

The apparent confusion about the ages of Margaretta, and Catharine Fox seems to arise shortly before 1860, and perhaps can be attributed, in part, to Margaretta’s battle with Elisha Kent Kane’s family, though allegations of deception levelled against the sisters in the mid-1850’s almost certainly also contributed.

Clearly, the most significant distortion of the truth about how old they were in 1848 was perpetrated by the sisters themselves, and not only in their confession in 1888. We may never be able to uncover why they lied about something which Merritt suggested was a matter “of minor importance as compared with the phenomena produced through their instrumentality”, but that they lied cannot be doubted.


36 1860 Census: 5th Division 20th Ward New York City. Dwelling 242, Family 778. Enumerated July 5th by
Assistant Marshal Boppert (initial’s illegible).

37 1870 Census: 21st District, 20th Ward, New York City. Dwelling 66, Family 153. Enumerated July 6th by
Assistant Marshal, Geo. Woodward.

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