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  • Writer's pictureCheré Dastugue Coen

The spiritualist life of Otis Plummer

Genealogy can be so much fun, you never know what you’ll discover. I never suspected royalty or fame in my line, but I did hope for some fascinating stories.

Here’s one that’s tied to the afterlife in more ways than one.

The Plummer family was a seafaring group hailing from New England who moved to the southeastern Texas coast in the mid-1800s. The patriarch, Gowen Wilson Plummer, was born in Addison, Maine, his grandfather Moses Plummer Jr., a private in Captain Hall’s detachment with Colonel Benjamin Foster’s Regiment during the American Revolution. According to information gleaned from family trees on, Moses’s name is inscribed on the bicentennial marker in front of the Old Union Church, which is now Columbia Falls Town Hall.

Gowen Plummer moved to the Louisiana side of the Sabine River, just across from Texas, in the 1830s. Sources claim he ran illegal trade across the Louisiana-Texas border and that he was a gun runner for Sam Houston during the Texas Revolution.

In 1839 he wrote from Perry’s Bridge in Lafayette Parish, Louisiana to his brother in Harrington, Maine (bad punctuation included and editing by me):

“Dear Brother, I take this opportunity to correspond with you as it has been very long since we have heard from one another. I have just recovered from a bed of sickness and am very weak and nervous, but I have enjoyed better health in Louisiana than I ever did in Maine. I have worked very hard this summer in Cyprus Swamp which I lay my sickness to, but thank kind heaven I am recovering as fast as time will admit. I have been living in Louisiana for better than a year and this is the first sickness that I have had. This is very fine country and a very easy country to live in…I have been employed since last November building a small vessel of about 30 tons, and in June we lay her by for the planks to season. I expect we will commence her again in November. There has been no one worked on her but myself and the master workman. I expect to own a small part of her when done and intend to run out from the vermilion Bayou to some of the Rivers in Texas.”

Gowen Plummer and Arthemise LaRiviere Ellender in 1842 lived at the Vincent Settlement in Louisiana. They had three sons born in Texas: William, Otis and Jesse and the 1860 census listed Gowen as lighthouse keeper.

During the Civil War, Gowen remained a Union loyalists but after his lighthouse oil was stolen by Confederates, he moved the family back to Maine and returned in the early 1870s when the hostilities ended, living at Bolivar Point, Galveston, Texas. 

Otis S. Plummer may have been born in Texas but he got his sea legs in Maine, sailing at the age of 15 under his father’s tutelage. At 17 he was made captain of a schooner in the New England coast trade at 17. Otis moved to Corpus Christi working for the government, then became the pilot at the Sabine Pass south of Beaumont, Texas. In 1907, along with Captain Peter Brandt, he founded the Sabine Pilots Association for the purpose of guiding ships from the Gulf of Mexico into and out of the harbors of Sabine Pass, Port Arthur and Beaumont, Texas, according to sources.

So, what does any of this have to do with ghosts, you ask?

Otis Plummer lost a child and when he did so, turned to Spiritualism, “a system of belief or religious practice based on supposed communication with the spirits of the dead, especially through mediums,” according to Webster’s. Spiritualism was popular after the Civil War, reaching its peak of popularity by century’s end.

Otis took a subscription to the Spiritualist weekly newspaper, the Banner of Light, and held séances in his home.

His obit read:

“Mr. Otis S. Plummer, of Harrington [Maine], passed quietly to spirit life from his home at 3 p.m. Wednesday, 24th, after an earthly pilgrimage of 79 years. Mr. Plummer espoused the cause of Spiritualism soon after losing a beloved child. He had remarkably strong magnetic powers, which he was ever ready and willing to exercise as occasion required. He began to take the Banner of Light soon after losing his child, and to have spiritual sittings in his own home, where he conversed with his loved ones that had passed away. He had a sitting by his bedside a few hours before he passed to spirit life. He was not afraid to die, spiritualism giving consolation.

“Mr. Plummer was universally respected by all who knew him. He was an esteemed friend, a loved companion, a kind and tender father, and one who held the respect of all, as was evident by the character of the people who came to pay their last respects at his funeral. The services were held at his own home, under the Masonic order. The floral offerings were very beautiful. The remains reposed calm and peaceful in the change that awaits us all. He leaves a wife, five sons and two daughters to mourn their loss, and who expect to meet him across the river.”

Otis’s brother, Captain William Henry Plummer, was the Sabine Pass Lighthouse keeper in 1900 when on Sept. 8 a fierce hurricane slammed into Galveston. William saved approximately 156 lives during the storm and he was awarded a Life-Saving Medal by the Secretary of the Treasury on May 28, 1903.

Here’s what the Washington Post reported:

“The Secretary of the Treasury yesterday forwarded to Capt. W. H. Plummer, now at Willbridge, Me., a gold life-saving medal … in recognition of this heroic conduct in saving and assisting to save a very large number of persons from drowning during the memorable hurricane of September 8, 1900 at Galveston, Tex. Plummer, it is stated, rescued and delivered to places of safety upward of 156 men, women and children. In closing his letter, which accompanied the medal the Secretary says:

“If would be difficult to exaggerate the merits of your services. You acted entirely of your own mention, under no compulsion from any source except your own commanding sense of humanity; you neglected your own property, and gave up the work of rescue only when your boat was so disabled that you were compelled to abandon it and swim to a place of refuge. Your conduct was of the highest order and deserves the highest recognition. That is afforded by the accompanying medal, which is authorized by law to be bestowed only upon those who perform, at the jeopardy of their own lives, deeds of the most extreme and heroic daring in saving others from the perils of the sea.”

Otis’s other brother, “Cott” Plummer, made newspapers in 1910 when he captured a sperm whale off the Texas coast and brought the massive leviathon to Orange, Texas, for the world to see.

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