The Flaming Sword, or a Sign from Heaven: being a Remarkable Phenomenon, seen in the State of Vermont

We recently sold this scarce item and thought we would post it here in our blog for a more permanent record.

[Walker, Timothy P.]. The Flaming Sword, or a Sign from Heaven: being a Remarkable Phenomenon, seen in the State of Vermont. Exeter, [New Hampshire]: Printed for J. Richardson, 1814. [8344]

Stab-sewn, plain paper wrapper, 3 1/2 x 6 inches, 12 pp. Very good. Pamphlet.

Shaw & Shoemaker 33566. OCLC with four locations. No pamphlet editions at LOC. Signed in print, Timothy P. Walker, on p. 12. "To the Reader" by G. W.

The last recorded sale of this 1814 item (RareBookHub) is from a 1930 Goodspeed's catalogue.

A broadside edition in three columns is ESTC W41332, with the title Flaming sword, or A sign from heaven! Being a remarkable phenomenon seen in the state of New Hampshire in May last. "Pamphlet editions, with slight variations in the text, published at Norwich, Conn., in 1799, Suffield, Conn., in 1801 (no copy located), Groton, Conn., in 1812, and Exeter, N.H., in 1814, have title: The flaming sword, or A sign from heaven, being a remarkable phenomenon, see in the state of Vermont. They are signed 'Timothy P. Walker' and have forewords signed 'G.W.'" ESTC presents the broadside as the first appearance, but this has been disproven, see Grunder below.

There is another edition in the holdings of the Seventh-day Adventist archives, at Adventist Digital Library online.  The imprint is Utica: Patriot Re-print, 1813. A hand-written inscription on this copy reads, "Vision of Timothy P. Walker, March 26, 1798. Reprinted 1813. Utica, NY."

G. W. states that "the following phenomenon, happened within the circle of my acquaintance, and the truth of it here is unquestionable; although it may appear to be incredible to many - an omen which I conceive to forebode threatening and judgment on our land, by the great Ruler of nations and worlds, whose penetrating eye views with impartiality the most minute proceedings of his creatures, and will bring all nations under his government by the arm of his almighty power."

The author relates a vision which took place on March 27th, 1798, at the inn of Capt. J. Bissell in Chelsea, Vermont, "after some time spent in the evening in conversation with some gentlemen on the unhappy situation of our country, its relative situation, as it respects foreign powers, its internal divisions, &c. by reason of so many designing characters among us who are actuated more from sinister views than any real patriotic zeal for the general welfare” he retired for the evening.  During the night he beheld a gleam of light through his bedroom window, and "something resembling a field piece and the clashing of swords...which I saw plainly through the window...hearing "an audible voice which I conceived not human, call to me by name, and said arise and give ear to the messenger from Heaven."

The messenger from Heaven describes the redemption from tyranny of "this people like the children of Israel," but that they have become rebellious and disobedient, "pregnant with evils innumerable," and predicts their destruction by the sword by a foreign nation, which shall "lay waste your sea-ports and utterly destroy your navigation...her armies shall swarm around you like the flies and gnats of Egypt, for a season." The messenger says the sign of these things is "an Angel descending with a long Flaming Sword in his hand, which Sword will then be transformed into an Olive Branch."

The next morning the author reports that as he was on the road after leaving the inn, "a bright light appeared to overspread the horizon, and an Angel, or some supernatural Being, as I conceived, descended and stood erect in the air but a little distance from me, dressed in a long unsoiled robe, with a Flaming Sword in his hand" and his face "had the appearance like lightning, and his lamps were as lamps of fire; the Sword which he held in his hand, to appearance was about thirty feet long, the hilt was variously ornamented, it appeared of pure gold set with stones of various hues, the blade of which resembled fire."

He also describes seeing a bow in the clouds like a rainbow, circling a constellation of sixteen stars, in the center of which appeared an Olive Branch. The divine messenger states that these are the signs of the latter days, and that the nation will be "crimsoned in the blood of their own citizens," after which a Branch from the root of Jesse shall arise, performing such remarkable wonders as shall effectively prove to the world his divine authority, with the Jews and the Gentiles uniting in their faith in him. The vision concludes with Walker seeing "a long and spacious landscape covered with innumerable hosts of beings like unto the stars of Heaven, worshipping and praising him who is King over all there."

The American Antiquarian Society has a manuscript in its holdings by Thomas C. Prentis, [they presume ca. 1800], with the title Flaming sword or a sign from Heaven being a remarkable phenomenon seen in the state of New Hampshire in May. "Written account about a supernatural event that was witnessed by Prentis while on a journey from Boston to Grafton, New Hampshire." This is the basis for the broadside publication (which was actually ca. 1815; see Grunder below). The AAS also has three print editions attributed to Walker (1799, 1812, 1814).

For a scholarly analysis of the broadside & pamphlet editions of this title and the link to Joseph Smith, Jr. see Rick Grunder, Mormon Parallels: A Bibliographical Source, pp. 1825-1837. In addition to the Smith family connection & probable influence of this vision upon Joseph Smith, Jr., Grunder notes that in 1798 there were 16 states in the Union, corresponding to the 16 stars in the rainbow of the vision. He also proves that the broadside by Prentis was a clumsy, edited reproduction of the pamphlet by Walker and published near the end or soon after the War of 1812.

The Flaming Sword was resurrected and used for political purposes during several times of war in the United States. In addition to the printings during the War of 1812, there was an edition of 1848 (according to Smolnikar - we did not locate a copy), corresponding with the war with Mexico; of 1857 during the lead up to the American Civil War (Star & Farnham, New London, Conn.); and in 1865 it was discovered to be a tract unveiling the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, and reprinted in First Part of the Great Encyclic Epistle, by Smolnikar.

"'The Flaming Sword! or a Sign from Heaven,' is the most remarkable among the prophecies regarding the United States of North America. It was not understood till it had been handed to me, A. D. 1861, in an edition of the year 1848, and I have been explained it directly by the Spirit of Truth, who had prepared in my publications many years ago, what was required for its understanding...The shocking death of President Lincoln spreads great light upon said prophecy...[In the prophecy we find] 'The Constellation of the Sixteen Stars.' These, as will become evident in the volume...are the sixteen Presidents who belong to that Constellation, from George Washington to Abraham Lincoln." - First Part of the Great Encyclic Epistle...Occasioned by the Murder of Abraham Lincoln, by Andreas Bernardus Smolnikar (1795-1869), p. 7-9.

Timothy P. Walker gives his birthplace as Woodstock, Connecticut. No other information about him is now known, and it is possibly a pseudonym. His powerful account of a vision and voice from Heaven is startling in vividness and content, and was understood by some to be a prophetic warning to the United States for over sixty-five years.