Religion and Social Movements

The Live-Forevers and the Mysterious Death of Eleazer Fletcher

Among the unusual religious sects to spring up in Massachusetts, one of the oddest were the Live-Forevers.

The  1700s were a period of some religious turmoil in the Colonies. The First Great Awakening revived and reshaped the churches in America. But the period also allowed less conventional religions to take root, including the Shakers.

the live foreversThe Live-Forevers never gained a following as large as the Shakers, but they did build up small groups of believers, including one in Sutton, Mass. Eleazer Fletcher’s wife, Lucy, and her sister were active Live- Forevers.

The Live-Forevers believed that if someone appeared dead, it was possible, through rituals and prayers, for them to be restored to life (which is how they got their name). But they also had a number of other unconventional beliefs.

For example, they thought that each man, like Adam of the Bible, had a wife who was made from one of his ribs. And, they believed, that it was possible for a couple to be incorrectly paired, resulting in an unhappy life.

The unhappiness was probably amplified by the practice of the woman placing her pillow at one end of the bed and the man’s at the other while they slept.

Lucy’s sister became so sure that she was improperly mated to her husband that she left him. He had a difficult time persuading her to return.

In Lucy’s case it’s not clear if she felt she was incompatible with Eleazer. But it is well established that Eleazer was incompatible with the Live- Forevers.

Rain or Fire?

One evening he came home during a rainstorm and found the Live-Forevers holding a service in his living room. When he told the group to leave, they demurred because they preferred not to go out in the rain.

“If you fear rain more than fire, you can stay,” Eleazer shouted. With that, he plunged his fireplace shovel into the burning coals of the fireplace and began showering them over the crowd. The congregation quickly left.

However, he could not forever rid himself of their influence. Several days later, Eleazer travelled to nearby Grafton with his ox cart and never returned home. He was found dead in the road. Most suspected the Live-Forevers killed him.

The date of his death isn’t noted, according to the History of the Town of Sutton. But it does note that Lucy remarried, this time to John Goodale on Dec. 12, 1781.

This story was updated in 2021.

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