Joseph W. Dennis was born in 1827 in Green County, New York to Joseph and Julia Ann Dennis. He married Delia Toles, and they had two children before she died. He married his second wife, Lucy Mayfield, in the late 1850s and they had a son in 1860. Joseph lived in Buffalo most of his life working as a dock builder and contractor. In his obituary, it said he built most of the docks and coal trestles in the city of Buffalo. He was prominent in Republican politics and was an alderman during 1873-1874 for the third ward.

It is unclear when Joseph became involved in Spiritualism. He posted an advertisement in The Watchman in 1887. It said, “Send to J. W. Dennis for a sheet of his Magnetized Paper which is a magnet that will bring to the wearer, a Spirit Guide for Development or Healing. Ten cents per sheet. Can give references from mediums.”

The Buffalo News, 14 March, 1895, published one of Joseph’s poems submitted by another person. “J.W. Dennis, who wrote the verses quoted, is a Buffalo man, well known in Lily Dale, and every spiritualist in Buffalo will laugh over this satire on Mr. Dennis. His request to not mourn for him appeared in the Progressive Thinker, March 6, 1895

When I am Born Again

No black for me
No robes of night,
No clouded brow,
But robes of light;
No pall on coffin lid,
No priestly quack
No tears of grief,
No hireling hack,
No woes, no wails,
No sorrow’s veins.

But shouts of joy
And songs of mirth
Proclaim the news,
“Another birth.”

Joseph was a member of the Buffalo Spiritual Church Society and gave many lectures at their meetings in the late 1890s. In a 1900 announcement, he was referred to as reverend. He gave the lectures alongside medium Mrs. C Lewis Chase, who gave readings. In 1903, Joseph attended Lily Dale with prominent Spiritualists, Carrie E. S. Twing, W. M. Lockwood, and W. J. Hull. Joseph was a regular contributor to the Harmonia published in 1885-1886 a published a piece called “My Vision” in the January 1886, vol. 1 no. 7 issue.

Joseph’s wife, Lucy, died in 1911. He followed the next year at the age of 85. City hall flags flew at half-mast the day of his funeral in his honor.