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John Humphrey Noyes, the Putney community; compiled and edited by George Wallingford Noyes

Noyes, George Wallingford, ed.

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JOHN HUMPHREY NOYES
The Putney Community

Compiled and Edited By
GEORGE WALLINGFORD NOYES

With twenty-four illustrations

ONEIDA, NEW YORK
1931


COPYRIGHT 1931 BY GEORGE WALLINGFORD NOYES

All rights reserved

PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA


ACKNOWLEDGMENT IS DUE 
IRENE CAMPBELL NOYES 
FOR HER VALUABLE AID 
AS ADVISER AND CRITIC


Introduction

THE biography of John Humphrey Noyes falls logically into three parts, his ancestry and early life, the Putney Community, the Oneida Community.

Of these the first has been published. [1] It tells the story of Noyes 's conversion to evangelical Christianity, his studies in Calvinistic theology, his adoption of the heresy "Perfectionism," his flounderings in legality and antinomianism, his discovery as he believed of the "strait and narrow way" that led between these quagmires to the solid ground of inward freedom from sin, and his determination to embody this inward freedom from sin in outward social forms.

The Putney Community was Noyes's preliminary social laboratory. Its career from 1838 to 1847 included the working out of the theory of "Bible Communism," the selecting and training of a personnel, the slow advance on a small scale through communism of property and communism of house holds to communism of love, the consequent explosion at Putney, the migration to Oneida.

With the founding of the Oneida Community Noyes entered upon the full embodiment of his religious principles in a society large enough to bring the major passional forces into play, surrounded by pioneers inclined to tolerance, endowed with sn~cient capital and skill to give a reasonable prospect of material stability, actuated by an earnestness that enabled it to overcome readily the obstacles to partial association, and

1 Religious Experience of John Humphrey Noyes. The Macmillan Cornpany, New York, 1923.

vii


Introduction

prepared by fourteen years of Perfectionist discipline to encounter the tremendous difficulties of entire Bible Communism.

While each of these parts of Noyes's biography is in a way complete in itself, yet the story is a unit. Therefore the author calls attention to Religious Experience of John Humphrey Noyes as containing the philosophic and psychologic springs of The Putney Community.

viii


Contents

1. THE BATTLE-AXE LETTER -- 1 
II. A RESURRECTION MARRIAGE  -- 1 1 
III. BELIEF IN NOYES' S DIVINE COMMISSION --  25 
IV. CONVERSION OF THE CRAGINS  -- 34 
V. DELUSION AT WORK -- 37 
VI. BEGINNINGS OF ORGANIZATION AT PUTNEY -- 46 
VII. SOURCES OF NEW MATERIAL 1842-1845 -- 57 
VIII. WARFARE WITH DEATH MAY 1834-FEBRUARY 1845 -- 63 
IX. ADVANCE INTO COMMUNISM OF PROPERTY 1842-1846 -- 68 
X. STEPS TOWARD A GENERAL ORGANIZATION OF PERFECTIONISTS 1841-1845  --. 74 
XI. NOYES' S CONFLICTS WITH HIS FATHER AND MOTHER -- 86 
XII. MUTUAL CRITICISM -- 100 
XIII. MALE CONTINENCE -- 113 
XIV. BIBLE COMMUNISM -- 116 
XV. WITHDRAWALS FROM THE CORPORATION 1843-1844 -- 123

ix


Contents

XVI. THE BELCHERTOWN IMBROGLIO -- 126 
XVII. AMERICAN SOCIALISTIC EXPERIMENTS -- 151 
XVIII. SWEDENBORGIANISM -- 170 
XIX. FREE LOVE -- 186 
XX. PRECURSORS OF THE SEXUAL REVOLUTION -- 192 
XXI. BEGINNINGS OF COMPLEX MARRIAGE -- 196 
XXII. DIVULGING TIlE SECRET -- 211 
XXIII. CONVERSION OF HELEN, EMMA AND LUCINDA -- 222 
XXIV. THE KINGDOM OF GOD HAS COME -- 235
XXV. CURE OF HARRIET HALL -- 240 
XXVI. KNITTING OF EAST AND WEST -- 251
XXVII. CASE OF MARY KNIGHT -- 267 
XXVIII. THE GAGE OF BATTLE -- 271
XXIX. THE ARREST -- 282 
XXX. MARY MEAD COMES -- 292 
XXXI. THE FLIGHT -- 301 
XXXII. DEALINGS WITH THE PUTNEY CITIZENS -- 323
XXXIII. TURN OF THE TIDE -- 354 
XXXIV. FUSION OF PERFECTIONISTS IN CENTRAL NEW YORK -- 369 
XXXV. THE CALL TO ONEIDA -- 382

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Illustrations

JOHN HUMPHREY NOYES -- Frontispiece 
HARRIET A. (HOLTON) NOYES -- 15 
THE JOHN H. NOYES HOUSE -- 23 
GEORGE CRAGIN -- 34 
MARY E. (JOHNSON) CRAGIN -- 34 
JOHN R. MILLER -- 49 
CHARLOTTE A. (NOYES) MILLER -- 49 
THE PERFECTIONIST STORE AND CHAPEL AT PUTNEY, VERMONT -- 55 
JOHN L. SKINNER -- 62 
HENRY W. BURNHAM -- 62 
WILLIAM H. WOOLWORTH -- 234 
EMMA A. (CAMPBELL) WOOLWORTH -- 234 
GEORGE W. NOYES AND HELEN (CAMPBELL) NOYES -- 239 
LUCINDA LAMB -- 239
THE CAMPBELL HOUSE -- 306 
HON. LARKIN G. MEAD -- 335 
HON. WILLIAM C. BRADLEY -- 335 
DR. JOHN CAMPBELL -- 335

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Illustration

JONATHAN BURT -- 370 
DANIEL P. NASH -- 370 
JOSEPH C. ACKLEY -- 375 
JULIA C. ACKLEY -- 375 
THE SHOE-SHOP -- 389 
THE OLD LOG HUT -- 392

xii


JOHN HUMPREY NOYES

The Putney Community


Chapter 1

THE BATTLE-AXE LETTER

THE autumn of 1837 was pivotal for Noyes. A year previous he had reached the nadir of his career. He was an outcast. Perfectionism was in ruins. But having completed his theological buttressing of salvation from sin, he had during the intervening months turned his attention from the religious to the social aspect of Christianity; had broken fellowship with those whom he thought responsible for the downfall of Perfectionism; had asserted his own claim to divinely-commissioned leadership; had gathered a small group of faithful disciples at Putney, Vermont; had obtained a hearing from Finney, Garrison, the Beechers and other influential persons, who seemed about to render a verdict of approval; had commenced publication of The Witness at Ithaca, New York, subscriptions to which immediately foreshadowed success. At the very culmination of his "reanimated hope" a wholly unexpected event brought a new and highly explosive force into his maturing scheme of social Christianity.

At the beginning of Noyes's religious leadership, in February 1834, the first person to join with him in a public assertion of salvation from sin was Abigail Merwin. She was thirty, he twenty-two. She had dark hair and eyes, was beautiful and talented. Noyes always held that her persuasiveness and argumentative power more than any other influence gained entrance for him and his doctrine into the New Haven Free Church, which became the cradle of Perfectionism. She later denied this. However it is certain that from February until May 1834 these two were in the closest cooperation developing and launching the faith of salvation from sin. During all this time, Noyes says, their attention was not on each other but on Christ. Nevertheless a "wonderful weaving of attractions was going on," and before the end of this period he was desperately in love.

In May 1834 Noyes was drawn away from New Haven to New York City, where he passed through a period of mental turmoil

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the purpose of which he believed was to free him from life-long habits of legality.[1] What he called his "unfashionable behavior" during this crisis gave rise to the fear even among his relatives and friends that he was insane. Among other psychopathic symptoms he beheld Abigail Merwin standing on the pinnacle of the universe in the glory of an angel, but heard a voice from which he could not turn away pronouncing her 'Satan transformed into an angel of light." He gave her up "as one accursed." Hearing these rumors Abigail's brother-in-law Everard Benjamin, also a convert, went to New York and brought Noyes back to New Haven. Noyes afterward learned that Abigail had accompanied her brother-in-law, and had concealed her presence on the boat, a circumstance which chimed in suspiciously with his vision. A month later she with several others was received back into the Free Church.

The shock of Abigail's defection was terrific. Noyes said later that it was years before God could command his attention without his looking over his shoulder to that woman. He longed for reconciliation, but his vision of her in New York was too great an obstacle. At length in the course of a second series of trials at Prospect he saw her "clothed in white robes," and by the word of the Lord she was given to him. At this same time he was "instructed as to the place which the marriage relation will hold in the coming dispensation." From this new standpoint he sought and obtained an interview. She claimed to be still a Perfectionist and to have confidence in his religious character. He called again, and had much conversation with her. But rumors of his strange adventures in New York were still in circulation, and she seemed embarrassed and prejudiced. Her father forbade him the house. Afterward Noyes wrote her an impassioned letter.[2] There was no reply. Finally she reopened correspondence with a former lover, Merit Platt. The long-awaited word that they were married came to Noyes early in January 1837. Subsequently he learned that they had gone to live at Ithaca, New York. Thither Noyes marched on foot from Kingston, [3] a distance of J40 miles, "for the purpose on the one hand of starting the paper and the Kingdom of God in the center 0£ New York State, and on the other of pursuing and confronting Abigail Merwin, who had deserted her post as my helper."

1 Religious Experience of John Humphrey Noyes, pp. 136-152. 
2 Ibid., pp 351-354. 
3 Ibid., pp.339-350.

2


On January 15, 1837, under the sting of Abigail's marriage to Merit Platt, Noyes wrote to his intimate friend, David Harrison, the so-called Battle-Axe Letter. The main part of that letter [1] was an expression of Noyes's unwavering faith and patience and a militant assertion of his claim to leadership in view of the impending establishment of the Kingdom of God on earth. The concluding paragraph which brought such far-reaching social consequences was this:

I will write all that is in my heart on one delicate subject, and you may judge for yourself whether it is expedient to show this letter to others. When the will of God is done on earth as it is in heaven there will be no marriage. Exclusiveness, jealousy, quarreling have no place at the marriage supper of the Lamb. God has placed a wall of partition between man and woman during the apostasy for good reasons; this partition will he broken down in the resurrection for equally good reasons. But woe to him who abolishes the law of the apostasy before he stands in the holiness of the resurrection! I call a certain woman my wife. She is yours, she is Christ's, and in him she is the bride of all saints. She is now in the hands of a stranger, and according to my promise to her I rejoice. My claim upon her cuts directly across the marriage covenant of this world, and God knows the end.

Harrison kept this letter several months. "But," said he, "the Lord gave me no liberty to suppress it." He showed it first to Simon Lovett, who liked it and asked permission to take it home. While it was at his house Elizabeth H., a young Perfectionist firebrand, insisted upon having it to send to T. R. Gates [2] of Philadelphia. She threatened, if denied, to leave immediately on foot in a terrific thunderstorm for New Haven seven miles away. The letter went. Anticipating that Gates would publish it Harrison would have written forbidding him, but "could not get the Lord's consent."

1 Religious Experience of John Humphrey Noyes, pp.306-309 
2 Gates's career as a Perfectionist has been described in Religious Experience of John Humphrey Noyes, pp.203-207, 241-243, 300-301.

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In July of this same year T. R. Cates commenced the publication of a paper called The Battle Axe and Weapons of War to launch his own theory of the sexual relation in the Kingdom of God. He wrote in the first number:

Among the fashions of this world that will pass away is that of man and wife, so called, living in strife and disagreement. . . . A person should not rest content in such a condition a single day. . . . Men and women had better change their partners twenty times over, under the best regulations they can make with each other, so as at length to have one with whom they can live in harmony and be in the order of God, than to live in any kind of strife and disagreement and he in the order of the devil . Jn accordance with this new, more heavenly condition of things, myself and she that was my wife after the fashion of this world have mutually dissolved and forever renounced everything pertaining to such a fashion, and are hereafter to live together only as it is our free and mutual choice so to do.

The second number of The Battle-Axe and Weapons of War came out in August 1837. Blazoned on the first page was Noyes's letter to Harrison in full. Gates took copies to the Philadelphia City Hall, and laid one upon the Mayor's desk. The Mayor, glancing at the title, remarked, "We do not use such weapons here." Nothing daunted, Gates distributed the paper among the lawyers, magistrates and editors of the city, and even sold it in the streets with a placard on his hat.

NOYES IN The Witness SEPTEMBER 23, 1837

Several persons have written to inquire whether I or Mr. Boyle [1] was the author of a letter lately published in The Battle Axe aud The Weapons of War. I answer, I am the author but not the publisher of the letter. As a lover of the light I cannot object to its publication; and as an optimist I am bound to

1 For Boyle's connection with Perfectionism see Religious Experience of John humphrey Noyes.

4


rejoice. Yet I must be permitted to say that it contains doctrines and allusions which I should never have obtruded upon the public, not for fear of persecution or reproach but lest my liberty should become a stumbling-block to others. Since it is published, it is proper that 1 should acknowledge myself its author that 1 may "bear my own burden;" and I hereby entirely exculpate Mr. Boyle from any censure which may fall upon it. In due time, if it is demanded, I intend to explain fully the doctrines and allusions of that letter. .

I see by communications from all quarters that my letter is regarded as "an astounding testimony." As I am not responsible for its publication I might easily escape in a measure the fury of the storm which must follow it, but Ichoose to "bide its brunt," and therefore say that 1 know the doctrine of that letter is God's truth, and that whosoever contends with it "rushes upon the thick bosses of His buckler." Before the will of God is done on earth as it is in heaven that doctrine will be preached on the house-tops, and its practical tendency not to confusion and licentiousness but to "whatsoever is pure and lovely and of good report" will be discerned. If the unlearned and unstable wrest it to their own destruction, they shall never say that I did not once and again point them to the red beacon of wrath which God has placed at the head of the way of uncleanness: "Woe to him who abolishes the law of the apostasy before he stands in the holiness of the resurreetion."

If the tendency of the doctrine is to be judged by the actions of him who teaches it, truth requires that 1 should testify as under oath, using an expression of John Bunyan's, that "I know not whether there is a woman in the world otherwise than by their dress and common report;" and 1 can say without fear of contradiction to those who have familiarly known my ways, "Ye are witnesses, and God also, how holily and justly

5


and unbiamably 1 have walked among you." Liberty never metamorphoses the children of God into swine. If any become swine in consequence of learning the law of liberty, they are only hypocrites made manifest.

The Advocate of Moral Reform NEW YORK CITY
DECEMBER 15, 1837

Sentiments have of late been openly advanced by those who call themselves Perfectionists of such an immoral and destructive tendency, that it becomes our duty as humble conservators of the public morals to hear a decided testimony against them, particularly as the names of some among us have been coupled with this dangerous and seductive heresy. To those who are happily ignorant of the name and nature of Perfectionism we fear we shall hardly be able to make ourselves intelligible; for we shrink from the task of disturbing this stagnant pool of corruption even for the sake of warning the unwary from its brink..

In some recent publications by the leaders of this sect the institution of marriage is set aside as a part of the system of bondage from which Christ is to make us free. We will not stain our pages with specimens of this reasoning, which makes the blessed Redeemer the minister of sin, and converts the bread of life into a deadly poison. Indeed the language so much resembles the jargon under which the ancient mystics used to veil their meaning, that our readers probably would not understand at once its full import. From the words of our Savior concerning the inhabitants of heaven, "they neither marry nor are given in marriage," they argue the abolition of the institution here in a resurrection state which, it seems, some of them have already attained. It will at once be seen that this master-stroke of satanic policy opens a floodgate to every species of licentiousness; and by a refinement of wickedness

6


which puts papacy to the blush sanctifles the very incarnation of impurity. A state of society such as these doctrines would inevitably produce cannot be adequately conceived or described. The sacredness of the domestic constitution invaded, the marriage covenant annulled, parental and filial obligations trampled in the dust, while unbridled license stalks among the ruins, smiling at the havoc she has made, and feasting on the last bleeding remnants of chastity and virtue! Surely, when sentiments like these are advocated under the mask of high-toned piety, it is the duty of all who love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity to contend earnestly for the purity of "the faith once delivered to the saints.

NOYES TO THE EDITRESS OF The Advocate of Moral Reform Ithaca, New York, April 5, 1838.

An article in your paper of December 15, 1837, on the subject of Perfectionism has just fallen under my observation. ...I will endeavor to state in such language as shall repudiate your charge of mysticism those peculiar views in regard to marriage which have occasioned your denunciations.

1. 1 believe that marriage does not exist in heaven. 
2. 1 believe that the will of God will he done on earth as it is done in heaven; consequently that a time will come when marriage will not exist on earth. 
3. 1 believe that for the present transition period proper instruction for believers is contained in the 7th chapter of 1st Corinthians, especially verses 29-3I.[1]
4. I believe that in the heavenly state, which is the hope of our calling, the Holy Spirit takes the place of written

1 "But this I say, brethren, the time is short, it remaineth that both they that have wives be as though they had none; and they that weep as though they wept not; and they that rejoice, as though they rejoiced not; and they that buy, as though they possessed not; and they that use this world, as not abusing it, for the fashion of this world passeth away."

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laws and arbitrary ceremonies in the relation of the sexes and all other matters. 
5. I do not believe that any have attained to that state who are now on earth. 
6. I believe that such as make these doctrines a cloak of licentiousness are wholly ignorant of the true nature of the doctrines and will share the doom of Sodom and Gomorrah. 
7. I believe that such as impede the true tendency of these doctrines by misrepresenting them and trusting in written laws instead of the Holy Spirit are also wholly ignorant of the subjects they handle and will ere long be found fighting against God.

You will find in my writings no such doctrine on the subject of law as you impute to Perfectionists. I regard the law as a map of duty, and God a living Guide. Righteousness is the aim of both. The law is declared by the Bible and all experience to be ineffectual; God, the living Guide, is declared by the same witnesses to be all-sufficient. God's leadership exercised through Christ by love without law [1] is with me the core of the gospel; and for this reason chiefly I feel hound to contend earnestly for the above doctrines on marriage.

JOHN H. NOYES.

NOYES IN The Witness NOVEMBER 21, 1838

I commenced publication of The Witness in August 1837 under circumstances that warranted, so far as human promises and favor can warrant anything, the expectation of its continuance without interruption. That same month a private letter written by me to David Harrison was fraudulently published in The Battle-Axe and Weapons of War by T. R. Gates, I say "fraudulently," because from the manner of its publication it was natural to infer, as most of those who read

1 Religious Experience of John Humphrey Noyes, p.382.

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it did infer, that it was written to Gates, an inference which tended to involve me against my will in a partnership of sentiment. Jn consequence of this forgery I lost many friends and gained many enemies.[1] This was immediately manifest in the diminution of my receipts from subscribers. Finding myself unable to proceed without incurring deb, [2] 1 left my affairs at Ithaca in the hands of A. H. Elston and went to New York. At first 1 was received with much welcome by William Green notwithstanding the unpopularity of the Battle-Axe Letter. But after remaining a few days at his house I was rejected as an impostor. Thence I went to Kingston, and abode with Abram C. Smith through the winter.

NOTES IN The Oneida Circular AUGUST 24, 1874

It is important to observe that the theory broached in the Battle-Axe Letter is not spiritual affinity between two but communism. The usual landing-place of religious speculators, when they move out of ordinary legal marriage, is in spiritual affinity between two. This is Swedenborg's substitute for marriage, as it is that of the Spiritualists generally; and this was the hobby of the New York Perfectionists, with whom I was much associated during the three years when I was studying the sexual question. But I did not stop in this half-way system. Perhaps I would have done so if I had formed my theory and committed myself to it in the early part of that period of study when my heart was most under the special attraction to Abigail Merwin. But I was kept quiet and searching till I could rise above personal passion and see clearly the spirit

1 The later history of the Gates movement is tald in Theopilus the Battle-Axe by Charles Coleman Sellers, Ardmore, Pa. 
2 Nayes was already in debt for the second and third numbers of The Witness, also for board. In this situation he received a letter from Harriet A. Holton enclosing eighty dollars, which enabled him to pay his debts and leave.

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of Pentecost presiding over the love of heaven. I well remember the spiritual lift by which I rose and reached the great idea of a universal marriage, and I wrote the letter to Harrison immediately after that lift. It will be seen by a carefull reading of the letter, that when 1 got this enlargement 1 communized my claim on Abigaail Merwin

The theory of absolute communism in love was never be-fore so far as 1 know broached in this world. The Primitive Church left on record only the negative doctrine of no marriage in the resurrection, and this was liable to be mistaken for Shakerism, as it has been by the Catholics and religionists generally. And all the positive theories of the sexu~ relation that 1 know of are theories of limited affinity which is really marriage.

"It is difficult at the present time," wrote Noyes in 1874, "to conceive of the shock which the Battle-Axe Letter produced. I was caught in the snare of a confidential whisper and hung up as a gazing-stock to the world. While I recognized the hand of God in the publication of the letter, I verily felt as though he had taken a fearful advantage of me and committed me to an awful step against my will. I am not sure that I should ever have broached our sexual theory of my own free motion."

The effect of these strange events upon his future Noyes almost immediately divined. On October 13, 1837, he wrote to Harrison: "You will not suffer anything that 1 have said in The Witness about the publication of my letter in The Battle-Axe to trouble you. God made a most glorious move on the checker-board in that thing." And reviewing the history of the Battle-Axe Letter in 1874 he conduded: "From the time of the publication of that letter I felt that I was called, even under the heaviest penalties, to defend and ultimately carry out the doctrine of communism in love. I accepted the commission with a good heart."

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Chapter 2: A Resurrection of Marriage | Contents [an error occurred while processing this directive]

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