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Oneida Community Collection

An inventory of the collection at Syracuse University


Finding aid created by: [Summit record]
Date: Feb 1996



Biographical History

The Oneida Community was a utopian commune founded by John Humphrey Noyes in 1848 in the town of Oneida in Madison County, New York. Noyes, born in Vermont in 1811, attended Dartmouth College, Andover Theological Seminary, and Yale Theological College and received his license to preach in 1834. He formed his first utopian community in 1836 in Putney, Vermont, practicing "complex marriage" in which every male was considered married to every female. In 1847 pending arrests for adultery spurred Noyes and several other Putney members to move to Oneida, New York, where they established the Oneida Community.

The Oneida community practiced communal property and possessions and believed in a form of Perfectionism -- Christ's Second Coming had occurred in the year 70 CE thus making it possible for them to bring about Christ's millennial kingdom and be free of sin and perfect in this world. (Noyes' declaration in 1834 that he himself was "Perfected" had resulted in the revocation of his license to preach.) To help members overcome character defects, all members -- including Noyes himself -- were subject to formal constructive criticism by committee, or by the community as a whole, a practice known as "mutual criticism."

As in Putney, the community rejected monogamy and practiced complex marriage. Noyes believed that sex had social and spiritual elements; members were expected to improve themselves via sexual relations with those who were their spiritual superiors. Noyes frequently suggested or encouraged particular pairings, and beginning in 1869 members who wished to have children could do so only with the partner selected for them by a committee based on personal, spiritual, and moral qualities (such controlled reproduction is known as "stirpiculture").

The community was self-supporting, primarily through the sale of animal traps, silk thread, and vegetables. (Silverware, for which the Oneida name would become well-known, was not produced until 1877.) Men and women were expected to work equally and had equal voice in community governance. At its height in 1878 the community had 306 members, but the community faltered the next year when Noyes attempt to pass on leadership of the community to his son, Theodore Noyes. By 1880 some members had left, many had embarked upon traditional marriages, and the community itself had been reorganized as a joint-stock company named Oneida Community Ltd. The animal trap, silk thread, and canned vegetable enterprises were all abandoned or sold off by 1916 but Oneida Community Ltd. became well-known for its silver and cutlery, production of which continued until 2005.


Scope and Contents of the Collection

The Oneida Community Collection contains community and personal records, biographical materials, and memorabilia pertaining to the Perfectionist community established by John Humphrey Noyes in Madison County, New York, its predecessor community in Putney, Vermont, and its branch communities in Wallingford, Connecticut and Brooklyn, New York, and the successor joint stock organization, Oneida Community, Ltd.

Of particular significance are the materials of William Alfred Hinds. William A. Hinds was a lifelong disciple of John Humphrey Noyes and lived for more than sixty years in the Oneida Community, and among the papers in this collection are Hinds' original research files for the revised editions of his American communities (Oneida, N.Y.: Office of the American Socialist, 1878). These files include his correspondence with individuals and communities, together with those documents which he received in connection with his questionnaire. This collection is an important and largely untapped resource available to those interested in the history of nineteenth-century communistic societies in America.

Architectural plans and renderings contains blueprints and pen-and-ink sketches of the Mansion House and Children's House.

Archives (George Wallingford Noyes) consists of photocopies of typed transcriptions of original documents, letters and other manuscripts relating to the Noyes family and the Oneida Community (1811-1880) compiled by George Wallingford Noyes. Original transcriptions in the possession of Mrs. Imogen Noyes Stone, Kenwood, New York.

Biographical material includes family registers, census schedules, membership lists, birth and death records, and other genealogical material.

Community records comprises more than twenty boxes of agreements, scrapbooks, indexes, inventories, sales books, record books, meeting minutes, requests for appropriations, and other community records. Included here are instances of "mutual criticism" for a number of members as well as a small number of photographs.

Manuscripts and personal papers contains nearly forty boxes of correspondence (also included are writings and other material for some individuals). Here also are located the papers (both correspondence and research) of Oneida resident and Utopian community scholar William Alfred Hinds (see above). More than 15 members of the Noyes family -- including George Wallingford Noyes, George Washington Noyes, Harriet Holton Noyes, John Humphrey Noyes, Pierrepont Noyes, and Theodore Richards Noyes -- are represented.

Oneida Community members for whom the collection contains significant amounts of material include Alfred Barron, George Cragin, Charles J. Guiteau, and Erastus Hamilton. Oneida Community materials also include documents relating to Beulah Hendee, James B. Herrick, Ann S. Bailey Hobart, Annie E. Kelly, Jessie Kinsley, Charlotte M. Leonard, Stephen R. Leonard, Charlotte A. Noyes Miller, George Noyes Miller, Helen Campbell Miller, Tirzah Miller, Seymour Nash, and Milford Newhouse. Materials also include documents relating to Harriet Noyes Skinner, John Langdon Skinner, Joseph John Skinner, Theodore H. Skinner, James W. Towner, Francis Wayland-Smith, Cornelia Worden, Harriet Maria Worden, Marquis de LaFayette Worden, and others.

Newspapers contains more than 50 local or northeastern United States alternative newspapers, including Banner of Light and Hull's Crucible (Boston); Daily Graphic and Worker (New York); Progressive communist (Kansas); Social-smasher (Berlin Heights, Ohio); Labor vindicator (New Martinsville, W.Va.); and Chariot of wisdom and love (Portland, Me.).

Maps, stored separately from the collection in the map case, contains maps of Oneida Community buildings and grounds as well as lands belonging to the Wallingford (Connecticut) community.

One item of Realia, a dress, completes the collection.


Arrangement of the Collection

Architectural plans and renderings are arranged chronologically. George Wallingford Noyes' archives are arranged chronologically. Biographical material is in no particular order. The Community records series is roughly but not consistently ordered with general material first, followed by socio-cultural material (dress, education, music, etc), business material (sales books, inventories, etc), and photographs; within these general topics material is roughly but not entirely chronological. Manuscripts and personal papers are arranged alphabetically by name of originator (sender, writer, or author). Newspapers are arranged alphabetically by name of the paper. Maps are arranged chronologically. Realis is in no particular order.


Restrictions

Access Restrictions:

The majority of our archival and manuscript collections are housed offsite and require advanced notice for retrieval. Researchers are encouraged to contact us in advance concerning the collection material they wish to access for their research.

Additional access restrictions on this material lifted as of January, 2007.

Use Restrictions:

Written permission must be obtained from SCRC and all relevant rights holders before publishing quotations, excerpts or images from any materials in this collection.


Related Material

Some items from the collection have been scanned and are accessible through SCRC Online, our digital portal. Portions of the collection are also available on microfilm (see Microfilm 1951).

See also the P. Geoffrey Noyes Papers. Selected books about the Oneida Community, and photographs of the Community buildings, members, and groups, have been scanned and are accessible in digital format via SCRC Online, our digital portal. The library also has numerous pamphlets, books, and other published material on the Oneida Community in its Rare Books holdings and in the general circulating collection; please refer to the Classic Catalog for a complete listing.


Subject Headings

Persons

Barron, Alfred.
Cragin, George, 1808-1884.
Guiteau, Charles Julius, 1841-1882.
Hamilton, Erastus Hapgood, 1821-1894.
Hendee, Beulah Foster (Barron), 1847-1903.
Herrick, James Burton, 1837-1912.
Hinds, William Alfred, 1833-1910. American communities.
Hobart, Ann S. Bailey (Skinner), 1846-1908.
Kelly, Annie E. (Miller), 1852-1931.
Kinsley, Jessie Hatch, 1858-1938.
Leonard, Charlotte Miller, 1846-1928.
Leonard, Stephen Rose, 1820-1892.
Miller, Charlotte A. Noyes, 1819-1874.
Miller, George Noyes, 1845-1904.
Miller, Helen Campbell (Barron), 1847-1932.
Miller, Tirzah Crawford (Herrick), 1843-1902.
Nash, Seymour, 1814-1881.
Newhouse, Milford James, 1847-1926.
Noyes, George Wallingford.
Noyes, George Washington, 1822-1870.
Noyes, Harriet Ann Holton, 1808-1895.
Noyes, John Humphrey, 1811-1886.
Noyes, Pierrepont, 1870-
Noyes, Theodore Richards, 1841-1903.
Skinner, Harriet H. Noyes, 1817-1893.
Skinner, John Langdon, 1803-1889.
Skinner, Joseph John, 1842-1919.
Skinner, Theodore Hobart, 1878-1944.
Towner, James William, 1823-1913.
Wayland-Smith, Francis, 1841-1911.
Worden, Cornelia, 1847-1928.
Worden, Harriet Maria, 1840-1891.
Worden, Marquis de LaFayette, 1813-1891.

Corporate Bodies

Oneida Community -- Archival resources.
Oneida Community -- Archives.
Oneida Community, ltd.
Oneida Community.
Oneida, ltd.
Putney Community (Putney, Vt.)
Wallingford Community.

Subjects

Christian communities -- United States.
Collective settlements -- United States.
Eugenics -- United States.
Perfection -- Religious aspects -- Christianity.
Utopias.

Genres and Forms

Architectural plans.
Autograph albums.
Birth registers.
Clippings (information artifacts)
Correspondence.
Death registers.
Diaries.
Financial records.
Genealogies.
Inventories.
Ledgers (account books)
Legal documents.
Maps (documents)
Membership lists.
Minute books.
Periodicals.
Photographs.
Reminiscences.
Sales records.
Scrapbooks.
Sketches.
Stereographs.

Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

Preferred citation for this material is as follows:

Oneida Community Collection,
Special Collections Research Center,
Syracuse University Libraries

Acquisition Information

Majority of collection, gift of the Oneida Community Historical Committee.

One stereogram, purchased 2014.


Table of Contents

Architectural plans and renderings

Archives (George Wallingford Noyes)

Biographical material

Community records

Manuscripts and personal papers

Newspapers - received on exchange

Maps

Realia


Inventory

Note on alternate formats:

Some items from the collection have been scanned and are accessible through SCRC Online, our digital portal. Portions of the collection are also available on microfilm (see Microfilm 1951).