What is this about?

If you are interested in Utopian experiments, nineteenth century American social history, Central New York history, or if you have a specific, deep interest in the Oneida Community, this blog is for you.

Mar 5, 2011

Oneida Community: a bibliographical essay

There is an enormous literature devoted to the Oneida Community. A very large number of primary sources exist including the writings of John Humphrey Noyes, the many publications of the OC and the extensive writings of other Community members and descendants. A sizable library of secondary sources also exists. Analysis of the Community began while the Community was still flourishing and continues today. So far as I know, there is no truly complete bibliography of all the Oneida material.

Many folks don't know that the main building from Community days still exists and is open for visits. Not only are there excellent guided tours but overnight accommodations are also available. http://www.oneidacommunity.org/ There is nothing like a visit to the Mansion House to evoke the spirit of the OC. There is also an interesting recent blog by two current residents of the Mansion House that contains a treasure trove of Community tidbits in computer friendly form: http://tontine255.wordpress.com/about/

The only reliable single volume currently in print is Spencer Klaw, Without Sin: The Life and Death of the Oneida Community (1993). Scholars and Community descendants alike have quibbles about Klaw's emphasis on social relations over other aspects of OC, but his book remains the most accessible over-all account.

I also recommend Maren Lockwood Carden, Oneida: Utopian Community to Modern Corporation, (1969, reissued 1998). This slim volume places OC in context better than other accounts and also shows the long-term effects of the OC on its business successor, Oneida Ltd., which was at the time still directed by OC descendants. As part of her research Carden interviewed many OC descendants. Her notes of those interviews are part of the OC Collection at Syracuse University.
After the Community days, a vast archive of OC writings was collected by George Wallingford Noyes, JHN's nephew. He sorted and organized this material with the plan of publishing the authoritative account of the OC. He managed to complete and publish only the first two volumes of his planned six volume work. Both are full of wonderful detail. The Religious Experience of John Humphrey Noyes (1923) deals with Noyes early life emphasizing the development of his religious ideas. John Humphrey Noyes: The Putney Community (1931) deals with the development of the central social practices of the OC such as complex marriage, communal ownership and mutual criticism. After GW Noyes died in 1941 some undetermined portion of this family archive was destroyed by descendants who feared the material, if made public, would somehow cause serious economic harm to Oneida, Ltd.
Fortunately, while GW Noyes was still alive, he allowed Robert Allerton Parker to have unlimited access to the family archive. Parker used these materials to produce the only “authorized” biography of JHN, A Yankee Saint: John Humphrey Noyes and the Oneida Community (1935). The remains of the family archive was finally collected at Syracuse University. GW Noyes' notes and outline for the unfinished volumes can be found there. In addition Lawrence Foster carefully reviewed the remaining manuscript material and produced an excellent selection, Free Love in Utopia: John Humphrey Noyes and the Origin of the Oneida Community (2001).
There are four very evocative books that portray everyday life in the OC and immediately after the break-up. All four are worth reading. Pierrepont B. Noyes, My Father’s House: An Oneida Boyhood (1937), Corinna Ackley Noyes, The Days of My Youth (1960), Harriet M. Worden, Old Mansion House Memories, By One Brought Up In It (1950) and Jane Kinsley Rich, ed., A Lasting Spring: Jessie Catherine Kinsley, Daughter of the Oneida Community (1983).
An even more intimate view of daily life can be found in the two published Community diaries, both edited by Robert Fogarty. I feel the introductory material to these books by Prof. Fogarty is some of the most lucid analysis of the OC in print. Both diaries concern the effects of living in a complex marriage. The diary of Tirzah Miller, Desire & Duty at Oneida: Tirzah Miller’s Intimate Memoir (2002) shows how one woman totally embraced complex marriage. The diary of Victor Hawley, Special Love/Special Sex: an Oneida Community Diary (1994) shows a man in anguish over his “special love” for one woman and how it ultimately led the two of them to leave OC.
Also worth mention are the three books by Constance Noyes Robertson, JHN's granddaughter and wife of the then president of Oneida Ltd. Late in her life, she compiled, edited, and wrote commentary on OC materials gleaned from a wide variety of published sources. Her books are highly readable and do provide a good, if somewhat unreliable, introduction. Oneida Community: An Autobiography, 1851-1876 (1970); Oneida Community: The Breakup, 1876-1881 (1972); and Oneida Community Profiles (1977). Most scholars, myself included, believe these books to be primarily intended to protect the respectability of the OC legacy rather than accurately tell the entire story.
The bulk of the Oneida Community manuscript material is now held by the Syracuse University Library. SU has made digital copies of many of the OC books and publications available on-line along with 140 historic photographs. http://library.syr.edu/digital/guides/o/OneidaCommunityCollection/ In addition SU has catalogued the many thousands of pages of manuscript material they hold in their rare book collection. http://library.syr.edu/digital/guides/o/oneida_comm.htm. SU holds a separate collection of the papers passed down to P. Geoffrey Noyes including not only family documents relating to the OC but also a large collection of writings related to the founding and growth of Oneida Ltd. http://library.syr.edu/digital/guides/n/noyes_pg.htm Another interesting source of seldom tapped manuscript material is the Rupert Nash papers held by Stanford University. http://www.oac.cdlib.org/findaid/ark:/13030/tf4w100433
For further research, I recommend the excellent selected annotated bibliography by Marlyn Klee at http://www.communalstudies.info/bibliographies.shtml.

Feb 28, 2011

The Battle-Axe Letter

John Humphrey Noyes fell in love with Abigail Merwin early in 1834. He met her at the Perfectionist Free Church of New Haven. She was the first person to publicly ally herself with him after he made his public confession of salvation from sin. She was thirty, he twenty-two. She had dark hair and eyes. She was reportedly beautiful. From February 1834 until May 1834 they met often to discuss how to launch a Perfectionist preaching campaign.

Soon after Noyes left New Haven for New York City in the spring of 1834, Merwin began to have doubts about him and eventually broke off their relationship. Noyes was crushed, but he continued his preaching. He wrote constantly and joined with James Boyle in publishing a little magazine, The Perfectionist. Then in January 1837 he learned Abigail Merwin had married and moved to Ithaca, NY. Noyes immediately followed, apparently intending to somehow win her back.

Noyes quickly discovered he was not going to be successful. In the midst of intense emotional turmoil about losing the person he felt destined to love, Noyes suppressed his personal sense of loss and focused instead on the guiding principal of his life, creating a Perfectionist heaven on earth. He later wrote, “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.”

The letter to his friend David Harrison was sent from Ithaca on January 15, 1837. In this letter he states the basis for his claim to be the one true leader of the Perfectionists. At the end of the letter Noyes proclaims his belief that in heaven there will be no marriage.

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 be 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.”

The letter apparently had a strong impact on Harrison who lent it to a friend, Simon Lovett. Lovett then showed the letter to one Elizabeth Hawley, a young Perfectionist firebrand, who insisted upon having it sent to a Perfectionist preacher, Theophilus R. Gates of Philadelphia. She threatened, if denied, to leave Lovett's house immediately on foot for New Haven during a terrific thunderstorm. The letter was sent.

Gates was no friend to Noyes, but he was just starting his own religiously based campaign against marriage and was looking for allies. By August 1837 Noyes' letter was on the cover of the second number of Gate's broadsheet, “The Battle-Axe and Weapons of War.” Although published anonymously, Noyes quickly admitted he was the author of the letter to avoid suspicion being placed on others. He later admitted he felt that God intended his private thoughts to be made public because thereafter he felt that he was called to defend and ultimately carry out the doctrine of communism in love.

All of the above is well-known Community history, most of it provided by Noyes himself. To truly understand the spirit of the times, and just how far people were willing to go in pursuit of a Perfectionist heaven on earth, we need to take a closer look at Theophilus Gates.

Gates was born on Jan. 12, 1787, in Hartland, in northeastern Connecticut. He initially worked as an itinerate school teacher but by 1810 Gates turned to preaching. Like many others he was swept up in the spirit of revivalism sweeping the country. Gates believed the Bible predicted “a brotherhood of all persons, united by the ecstasies of love and sympathy.” His basic belief in the power of free love would not have been out of place in a hippie commune of the 1970s.

By 1837 Gates had been converted to Perfectionism and had moved to Philadelphia. He had come to believe that in the end days that were fast approaching it was necessary to break down many mistaken human social practices, especially the concept of marriage and the concept of falling in love which he called “an enchantment of the devil."

In place of marriage Gates preached a totally spontaneous and flexible sexual arrangement between men and women. By 1840 Gates and a few followers moved west of Philadelphia to rural northern Chester County near Pottstown where they took up residence in Schenkel's Valley, an area they renamed “Free Love Valley.” There were only a small number of so-called “Battle-Axers.” They had no set codes of conduct, no formal liturgy, and there doesn't seem to have been a set time or location for their meetings. Anecdotal records reveal that group nudity, emulating the pure state of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, played an important role in a Battle-Axe service.
Often services ended by a nude procession to a near-by pond followed by what could only be described as an orgy.

It didn't take long for this behavior to attract attention. Four members were arrested for fornication and adultery at the beginning of 1843. Three were convicted and sent to prison. During these proceedings Battle-Axe followers chose to disrupt the Schenkel Church during the Sunday service by marching nude down the main aisle waving their arms and crying out against the established order.

When Gates died in 1846, the sect continued with Hannah Williamson as their leader. Hannah and her followers were often thrown out of camp meetings and church services for their disruptive tactics. She eventually left the area in the late 1850s to spread the word of free love in the wild west. So ends the era of the Battle-Axes.

So far as I know, Noyes never gave any direct indication he knew about the Battle-Axes, but he must have; the world of Perfectionism was just not that large. Noyes did often criticize “Free Love” as wrong-headed in asserting that an inspired sexual pairing, no matter how Godly, could replace marriage. He felt only a communal marriage was indicated by scriptures, although he did admit he could see how the celibacy of the Shakers might derive from the same scriptures.

Now that Noyes had announced his belief in Bible Communism and especially in communal marriage, there remained the question of how exactly his ideas might be made concrete. That is the story of the Putney Community, and that is where I will turn next.

Feb 24, 2011

The Time Line

Oneida Community Chronology
Compiled by Edward I. Pitts & Stephen R. Leonard, Sr.

Stephen R. Leonard, Sr. was one of the OC stirpicults and my wife’s grandfather. He began this project sometime early in the 20th Century. His work concentrated on the buildings of the community. I have confirmed his dates and added dates of the early events and others I consider important to community history. Necessarily this list is incomplete, but I hope it will aid the serious student of OC history. Suggestions and corrections are welcome.

JHN's early life
1811 (Sept. 3) JHN Born in Brattleboro, VT - Mother - Polly Hayes, Father - John Noyes who owned a general store in Brattleboro called Noyes & Mann, later Noyes, Mann & Hayes (an uncle).
1817 > Noyes family moves to Dummerston, VT
1822 (Dec.) Family moves to Putney, VT, their new home is called "Locust Grove"
1826 (Sept.) JHN enrolls in Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH
1830 > JHN begins study of law in office of Larkin G. Mead in Chesterfield, NH. Mead is husband to his oldest sister, Mary
1831 (Sept. 18) JHN is converted to evangelical Christianity after a revival in Putney
(Nov. 1) JHN enrolls in Andover Theological Seminary. Develops idea of "Mutual Criticism" from a study group called "The Brethren"
1832 (Aug.) JHN enrolls in Yale Theological Seminary, New Haven, CN. Joins the Free Church of New Haven that held services in the Orange Street Chapel and later in the Exchange Building
1833 (Aug.) JHN receives license to preach. Assigned to congregation in North Salem, NY.
1834 (Feb. 20) "High Tide of the Spirit" JHN declares his belief in Perfectionism and that he is free of sin at Free Church of New Haven
(Apr. 16) JHN's license to preach revoked
(April - May) JHN’s crisis of spirit – he rents a room in boarding house on Leonard St. in New York City. Lives there for 3-4 weeks. Friends help him return to New Haven and then Putney to recover.
(Aug. 20) Back in New Haven the first issue of The Perfectionist published edited by JHN and James Boyle. Continues to publish (as The New Covenant Record, 1835-36) until March 1836
1835 (Jan. 1) Perfectionist Convention in Canastota, NY denounces JHN's teaching
(Feb. - May) JHN preaches Perfectionism in Putney, VT
(Summer) JHN returns to New Haven. Visits to Abram Smith in Rondout, NY, Newark, NJ Perfectionist group and Theodore Gates in Philadelphia, PA
1836 (Winter) JHN founds the "Putney Bible School"
(Spring) Perfectionist Convention in Canaseraga, NY favorable to JHN's teachings
1837 (Jan. 15) JHN sends detailed letter regarding doctrine of complex marriage to David Harrison
(Aug. 20) The Witness begins publication in Ithaca, NY. Continues to publish until 1843 in Putney VT after 1838. Editors in addition to JHN, are H.A. Noyes and J.L. Skinner
(Aug.) Theodore Gates publishes (without attribution) JHN's letter to D. Harrison regarding complex marriage in the second number of his magazine The Battle Axe and Weapons of War
(Sept. 23) JHN acknowledges authorship of "The Battle Axe Letter" in third number of The Witness. Letter widely condemned and The Witness temporarily suspends publication
(Winter) with Abram Smith in Rondout, NY
1838 (June 11) Proposes marriage to Harriet Holton
(June 28) Married to Harriet Holton in Chesterfield, NH by brother-in-law Larkin Mead

The Putney Community Period
1838 > Construction on JHN and Harriet Noyes home is completed in Putney, VT
(Nov. 21) The Witness resumes publication in Putney
1841 (Feb. 5) JHN and his siblings, Harriet, Charlotte, and George receive their part of their father's estate = $19,920. This becomes the original capital of the Putney Community
(Feb. 22) Constitution of the Society of Inquiry published
> Perfectionist store and chapel built in Putney
1842 (June 13 & June 25) The Spiritual Moralist published [2 issues only]
1843 (Feb. 15) The Perfectionist, Vol. 3-5, is published in Putney. It continues until Vol. V, Feb. 1846 Name changed to The Perfectionist and Theocratic Watchman Mar. 23, 1844
(March) Putney Community numbers 28 adults and 9 children
1844 (Feb. 26) "Contract of Partnership" is signed by John H. & George Noyes, John Skinner and John Miller - forming the original communal organization
> "Male continence" is announced by JHN and is adopted by Putney Community
1845 (Mar. 9) All members sign the "Constitution" of Putney Community
(Fall) Jonathan Burt purchases the "Indian Saw Mill at Oneida Creek"
1846 (Mar. 15) The Spiritual Magazine begins publication. Continues until 1850 at Oneida
(June 1) Putney Community declares publicly the "Kingdom of Heaven has come!" in a document that makes the practice of complex marriage public knowledge
1847 > The Berean is published; it becomes "the Bible" of the Community
(Sept.) JHN attends two Perfectionist Conventions at Lairdsville (Sept. 3) and Genoa (Sept 17-19) in Central NY. These groups endorse Noyes' teachings and call for creation of a Central NY Perfectionist community
(Oct. 26) JHN is arrested in Putney, charged with adultery
(Oct.) Beaver Meadow, NY (near Hubbardsville) Perfectionist Community organized by Joseph C. Ackley, William S. Hatch & Daniel P. Nash
(Nov. 26) Warrant for the arrest of the Cragins issued. JHN and the Cragins leave Vermont. Putney Community formally dissolved
(Nov. 26) Beaver Meadow Community moves to Burt's in Oneida to begin the Oneida Community
1848 (Jan.) JHN visits the Oneida Perfectionists
(Feb. 4) JHN decides to move the Putney Community to Oneida

The Oneida Community Period
1848 (Mar. 1) First members of Putney Community arrive at Oneida
(May) First death, Martha Bliss Burt, mother of Jonathan Burt, not a Community member. A family burial plot was laid out in the triangle between Kenwood Ave. and Chapel St. Used through 1864
(June) Women adopt the short dress, pantalets, and short hair
(Aug. 3) Construction of the Old (wood) Mansion House begun. Architect Erastus A. Hamilton
(Dec. 23) Oneida Community occupies the Old Mansion House
1849 (Jan. 1) Membership in Community numbers 87
(July) First Children's House completed and occupied
(May) Community purchases house at 41 Willow Place, Brooklyn, NY. JHN, Harriet Holton, and George and Mary Cragin move to Brooklyn
1850 (Jan. 28) The Free Church Circular, Vols. 3-4 becomes the next Community publication
(Feb. 20) Membership in Community numbers 172
(Summer) Old "Indian" saw mill demolished to make way for larger mill building. This building is on the location of the current knife plant. New mill known as the "Circularium"
1851 (Feb. 13) Wallingford, CN Branch Community is started at home of Henry Allen and Emily Dutton
(Feb. 20) Membership in Community numbers 205
(May) JHN attends World's Fair in London, sees Queen Victoria at the Crystal Palace
(Spring) Silk peddling business begins. Door to door sales of thread manufactured by others
(July 5) Fire destroys the press at Oneida, printing operation moved to Brooklyn
(July 26) Sinking of the community sloop “Rebecca Ford” on the Hudson River near Rondout and drowning death of Mary Cragin and Eliza Allen
(Nov. 6) Community publication now changed to The Circular, a name it continues to use until 1864
1852 (March) Temporary suspension of practice of complex marriage until about August 1852
(June) First strawberry festivals - June 24 for general public, June 29 for Oneida Indians
> Manufacture of carpet traveling bags and lunch bags begun at Wallingford
(Dec. 22) Membership in Community 130 at Oneida, 27 at Brooklyn, 13 at Newark, 17 at Wallingford, 15 at Putney and 6 at Cambridge, VT for a total of 208
1853 (Feb. 2) Manufacture of rustic furniture begun under direction of Charles Ellis
(Apr. 3) Use of tobacco ends at OC
1854 (June 16) Death of John Miller, original treasurer of OC
(Sept. 23) Cambridge, VT Community sold and members move to Oneida
(Dec. 8) Brooklyn Community closed, JHN and others return to Oneida
> Bag manufacture begun at Oneida. Continues to 1867
> Large-scale steel trap manufacturing commences at Oneida under direction of Sewell Newhouse
1855 (Apr. 12) Newark Community closed, members and machine shop move to Oneida
(Dec. 7) Eating of pork ends at OC
1856 (Mar. 4) Visit to OC by L.N. Fowler, famous phrenologist, who does a head reading on JHN
(Mar. 27) Large orders for traps received from several sources, all other Community enterprises reduced to fill trap orders. First business board appointed
1857 (Jan. 29) Manufacture of trap chain begun at Wallingford
(Oct. 15) Financial panic throughout U.S. causes hard times at OC. No new members admitted. All business enterprises reduced.
1858 (Dec. 9) Trap business resumes at full steam
1859 (Jan. 19) Community begins process of gathering materials for new Mansion House
(Sept. 19) Attempt at firing brick at OC for new house fails
1860 (Mar. 1) Community gives up coffee and black tea, but not strawberry and other herb tea
1861 (April) Corner stone of brick Mansion House laid
> Community orchestra reaches peak size with 28 players
1862 (June 5) Big hall frescoes nearly finished by German painters from the Syracuse firm of "Allewelt"
(June 26) Dedication of Big Hall - North wing of Mansion House also completed
1863 (May 28) Tontine begun, completed summer 1864
(Aug. 16) Military draft for the region held, but passes by the Community
(Aug. 20) "Great cow barn" begun. This building is later known as the "Arcade" and the "Fruit House."
1864 (Mar. 21) Printing operations moved to Wallingford, chain manufacturing moved from Wallingford to Oneida. Community publication renamed The Circular (New Series), a name it retains until 1870.
(May 2) "Willow Place" a/k/a "Water Power" factory begun in Turkey Street for silk, trap and chain manufacture. This is the original of the current OL factory
(July 11) First reference in the Circular to the Summer House that still sits on the North Lawn designed & built by Charles Ellis
(Sept. 12) New Community graveyard selected 1/4 mile west of buildings. Only used until 1868
(Dec. 28) Community establishes a sales office at 40 Reade St., NYC two doors east of Broadway. This office was later (June 9, 1866) moved to Moffat Building at 334 Broadway, Room 9, New York City
1865 > William Mills becomes only member of Community to be forcibly expelled. Actually thrown out a window into a snow bank. He sues OC. Case settled by payment of $2250 to Mills to leave in peace.
(Sept. 25) JHN and 4 other Community men travel to the Laurentians in Canada to go trapping for the winter. They last until December. A humorous account of this adventure is published in The Trapper's Guide.
1866 (Feb. 20) Membership of OC numbers 209
(July 30) Manufacture of silk thread and ribbon commences at Oneida
(Aug. 16) William Hepworth Dixon visits OC. Later writes two popular books (not so popular at Oneida) about his (often erroneous) impressions.
(Aug. 20) Croquet is introduced to OC, it quickly becomes a favorite game
1867 (Apr. 22) Willow Place Community home set up in former Wager farm adjacent to new factory
> Charles Guiteau leaves the Community and sues for $9,000 for past due wages. Guiteau's lawyers drop the suit. (Guiteau later assassinates Pres. Garfield 7/2/81)
1868 (Mar. 10) Printing business returns to Oneida from Wallingford
(Oct. 24) Community cemetery and graves moved to current location to make way for the railroad
1869 (Apr. 19) Wooden children's house moved across the road in two sections to the Vineyard, and renamed "The Seminary", a bell tower was added in the angle facing the road. This building was later moved to a site near the south bridge and renamed "The Elms." It exists today as private apartments.
(May) Foundation for south wing and brick children's house begun
(Sept. 6) Midland RR has turned the creek into a new course under the new bridge.
(Oct. 25) Steam heat turned on for first time in the Mansion House
> Stirpiculture experiment begins. 53 women and 38 men sign stirpiculture agreement
(Nov. 25) Trains begin running across OC lands on the new line of the Midland Railroad
(Dec. 17) Oneida Community railroad station near the Mansion House opens
1870 (June 13) Dining room moved from the Old Mansion House to the Tontine
(Sept. 25) New Children's House and south wing dedicated
(Nov. 27) Old (wood) Mansion House is demolished
> Community publication renamed again, now The Oneida Circular, a name it keeps until 1876
1871 (Sept. 4) Tar roof on Tontine, Trap shop and barn replaced with tin
1872 (Apr. 22) Wilson farm is acquired and renovated for Willow Place family, renamed "The Villa"
(Nov. 18) A cottage on Oneida Lake, "Joppa," is built at the mouth of the Fish Creek
1873 (March) Story quilts made by Community members
(May 26) D. Edson Smith darkroom set up in Seminary, first photographs by Community member
1874 (Apr. 21) Twelve member "Cleveland family" of James W. Towner accepted as members as a group
(Nov. 16) First “Turkish” baths constructed at OC
(Oct.) Articles critical of OC social system start appearing, campaign of Prof. Mears begins
1875 (Jan. 25) Stirpiculture Committee formed
(Apr. 6) A cottage by the sea in CN called "Cozicot" is constructed
(May 24) Two story Children's Play House begun on the South Lawn
(Aug. 2) Turkish bath for the public is built at Wallingford - Promoted as cure-all
> Membership in Community numbers 298
1876 (Jan. 6) New Turkish bath is built in Oneida in the “Arcade” and is open to the public
(Mar. 30) Community publication reformatted entirely and renamed The American Socialist, publication under this name continues until December 25, 1879
(Apr. 20) Stirpiculture committee disbanded, authority passes back to Community central members
(Aug. 31) New cow barn completed across the creek. This building is now the CAC
(Nov. 8) New Community house at Wallingford completed
1877 > Construction of four story "New House" begun
(May 17) JHN resigns as president of OC. Appoints Theodore Noyes president
(July) First tinned iron spoons produced at Wallingford
1878 (Jan. 25) JHN resumes command of OC, Theodore resigns
(May) Membership in Community numbers 306
(Aug. 9) Tornado hits Wallingford, community buildings damaged, 30 town residents killed

The transition to “Joint Stock” and Founding of OCL
1879 (June 22) JHN Leaves Oneida for Canada
(June 29) Newspaper reports that Prof. Mears has definite plans for arrest of JHN
(July 22) Administrative council of 19 members selected to lead the Community until 1/1/80
(Summer-Fall) JHN and Theo. Pitt stay at farm of Walter Brett, in Strathroy, Ontario
(Aug. 26) Community ends practice of Complex Marriage
(Oct. 3) First standard marriage performed at OC, Frederick Marks to Martha Hawley
(Oct. 30) Current Library in the New House in use. The rest of this wing not finished off until later
(Dec. 9) Commission for returning OC to "normal" customs of society appointed by JHN
1880 (Sept. 1) "Agreement to Divide and Reorganize" communal property is published. Oneida Community, Ltd. formed as Joint Stock Company
(Sept. 9) OCL Leases land and factory buildings in Niagara Falls, NY for tableware and chain factories
(Nov. 27) First Board of Directors of OCL elected, both Theo. Noyes and James Towner are elected Board members. Dissention does not end.
> JHN Moves to Stone Cottage, Niagara Falls, Ontario. Eleven other OC families move to Niagara Falls settling on both the Canadian and American sides of the "suspension bridge"
1881 (Jan. 1) Joint stock instituted. Assets of Community divided among all members
1882 > James Towner and his faction resign and move to Santa Anna, California
1886 (Apr. 13) JHN dies at Stone Cottage. He is buried in the Community Cemetery in Oneida


It is impossible to understand the Oneida Community without a firm grasp of its core theology. In the next few posts I will explore some key concepts, then return to the story of how exactly John Humphrey Noyes came to found the Oneida Community.

One of the central functions of any system of religious belief to make sense out of the fact that human beings are mortal. This branch of theology is called “eschatology.” Christian eschatology holds that after death an individual's life is judged by God. If the person led a good and holy life in accordance with the dictates of scripture, they are sent to heaven. If not, they go to hell. The Bible contains many passages that discuss life after death, especially the books of Isaiah and Daniel in the Old Testament and the book of Revelation in the New Testament. What sets Christian eschatology apart is its view of time. Christians believe that time is an arrow always speeding toward the destruction of the corrupt physical world and the creation of heaven on earth.

To be sure, various branches of Christian theology have significantly differing views on the details, but all roughly agree on these basics: 1) when a person dies their life is judged by God and they are dispatched to an intermediate state of being, i.e. Heaven or Hell; 2) a time will come when Jesus will return to earth in some form; 3) following the return of Jesus, according to prophecies in the Book of Revelation, the kingdom of God on Earth will last a thousand years, i.e. a millennium; 4) following this thousand years of peace, the world as we know it will come to an end in a Last Judgment where the dead will be resurrected, evil will be banished and a new heaven and new earth under God's command will be created.

Christian time, then, is lineal. It begins with the creation of the Universe by God and ends with the creation of a new Universe free from the corrupting influences of sin. The milestones along the way are the miraculous birth and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the second coming of Christ, the Last Judgment and finally the creation of the Kingdom of God.

Historically, the various elements of Christian eschatology have waxed and waned in importance. During Roman times, there was a great debate over the meaning of the Biblical passages that establish the outlines of Christian belief. Tertullian and a host of other thinkers in the early Christian churches attempted to understand the Biblical prophesies in the context their own time. For those who want to know more about this discussion see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Millennialism.

One artifact of this early Christian debate was the idea that the dates of the key elements could be calculated from scriptural sources. Specifically, some thinkers advanced the idea that the fall of Jerusalem to the Romans in 70 A.D. in some way marked the beginning of the millennium of Christ's rule on earth. As I pointed out in an earlier post [on 12/18/10], this view was current when John Humphrey Noyes attended Yale Theological School in the 1832 and he found it to be persuasive. Indeed, in his autobiography Noyes admits that for a time he was enamored by the teachings of the “Millerites” on this subject.

In 1832 a Central New York farmer and lay preacher named William Miller began to widely publish the claim that he had discovered Biblical sources which made it possible to accurately calculate the Second Coming and the time of the final judgment. The time was near. Over the next ten years Miller gathered a substantial following as a result of extensive publishing, revivals and tent-meetings. Pressed to release his calculations, he told his followers that judgment day would occur on October 22, 1844. On that day an estimated 100,000 people across New York and New England sold their possessions, dressed in white and stood on hillsides near their homes (including in Syracuse) to await the rapture that never occurred. The “Great Disappointment” caused Miller to stop preaching, but his followers went on to found a number of “Adventist” churches, some of which flourish to this day. See, http://www.fact-index.com/m/mi/millerites.html

Why, we might ask, in the period from 1825 – 1845 were so many people in America convinced that the end times were at hand? Whitney Cross, in his amazing book The Burned-over District, proposes an intriguing answer – American optimism. To be sure, there were major social changes happening as the western frontier opened. Masses of people joined the exodus to the growing urban areas or to new territory out west. The established churches seemed to many to be out of step with the changing times. Newer congregations, primarily Methodists, sent out circuit riding missionaries preaching personal salvation through good works. A wave of religious revivals crossed the land, centered in upstate New York. “Just as the American political system would lead the world to equality and justice, so would American revivals inaugurate the thousand years of Christ's reign on earth before the Second Coming and the end of the world.” (p. 79)

In this context, where all things seemed possible, including creating heaven on earth, John Humphrey Noyes started to gather a small group of believers.