John Humphrey Noyes

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John Humphrey Noyes
John Humphrey Noyes.jpg
Born (1811-09-03)September 3, 1811
Brattleboro, Vermont
Died April 13, 1886(1886-04-13) (aged 74)
Niagara Falls, Ontario
Occupation Utopian socialist
Known for Oneida Community
Spouse(s) Harriet Holton (m. 1838)
Children Pierrepont Noyes

John Humphrey Noyes (1811-April 13, 1886) was an American preacher, radical religious philosopher, and utopian socialist. He founded the Putney, Oneida, and Wallingford Communities and is credited for having coined the term "free love".

Biography[edit]

Early years[edit]

John Humphrey Noyes was born September 3, 1811 in Brattleboro, Vermont to John Noyes, who worked variously as a minister,[1] teacher, businessman, and member of the U.S. House of Representatives, and the former Polly Hayes.[2]

When he was 20, Noyes underwent a religious conversion, committing himself to the religious life.[3] "My heart was fixed on the millennium, and I resolved to live or die for it," Noyes later recalled.[3] He graduated from Dartmouth College shortly thereafter and dropped plans to study law, instead enrolling at Andover Theological Seminary with a view to entering the Christian ministry.[4]

In the Fall of 1832, Noyes left Andover to enter the Yale Theological Seminary so that he could devote more time to Bible study.[5] In addition to attending daily lectures, practicing his preaching technique, and engaging in Biblical study, Noyes at this time began to dip his toe into political activism, helping to organize in New Haven one of the first Anti-Slavery Societies in the United States.[5]

While in his second year at Yale Noyes made what he considered a major theological discovery. While attempting to determine the date of the second coming of Christ, Noyes became convinced that the event had already occurred. His conclusion was that Christ’s second coming had taken place in 70 AD and that therefore "mankind was now living in a new age."[6]

With this in mind Noyes became increasingly concerned with salvation from sin and with perfection. He began to argue with his colleagues that unless man was truly free of sin, then Christianity was a lie, and that only those who were perfect and free of sin were true Christians. This internal religious crisis brought about a new religious conversion within Noyes, after which he began to proclaim that he "did not sin."[6]

Perfectionist leader[edit]

The idea of Perfectionism—that it was possible to be free of sin in this lifetime—caused his friends to think him unbalanced, and he began to be called a heretic by his own professors. From the moment of his conversion Noyes maintained that, because he had surrendered his will to God, everything he chose to do was perfect because his choices “came from a perfect heart”.[6] His theory centered around the idea that the fact that man had an independent will was because of God, and that this independent will came from God, therefore rendering it divine. The only way to control mankind’s will was with spiritual direction. And Noyes proclaimed “it was impossible for the Church to compel man to obey the law of God, and to send him to eternal damnation for his failure to do so.”[7]

Noyes claimed “his new relationship to God canceled out his obligation to obey traditional moral standards or the normal laws of society.”[6] As a result Noyes started acting on impulses from his intuition rather than giving thought to the actions or consequences. On February 20, 1834, he declared himself perfect and free from sin. This declaration caused an outrage at his college, and his newly earned license to preach was revoked.

Upon his expulsion from Yale and the revocation of his ministerial license, he returned to Putney, Vermont, where he continued to preach, declaring, "I took away their license to sin and they go on sinning; they have taken away my license to preach but I shall go on preaching". At this time his Putney community began to take shape. It started in 1836 as the Putney Bible School and became a formal communal organization in 1844, practicing complex marriage, male continence, and striving for Perfection.

Oneida Community[edit]

Main article: Oneida Community

In 1847, Noyes (who had legally married Harriet Holton in 1838) was arrested for adultery. Upon receiving word that arrest warrants had been issued for several of his loyal followers, the group left Vermont for Oneida, New York, where Noyes knew some friendly Perfectionists with land. They made the decision to settle there, and built their first communal dwelling in 1848.

The Oneida Community, as it came to be known, survived until 1881. It grew to have a membership of over 300, with branch communities in Brooklyn, New York; Wallingford, Connecticut; Newark, New Jersey; Cambridge, Vermont; and Putney, Vermont. The Community had many successful industries. They manufactured animal traps and silk thread, and raised and canned fruits and vegetables. Smaller industries included the manufacture of leather travel bags and palm-leaf hats. Their most successful trade, however, was that of silverware.

Exile[edit]

In June 1879, one of Noyes' most loyal followers alerted him that he was about to be arrested for statutory rape. In the middle of the night, he fled Oneida for Ontario, Canada, where the Community had a factory. In August, he wrote back to the Community, stating that it was time to abandon the practice of complex marriage and live in a more traditional manner. The Community formally dissolved and converted to a joint stock company on January 1, 1881.

Although Noyes never returned to the United States, he remained a powerful influence over many of his followers. Some even left Oneida to come to the Niagara Falls area. One young woman, entertaining marriage proposals from two young men, wrote to Noyes for his advice. When Noyes advised her to reject both proposals and take up with Myron Kinsley—the follower who had tipped him off to his impending arrest, and a man twenty years her senior—she took Noyes' advice.

Death and legacy[edit]

John Humphrey Noyes died in Niagara Falls, Ontario, on April 13, 1886. His body was returned to Oneida and is buried in the Oneida Community Cemetery with those of many of his followers.[8]

In the early decades of the 20th century, Noyes' son Pierrepont consolidated the Community's industries and focused solely on silverware production. The company became known as Oneida Limited and was the largest producer of flatware in the world for much of the 20th century. The Community's second communal dwelling, the 93,000-square-foot (8,600 m2) brick "mansion house", survives today as a multi-use facility encompassing a museum, apartments, dormitory housing, guest rooms, and meeting and banquet facilities.

See also[edit]

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ William Alfred Hinds, American Communities and Co-operative Colonies. Revised Second Edition. Chicago: Charles H. Kerr & Co., 1908; pg. 153.
  2. ^ Mary Farrell Bednarowski, "John Humphrey Noyes," American National Biography Online, Feb. 2000.
  3. ^ a b Hinds, American Communities and Co-operative Colonies, pg. 152.
  4. ^ Hinds, American Communities and Co-operative Colonies, pp. 152-153.
  5. ^ a b Hinds, American Communities and Co-operative Colonies, pg. 156.
  6. ^ a b c d Ernest R. Sandeen, "John Humphrey Noyes as the New Adam," Church History, vol. 40 (1971, pg. 83.
  7. ^ Bernstein, Leonard. "The Ideas of John Humphrey Noyes, Perfectionist". American Quarterly 5 (1953): 162. JSTOR. IUPUI University Library, Indianapolis. 15 April 2008.
  8. ^ "The Oneida Community. The Life And Death Of Its Founder, John H. Noyes.". New York Times. April 15, 1886. 

Works[edit]

  • The Berean (1847)
  • Bible Communism (1848)
  • History of American Socialisms (1870)
  • Mutual Criticism (1876)
  • Male Continence (1848)
  • Scientific Propagation (1873)
  • Home Talks (1875)

Further reading[edit]

  • Leonard Bernstein, "The Ideas of John Humphrey Noyes, Perfectionist," American Quarterly, vol. 5, no. 2 (Summer 1953), pp. 157-165.
  • Lawrence Foster, ""Free Love and Community:John Humphrey Noyes and the Oneida Perfectionists," in Donald E. Pitzer (ed.), America's Communal Utopias. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2010; pp. 253-278.
  • David M. Kennedy, et al. The American Pageant. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2002.
  • Spencer Klaw, Without Sin: The Life and Death of the Oneida Community. New York: Allen Lane, Penguin Press, 1993.
  • Pierrepont B. Noyes, My Father's House: An Oneida Boyhood. New York: Farrar and Rinehart, 1937.
  • John Allerton Parker, A Yankee Saint: John Humphrey Noyes and the Oneida Community. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1935.
  • Robert David Thomas, The Man Who Would Be Perfect: John Humphrey Noyes and the Utopian Impulse. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1977.
  • Benjamin B. Warfield, "John Humphrey Noyes and his 'Bible Communists,'" Bibliotheca Sacra, vol. 78, whole no. 309 (Jan. 1921), pp. 37-72.

External links[edit]