Chapter 11


NOYES'S father spent the period 1815-1817 at Washington, D. C., as a member of the House of Representatives from Southern Vermont. These years fell within the brief interval when steamboats were in commercial use, but steam railroads not, and the journey from Brattlehoro to Washington was longer, more difficult and more dangerous than the journey from Alaska today. The route via East Brattleboro, Hartford, New Haven, New York, Brunswick, Trenton, Philadelphia, Frenchtown and Baltimore required five separate trips hy stage, and five hy steam-boat. Eleven days were spent upon the way. While passing through New Jersey the passengers were warned by the stage driver that their baggage might be stolen by highwaymen. Not finding a rope to pass through the handles of their trunks overhead and tie to their wrists, they appointed one of their number as watchman.

Philadelphia Mr. Noyes thought by far the most impressive and cultured city in America.

Washington was a dreary-looking place. The public buildings, which had been burned by the British the year before, were still in ruins. There were other fine buildings, but they were too few and scattered to produce any effect of grandeur. Avenues and streets were laid out on a magnificent scale, but as yet they passed through swamps and wilderness the greater part of their length.

"On the whole however," he wrote, "I like this city, and it is easy to anticipate the time when it will be famed for its elegance and splendor."


December 8, 1815. - Called on President Madison this day at twelve o'clock. Was received by a servant in waiting at the


door, and shown into a decent kind of room on the lower floor furnished With not very expensive cushion chairs only. Made my bow to the President, which was reciprocated. Was then introduced by Mr. Wheaton. Shook hands and took my seat. The President asked about the health of our families, of the people in Vermont, the state of the crops there, and the state of the roads between here and our homes. Ten or fifteen gentlemen called while I was there. The same kind of conversation passed with them. After about twenty minutes We made our bows and took our leave.

December 11, 1815. - As you have very justly said, we ought to be serious, and indeed I cannot but be so. But amidst the variety of objects and things which now surround me, perhaps I shall scarcely avoid writing you some particulars and incidents which may appear trifling and unimportant. You will excuse them. .

I have a great deal of time on my hands separate from my business in the House, which J am improving in reading books from the library, in writing to friends and acquaintances, in visiting among the members, and in resorting to every place here, where there is something new or curious to be seen. The style and manner of proceeding, the dignity which every member seems to feel, and the living at our quarters, all are very, very different from what we have in Vermont. A man cannot but feel animated, and as it were elevated.

I wish you were here. You wo~d be more pleased than in any situation you ever were in. . . . After all, I shall be some homesick. I shall want to see you and the children. Wish I could come home and stay a few days by and by.

December 1815. - Upon the whole, a lady, if she can leave home, can spend a winter here as usefully and agreeably as at any place you ever saw. . . . We live full well enough for our health, and I fear too well. Our meat and poultry are of the


first quality, and our bread, perhaps, the best in the world. Water pretty good. Brandy and wine very good and very dear. Plenty of oysters, apples, chestnuts. Notwithstanding all these fine things and a thousand kinds of amusements, which we may have if we will, I shall cast many a longing look for home before the recess of Congress.

December 19, 1815.-Today about two o'clock just before dinner Mrs. Madison and her sister, Judge Todd's wife, called at our house to see Ladies Sturgis and Strong. They are good hearty-looking women, about your height, a little more fleshy, conversed very well. She is said to be a very good woman, and is really federal in her principles. She came in a neat but not very costly carriage, with two white horses, each not superior to our white, a Negro postilion, and one standing behind on the carriage, neatly dressed for such sort of folks.

December 21, 1815.-While I was at dinner today, was partaking of the dessert, my plate full of pie, the apples and chestnuts handed round, and had just filled my glass with wine-that moment the penny post handed me your letter dated i5th inst. The pie, the apples, and the wine lost their charms. Home and fireside rushed upon my mind, and I seemed as it were transported to Brattleboro. Indeed the illusion has not yet left me, for while I am writing it seems that I am speaking to you in our parlor. .

December 25, 1815.-Since meeting have strolled about the city, sometimes with one and another, almost in the same manner as some would do in order to kill time. Indeed I hardly know what else I can do; for after reading, writing, and thinking enough to produce satiety, it seems necessary to have something else. Of course we take a walk somewhere, and with scarcely any object in view than to see such things as may be in our way, and to meet possibly some new faces. Governor Tickenor called on us at twelve o'clock. Soon after in came


Mrs. Dexter and her two daughters to see Mrs. Sturgis, all of us in our elegant keeping room. The ladies, as is the custom, said a great many things in a short time, and took their leave. Thus we pass away time; but all of it is not equal to home. Some things indeed are very agreeable for the moment, that is, they would gratify some folks, or at least some folks would seem to be pleased, but you know my turn of mind as to these things.

I occupy a large, elegant chamber fronting on Pennsylvania Avenue, where the President's and a hundred other carriages are continually passing. You would be delighted-perhaps-to see the bustle, the show and parade of great folks. I wish you were here. It would suit Mary and Joanna to the life to be here. But tell them from me, that they ought to accomplish themselves well in all those kinds of things properly called domestic before they can expect to go abroad much. The time will come when, if I live, I shall be pleased to give them as good opportunities for seeing the world, and becoming acquainted with good things and good folks as perhaps they ought to desire. Tell Elizabeth and John and George how much I shall love them if they conduct well.

December 30, 1815.-Joanna wishes to know whether I have bought me a pair of breeches, or in more fashionable phrase, small clothes. I have not, though they say I ought to have some. Mr. President Madison has a grand Levee New Year's Day; this is the only Levee kept by him. If I am well, I expect to attend, and make it do with my pantaloons. It is unfashionable to wear boots at Mrs. Madison's Levees, (which are attended every Wednesday evening by everybody that has a mind to go), because boots may soil their muslins. Therefore, if we have not small clothes and silk stockings, we must wear pantaloons tied down to our shoes or over our boots. This is all nonsense and trifling, and I fear some of my letters will be considered


trifling. When we write so much as I do we must be excused if it should not all be the very best of sense.

Monday, two o'clock.-Have just returned from the President's Levee. Had a merry time of it; plenty of the best of wine, punch, and such good cakes as your best. A Levee is held in the drawing room, and means that the company are all on a level and at perfect ease. It was attended from eleven to two o'clock, and in the course of that time probably four hundred persons appeared, made their bows and curtesies to Mr. and Mrs. Madison, gave the compliments of the season, mixed with the crowd, recreated themselves at the sideboard, and retired. The company could not but be good-natured and sociable.

April 6, 1816 (in the House).-We have had for two or three months past a more laborious session than any since the Government began. We go into the House between nine and ten o'clock in the morning, and there continue in great exertion and even agitation of mind till five and six o'clock, without drinking anything but water, or eating anything at all unless we buy a piece of cake or an apple of one of the old women in the lobby, for which we pay more than would purchase dinner even in Boston. After all this fatigue we return to our quarters ~most totally exhausted in body and mind; and if we are not beyond eating, we eat like dogs whatever is set before us. Thus you may easily see, that we are scarcely fit for any exertion till another day comes round. In fact, it is a dog's life and worse.

Mrs. Polly Noyes regretted later that she did not accompany her husband to Washington and make a home for him. She felt that, bad she done so, he might have been spared the painful episode that marred an otherwise happy and distinguished career. As it was, he acquired while in Washington a taste for drink. For twenty years after his return to Vermont he was only a moderate drinker, able to attend to his affairs and maintain his respectability before the world. But the habit, though slow, was insidious


and apparently irremediable. At last in 1837 his condition became desperate. "He would shut himself in his room after the rest of the family were asleep," writes Noyes in his biography of his father, "and more than once after hearing a fall I have found him helpless on the floor."


Putney, March 9, 1837.

Dear Father:
We think it our duty as members of your household and family to present you a respectful expression of our united desires, and we see no way to secure the object of our petition without using great plainness of speech. We therefore frankly declare that our object is to persuade you to redeem yourself from ruin, and release us from the slavery of solicitude concerning you by wholly abandoning the use of ardent spirits. That we have good reason for this effort you will not deny if you recall several memorable scenes of the past winter. We are all compelled, however reluctantly, to regard you as a man slowly but surely sinking in the mire of intemperance, and we are sure the melancholy truth cannot long be concealed from the world. Our only hope, that you will escape the public disgrace of drunkenness and we the mortification of a drunkard's family, rests on the success of this last effort for your reformation. .

The beguiling and enslaving power of habit has long been exhibited before our eyes. You have often apparently been checked in your descent, and you have as often resumed your course with increased momentum and decreased self-control. We see you now in the harvest of your days, a time which should be honorable to yourself and honored by us, daily and almost hourly indulging a degrading appetite, and manifesting

[1] This letter is in Noyes's handwriting.-G. W. N.


your own sense of its degradation by vainly attempting to conceal it. We see the marks of your slavery in your countenance, in your gait, in your speech. We recognize the same evil in the unreasonable temper which you manifest at times, and we sadly contrast it with the kindness and consistency of your former behavior. We see and attribute to the same cause a rapid loss of intellect and health. We reasonably fear the loss of your property and life by fire or other casualties incidental to intoxication. We can by no means feel that confidence in you as a counsellor and guide of the family, which your former character was wont to inspire. We can have no faith in your religious character, knowing that "no drunkard shall inherit the Kingdom of God." For all these reasons we can have no pleasure in your society, neither can you in ours.

What then can we do but exercise the right of petition? What ought we to do, as children dealing with a beloved father, but beseech you for your own sake, for our sake, for God's sake to renounce wholly and forever the use of intoxicating liquors?

We will wait on the Lord with submission and patience, whatever may be the result, knowing that the God of the widow and the fatherless will befriend us if this our united and last effort fails, and giving praise and thanksgiving to him who alone can change the heart if it succeeds.


We respectfully ask an answer in writing.

Mr. Noyes had already become in theory a Perfectionist under the influence of his son John. This appeal of his children now enabled him despite his advanced age to break the chains of habit. Thus a life that was drawing to a close in misery and disgrace


was permitted to end in harmony with its early ideals. He died October 26, 1841, at the age of seventy-seven years.


January 21, 1841.-Yesterday falling under severe rebuke from John on account of some unguarded and foolish speeches, I found myself, when 1 went to bed, in a state of tumult. I soon perceived I might have a sleepless night, and prepared myself for it. As I knew how liable I was to come under doubts about John, I endeavored for some time to ward them off by repeating constantly in my mind "God is with us in John." This faith had been victorious the night before, but now it was overcome by a cloud that fell on me; and after a short debate I was enveloped in it all night. I came to the conclusion that I should die shortly, and that I could not die in peace without telling John plainly that he had faults and infirmities as well as others, although 1 acknowledged him as my leader and gave up my judgment to him. He soon convinced me that my feelings were under the delusion of Satan; advised me to pray much to be delivered from this accusing spirit and a licentious tongue; he was answerable in these things to God alone, his maker and employer. He said my justification was in him; if I destroyed him I destroyed myself. Oh, may I pray and be heard, watch and pray that I may be found faithful in all things!


August 29, 1842.-Harriet and Charlotte called. Harriet related some new ideas her mother entertained with regard to the impracticability of living in a corporate community. John told them they need not listen to her suggestions, but separate themselves from her. They were to reject every teacher who taught doctrines contrary to those he taught.

August 30, 1842.-Mrs. Polly Noyes and Harriet came to


talk with John. Mrs. Noyes contradicted and resisted John, as she has before a great many times. She stayed all night, and held out against his sternest reproofs and threatenings until noon of the 31st, when she gave up and the Devil departed. She then got John to write a confession for her that Satan had filled her mind.


December 7, 1844.-Humbled, and I hope taught. Thankful, but much mystery in the progress of liberty of the Corporation. Oh, may I yet see the glory of God by faith, which I now act upon!


Mother's self-esteem stands sentinel over all her other faults. It is that which makes her disputatious and impervious to severe truth. It is that which frustrates all her professions of submission to me. It is that which gives her boldness to judge and find fault with things which she understands not, and to dogmatize and domineer in the Corporation. In a word self-esteem is the key of her character, and she will never be redeemed till all her haughtiness is brought low by a permanent spiritual pressure which shall make her humble enough to confess that her own character is the worst thing she has to complain of.

Her self-esteem acts predominantly in conjunction with her philoprogenitiveness. She thinks herself wiser than all around her in the management of children, and entitled to interfere and dictate in the concerns of our families. In fact she mamtains the motherly position toward all the parents in the Corporation as well as the children; toward myself among the rest, and of course is in no condition to receive my instructions as a child. She is an overseer instead of a scholar.


Her pride of motherhood (as I may call the combination of self-esteem with philoprogenitiveness) feeds and protects itself by constant recurrence to her advantage over us in respect to experience in the management of children. The ultimate stronghold of that pride in the central secrecy of her heart is an assumption (which has nearly the strength of consciousness, though it is false) that she has been unusually successful in the management of her family; in fact that the credit of my character and position as a servant of God, and of all that is good in the rest of the family is due to her. This assumption partially discloses itself from time to time in self-complacent appeals to the history and condition of her children, and in her frequent reference to that prayer by which she dedicated me to "the ministry of the everlasting gospel." On the strength of this assumption she feels authorized to despise and oppose the views of education which we are deriving from the gospel, and to thrust upon us her own system.

It is necessary that this delusion, which hinders her from becoming a child and which embarrasses all our operations, should be removed. 1 shall proceed therefore to expose in the light of eternity the real character and results of her maternal administration. If she is not in condition to appreciate what I am about to say, let her children and all others concerned lay it to heart and press it on her spirit until God shall give her repentance to the acknowledgment of the truth.

In the first place I admit that in a physical sense she has had an important agency in raising up the family to which God has committed the gospel. She has been a link in the chain of our generation. But Father shares the credit of this with her, as well as all our other progenitors since Adam.

Secondly I admit that she in conjunction with Father has made good provision for the temporal comfort and respectability of the family. But in this respect far more credit is due to


Father than to her. With immortality in view we cannot account such provision by itself as intrinsically valuable. It is at most only a relative and temporary good. It is as often a snare as a blessing. The credit due for it is only such as may be given to the wise men of this world whose end is destruction.

With these general concessions I come now to examine the special religious agency which Mother has had in our education, and on which alone she can pretend to value herself.

The leading fact to be considered is that, devout as she may have been herself in entering upon the responsibilities of motherhood, she connected herself with an ungodly man, and so gave up one-half at least of the education of her children to the prince of this world. If she taught us to fear God, the partner she took taught us by example and precept to worship money and live for this world.

What are the results of the complex education for which Mother became responsible by her marriage? Taking as the tests the three oldest girls, who were never in my hands, and Horatio, who escaped from me, the facts are these: Mary married a Unitarian lawyer, Elizabeth an infidel physician, Joanna an irreligious West India merchant, and Horatio is the cashier of a bank, a Unitarian worldling. What is there in these results for a religious mother to be proud of? Is it not manifest that the worldly force prevailed and delivered these children to Satan? By her own example she taught her daughters to sell themselves to worldlings. The injunction to marry "only in the Lord," and the conservatism of the patriarchs could have no firm footing in her family, for her own marriage was a violation of it. Where is the probability of a "godly seed" in the second generation?

The younger portion of the family is not to be brought into this account. I have saved them from the world by disregarding


Mother's advice and by teaching them to maintain their independence of her.

But Mother may say that I am what I am in consequence of her administration, and that what I have done for the younger members of the family is ultimately to be credited to her. But this is a delusion. At my birth she prayed that 1 might be a "minister of the everlasting gospel." What did she mean by this? Nothing more that that I might be such a minister as the specimens around her, a minister of the worldly church, which stands foremost in opposition to the everlasting gospel and from which we have come out. What is the real office of such a minister? Simply to keep enough religious influence at work in the community to make men comfortable in the service of Mammon. I would as willingly be a Unitarian lawyer, an infidel doctor, a nothingarian merchant, or a free-and-easy cashier. All that makes me different from the Rev. Mr. Foster is to be credited not to Mother but to the grace of God working beyond her and in spite of her.

It is nevertheless to be admitted that there was a degree of reality in her religion, and that her influence had a valuable agency in preparing us for the education of God. I will allow that her educational system has been to that in which we stand as Judaism to Christianity. Judaism, though it was in one sense the mother of Christianity, did not create Christianity and could claim no control over it. And Judaism was not valuable in itself, but only as an antecedent of Christianity. In the destruction of Jerusalem with its attending horrors we see the end and the actual value of that part of Judaism which set up for itself and would not merge itself in the Christian dispensation. So the education which we received from Mother, if it had terminated in itself, would have only ripened us for destruction. It is valuable only as a preparation for the education


of God. If then she has opposed the system which has succeeded her own, she has done what she could to render all that she has done for us worthless. Now I aver before heaven and earth that she has resisted me constantly and at every important step in my career since I became in truth a "minister of the everlasting gospel." She resisted me when I first proposed to her the gospel. She resisted me when I first preached the gospel in this village. She resisted me long and obstinately in reference to my claim of spiritual rule over her and her children. Many times I have found no way to lead on the children without requiring them to renounce her authority and make war on her. She has repeatedly withdrawn herself from me, and once at least made overtures of alliance to David Crawford and the church. She was in a state of rebellion against me when I married Harriet and commenced permanent operations in this place. If her will had been done, I should have suppressed every strong feature of the gospel and remained in submission to the church; I should have avoided all the innovations which have given us our independent position and are leading us on to the "new heavens and the new earth;" the children would have been educated by the world and for the world, and our spiritual capital would have been utterly sunk and drowned in alliances with our relatives and with worldly society. Where then is her glorying? Her mouth shall be stopped. She shall not dictate as a mother over us.

I have written these severe truths not in cruelty but in love. My intention is to reduce her self-conceit, that she may be saved. The day has come when "all the haughtiness of man shall be brought low and the Lord alone exalted."


Noyes's mother had one more period of stout opposition. It was in the midst of the crisis at Putney in December 1847, when she attempted to turn back the forces of social revolution. She was


however soon reconverted, and joined the Community at Oneida in May 1849.

During the remainder of her life, though she always had a mind of her own, she was a loyal and helpful member. Her husband was gone and her children grown, but she had with her under the same roof sons, daughters, grandchildren and two hundred and fifty fellow-communists. Singing hymns and reciting Bible texts aloud when unable to sleep at night, whittling miniature totems in her room when time hung heavily, corresponding with gentle-spirited friends, penning endless illegible reminiscences and reflections to the despair of her biographers, she was "contented and happy" until her death in 1866 at the age of eighty-six years.

Chapter 12: Mutual Criticism | Contents