DURING 1843 and 1844, while the Association movement in America was gaining adherents by the thousand, the Putney Corporation lost nine adults and five children by voluntary withdrawal. These defections amounted to more than one-third of the membership. Nearly all were due to the stiffening of discipline under Noyes's leadership and the increasing use of criticism as a means of government.
Harvey Powles was the first to go. He left in January 1843 after a conversation in which Noyes reproved him for light-mindedness and a worldly spirit.
Next went David Wilder. There is no indication that he took offense at Noyes's plainness of speech. When he returned to his home in New York State in February, he left a paper certifying to the "moral worth and purity" of the Putney Perfectionists and declaring himself "in complete unity of spirit with them," while they in turn authorized him to act as agent for The Perfectionist. For nearly two years thereafter he was principally employed as an agent and missionary of the Putney School.
George Wilder soon followed his brother. Noyes had criticised him for indolence, pride and independence, and had concluded as follows "If you are ready to say to all this, I will not be watched and admonished in this way by any man, then I say to you, make up your mind that we must part, for I shall watch and admonish all with whom I am associated until they are without fault." George left in March and, though he remained friendly, took little further part in the Perfectionist movement.
Mrs. Clark was criticised by the Corporation for unkind and disrespectful treatment of her husband. The trouble however was deep-seated and grew worse rather than better. A committee appointed to investigate recommended that the family retire from the Corporation. They did so early in April.
Shortly after this Sherwood, who bad been rebuked for uncharitableness toward Lyvere, became discontented and left with his wife.
Alexander Wilder after a year's experience with Noyes's plainness of speech wrote him thus: "It has appeared to me that a studied effort has been made to reprove, or rather to reproach me before others. . . . I have been puzzled by your language, and have at times supposed you were harsh to me." He gradually became alienated. In February 1844 he accepted an invitation to preach in Greencastle, Pennsylvania. But he was in no fit condition of body or mind to fulfill such a mission. Perfectionists of Green-castle supplied him with funds and he returned to his home at Verona. Afterward he took three college degrees, and practised medicine for several years, finally becoming an editorial writer for The New York Eve~zing Post. He was the author of numerous articles and hooks on medicine, ethics and religious mysteries. In 1872 he was a member of the Board of Aldermen which ousted "Boss Tweed" from control of New York City. At his death in 1908 his ashes by his written request were scattered at the base of a tree.
In January 1844 Noyes charged that Mr. Palmer's daughter was attacking the citadel of salvation from sin. "I never have and never can," wrote Noyes to Mr. Palmer, "scruple to regard any one as a willful unbeliever who rejects our doctrine of the second coming after having fairly examined the testimony upon which it rests; . . . and if our meetings are not spiritual, if we are worldly, if we are settled upon our lees, then we are sinners. . . . Now, Brother Palmer, . . . if I were in your place, I should regard your daughter as an offender against God and his church. I should take the steps with her which are prescribed by Christ, and if they failed to effect a reformation I should openly hold her as a heathen and a publican."
The Palmers left. Their departure however was friendly. At the Corporation meeting to bid them farewell Noyes remarked that during the previous two years he had gained much experience that strengthened his heart. He bad been made more fully sensible that "the whole world lay in the Wicked One," and also that we were sustained by the goodness and provident care of God. The Corporation had passed through a tight squeeze, but possibly a tighter was before it; he had become willing to see the Corporation dissolved, and the paper stopped. Mr. Palmer responded that he felt drawn to the Corporation more than ever; it was to him a father's house. Noyes replied, that Satan would be foiled and dis
appointed in the manner of the Palmers' leaving; the world were expecting that they would leave full of evil reports; instead they were only taking another position in the field. Mr. Cragin added that Satan was defeated on both wings of his army, for it was supposed at Newark that Leonard would not return. Noyes said that mutual criticism was the modern equivalent of "washing one another's feet." The feet represented that part of our character which was concerned in outward affairs; and though our essential character might have been washed, as Christ said, "every whit clean," our superficial character might still require to be frequently cleansed. Thus we might submit our feet to Christ to be washed, and also obey his injunction to "wash one another's feet." Mr. Palmer called the meeting a "love feast."
Chapter 16: The Belchertown Imbroglio | Contents