Chapter 2

ABIGAIL separated from her husband about the first of December 1837, and never lived with him again. She returned shortly to her father's home at Orange, Connecticut. Noyes remained at Ithaca ~as long as she did," though he was not informed of her movements until he reached Kingston.


Kingston, December 12, 1837.

In the latter part of December 1835 I sent you the enclosed letter [1] in substance. As I received no reply, I am not certain that it ever reached you. If you have read the papers 1 have lately published, you will perceive that 1 am under the necessity of presenting that letter to the public unless testimony of another kind supersedes it. 1 am unwilling to proceed without ascertaining your position. 1 would not expose you to undeserved reproach, though 1 cannot shrink from telling the whole truth when as in this case it is demanded. My confidence in God concerning you is still complete, and 1 rejoice in the assurance that the de'nouement of our tragi-comedy is at hand. Your reply to this will probably decide the issue.

You will learn from the bearer, Abram C. Smith, whatever else may be needed in relation to my affairs.

Your lover in the Lord,

1 Religious Experience of John Humphrey Noyes, pp. 351-354.


For some unexplained reason the above letter was not delivered. In a letter to David Harrison inviting him to come to Kingston for a visit Noyes wrote early in March 1838: "If you should come, be sure to ascertain where Abigail is. The last 1 heard of her she had been absent from Ithaca a long time. I have become contented to play at hide and coop with her as long as God pleases."


Kingston, March 23, 1838.

Dear Brother:...
With respect to Abigail I say still, God knows the end. I do not. Many things strongly indicate that the end is not far off. My mind concerning her is not changed, save that I love her more and more, and am daily more fully persuaded of God that she is worthy and in due time will be proved so, though 1 have been long reconciled to suspense. I desire to know the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth in relation to her, whatever it may be. If you can see her, you are authorized to make known to her my mind and circumstances as far as you know them, leaving her and the Lord to determine what course it is right and expedient for her to pursue. If God does not bring to pass his strange act by her, he will by somebody else soon. The Kingdom of God is swiftly advancing to its predicted collision with the kingdoms of this world. Like two mighty ships they are coming to a crash, which will shatter and sink one of them. The timbers that bear the blow must expect a crushing shock.

Yours in the Lord,

While Harrison was executing this commission Noyes returned to Ithaca with the purpose of resuming publication of The Witness. He found there in the post-office letters from Harriet A. Holton containing sums of five and ten dollars, which she had sent during the winter.



Ithaca, April 3, 1838.

Dear Sister:
I write you at this time because after reading the letters which you sent here in the winter and learning the full extent of your liberality my heart bleeds for you, and 1 am in a sort of hurry to make some return. 1 beseech you for the Lord's sake either to stay your hand and stop running me in debt, or to make me sure that you look at my heart and not at my outward works for evidence that your generosity is not misplaced. Else you will tempt me to seek to please you and not the Lord, and in so doing 1 should indeed become unworthy of your kindness. .

I am in the midst of a mighty contest between God's love and Satan's malice. The one heals as often as the other wounds. Woe after woe rolls over me, and alternately joy after joy. But love prevails, and 1 plainly see my salvation nearer than when 1 believed. God gives us "the valley of Achor for a door of hope " If we long for victory, we must long for battle. My hope of full deliverance stretches across "the valley of de cision," in which the righteous shall he forever separated from the wicked. Till then 1 "stand in jeopardy every hour." My daily feeling is that 1 shall either be killed or crowned soon.

Please send information about me to Putney.

Your brother,


Meriden, Connecticut, April 17, 1838.

Dear Brother Noyes:
I have just returned from Kingston, where I have had a profitable visit with Brothers Smith and Lyvere. "The Devil has come down having great wrath, knowing that he has but a


short time." The signs of the times are indicative of consequences of amazing interest. It seems hardly possible but that Satan's kingdom will soon receive a mortal thrust.

I called (as Smith wrote you) upon Abigail, and when 1 came away from Smith's house 1 took with me the communication you wrote for him to carry last winter, partly expecting to present that, but the Lord overruled it. The more 1 think of it, the more 1 am persuaded that she is entertaining the subject.


Meriden, Connecticut, April 18, 1838.

Dear Miss Holton:
By his [Noyes's] permission 1 called on Abigail, and presented to her two letters which he wrote me. She consented to read them, and seemingly with some degree of interest. She is at her father's, where she has been for a number of months. The specific object with all its hearings, which God has in mind in this thing, is probably not known to any, even to Brother Noyes. But 1 verily believe that not Only some glorious truths will be developed by it, but that the faithfulness of Brother Noyes will yet be proved to all the saints, to those that shall come after us, and to the world.

Your brother,

After this non-committal reception of his overtures Noyes quietly accepted the inevitable. In less than two months his plans had undergone a complete change.


The fact that Harriet A. Holton [1] had given unstinted personal devotion and money when Noyes's fortunes were at lowest ebb now brought her, despite her diffidence, into the center of the Perfectionist stage.

She was born in Springfield, Vermont, November 28, 1808. Her maternal grandfather was Mark Richards, a nephew of the New England theologian, Dr. Samuel Hopkins. Mr. Richards had been Lieutenant Governor of Vermont and a member of Congress. William C. Bradley, eminent as a lawyer, scholar and statesman, was an uncle by marriage.

Harriet was an only child, and having been left an orphan at an early age was adopted by her grandparents. She had an excellent mind, not brilliant, but cool and perspicacious, and she received for the times a good education. After leaving school she was for a number of years under Unitarian influences, but in 1831 at the age of 23 she was converted to revivalism. Her diary records this change with characteristic brevity: "In a protracted meeting 1 came to the conclusion to devote my life to God."

In her eighteenth year she became engaged to Edmund Burke, a young law student in her uncle Bradley's office. The bitter AdamsJackson presidential campaign was in progress. Harriet's grand-

1 This account of Harriet A. Holton's early life is drawn from Harriet H. Skintier's serial "A Community Mother," published in The Circular.- G. W. N.


father had political differences with her lover, and turned him out of the house, threatening to disinherit her if she married him. She told her grandfather that he might do as he chose with his property, but she would never let money govern her affections. For several years she kept faith with her lover in defiance of her grandfather. But in 1831 she told Mr. Burke that she had given her heart to God, and wished to he released from her engagement. He replied that he was a Unitarian and it was she who had made him one. He sought to hold her. They exchanged letters and parted. Meanwhile her grandfather, convinced that he had gone too far in his dictation, reinstated her in favor and resolved never again to interfere with her affairs of the heart.

Harriet now joined the Congregational Church. and for three years devoted herself to the accepted duties of a religious profession. But she suffered from self-condemnation and longed to overcome sin. One day a friend told her of a Mr. Noyes of Putney who Was teaching that sin could he entirely overcome by faith in Christ. "Many think he is crazy," said the woman, "hut what 1 have heard of his belief has set me thinking." The remark caught in Harriet's mind. Soon afterward her most intimate friend, Maria Clark, came to see her, full of the subject of salvation from sin. She had heard Noycs preach and had seen some of his writings. When she returned home, she sent Harriet a copy of Noyes's article on the second coming of Christ. Harriet was convinced. Not long afterward she publicly declared herself saved from sin.

Harriet was twenty-six when she became a Perfectionist. The church spared no pains to draw her back. One of her cousins, who lived in New York, sent an eminent minister of the city to reconvert her. Harriet wa~ no match for him in argument, hilt she clung to her position. Her grandfather at length came to her aid. He declared it Oppressive and ungentlemanly to crowd the girl in that way; she had a right to her belief. The minister abruptly left.

About nine months after she became a Perfectionist Harriet first saw Noyes. Miss Clark wrote her to come immediately to West Westminster, for Noyes was going to preach in the village. Harriet \vent and heard him in a school-house. One who was present, looking hack through the mists of sixty years, could still vividly recall his blue coat, his red hair, his face that '~shone like an angel's." He took for his text the title page of the New Testament. He said that the word "testament" was the same as that elsewhere translated "covenant," and showed the difference be-


tween the old and the new covenants, reaching finally the conclusion that the new covenant secured salvation from sin.

After the meeting Noyes called at the house where Harriet was staying, his horse having been stabled there. They were introduced. The family urged him to remain over night. Harriet admired the directness of his reply. He only said he "would rather go home Soon afterward on Harriet's invitation be preached at East Westminster, and was the guest of her grandfather. Still later she heard him preach in a school-house at Putney, and met him at his home, where she became acquainted with the other Putney Perfectionists.


Putney, June 11, 1838

Beloved Sister:
After a deliberation of more than a year in patient waiting and watching for indications of the Lord's will, 1 am now permitted, and intleed happily constrained by a combination of favorable circumstances to propose to you a partnership which 1 will not call marriage till 1 have defined it.

As believers we are already one with each other and with all saints. This primary and universal union is more radical and of course more important than any partial and external partnerships, and with reference to this it is said, "There is neither male nor female," "neither marrying nor giving in marriage" in heaven. With reference to this also my offensive remarks in the Battle-Axe Letter were written. Therefore we can enter into no engagements with each other which shall limit the range of our affections as they are limited in matrimonial engagements by the fashion of this world. 1 desire and expect my yoke-fellow will love all who love God, whether man or woman. with a warmth and strength of affection which is Unknown to earthly lovers, and as freely as if she stood in no particular connection with me. In fact the object of my connection with her will be not to monopolize and enslave her heart or my own, but to enlarge and establish both in the free


fellowship of God's universal family. If the external union and companionship of a man and woman in accordance with these principles is properly called marriage, I know that marriage exists in heaven, and 1 have no scruple in offering you my heart and hand with an engagement to be married in due form as soon as God shall permit.

At first I designed to set before you many weighty reasons for this proposal, but upon second thought 1 prefer the attitude of a witness to that of an advocate, and shall therefore only suggest briefly a few matter-of-fact considerations, leaving the advocacy of the case to God, the customary persuasions and romance to your own imagination, and more particular explanations to a personal interview:

1. In the plain speech of a witness and not a flatterer 1 respect and love you for many desirable qualities, spiritual, intellectual, moral and personal, especially your faith, kindness, simplicity and modesty.
2. 1 am confident that the partnership 1 propose will greatly promote our mutual happiness and improvement.
3. It will also set us free, at least myself, from much reproach and many evil surmisings which are occasioned by celibacy in present circumstances.
4. It will enlarge our sphere and increase our means of usefulness to the people of God.
5. 1 am willing at this particular time to testify by example that 1 am a follower of Paul in holding that "marriage is honorable in all."
6. 1 am also willing to testify practically against that bondage of liberty which utterly sets at naught the ordinances of men and refuses to submit to them even for the Lord's sake 1 know that the immortal union of hearts, the everlasting honeymoon which alone is worthy to be called marriage, can never be effected by a ceremony; and 1 know equally well that such


a marriage can never be marred by a ceremony. William Penn first bought Pennsylvania of the British king, then he paid the Indians for it. "Thus it becomes us to fulfill all righteousness."
7. 1 have the permission and good-will not only of God but of all who are especially concerned in my movements in making this proposal.

You are doubtless aware to some extent of my relations to Abigail Merwin. 1 will only say concerning her at present, that 1 have recently been released from any connection with her which would interfere with my proposal to you. My present relations to her are only such as exist between all believers by that primary bond, of which 1 wrote on the first page, and involve no external obligation. 1 still believe her to be a child of God and therefore love her. Yet I am as free as if I had never seen her.

You are also aware that 1 have no profession save that of a servant of God; a profession which has thus far subjected me to many vicissitudes and has given me but little of this world's prosperity. If you judge me by the outward appearance, or the future by the past, you will naturally find in the irregularity and seemin~ instability of my character and fortune many objections to a partnership. Of this 1 will only say, that 1 am conscious of possessing by the grace of God a spirit of firmness, perseverance, and faithfulness in every good work, which has made the vagabond, incoherent service, to which 1 have thus far been called, almost intolerable to me, and 1 shall welcome heaven's order for my release as an exile after a seven years' pilgrimage would welcome the sight of his home. 1 see now no reason why 1 should not have a "certain dwellingp~ace," and enter upon a course which is consistent with the duties of domestic life. Perhaps your reply to this will be a voice saying to me:


Yours in the Lord,


Westminster, June 12, 1838.

Dear Brother:
Two or three years ago some persons, commenting upon my refusal of an offer of marrlage, said: "If she will not marry any one who is not of the same faith as herself, perhaps she may marry John Noyes~" 1 repeated this to Fanny Lord, and added: "I should as soon think of marrying the morning star." Since that time 1 have looked at and admired this star, till it does not seem so far off; yet you will judge how unexpected was the subject of your letter.

I have passed through a course of teaching on the subject of marriage, and in word and deed have testified that 1 could not marry after the fashion of this world, and therefore thought 1 never should marry. But the circumstances in which 1 am placed make me certain it will be for my "happiness and improvement." . . . It is enough that you see wherein the arrangement may contribute to your "happiness and improvement," and that it may "increase our means of usefulness to the people of God." 1 trust in the Lord to make me an help-meet for you.

This morning in thinking of myself as enlisting in the army of the Lord 1 said in my heart: "I will take any place assigned me. I'll he an errand-boy, a spy, or take care of the baggage." An aid to the general arose involuntarily, but 1 repressed that as being presumptuous.

In gladly accepting this proposal for an external union 1 agree with you that it will not "limit the range of our affec-


tions." The grace of God will exclude jealousy and everything with which the marriage state is defiled as we see it in the world. 1 only expect by it to be placed in a situation where 1 can enjoy what Harriet and Charlotte and your mother are now blessed with, your society and instruction as long as the Lord pleases and when he pleases.

You see there was no necessity for addressing me in the attitude of an advocate, for 1 was all ready through former teaching. As to my imagination you are aware from our last interview it is quite prolific. 1 trust to God, who has given me all things in Christ Jesus, to bring down every vain imagination.

Your not having a profession according to the fashion of this world is of no weight with me. But it may be of weight with my grandfather. His ideas of work and property are exactly the reverse of yours. But still 1 know "the king's heart is in the hand of the Lord; He turneth it whithersoever He will." 1 have been astonished sometimes at the kindness my grandfather has manifested toward those who love the truth even concerning money, his idol He let me have what 1 thought of sending to you a few weeks ago, saying he was willing to trust my judgment without inquiring what 1 thought of doing with it.

And there is my grandmother too. But these are subjects you did not mention, and 1 leave them for future consideration. 1 have written my feelings in answer to your proposal, looking only at my own heart and the teaching of God.

Wednesday.-This morning 1 felt like laying the subject of your letter before my grandfather myself. 1 told him 1 supposed your ideas of getting a living would not accord with his, and that 1 could not inform him whether you had any definite idea as to where your "certain dwelling-place" would be; but 1 wished to know if he had any objection to the person.


He said he did not wish to control me; he wished me to suit myself; he had hoped, if ever I married, I should continue in this house; also he had made a comfortable provision for me, and he hoped 1 would not put it out of my power to enjoy it. He thinks you are old enough to decide for yourself what you intend to do.

"Trust in the Lord with all thine heart, and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct thy paths."

Your sister,


Westminster, June 24, 1838

Dear John:
You gave me an opportunity of opening my heart in regard to Abigail Merwin. 1 do not know much of her, only as one loved by you. In that position 1 might fear she would be the object of my envy. But 1 will tell you my feelings the morning 1 received your first letter, and as these came up from my heart 1 shall depend upon them whatever may arise to the contrary. 1 felt that the Lord had directed you to me, and that 1 was formed in heart to contribute to your happiness and usefulness in this act of your drama, as Abigail Merwin was in the beginning. 1 said, If my fate be that of the Empress Josephine, the Lord will give me a heart to rejoice and say Thy will be done. 1 am ready to distrust myself when 1 look forward, and 1 say, John, if 1 do betray you with a kiss, the Lord reward me accordingly. A traitor to such gentleness, goodness and truth would deserve the wrath of God.

Your affectionate daughter, sister, yours entirely in the Lord,



Putney, June 25, 1838

Dear Harriet:
One or two things in your letter today seem to call for an immediate reply. Do you remember that Napoleon always said truly that his prosperity was identified with his marriage to Josephine? As soon as he parted with her he parted with fortune; and ere long it might well be said of him, "How art thou fallen, Lucifer, son of the morning!" If your fate is to be that of Josephine, mine is to be that of Napoleon. 1 have often thought of Napoleon's case as a terrible and warning illustration of Malachi 2: 15, 16: "Take heed to your spirit, and let none deal treacherously against the wife of his youth; for the Lord, the God of Israel, saith that he hateth putting away." Love in the beginning and treachery in the end is the way of the world in all things; a way which 1 hate as God hates.

J. H. Noyes.[1]

On the coronation day of Victoria, Queen of England, June 28, 1838, the wedding foreshadowed in this correspondence took place at Chesterfield, New Hampshire. Noyes's brother-in-law, Squire Larkin G. Mead, performed the ceremony. Noyes took his bride immediately to his father's home at Putney, and in the following year they built a commodious house of their own.

As Miss Holton's timely gift had relieved Noyes's necessities at the suspension of The Witness the previous year, so now her income enabled him to establish an independent press. Within three weeks after their marriage they had bought a small secondhand printing-press. They knew nothing about printing, nor did any of the Putney Perfectionists. But Noyes's younger brother, George, a boy of fifteen, volunteered to learn the trade. A place was found for him in a printing-office at Keene, New Hampshire.

1 The last six years of his life Noyes spent at Niagara Falls, Canada, with the beloved and loving wife of his youth, Harriet A. Holton, - G. W. N.


After an apprenticeship of barely three weeks George returned to make a start and impart his knowledge to the rest. The press was set up in the loft of a saw-mill belonging to a Perfectionist named Cutler; the cases of type were squeezed in among the piles of lumber. As a preliminary job on which to perfect their skill it was decided to reprint in book form the twenty articles contributed by Noyes to The New Haven Perfectionist. Noyes, his wife, his sisters Harriet and Charlotte, and his brother George laboriously set the type; then with George's aid supplemented by much experimentation the form was made up. When all was ready, Noyes worked the old-fashioned hand-lever while his wife manipulated the ink-roller. Then came the binding The work took four months. The result, an i8mo volume of 230 pages, was as rough as the garret in which it was produced, but it was legible. Their next undertaking was the resumption of The Witness, the publication of which had been suspended fourteen months before. In this they had marked success; each number showed improvement.

The Witness, which began August 20, 1837, was issued irregularly through two volumes of twenty-six numbers each, ending January i8, 1843. This was followed by The Perfectionist in three hi-weekly volumes extending from February '5, 1843, to February '4, 1846. The title of the paper was then changed to The Spiritual Magazine, which was published hi-weekly from March IS, 1846, to January 17, T85o, though there were long interrup tions due to the transfer of the Community from Putney to Oneida. The Free Church Circular came next in two hi-weekly volumes covering 185o and 1851 ; then The Circular in twelve volumes, published weekly in 1852, semi-weekly in 1853, triweekly in 1854, and weekly again from 1855 to 1863; then The Circular, new series, published weekly from 1864 to 1875; finally The American Socialist, a weekly, which covered the period from 1876 to 1879 and came to an end when the Community itself was in the throes of dissolution.


Chapter 3: Belief in Noyes's Divine Commission | Contents