Chapter 5


SEVERAL causes contributed to make the Newark group of Perfectionists more prominent than any other otitside of Putney Perfectionism bad been established among them early by means of the original paper which Noyes and Boyle published at New haven in 1834-5. Noyes had become personally acquainted with Abram C. Smitb, their leader, as far back as September 1835, and had formed a hearty union with him. Newark was the place from which Noyes issued his renunciation letter to Charles H. Weld  [1] and his declaration of "everlasting separation" from James Boyle [2] - two vital steps in the development of Putney Perfectionism Thus Newark bad more claim to be of pure Noyesite origin and tradition than places where Perfectionism had been planted by others.

In process of time the Newark group split into three parties corresponding to the primary types of religious experience. [3] A legalistic party included the pastor and elders of the Free Church. An antinomian party was headed by Charles H. Weld. A middle party, led by Abram C. Smith, acknowledged Noyes as a divinely appointed apostle, and was attempting to steer clear of both legality and antinomianism. Otit of this situation arose a scandal, the first and only one, Noyes declared within the circle of his immediate superintendence and responsibility.

When the Cragins were first introduced to the Newark Perfectionists the antinomian party were in the ascendant There were no leaders, no rules, no regular meetings Opposition to the churches rather than the pursuit of holiness was the chief concern. When Cragin suggested that more copies of The Witness be sent for. he was told that it was unnecessarv since all were "taught of God." Dreams, impressions and impulses were thought to be the voice of God, and social relations were governed by them. Whenever Per-

1 Religious Experience of John Humphrey Noyes, pp. 292-298.
2 Ibid. pp 298-300. 
3 Ibid p 382


fectionists met, it was expected that they would kiss. Some went so far as to bundle, and one couple lived as man and wife nearly a year before they were married. Heart-burnings and jealousies resulted. A climax of wantonness was reached in December 1839, when the funeral of a member was held at the country estate of Mr. and Mrs. Green. There was much singing of "Babylon is Fallen," much unedifying talk and loose behavior while the company was snow-bound for two days at the hospitable mansion. "I was unable at the time," wrote Cragin, "to interpret rightly that Perfectionist convention. One thing is certain~we were sheep without a shepherd, and were surrounded by beasts of prey."

After this Green experienced a reaction toward legality. He swung clear over to Shakerism. A theory of spiritual wifehood that limited one man to one woman began to be heard, and there were whisperings of a new doctrine called "striving for the mastery." In the spring of 1840 Smith had a clash with Green, and brought back some to the liberty views, among them Mrs. Cragin. She wrote to Noyes of the "glorious fires" in Smith's family since she emerged from the cloud of Shakerism. All this time Smith was looked upon as Noyes's representative, standing against the legality of the churches on one side and the antinomianism of Charles H. Weld on the other. Smith had been one of the first to acknowlerlge Noyes's claim to leadership, and Noyes had expressed what seemed in the light of later events extravagant confidence in him. Even as late as April 1840 Noyes wrote to Harrison that Smith in a recent visit to Putney was found faithful and true" and "growing like the calves of the stall."

Charles H. Weld had been instrumental some years hefore in bringing about the marriage of Smith and his wife, Mary Ann. The marriage was desperately unhappy. Noyes called Mary Ann a "perfect devil." Her opposition to his measures against legality in the spring of 1838 compelled him to retreat to Ithaca. At last in April 1840 Mary Ann "freely confessed" to Smith that he and Noyes had acted the part of righteousness two years before, gave up all claims upon Smith as her husband, and declared herself forever saved from sin.

As the expiration of their lease approached in the spring of 1840 the Cragins were faced by the question, where had the Lord prepared a place for them. They bad received from Smith a standing invitation to join his family at T~ondotit, if they could do no better. Mrs. Cragin had misgivings, but move they must, and there seemed to be no other opening. On the 7th of March therefore they took passage on a steamer bound for Rondout.


Smith's family consisted of himself, his wife and four children. His dwelling, a solitary stone edifice erected before the Revolution, stood on the south side of Rondout Creek, directly opposite the village of Rondout. It was furnished with monastic plainness, and economy in food and clothing was carried almost to the point of parsimony. Smith had a position as agent and overseer with a lime manufacturing company, and placed Cragin in charge of the farm. Cragin soon became much absorbed in his new vocation.

So far as the outdoor business was concerned things appeared to run smoothly, but within doors there was trouble. Between Mr. and Mrs. Smith no harmony existed. Presently Cragin began to notice coolness on the part of Smith toward himself. They rarely now had any communication except in planning the work. On the other hand Smith's communications with Mrs. Cragin were more and more frequent and private. "Did I discover," wrote Cragin, a corresponding coolness on the part of Mrs. Cragin, or was it a distorted imagination? She had little to say to me except in criticism of a spirit in me which claimed her affections." That was Cragin's weak point. Freely and sincerely would he admit that in forsaking all for Christ his wife was included. But his feelings, like willful disobedient children, would listen to no such reasoning. Between an accusing conscience and an idolatrous love for his wife it seemed as though the more he struggled the deeper he sank into despair.

About the first of May Smith compelled his wife to leave the house and take refuge over the creek among her relatives. Immediately afterward his relation with Mrs. Cragin assumed an illicit character. But he so played his cards as to throw the responsibility of this intimacy upon Cragin. He told Mrs. Cragin one evening to feign distress of mind in the night and ask permission to repair to his chamber for spiritual relief. By this time completely under his power she did as he bade. The following night the visit was repeated. "My God!" said Cragin to himself. "Where is this thing to end? Are these operations necessary to cure me of the marriage spirit?" Most earnestly he prayed for a change of doctors, or at least a council of experts.

His prayer was answered. Within three days J. H. Noyes, D. Harrison and J. L. Skinner [1] appeared. They had gone to New York to attend the annual meetings of the clergy, but on their arrival in the city Noyes said to his friends: "I am afraid there is mischief at work in Smith's family." They went to Rondout without

1 John L. Skinner, a lifelong coadjutor of Noyes, was at this time living in Noyes's family and helping on The Witness.-G. W. N.


delay, and their coming was truly opportune. A warrant had that day been issued against Smith for a breach of the peace, and the Rondout roughs, aroused by Mrs. Smith's story, were planning an attack. Smith counseled war; Noyes peace with the outside world, criticism and sincerity within. He rebuked Smith sharply for his course with his wife He then drew outt the facts about Smith and Mrs. Cragin, and admonished them faithftilly but in love Cragin joined in denouncing legality, and freely forgave Smith and Mrs. Cragin, considering himself quite as much in the wrong as they.

The next day Noyes, Smith and Cragin marched up to the Judge's office and settled, Smith giving bonds to keep the peace and support his wife. Jn the evening Noyes left for home, taking Smith and his eldest daughter with him. As the mob regarded Smith the chief offender, his absence pacified them.

At the end of two weeks Smith returned Noyes while at Rondout had advised that there be no further intimacy between Smith and Mrs. Cragin. Believing that this advice would be faithfully followed Cragin looked for more fellowship than ever between the three. He was disappointed. Within a few days Smith cornmenced another game of hypocrisy. He was well aware that Mrs. Cragin's confidence in Noyes had been greatly strengthened by his visit. To accomplish his end therefore he must make it appear that he had the confidence of Noyes to the ftillest extent. He began by hinting that Noyes virtually approved of their past proceedings, his public criticism of them having been chiefly for Cragin's benefit. He also gave her to understand that while he was at Putney he had many long private talks with Noyes on social matters, and that they were in full accord.

While thus engaged in winning back his power over Cragin's wife, he kept Cragin helpless by loading him down with hard work, self-condemnation and evil-thinking. This pressure stirred up all Cragin's earnestness to win the justification and peace of Christ. That victory came at last. Laboring alone in the field he had a new view of God's infinite goodness and mercy. He was truly thankful for all his chastening, and evil-thinking was taken away. He saw little of Smith, whose intimacy with Mrs. Cragin was cautiotisly concealed

In the latter part of July in response to a request from Greencastle, Pennsylvania, Noyes commissioned Smith to visit the Perfectionists in that section for the purpose of communicating to them more fully the gospel of salvation from sin. John B. Lyvere and several others, who had been spending a few days at Rondout, were about to return to New York, and Smith proposed to accom-


pany them on his way to Pennsylvania. At the same time he managed by strategy to obtain from Cragin a proposal that Mrs. Cragin Join the party. When nearly a week had passed. Cragin received a few lines from his wife saying that she intended to leave for home the next evening and would be happy to meet him on the arrival of the boat at Rondout. Her letter affected him strangely. It melted at once the icy feelings toward her that had imperceptibly accumtilated in his heart. As he entered the ladies' cabin she met him with a subdued yet affectionate and sincere greeting. He soon discovered that there was a heavy burden upon her soul, but be had so thoroughly disciplined himself that he did not ask for explanations. He learned incidentally however, much to his surprise, that Smith instead of going directly to the field of his mission had tarried a week in the city.

A week or two later Cragin had occasion to go to New York himself, and called upon Mr. and Mrs. Lyvere. From them he learned that Smith and Mrs Cragin had broken the solemn promise which they had made to Noyes in the spring. Lyvere thought the case should be reported at once to Noyes, and offered to carry the message in person. Cragin gave him money for the trip and, admonishing him to report nothing but the truth, was soon on the hoat for Rondout.

That night on the Hudson was one long to be remembered. The steamer was heavily laden and contended against wind and tide. "A fitting type," thought Cragin, "of my own situation." "Turn back," whispered the Tempter. "All is treachery, desolation and darkness Do you still believe in the sustaining power of God?" "Yes," replied Cragin aloud. "My faith in God and in Mr. Noyes is unshaken."

The morning sun shone beneficently upon the calm waters of the bay as Cragin entered a skiff to row himself to the opposite shore. His wife was at the pier But as he approached, the playful smile upon her face suddenly vanished. "George," she said, "You know all. The secret is out, and I thank God for revealing it. I will make a clean breast now, for I can carry the works of darkness no longer." She then related the simple facts without attempting to screen herself from judgment

The return of Smith from his mission to Pennsylvania was looked for daily. In view of this Mrs. Cragin said to her husband: "George, you can hardly conceive of the terrible dread I have of meeting that man.' "You must put your trust in God." Cragin replied. He took this exhortation to himself also, for be keenly felt his inability to cope unaided with a spirit so strong as Smith's.


Late the next Saturday night loud raps on the door were heard, followed hy the well-known voice of Smith. As Cragin left his bed to obey the summons Mlrs. Cragin hegged him not to allow Smith to enter their room At the door Smith extended his hand.

"No, I cannot take the hand of one who has so cruelly wronged me.

"Where is Mary? I want to see her."

"You cannot. She ahsolutely declines to see you. She has revealed all."

The next morning the three met alone in the sitting-room. Smith stood resoltitely on the ground that he had pleased God in all that he had done, and regarded Cragin with contempt for presuming to sit in judgment. But Cragin held firmly to the judgment he had given, that Smith had been and still was under the delusion of the Devil.

All day the hattle raged with unabated fierceness. Finally in the evening, seeing that he was losing rather than gaining ground, Smith suddenly declared that he would start immediately for Putney. "Very well," Cragin replied. "I will submit to Mr. Noyes's judgment." Smith now became affectionate toward Cragin. Soon he asked Cragin if he would write a line to Noyes. saying that he cherished no unkind personal feelings. Cragin complied. Smith then invited Cragin to row him across the creek. On leaving the boat he asked Cragin to give him a kiss. Not until Cragin returned to the house did he divine Smith's motive.

After inquiring earnestly of God Cragin said to his wife: "My mind is made up to leave this place at once. We will go first to New York." Mrs. Cragin was overjoyed. They sold most of their furniture for cash. Cragin settled up all business for which he was responsihle, had their few remaining goods taken over the creek, and on the second day of Septemher 1840 the family em-barked for New York. As an hour would elapse before the steamer left, Cragin went to the post-office hoping to find a letter from Noyes To his great joy the letter had just arrived.

Putney, August 29, 1840.

Dear Brother Cragin:

Mr. Lyvere arrived here today, and has communicated to me facts which compel me to helieve that Smith and Mrs. Cragin have violated the solemn engagement which they made when I was at Roudout. They are now adulterers. Before they


might have said and thought sincerely that they did no wrong, because they acted with your consent and not in contravention of any engagement or any law except that of this world, which is of no authority before God. But now they have acted without your consent and in gross violation of their voluntary and solemn promise, and therefore in violation of God's eternal law of truth.

What is my duty in the case? Though friendship is disposed to blind the eye of righteousness, I cannot avoid the conviction that it is my duty to withdraw myself from all fellowship with these persons. God has declared that adulterers shall not inherit his kingdom. His apostle has commanded believers to have "no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness." 1 see that no real fellowship can exist between me and Smith. He is governed by passions and influences which God has long taught me to bring into stern subjection to reason and to his will. Confidence is the basis of love. And what confidence can I have in a man who, after all he has seen and known of my sentiments, after all he has confessed and professed, after his unqualified covenant at Rondout to do nothing important in these matters without my consent, returns directly to works of evil concupiscence? His captivity to lust would be enough to forbid confidence, but this is not the worst of his case. That captivity has made him a deceiver. He has gone to Pennsylvania under commission from me at the very time when he has disqualified himself for that commission by a gross breach of faith toward me and toward the gospel which I preach. I see not how I can avoid the necessity of publicly retracting the confidence I have expressed in him, and giving my reasons. At all events I shall make no secret of his doings, for I will not be a keeper of shameful secrets for any man. I shall in some way make it manifest that I no longer regard Abram C. Smith as a Perfectionist.


If you ask what is your duty, I answer, Cut off that offending right hand and follow me. Let not friendship paralyze your honesty and faithfulness to Christ. You are no longer bound to keep the secrets or defend the character of Mrs Cragin or Smith. Let them eat the fruit of their own doings. Clear yourself of the wreck, if you have to jump into the ocean. This seems cruel advice, but after deliberating most calmly, not in wrath or malice but in all tenderness toward them as well as you and in the fear of God, 1 can give no other in faith, in conscience or in friendship.

I do not recommend to you to take any hasty or violent external measures, but purge your spirit of all fellowship with the offenders; and then, waiting on the Lord in soberness and wisdom, take such course as he by his spirit and providence shall point out.

I would not wish to make the charges contained in this letter more public than they are already without the testimony of more than one witness. 1 therefore suggest to you the propriety of speaking to Smith on the subject, and getting, if possible, his own confession before you show him this letter.

Write me all that is in your heart.

Yours in faithfulness,

Immediately on reaching New York Cragin wrote to Noyes that his heart was too full for utterance on paper, and that as soon as circumstances would permit he should visit him After reading the letter Mrs. Cragin penned the following postscript: "Since the fatal charm has been dissolved, 1 see how I have been deceived and taught to believe that I was in an inner circle where it was right and pleasing to God to do what I did. I never in my heart turned aside from the promise I made to you last spring. Again and again I asked Mr. Smith if you would be pleased, for I had terrible misgivings. He assured me that you would, and that he himself would tell you Guilty as I am, I have been miserably deluded by him. I am reaping the curse of trusting in man, and I


deserve it. The instruction I received to lie and deceive began to open my eyes I do thank God for the judgment that has overtaken me, even if 1 am to be sent to hell at last, and I wish none to consider me a friend of the gospel until my deeds make it fully manifest."

Cragin's face was now set toward Putney. Within two weeks he found himself there inquiring for the residence of J. H. Noyes. A few moments' walk brought him into Noyes's presence. The meeting was sympathetic but quiet. Cragin somehow had little to say. Egotism had left him. His trials were nothing. His thoughts did not appear to be his own, but were the thoughts of those about him. The little circle of believers seemed different from any he had met before. All were so kind, so quiet, so thotightful and studious, yet in spirit so free. Short were the days during the week he spent at Putney. Little did he remember what he said or did until the morning of his departure. Noyes and he were on the portico, each busy with unexpressed thoughts, when Noyes broke the silence:

"What are you going to do after you return to your family?"

"Find a situation in some counting-room or manufacturing establishment."

"I have a proposal to make to you. Come and spend the winter with me, studying the Bible and waiting on the will of God."

"No business in the world wotild stut me better; but my circumstances would hardly justify me in accepting your kind offer."

"What are those unfavorable circumstances?"

"The support of my family."

"You will bring your family with you of course. My house is large enough for us all."

Could he believe his ears? Was Noyes really in earnest? Noyes divined Cragin's doubts, and immediately replied that he used words not to conceal but to express his thotights.

"Enough," said Cragin "I accept the offer as freely as you have made it."

On reaching home Cragin told his wife the result of his visit to Putney She exclaimed "Oh. that I were worthy of this favor!" "Christ is worthy," Cragin answered, "and he is your life still, is he not?" Ten days later Mr and Mrs Cragin with their two children arrived at Putney and were escorted by Noyes to his home.


Chapter 6: Beginnings of Organization at Putney | Contents