Early in 1840 the Putney Perfectionists began holding meetings on Sunday in Noyes's own house, which was now finished. By the end of 1840 meetings were also held Wednesday evenings at the East Part and Thursday evenings at the Noyes homestead. In 1841 a chapel was built, in which after August 1st daily sessions were held.
THE SOCIETY OF INQUIRY
NOYES IN The Witness FEBRUARY 22, 1841
During the past year a small company of believers have met regularly at my house for discussion and exhortation. The interest of the meetings and the number attending have been gradually increasing. We have been from the beginning generally agreed in our views of the lawfulness of organization, and we have waited on the Lord for the signs of his mind concerning its expediency. On Sunday January 31st I presented to the meeting the following reasons for believing it expedient now to institute an organization:
First.- It is desirable that we should assume a form adapted to conjoint and democratic action.
Second.- In our unorganized state our enemies have an excuse for that affected contempt which is their favorite weapon
against us. They have also an opportunity of heaping on us the odium of the disorders which have appeared under the name of Perfectionism. By instituting an organization we shall assume our just responsibilities and liberate ourselves from those that are unjust.
Third.-We have lived in the testimony of holiness without organization long enough to give us assurance that organization cannot enslave our religion.
Fourth.-As followers of the Primitive Church we ought to look confidently for the same grace and wisdom that directed them into an organization and saved them from its dangers.
Fifth.-The history of Perfectionism has proved that disunion breeds disorder. We are evidently called to try whether union will not breed things pure, lovely and of good report.
Sixth.-Perfectionists of the Boyle School are committed against organization; Oberlin Perfectionists cleave to the organization of the churches. We only can step forth as the independent organized representatives of Perfectionism.
After considerable discussion we agreed that it was now expedient to form an organization, and I was appointed to draft a constitution. It seemed to me that our creed and discipline ought to be developed progressively by the joint counsels of all who were to adopt them instead of being formulated at the outset by a committee or an individual. I sought therefore to devise a constitution simply sufficient to make known our primary distinctive principles and bind us together in a form adapted to social action.
CONSTITUTION OF THE SOCIETY OF INQUIRY OF PUTNEY, VERMONT
We, whose names are hereunto affixed, believe that the Bible is the word of God, and that we ought therefore to search it with diligence and respect. We also believe that the chief object
of the Bible is to make known to mankind a way of present and eternal salvation from all sin, and that we ought therefore to forsake our sins, with assurance that in so doing we have God for our helper and that by him we are well able to live h&y and unblamable. That we may make an open and united confession of this our belief and more effectually assist each other in searching the Scriptures and in Overcoming sin, we constitute ourselves a Society, and agree to be governed by the following regulations
ARTICLE I.-All the acts of the Society shall require for their validity the unanimous vote of the members present when the acts are proposed.
ARTICLE II.-The officers of the Society shall be a Moderator and a Secretary, with the usual duties, to be chosen at the beginning of each year and at such other times as shall be necessary.
ARTICLE III.-The Society shall meet at some appointed place on the first day of every week and at such other times as may be necessary or expedient.
ARTICLE IV -The chief business of the meetings of the Society shall be to assist each other by discussion and exhortation in the faith of salvation from sin.
ARTICLE V.-Any person may become a member of the Society by signing this Constitution, and any member may withdraw by requesting the Secretary to erase his name.
ARTICLE VI.-Jt shall be the duty of the Society to alter and enlarge the confession of faith and the system of measures proposed in this Constitution as light shall be given and as reason shall be found in the word of God.
The Society of Inquiry was an outgrowth from what Noyes earlier called the Putney Bible School.  Money for the support of
1 Religious Experience of John Humphrey Noyes, Chapter XXXI.
the School and for the publication of The Witness had thus far come as voluntary gifts from Noyes's father and mother and from his wife, supplemented by small receipts from subscribers. The financial problem had as yet hardly emerged into consciousness, and in the constitution of the Society of Jnquiry there is no reference to property.
On the 5th of February 1841, while the Society of Inquiry was in process of formation, Noyes's father divided his estate among his eight children. The amount that fell to the four who belonged to the School was $19,920.00, comprising two farms besides dwellings and other investments. The only important additions to this original capital came from Noyes's wife, whose total gifts amounted to not less than $16,000.00, and from John R. Miller, who gave $2000.00. These amounts, with $200.00 contributed by John L. Skinner and $200.00 by the Cragins, brought the total investment up to a trifle over $38,000.00. From this time the Association of Perfectionists at Putney had a clearly recognized economic side, and instead of The Putney Bible School or The Society of Inquiry soon was called The Putney Corporation.
The nucleus of the Putney Corporation, which in fact dated from 1838, consisted of Noyes, his wife, his mother, his sisters Harriet and Charlotte, and his brother George.
The first person from without the family who joined heart and hand with Noyes was John L. Skinner, a young teacher of Quaker parentage, who lived at Westmoreland, New Hampshire. Notwithstanding bitter opposition from his relatives he came to Putney in October 1839, after correspondence and visits, to assist on The Witness. He lived with Noyes and at first "paid board," but in February 1840 he was given larger responsibilities and became virtually a member of the family. He married Noyes's sister Harriet in February 1841.
The Cragins came in September 1840. John R. Miller joined in April 1841, and married Noyes's sister Charlotte the following September.
These were all on the ground and one in heart while communism was still inchoate They constituted the original group of "central members," an informal board, never elective, which, added to and subtracted from as the years passed, always governed and led the Community.
After the Putney Corporation came into possession of its capital a number of persons who had long been in sympathy but owned no property were admitted to membership: Fanny White, Fanny Lord, Isaac Palmer and his wife Polly, all from the East Part,
whose conversion to Perfectionism dated back to 1836; Clifford and Sally Clark, uneducated and boorish; Sally Cobb, an early Putney Perfectionist; Sarah Somers, a young girl from New York City who had been a helper in the Cragin family; Harvey Bowles, a journeyman printer, who helped on The Witness; William Sherwood and his wife Lauretta. who belonged to the Newark group. Sherwood was a carpenter, and came in season to superintend the building of the Perfectionist chapel and store.
Noyes was now ready to open wider the door of his "theological seminary." George, David and Alexander Wilder, of Verona, New York, had been brought up in the Dutton School of Perfectionists, and were therefore prejudiced against Organization. But in January 1841 George Wilder visited Noyes to observe personally the Putney Perfectionists. Noyes invited him and his two brothers to come to Putney as Bible students. They were tall, raw-boned youths, above the average in intelligence Alexander, the youngest, was preparing for college when he accepted Noyes's offer.
Feeling insecure about John B. Lyvere, who had been accused of improper intimacy with women, and desiring to keep him under observation, Noyes invited him to join the Corporation. In October 1841 after the death of his wife, Mr. Lyvere came to Putney. A short time previously Almira Edson, a young woman from Halifax, Vermont, whose letters had aroused the sympathy of the Putney Perfectionists, became a member. These two were expelled in September 1842.
Stephen R. Leonard of New Haven and Lemuel H. Bradley of Meriden, subscribers to The Witness, after preliminary correspondence and conversation arrived at Putney in March 1843. Leonard was an expert printer, and his skill in this art was of inestimable value to the Commtinity. He married Fanny White, and Bradley married Sarah Somers.
Besides these twenty-eight adults there were nine children: Theodore R. Noyes, son of John H. antI Harriet A. Noyes; Joseph J. Skinner, son of John L. and Harriet H. Skinner; George and Charles Cragin, sons of George and Mary Cragin; three children of Clifford and Sally Clark; and two children of Isaac and Polly Palmer.
Thus at the end of March 1843 thirty-five persons were being supported by the common purse. There were no further additions until the commencement of Complex Marriage in 1846.
NOYES'S STATEMENT OF THE LYVERE-EDSON CASE 1841-2
Almira Edson evidently supposed in coming to live with us, that she had found not only a refuge from the contempt and abuse of the world but a place where licentiousness would be to some extent permitted. Her spirit soon became a torment to me and my family, and the burden would have been intolerable had we not hoped for her reformation. I studied her character, and finally at about the time Lyvere came to Putney I told her, that she had been a coquette all her days and had brought upon herself by her vicious manners the disgrace which she called her "misfortune." I foresaw the danger of a foolish amour between her and Lyvere, and when I was about to leave for Belchertown I particularly cautioned him against imprudence. Soon after 1 went she began to court him. He resisted at first, but within a few days they became constant companions, and their behavior was the scandal of the neighborhood. When I came home, they asked my leave to marry after they had made all the arrangements. I spoke favorably, only advising them to wait until they were better acquainted. But when I learned how disgracefully they had carried on their courtship, I determined to clear myself of all connivance, and I plainly and severely reproved them. At this time I published two numbers of The Spiritnal Moralist, and urged upon them the principles of those papers: that we ought to set brotherly love above sexual love, and that true love was not the blind instinct of brutes, but was founded on confidence and proportioned to worth. Knowing that neither of them had any good ground of confidence in the other I opposed the marriage for the present. They however were in a hurry, and on the first occasion of my absence from home stole away like thieves in the night to Hinsdale and were married.
NOYES TO JOHN L. SKINNER
Belchertown, September 24, 1842.
Dear Brother Skinner:
Harriet's letter containing an account of the proceedings of Mr. Lyvere and Miss Edson came to hand last night. I have been perplexed about their case for a considerable time, but I thank God that now the path of duty is plain On the third page of this sheet is a preamble and resolution which expresses my mind. The charge is single, definite, undeniable. The greater part of my labor during the summer was to establish subordination, and now a case comes up which tests the results. We are called upon to say whether we value subordination more than friendship. I wish it to be understood that our present action is not on the merits of the clandestine marriage, but simply on the matter of insubordination. Please present the resolution to every responsible member of the Corporation (the parties concerned of course excepted), and take the signature of every one who is willing thus to express loyalty to our associated interests. Then communicate the result to the parties in a quiet, civil manner, without reproaching or contending with them. I hope there will be perfect unity of judgment and action and as little gossip as possible. Please keep a faithful memorandum of all that relates to this affair.
JOHN H. NOYES
Whereas faithful stibordination is essential to the welfare of our Corporation, and whereas John B. Lyvere and Almira Edson by a clandestine marriage in defiance of the known will of the acknowledged head of the Corporation have committed an act of gross and deliberate insubordination; therefore,
Resolved that our connection with them be dissolved, and that they be requested to withdraw from the Corporation.
The resolution was unanimously approved.
Until the summer of 1842 our Association had no formal regulations. Every one did what was right in his own eyes. The affair of Lyvere and Miss Edson convinced me that we must institute subordination. I saw that unless we did so our households might be turned into brothels. I therefore, with direct reference to their case, introduced at a meeting of the Association the following paper:
We are associated for the specific purpose of publishing the gospel. It is as necessary and as consistent with republicanism that we should have a foreman and institute subordination as that a cotton factory should do so. We require nobody to join us or remain with us. We have the right to adopt rules for our-selves as a body, leaving individuals to submit to them or separate from us as they choose. Unless we do this we cannot act as one man nor protect ourselves from the disorderly doings of individual members.
How shall we decide who is the right man for foreman? If the spirit of pride reigns among us, each will claim submission to his own opinion. If the spirit of subordination reigns among us, each will say, I am ready to let God set my brother over me, and I will heartily submit to his judgment however it may differ from my own. The several officers of our organization should have unlimited control over those below them. It should be the business of each subordinate not to dispute and resist his superior officer, but to give his opinion in the shape of coun-
sel when called for and then act according to the judgment of his superior whether it agrees with his counsel or not.
The Bible way of appointing officers may be seen in the organization of the Primitive Church. God commissioned Christ; Christ appointed the apostles; the apostles appointed deacons and other subordinate officers. The first deacons, it is true, were selected by the people. But this was done by order of the apostles and was therefore no exception to the principle that all authority in the church came from above and not from beneath.
This theocratic theory must be modified to admit the communication of authority in more channels than one. While Christ ruled the church by the apostles, yet he also appointed prophets. But whenever he gave orders by prophets he sent proof of their appointment and did not exercise this mode of authority to oppose his other officers.
If our organization is from God, it is not liable to the objections which are justly urged against despotic governments. We can trust God to order our measures and appoint our officers, though we could not man. If no God is recognized, the next greatest source of authority is undoubtedly the people; but if a God is recognized, all officers must derive their authority from him.
1 Are these the true principles of a theocratic government?
2. Is John H. Noyes the man for president?
These questions were unanimously decided in the affirmative.
After the Cragins arrived in September 1840 a warfare with the "lusts and affections of the flesh" began. There was much exhortation in the Corporation meetings to "bring the body into subjection, and to take the opportunity which the winter season offered to steal time from the world for meditation and improvement of mind." The members arose at five o'clock, and spent the first half-hour of the day studying the Bible. The remainder of the forenoon was devoted to printing, cultivating the soil and other
outward employments. In the afternoon all gathered at one of the houses and for three hours cultivated the mind and spirit. The first hour was given to individual study of some topic previously selected, then an hour to discussion with the aim of arriving at a unanimotis conclusion, finally an hour to readings from books bearing on the Bible, such as Prideaux Connection Between the Old and New Testaments and Jahn's Biblical Archeology. A school was kept for the children in the morning. That the women might take part in the afternoon exercises, only one meal was served each day; the members helped themselves at other times in the pantry. After the completion of the Chapel, because of the belief that the freshest part of the day should be devoted to education, the session for study was changed from the afternoon to the morning hours from nine to twelve o'clock.
Inevitably under such a regime the material interests of the Corporation sometimes suffered. But Noyes was unconcerned. One day when Cragin, who was head farmer, opened up his budget of troubles, Noyes said: "If the growth of your faith and the improvement of your mind require you to sit still half the time, freely obey that instinct. I would much rather that our land should run to waste than that you should fail of a spiritual harvest."
Of the thirty-five members nearly all lived in the three dwellings owned by the Noyes brothers and sisters Noyes and his wife were the responsible heads at the house he had built in 1839, the Skinners and Millers at the Noyes homestead, and the Cragins at the Campbell house The principal sources of income were the two Noyes farms, and a store which Miller had started after selling his interest in the partnership of Miller & Wheeler. Each member had his post in the business organization and worked part of the day Miller acting as financier for the whole group saw that each had enough to eat and wear.
Formal communism in the Putney Corporation was a development of almost imperceptible growth. Property was held in the name of the original owner throughout the Putney period and indeed for many years after the removal to Oneida. Some of the members continued to live in their own houses, and followed their usual occupations "At the same time," wrote Noyes in a letter dated January 10, 1843, "the spirit of love naturally led us into a sort of community of goods." But he added: "Our Community has no constitution nor written laws. Our object in coming together was not to form a Community after the fashion of the Shakers and Fourierites, but simply to publish the gospel and help one another in spiritual things. We have found it necessary to in-
vestigate many new problems in social economy, but it is difficult as yet to tell what form of social life we shall ultimately take. We shall follow the leadings of God and, I doubt not, shall find a way to live as becometh saints."
Chapter 7: Sources of New Material | Contents