Chapter 7


IN JANUARY 1842 the Rev. Mr. George L. Oviatt, Congregational minister of Beichertown, Massachusetts, wrote to the Rev. Mr. Tyler Thatcher, his colleague at Hawley, that Colonel and Mrs. Joshua Longley by their Perfectionist views were 'doing more hurt in Belchertown than fifty Tom Paines," and urged that they he dealt with immediately hy Mr. Thatcher's church, of which they were still nominally members. Colonel Longley appealed to Noyes for help. Noyes went to Belchertown February 2nd, and after holding four meetings wrote home that the people seemed "on the verge of a tremendous spiritual revolution." He continued to preach, making it his object "not to excite and amuse, but solely to instruct in the great rudiments of the gospel." The Rev. Mr. Oviatt replied that the doctrine of salvation from sin led to all manner of evil, especially licentiousness; and members of his church circulated the story that Noyes was the man who "undertook to cast out devils at Brimfield [1] and got the Devil into himself."

Early in March Charles Olds, a convert to Perfectionism, was expelled from the Belchertown church, and the Longleys were subjected to an examination by a committee of the church at Hawley. Noyes wrote from Belehertown that he was much engaged in piloting the brethren out of their covenant obligations in an orderly and decent manner as an example for others. Soon a "Declaration of Believers in Belchertown," written by him, was presented to the Congregational Church. It contained these statements: "We hold it to be the inalienable right and the unchangeable duty of every rational being to pursue truth wherever it leads. This right we did not surrender, this duty we could not make void, when we entered into covenant with you. Tndeed this right and duty you yourselves assent to when you justify the Primitive Church in

1 Religious Experience of John Humphrey Noyes, pp.196-202.


abandoning Judaism, when you applaud the Reformers for renouncing the Roman Church, when you boast the noble spirit of your Puritan forefathers in their secession from English prelacy. . . . We find ourselves therefore under the absolute necessity of coming out from among you; and in so doing instead of being factious heretics we are in our own view genuine primitive Congregationalists, the successors of Robinson, of Luther, of Paul, of all who have ever suffered the reproach of heresy for the sake of truth."

Meanwhile Noyes wrote from Belchertown: "Oviatt tells his church not to investigate Perfectionism lest they be bewitched, but says the clergy have appointed a committee to investigate. A report is being circulated that the Putney Perfectionists live in sexual promiscuity. Thank God 1 am equipped for war on the field of morality."

After leaving Belchertown Noyes preached at Leverett, Newark, New Haven and Hartford. He was obliged to force himself away, the people were so anxious to hear him.

Noyes and Cragin left home again in September to preach and secure subscribers. They went first to Hawley and were present at the formal excommunication of the Longleys. A pamphlet by the Rev. Mr. Thatcher had aroused a demand for more information, and Noyes posted notices of a meeting, concerning which Cragin writes:

Notwithstanding inclement weather the meeting was well attended. Mr. Noyes offered a variety of proofs not only that he had not been licentious, but that his whole influence had been used to put down licentiousness. Mr. Thatcher then took the floor and held it till nearly dark. As he claimed yet three hours in which to finish his argument, we proposed to adjourn until nine o'clock the next morning, in order that we might have a fair time to reply. This was agreed to.

It was dark and rainy when we left the hall. We soon retired to our room for prayer and consultation. Mr. Noyes had been suffering for two days from a painful boil, and now in addition he found himself attacked by sore throat and hoarseness. It seemed as though Providence for some wise end was permitting the powers of darkness to disable him from fulfilling his


engagement. "You must do the talking tomorrow," said he, "for I shall not be able to speak aloud." But in the night a victory was gained. Mr. Noyes said to me, "I shall speak according to the program if it tears my throat in pieces.

The morrow came, and with it an excited crowd. The hall was too small and the assembly adjourned to the meeting-house. As we took our seats I was conscious that we were looked upon as criminals. Some had thought that we would run away the night before and allow the case to go against us by default. Mr. Thatcher and his friends organized the meeting. The reverend gentleman then resumed his attack with evident assurance of a signal victory. During the two or three hours in which he occupied the pulpit he made so many erroneous statements and put constructions upon our writings so wickedly unfair, that I could with difficulty refrain from rising and denouncing him as a liar. When he concluded his remarks, the atmosphere was dark and heavy with prejudice.

At one o'clock Mr. Noyes was permitted to continue his defense. For two hours notwithstanding his hoarseness he poured forth a stream of eloquence such as I had never heard before. He replied to every new charge that had been brought against us, and completely vindicated the ideas held by Perfectionists concerning marriage. Then he presented the fundamental principles of the new covenant, insisting particularly upon the necessity of being led by the spirit. Gradually the atmosphere of the meeting changed until, when Mr. Noyes had finished, the audience signified its verdict by leaving the house while Mr. Thatcher was attempting a feeble reply.

Noyes and Cragin went next to Brimfield, the "land of illfame" in Perfectionist history. [1] What little they found remaining of the disorders of 1835 they exhorted the believers to "purge out thoroughly" by a united and public testimony and by executing

1. Religious Experience of John Humphrey Noyes, Chap. XIX.-G. W. N.


judgment on offenders. Resuming their journey they held meetings at Meriden, Hamden, North Haven, New Haven and Prospect in Connecticut, and at Newark in New Jersey. They reached home November 10th much fatigued.

In answer to repeated urgent requests that he renew his preaching campaign at Belchertown Noycs wrote to Longley in January 1843, that he had resolved to spend the coming year at home striving to improve the paper and make it self-supporting. He was brought to this resolution partly by the throat trouble contracted the previous year, and partly by the financial results of 1842, which showed that the paper was a dead loss of seven or eight hundred dollars, while the industrial operations barely held even. However he sent Palmer to help Longley at Belchertown and Hawley, and commissioned Cragin to commence an offensive war in towns where Perfectionism had never been preached.

Previous to his throat disablement Noycs had considered the possibility of a campaign in New York City in the spring of 1843. The Millerites were particularly active. They had set February 15th and when that failed April 3rd as the date for the end of the world, and the time seemed opportune for presenting the claims of Perfectionism with its radical stand that the second coming of Christ was past. But on March 21st he announced to Cragin his change of plan in the following note:

I shall not attempt to preach in New York or anywhere else for the present. 1 think my throat trouble is a "thorn in the flesh" lest I should preach above measure. I am more and more persuaded that our strength is to lie in publishing rather than in preaching. The invention of printing has changed everything. Our congregations, wherever they are, must do their own preaching, and we must devote ourselves to training a regiment of writers.

During 1843-4 Noyes remained quietly at home thinking and writing. The paper was enlarged, and was published regularly twice a month. Perfectionism as a complete theological system now took definite, authoritative form. Thus a rallying-point was given, and aliens were repelled. More active measures were taken to obtain new subscribers and confirm the faith of the old. Cragin, Palmer, David and George Wilder worked in this field. Soon we


begin to hear of men and women who later became bone and sinew of the Oneida Community: William H. Woolworth, William A. Hinds, the Kellogg, Olds, Sears, Sibley and Thayer families in Massachusetts; Jonathan Burt, John Abbott, Sewall Newhouse, Marquis L. Worden, Seymour and Daniel Nash, Henry Thacker, Isaac Seymour, Erastus H. Hamilton, Lveliza Hyde in Central New York; William R. Inslee, George Campbell, Margaret Lang-staff, Elizabeth Whitfield in Newark; the Allens, Clarks, Nortons and Bristols in Connecticut; James, Harriet, Philena and Ellen Baker in Putney; Albert and Hem an Kins Icy, Alvab Barr on, Cornelius Higgins, Elias Hall, Levi Joslyn, Sophia Dunn in Northern Vermont.

Late in November 1844 Noyes received a letter from Henry W. Burnham, a young Millerite preacher of Cambridge in Northern Vermont, which led to a closer acquaintance with Perfectionists in that region.

The pioneer Perfectionists in Northern Vermont were Jesse Mudget and his wife Rhoda, an intelligent, well-to-do pair. By their invitation Truair, a revivalist, came to Cambridge in March 1833 preaching perfect holiness and union of all Christians. Church members flocked to the Unionist standard. Not long afterward came Tertius Strong, whom we know as the Perfectionist pastor of Brimfield, Massachusetts, and Charles Patten, a brother-in-law of Chauncey Dutton. They held protracted meetings, rent the churches, and added hundreds to the Perfectionist brotherhood.

Tertius Strong came again to Cambridge in July 1835, this time accompanied by Marietta Nash of Brimfield. The Mudgets had heard of the scandals at Brimfield and Southampton, but they again received Strong with friendly welcome. A run of antinomianism followed hard upon this visit. Mudget voiced in a letter to Boyle the familiar antinomian sentiment: "The Lord himself has become my teacher; I submit to no human teachers." His house became the scene of scandalous liberties. On one occasion indignation against Strong and Patten rose so high that a mob surrounded the house and discharged a volley of musketry. A reaction followed, and for several years Perfectionism barely held its own in Northern Vermont.

Cragin went to Bakersfield in January 1845 to become acquainted with the Northern Vermont subscribers, and stayed with Norman and Sophia Dunn.1 He sought out Buruham, whose letter

Norman Dnnn died before the break-np at Putney bnt in accordance with his dying wish his wife and their children Leonard and Fidelia joined the Community at Oneida.-G. W. N.


the previous fall had arrested attention, and they held several public meetings. Cragin then wrote that, although he had prolonged his stay, the people would not permit him to leave, that he had removed many obstacles to full confidence in Noyes, and that Bumbam was advancing cautiously toward acceptance of the entire Putney faith. Burnham visited the Putney Corporation in March, and on his return wrote to Noyes that "great good would accrue" from his visit. His recantation of Millerism was about to appear in The Perfectionist, and he had in every way the stamp of the Putney school.

The following summer Cragin went to Northern Vermont again. He found that the Mudgets were still the greatest stumbling-block to the spread of Perfectionism in that region. But notwithstanding their influence the work he had commenced was already bearing abundant fruit. The believers were enthusiastic for the plan of publishing a Perfectionist Compendium, and would contribute money liberally. They saw clearly that the Putney School must organize in order to draw a line between themselves and those classed with them but not of them. As Cragin was leaving for home Albert Kinsley said: "Tell Brother Noyes that I am with him in heart and in purse."


Chapter 8: Warfare with Death May 1834 - February 1845 | Contents