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Laurence Oliphant Letter

A description of the item at Syracuse University

Overview of the Collection

Creator: Oliphant, Laurence, 1829-1888.
Title: Laurence Oliphant Letter
Inclusive Dates: undated (between 1863-1867)
Quantity: 1 folder (SC)
Abstract: One letter from the British journalist, satirist and adventurer to "My dear Mr. Ruxton," regarding Oliphant's having joined one of Thomas Lake Harris' religious communities in New York.
Language: English
Repository: Special Collections Research Center,
Syracuse University Libraries
222 Waverly Avenue
Syracuse, NY 13244-2010

Biographical History

Laurence Oliphant (1829-1888) was a British author, traveller, diplomat and mystic. He wrote his first book at age 25, and several more followed as outcomes of his extensive travels in India, Russia, China, and Japan. In 1866 both he and his mother fell under the influence of the spiritualist prophet Thomas Lake Harris.

Thomas Lake Harris (1823-1906) was born in England but came to New York with his parents at the age of five. While still a young man he became a Unitarian Universalist preacher and then a Swedenborgian. In the early 1860s he founded a Utopian community in Wassaic, New York, among whose members were twenty Japanese from Satsuma Province. When Laurence and his mother, Lady Oliphant, joined the commune they brought a much-needed infusion of cash which allowed the group to move to Brocton on the shores of Lake Erie. Back in England, the Ruxton family became sympathizers and financial supporters of Harris though they never lived in the commune itself.

In 1875 Harris began a gradual relocation of the community to California where he founded the Fountain Grove community. The Oliphants had a falling-out with Harris in about 1881 and through legal action regained some, but not all, of the money they had invested.

[Portions of this sketch adapted from the article "Oliphant, Laurence" in the Encyclopedia Britannica, 11th Edition, Vol. 20, pp. 82-83; and from California's Utopian Communities by Robert V. Hine, p. 15]

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Scope and Contents of the Collection

The Laurence Oliphant Letter consists of one letter to "My dear Mr. Ruxton," dated September 2 from Amenia, New York. The letter reads in part, "I am glad I have an opportunity of giving you in writing a hearty welcome among us. I feel sure that if your experience be like mine you will never have cause to regret the step you have taken."

The letter is undated but based on its being dated from Amenia, New York, it must have been written between 1863, when the commune came to Amenia, and 1867, when Harris moved it to Brocton.

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Access Restrictions

The majority of our archival and manuscript collections are housed offsite and require advanced notice for retrieval. Researchers are encouraged to contact us in advance concerning the collection material they wish to access for their research.

Use Restrictions

Written permission must be obtained from SCRC and all relevant rights holders before publishing quotations, excerpts or images from any materials in this collection.

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Subject Headings


Oliphant, Laurence, 1829-1888.
Ruxton family.

Corporate Bodies

Brotherhood of the New Life -- History.


Authors, English -- 19th century.
Utopian socialism -- New York (State)

Genres and Forms


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Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

Preferred citation for this material is as follows:

Laurence Oliphant Letter,
Special Collections Research Center,
Syracuse University Libraries

Acquisition Information

Purchase, 1986.

Finding Aid Information

Created by: MRC
Date: 13 Jul 2010
Revision history:

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SC 531 "My dear Mr. Ruxton" undated

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