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Laurence Oliphant Letter

A description of the item at Syracuse University

Finding aid created by: MRC
Date: 13 Jul 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]

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.

Arrangement of the Collection

Single item.


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Use Restrictions:

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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


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.

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