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John Humphrey Noyes as the New Adam

  • Ernest R. Sandeen (a1)


What passes in the world for life and health, is nevertheless a palpable counterfeit. It is at best but a long disease, having sooner or later the same inevitable ghastly termination, death.

Forget all past history as forming a standard of hope and expectations.… We must doggedly reject the inferences of past experience.… There is no fanaticism in this position; because in respect to the circumstances which make and govern experience, the world has nothing in common with us.



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1. Spiritual Magazine, 2 (15 05 1847), Home Talk #1.

2. Spiritual Magazine, 2 (15 06 1847), Home Talk #3.

3. As quoted in Lorman Ratner, Pre-Civil War Reform (Englewood Cliffs, N. J.: Prentice-Hall, 1967), pp. 3738.

4. Parker, Robert A., A Yankee Saint: John Humphrey Noyes and the Oneida Community (New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1935).

5. The chief sources for Noyes's early life are Noyes, John H., Confessions of John E. Noyes (Oneida Reserve: Leonard and Co., 1849); Noyes, G. W., ed., Religious Experience of John Humphrey Noyes (New York: Macmillan, 1923); Noyes, G. W., ed., John Humphrey Noyes: The Putney Community (Privately printed, 1931); and the files of newspapers Noyes edited.

6. Noyes, G. W., ed., Noyes: the Putney Community, pp. 1718.

7. Noyes, J. H., Male Continence, 2nd ed. (Oneida, N. Y.: Office of the American Socialist, 1877), which contains much material reprinted from 1848.

8. Noyes, G. W., ed., Noyes: the Putney Community, pp. 237–38.

9. Noyes, J. H., History of American Socialisms (New York: Hillary House, 1961, reprinted from the 1870 ed.), P. 636.

10. In his History of American Socialisms, Noyes argued that only where religious zeal played a significant part in the experiment did there exist a sufficient cooperative and self-sacrificing spirit to enable communities to surmount their inevitable economic and social crises. I accept Noye's argument as valid, and I also agree that Noyes provided that religious inspiration for the Oneida community. Nevertheless, it is not possible to show that Noyes's thought developed in any creative direction after 1851 with the possible exception of stirpiculture. His role as personal charismatic leader has been much exaggerated. He spent the critical years from 1849 through 1854 in Brooklyn, at one point even denying his responsibility for or connection with Oneida (cf. Brooklyn and Oneida,” Circular, 1 [16 11 1851], p. 6). In the years of his prophetic exuberance, Noyes had provided his disciples with the necessary equipment for group survival, but others actually built the Oneida community and lived in it when the suffering had to be done. Eventually the community prospered because it was transformed into an industrialized co-op rather than an outpost of the kingdom of God on earth. In this manufacturing process Noyes participated actively, although the exact nature of his leadership is not easy to ascertain and has been simplified by Parker. Maren Garden summarizes this later period in her excellent new book, Oneida (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1969).

11. Noyes, G. W., ed., Religious Experience, pp. 198–99.

12. Ibid., pp. 352 and 353. Cf. also Noyes, J. H., Confessions, p. 42.

13. See, e.g., his letter to Weld, Charles H., 09 1836, printed as Appendix J in his Confessions, pp. 9596.

14. Erikson, Erik H., Childhood and Society, 2nd ed. (New York: W. W. Norton, 1964), p. 88.

15. Noyes, J. H., Male Continence, p. 9.

16. Brown, Norman O., Life against Death (New York: Vintage Books, 1959), p. 29.

17. Lewis, R. W. B., The American Adam (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1955); and Leo, Marx, Machine in the Garden (New York: Oxford University Press, 1964).

18. See note 9 above. Norman O. Brown, often described as a principal theorist of the counter culture, has formulated a Utopian model in which a nonrepressed, erotic mankind would live in a style apparently anticipated by John Humphrey Noyes (see Life against Death). Noyes's rejection of tradition and, in fact, of all historical precedents, his bold proclamation of a new kingdom of the spirit, his denunciation of inter-personal domination and property ownership, and his practice of perverse polymorphous sexuality through male continence seem to mark him as a charter member of this utopia. The correlation is far from complete, however, pointing again to inconsistencies and unresolved tensions within his personality. Noyes's conduct as leader of the Putney community, for example, represented the epitome rather than, the negation of domination. As the ruthlessly dictatorial leader of his band of perfectionists, Noyes was, all too fallibly, a very Faustian man.

19. Brown, , Life against Death, p. 30.

20. Noyes, J. H., Male Continence, pp. 910.

21. The male survivor of the pair of twins born to Mary Cragin was named Victor Cragin Noyes. Referenees to the child occur from time to time in the Oneida newspapers (see, e.g., Free Church Circular, 4 [16 04 1851[). When he was twenty, he rebelled against Noyes but later repented. This repentance was the occasion for the publication of a letter of Victor's in which his relationship to John Humphrey was made explicit (Circular, 4 [11 11 1867]).

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Church History
  • ISSN: 0009-6407
  • EISSN: 1755-2613
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