John Humphrey Noyes

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About John Humphrey Noyes

John Humphrey Noyes (September 3, 1811 – April 13, 1886) was an American preacher, radical religious philosopher, and utopian socialist. He founded the Putney, Oneida, and Wallingford Communities and is credited for having coined the term "free love".

Early activism

Noyes was born in Brattleboro, Vermont and studied at Dartmouth College, Andover Theological Seminary, and Yale Theological College. At Yale, he became interested in the idea of Perfectionism — that it was possible to be free of sin in this lifetime. On February 20, 1834, he declared himself Perfect and free from sin. This declaration caused an outrage at his college, and his newly-earned license to preach was revoked.

He returned to Putney, Vermont, where he continued to preach, declaring "I took away their license to sin and they go on sinning; they have taken away my license to preach but I shall go on preaching". At this time, his Putney community began to take shape. It started in 1836 as the Putney Bible School and became a formal communal organization in 1844, practicing complex marriage, male continence and striving for Perfection.

In 1847, Noyes (who had legally married Harriet Holton in 1838) was arrested for adultery. Upon receiving word that arrest warrants had been written for several of his loyal followers, the group left Vermont for Oneida, New York, where Noyes knew some friendly Perfectionists with land. They made the decision to settle there and built their first communal dwelling in 1848.

The Oneida Community, as it came to be known, survived until 1879. It grew to have a membership of over 300, with branch communities in Brooklyn; Wallingford, Connecticut; Newark, New Jersey; Cambridge, Vermont; and Putney, Vermont. The Community had many successful industries. They manufactured animal traps and silk thread, and raised and canned fruits and vegetables. Smaller industries included the manufacture of leather travel bags and palm-leaf hats.

In June 1879, one of Noyes' most loyal followers alerted him that he was about to be arrested for statutory rape. In the middle of the night, he fled Oneida for Ontario, Canada, where the Community had a factory. In August, he wrote back to the Community, stating that it was time to abandon the practice of complex marriage and live in a more traditional manner. The Community formally dissolved and converted to a joint stock company on January 1, 1881.

Noyes never returned to the United States. He remained a powerful influence over many of his followers. Some even left Oneida to come to the Niagara Falls area. One young woman, entertaining two marriage proposals from two different young men, wrote to Noyes for his advice. When Noyes advised her to reject both proposals and take up with Myron Kinsley — the follower who had tipped him off to his impending arrest, and a man twenty years her senior — she took Noyes' advice.

John Humphrey Noyes died in Niagara Falls, Ontario, in 1886. His body was returned to Oneida and is buried in the Oneida Community Cemetery with many of his followers.

In the early decades of the 20th century, Noyes' son Pierrepont consolidated the Community's industries and focused solely on silverware production. The company became known as Oneida, Limited and was the largest producer of flatware in the world for much of the 20th century. The Community's second communal dwelling, the 93,000 square foot brick "mansion house", survives today as a multi-use facility encompassing a museum, apartments, dormitory housing, guest rooms, and meeting and banquet facilities.


   * The Berean (1847)
   * Bible Communism (1848)
   * History of American Socialisms (1870)

Founder of the Oneida Community.

The following is from "Be Ye Perfect: Theology of John Humphrey Noyes", by Christopher Sannes:

"John Humphrey Noyes (1811-86) was born in Brattleboro, Vermont, to John Noyes and Polly Hayes. He was their fourth child and their first son. His mother was a deeply spiritual woman who made sure that her children had a religious upbringing. His father had attended Dartmouth, flirted with a career in the ministry, and left a convinced agnostic to pursue business ventures and later a term in the Vermont legislature. Young John Humphrey was a thoughtful, strapping lad who was the leader of his playmates. At the age of 15 he entered Dartmouth College, and graduated in 1830 with high honors. After a year of studying law in Chesterfield, New Hampshire, Noyes was "converted" in the wake of a local religious revival. Determined to enter the ministry, Noyes attended Andover Theological Seminary in 1831, but later switched to the Divinity School at Yale. However, he found both institutions too conservative for his own increasingly radical views. An adherent to the idea that the Calvinistic view of human depravity was wrong, Noyes became more and more convinced that it was possible for humans to attain perfect holiness. For this perfectionist view he was eventually stripped of his preaching credentials and expelled from Yale.

"After spending a few years wandering through the New York area, testing and espousing his own views, Noyes returned home to Putney in 1836. There he convinced his family and some friends to accept his doctrines, including the incompatibility of monogamous marriage with perfectionism. From this core group developed a society of "Bible Communists," whose goal was to spread Noyes' ideas through print. In 1846, this group started practicing "complex marriage," meaning that every member of the group was consider married to every other member. Outrage over this practice forced Noyes and later his followers to flee Putney in 1848 for Oneida, a community in upstate New York, where he proceeded to put into practice his social theories and theological beliefs. Highly successful at supporting itself through canning, silk production, and tableware, the Oneida community finally converted itself into a limited stock company in 1881 when internal dissent over complex marriage finally proved too threatening to withstand. To avoid further criticism, Noyes fled to Niagara Falls, where he died in 1886. The Oneida community remained intact--without complex marriage--for a few years but eventually evolved into the tableware manufacturing corporation that exists today."


The founder of the Oneida Community was John Humphrey Noyes. He was born in Brattleboro, Vermont, in 1811. John Humphrey came from a well established home where his father, also named John, was a congressman and Dartmouth graduate. His mother Polly was sixteen years younger than his father and was a very strong- willed and deeply religious woman. She always taught her children "to fear the Lord." She even prayed before John Humphrey's birth that someday he might become a devoted minister of the gospel. Up until John Humphery's conversion, he was known as a rebel who had little interest in theology or in his studies. He entered Dartmouth in 1826, the year that revival had hit its peak under Charles Finney. But to no avail, John was not affected by it and looked at religion with great cynicism. Five years later though, at the request of his mother, John attended a four-day revival meeting in Putney, Vermont, again under the ministry of Charles Finney. At first he was not moved by what he heard, "but after the meeting he suffered a feverish cold which led him to think of death, and to humble himself before God." He vigorously embraced the faith and the expectation of the beginning of the Millennial Kingdom. Later he studied at Andover and Yale Divinity School with a vision of going into the ministry.

While at Yale, Noyes came to a new understanding of the way of salvation which he labeled as Perfectionism. This view did not hold to total depravity as did the Calvinists' view, but it saw man as reaching a state of perfection or sinlessness at conversion. When Noyes asserted this doctrine of complete release from sin at conversion while studying at Yale Divinity School, he was denied ordination. It is said that one of the reasons that Noyes adopted this doctrine was the fact that he could not believe that he was a sinner, since he could not summon up from within any feeling of deep guilt and despair. For whatever reason he adopted this doctrine, it was the underlying foundation of his future endeavors.

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John Humphrey Noyes's Timeline

September 3, 1811
Brattleboro, Windham, VT, United States
Age 14
Dartmouth, United States
July 26, 1841
Putney Community, VT, United States
September 6, 1847
Putney, Windham, VT, United States
February 15, 1857
March 26, 1858
November 18, 1869
August 18, 1870
Oneida, Madison, NY, United States
March 7, 1871