THE SHAKERS / ONEIDA COMMUNITY
by Randall Hillebrand
The Shakers and the Oneida Community were contemporaries for approximately
31 years from 1848 to 1880. This was the approximate length of time that the
Oneida Community lasted (1848-1881). The Shakers lasted the longest between
the two groups, from approximately 1774 until the present, 1830 being their
peak year for membership, declining thereafter. I have been told that there
are about seven female Shakers still living today by a woman named Jeannie
Stine who is a history buff of the Shakers from Seattle, Washington (Stine).
Both the Shakers and the Oneida Community were striving for the same
thing: the bringing in of the millennial kingdom. But, they both had different
ways in which to do it. The Shakers felt that sexual intercourse was the
forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden and that by eliminating it, God would
bring in the kingdom. The Oneida Community on the other hand thought that
living as if one where in the millennial kingdom already, would bring it in.
So, as a result of that, the Oneida Community lived a life where "complex
marriage" (where all men and all woman were jointly married to each other), or
as some would call it, free sex, was practiced. This was practiced since they
believed that in the millennium this would be the norm.
What is interesting about the Shakers and the Oneida Community is that
even though they were at opposite ends of the pole from each other, the Shakers
and the Oneida Community not only knew of each other, but on occasion the
Shakers would come and visit the Oneida Community. They had a certain amount
of respect for each other (Noyes 144). John Humphrey Noyes, the founder of the
Oneida Community, "declared that his approach and that of the Shakers were the
only two possible in the resurrected state." But he further stated that: "If I
believed in a Shaker heaven I would be a Shaker now." (Foster 89).
Both the Shakers and the Oneida Community profited from the revivals that
were taking place during their time. " The revivals left many people distraught
and torn by anxiety; and having tried without success to gain a sense of
assurance in their own churches, they were in a receptive mood to listen to new
prophets who offered definite guarantees of spiritual security." (Hudson 183).
So the revivals played a key role in their success because of the ideas,
attitudes, and hopes which they fostered (Hudson 183).
Another fact about the two groups was that they both adopted "communism,"
or in other words, communal living. Both groups lived in a communal setting
where large groups of people lived corporately in mansion-size living quarters.
They shared the responsibilities as a group, where both men and women worked
side by side with total equality as their goal.
Also, both groups were persecuted for their faith. This is quite
interesting when we remember the fact that one group believed in no sex and the
other group believed in "free sex." The general population did not agree with
either extreme. They were both extremist groups that did not fit in with the
main stream of society at that time, even though both groups went as far as
isolating their communities from the general population.
The Shakers and the Oneida Community were in some ways very similar, but
in other ways very diverse.
. The founder of the Shakers was a woman by the name of Ann Lee Standerin who
is known as Ann Lee, or Mother Ann. She was born in Manchester, England on
February 29, 1736. It is said that as a child she did not have much of a
desire to play, but that she was a serious young girl that had a great interest
in religious things. It is even said that during this time of her life that
"she was favored with heavenly visions, and became strongly impressed with a
sense of the deep depravity of mankind." (Holloway 55).
Ann was known to have begged her mother "piteously" to be kept from having
to get married (Ferguson 321). But on January 5, 1762, she was finally married
to a blacksmith by the name of Abraham Standerin. Over the next four years
Abraham and Ann had four children which all died in infancy. Ann looked at
these deaths "as a series of judgements on her 'concupiscence' (sexual desire;
lust)." (Andrews TPCS 7,8). So she began to stop sleeping with her husband so
as not to stir up his affections. She was even afraid to sleep at night
because she thought that she might awaken in hell. She even used to pace the
floor at night in anguish about her struggle against the flesh. It is said
that her anguish was so great that "bloody sweat passed through the pores of
her skin, tears flowed down her cheeks until the skin cleaved off, and she
wrung her hands until the blood gushed from under her nails (Andrews TPCS 7,8).
In the summer of 1758, she joined the society of Shaking Quakers, a sect
in England under the control of Jane and James Wardley. (The Shaking Quakers
are an offshoot of the Camisards which are otherwise known as the French
Prophets.) (Ferguson 322).
In the summer of 1770, Ann had been imprisoned for taking part in a noisy
religious service in Manchester England. While in jail, at the age of
thirty-four, Ann had a vision that radically transformed her life. She had a
vision of "Adam and Eve in carnal intercourse". (Foster 21,22). She at last
knew without a shadow of a doubt that the very transgression which had resulted
in the fall of man in the Garden of Eden was sexual intercourse. After this
traumatic discovery, Ann had another vision where the Lord Jesus appeared to
her in all of His glory. Jesus then supposedly comforted her and told her that
her new mission was to spread her newfound knowledge to the world (Foster
HISTORY OF MOVEMENT:
"As lust conceived by the fall
Hath more or less infected all;
So we believe 'tis only this
That keepeth souls from perfect bliss."
As seen from this Shaker hymn, the Shakers held to the visions of Mother
Ann, and made it their purpose to spread their newfound message to the ends of
the earth. Mother Ann herself prophesied that "This gospel will go to the end
of the world, and it will not be propagated so much by preaching, as by the
good works of the people." (Morse xxii).
After Ann's release from jail, she shared her visions with the group of
Shaking Quakers to which she belonged. Because of these visions, John Wardley,
the leader of this group, saw Ann as the fulfillment to his prophecy. His
prophecy was that "Christ's spirit would come again and that the second time it
would be embodied in a woman." (Ferguson 323). The group then "hailed her as
Mother in Christ and Bride of the Lamb; and she was known thereafter as Mother
Ann or Ann the Word." (Holloway 57).
As Ann developed her sense of overpowering conviction that lust was the
basis of all human corruption, her religious mission increased until she
finally took over leadership from Jane Wardley. Then Mother Ann, during this
time, added a distinctive element to the group which was celibacy. This
distinction was what made the Shakers different from other revivalist groups of
this time. At this time there were approximately thirty believers in her
following (Foster 25,26).
For a time the group tried to live out their faith in England, but ran
into much social pressure (Gonzalez 244). Then, when Mother Ann was examined
by four scholars of the Established Church in England on the charge of
blasphemy, "whom she confounded by speaking in seventy-two distinct and
separate tongues, it was plain to her that the Millennium had begun." (Ferguson
57). Following this, a vision came to either Ann (Ferguson 57) or her
associate James Wittaker (Foster 26) of a tree that according to Ann talked to
her, telling her that they were to come to America to set up their church (the
Church of Christ's Second Appearing). In Wittaker's vision, the tree did not
talk to him, but he saw a tree with ever-burning leaves in America which
represented the Shakers' church. Because of this vision, the Shakers felt it
their divine call to go to America. So in the spring of 1774, with all
temporal affairs settled, arrangements were made to go to the new world
(Andrews TPCS 18). In May of 1774, Ann Lee and eight followers sailed from
Liverpool for America (Andrews/Andrews 13). The band of nine sailed on the
Mariah, a ship headed for New York. Included in the group besides Mother Ann
herself were several of her family (Neal 2): "her husband, her brother William,
..., James Wittaker, ... John Hocknell ..., his son Richard, James Shepard,
Mary Partington, and Nancy Lee, a cousin." (Andrews/Andrews 14).
The early Shakers believed that the gospel of celibacy "could never take
hold in the old world, where the stolid, conservative minds of the common
people did not open readily to the new, strange doctrine." They believed that
in the new world, God was going to flourish it (Sasson 4).
The story is told that while they were not yet very long out to sea, the
captain became very outraged by the Shakers' manner of worship. He disliked it
so much that he told them that if they repeated the performance again, they
would all be thrown overboard. On the following Sunday they did repeat it. As
the story goes, when the captain attempted to put his threat into action,
almost at once, a storm of tremendous violence arose and knocked a plank lose
whereby the ship started to take on water. All hands tried to pump out the
water with no avail. When the captain announced that nothing could save the
ship and that the ship would sink by morning, to the contrary, Mother Ann told
the captain that she had seen two angels on the ship that told her that it
would not sink. It is said that scarcely had she spoken it when a great wave
arose, the last of its size, that knocked against the ship so precisely that
the loose plank was forced back into place. After this, the captain allowed
the Shakers to worship any way they pleased (Holloway 58).
On August 6, 1774, Mother Ann and her followers of eight arrived in New
York (Andrews/Andrews 14). The group split up into smaller groups in order to
earn money (Sasson 6). Ann took in work doing washing and ironing while her
husband was working as a journeyman in the blacksmith trade (Neal 3,4). But
soon after arriving, Abraham became very sick. Ann had to support the two of
them as she nursed him back to health. After this, Shaker history reports that
Abraham got involved in wickedness and refused to do anything for Ann unless
she would decide to "live in the flesh with him, and bear children." (Sasson
6). She totally refused his proposition which is what caused their final
separation. Then in September of 1776, the group reassembled in Niskeyuna, New
York, on some land purchased by John Hocknell (Sasson 6).
Over the next four years, very little progress was made in spreading Ann's
gospel. But finally, in 1780, because of a New Light Baptist revival in New
Lebanon, New York, the Shakers received a number of new converts who felt that
the Shakers had a definite way to salvation which they themselves were seeking.
"There they found a fellowship literally following the example of the primitive
apostolic church: men and women living together in celibate purity, holding all
goods in common, working industriously with their hands, speaking and singing
in unknown tongues, worshiping joyfully, preaching that Christ had actually
come to lead believers to a perfect, sinless, everlasting life - the life of
the spirit."(Andrews TGTBS 4). It was even believed by the early Shaker
converts that the Revolutionary War was the beginning of a new age. And then
on May 19, 1780 came the day that Mother Ann knew that the time had come to
proclaim the gospel to the New World, because on that day, New England turned
black. This was due to a solar eclipse which Mother Ann knew was a sign from
God to proclaim her gospel (Sasson 7,8). Shortly after, Ann and her elders
were imprisoned on the charge of pacifism and treason. After their release,
they left on a two-year mission through many parts of Massachusetts,
Connecticut, and New York, trying to convert people to their faith (Andrews
TGTBS 4). They returned to Niskeyuna in August of 1783. The following July,
Mother Ann's closest companion died, her brother William. Not long after that,
Mother Ann's health started to decline, and on September 8, 1784, at the age of
forty-eight, Mother Ann died.
At the time of her death there were approximately 1000 converts to
Shakerism who were scattered throughout New England (Sasson 8). It is said
that "at the time of her death, one of the elders who was greatly 'gifted in
vision' testified that when the breath left her body he saw in vision 'a golden
chariot drawn by four white horses which received and wafted her soul out of
After Ann's death, James Wittaker "saved Ann's faith from passing with
her." (Sprigg 7). For the next three years Wittaker propagated the faith until
his death in 1787. Then leadership was assumed by the first American, Joseph
Meacham from Enfield, Connecticut. He then picked Lucy Wright from a town in
Massachusetts called Pittsfield as the leader over the women (Sprigg 7). This
step of putting Lucy Wright in leadership was something that was just not done
at this time period in history. Even many Shakers did not like this move
(Foster 37). At this time in the Shakers' history, Joseph Meacham brought
together and organized the scattered and disorganized members into an ordered
union (Andrews/Andrews 23). "He drafted the constitution of the United
Society, and elaborated and systematized Shaker doctrine." (Hudson 185,186).
Meacham regulated everything, even the Shakers' violence of the physical
manifestations was subdued to dance and song (Hudson 185,186). He made the
move from a primarily charismatic organization to a more stable and routine
fellowship. During this year, Joseph Meacham and Lucy Wright (who were known
as the parents of the church) decided that it was now time for the true Shakers
to separate themselves from the world (Andrews TPCS 56). This separation was
due to two things: the first was that of "persecution and religious
conviction," and the second reason was that only with separation from a sinful
world could one "realize the hope of salvation and perfection, complete freedom
to obey the laws of God." (Andrews/Andrews 24). So Meacham decided "to make
New Lebanon the first 'gathered' Shaker community, the model upon which all
subsequent communities would be patterned." It was also made the first
headquarters of the English Shakers (Foster 36).
Under Meacham's leadership, the Shakers experienced a surge in membership
with the onset of the Second Great Awakening (Hudson 186). Within seven years,
eleven communities with over 2000 members had been formed. These communities
were in Watervliet (Niskeyuna), New York (1787); Mount Lebanon, New York
(1787); Hancock, Massachusetts (1790);
Harvard, Massachusetts (1791); Enfield, Connecticut (1790); Tyringham,
Massachusetts (1792); Alfred, Maine (1793); Canterbury, New Hampshire (1792);
Enfield, New Hampshire (1793); Shirley, Massachusetts (1793);
and Sabbathday Lake, Maine (1794) (Morse xvii). A second period of growth
started in 1805 when Shaker missionaries were sent out to the West to reap
converts from the Kentucky revivals. Throughout the Shaker history,
twenty-four communities were established. Of the twenty-four communities,
twenty-one of them were established by 1826 (Morse xvii), which was the peak of
Shaker membership totaling around 5000 people (Sasson 10). The last Shaker
community to go out of existence was the third one, (Hancock, Massachusetts)
which went out of existence in 1960. Mount Lebanon, New York (1947) and
Watervliet, New York (1938) were the first two colonies established, and two of
the last three to close (Morse xvii).
The Shakers can be classified as charismatic in nature. The earlier
Shakers, up until the leadership was taken over by Joseph Meacham, were a wild,
unorderly, unorganized free-for-all. An average worship service was described
"When they meet together for their worship, they fall a groaning and
trembling, and everyone acts alone for himself; one will fall prostrate on the
floor, another on his knees and his head in his hands; another will be
muttering inarticulate sounds, which neither they or any body else can
understand. Some will be singing, each one his own tune; some without words,
in an Indian tune, some sing jig tunes, some tunes of their own making, in an
unknown mutter which they call new tongues; some will be dancing, and others
stand laughing, heartily and loudly; others will be drumming on the floor with
their feet, as though a pair of drum sticks were beating the ruff on a drum-
head; others will be agonizing, as though they were in great pain;
others jumping up and down; others fluttering over somebody, and talking to
them; others will be shooing and hissing evil spirits out of the house, till
the different tunes, groaning, jumping, dancing, drumming, laughing, talking
and fluttering, shooing and hissing, makes a perfect bedlam; this they call the
worship of God." (Andrews TPCS 28).
In such worship it is said that the participants were not in control of
themselves, but were under spirit control. The Shakers felt that as they
shook, sin would be shaken right out of their bodies.
After Meacham's takeover of leadership, he changed the worship from what
is mentioned above to an orderly, organized type of dance with song. The
dances were symbolic; upturned palms represented the receiving of divine
blessings through the hands, where the shaking of downturned hands represented
the shaking out of sin and evil through the finger tips (Ferguson 335,336).
(1) CELIBACY - Celibacy was to be followed since sexual intercourse was the
root of all evil. As Ann saw in her vision in prison, the forbidden fruit in
the garden was carnal sexual intercourse between Adam and Eve. This is what
corrupted all of mankind, and until it is stopped, there can be no triumph over
sin. They used Luke 20:34-36 to justify this (Foster 16).
(2) CONFESSION - The first step toward spiritual progress was the confession of
sins which was done to either an Elder or Eldress. This was an oral
confession, the very first one of which was done before the leadership. This
was a very serious matter and confessions could take days or even weeks to
finish (Sasson 11), and in some cases years (Holloway 69).
(3) REGENERATION - Regeneration was obtained by works (Andrews TPCS 20).
(4) SEPARATION - Only through separation could one "realize the hope of
salvation and perfection, complete freedom to obey the laws of God."
(5) REVELATION - Believed in continuous revelation to members (Andrews TPCS
(6) DUAL DEITY - That there is a Father-Mother God, or male and female sides of
God of equal deity (Andrews TPCS 158).
(7) DUAL MESSIAHSHIP - That "Christ became the second Adam and Ann became the
second Eve, thus restoring the race, both male and female, to perfect purity."
(Ferguson 324). She was Christ in female form. "She was the one in whom dwelt
the Divine Mother." (Ferguson 324). Mother Ann called herself "Ann the Word"
and said that she was married to the Lord Jesus Christ (Andrews TPCS 12).
(8) EQUALITY OF THE SEXES - A logical attribute of male and female messiahship.
(9) MILLENNIAL KINGDOM - They believed that the millennium was imminent and
that their good works could further the kingdom (Sasson 10).
(10) MEMBERSHIP - New members had to follow the Millennial Laws. People
seeking entrance were put into one of two groups, either the Novitiate Order
for those who had been married and the Junior Order for those who had not been
married. A one year waiting period or trial period was required to sever all
matrimonial ties by common consent, and to settle all debts. Families were
then separated from each other and parents of the children could only see them
privately once a year for a brief time in the presence of an elder (Holloway
(NOTE: The foregoing doctrines are the more important ones of many. These
doctrines were called by the Shakers "Millennial Laws" by which they were to
live since they were in the millennial kingdom. These Millennial Laws covered
things from how to treat animals up to their gospel of celibacy.)
THE SHAKERS / ONEIDA COMMUNITY
by Randall Hillebrand
THE ONEIDA COMMUNITY
The founder of the Oneida Community was John Humphrey Noyes. He was born
in Brattleboro, Vermont, in 1811 (Cornish 300). 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." (Thomas 3-4). She even prayed before John Humphrey's birth that someday
he might become a devoted minister of the gospel (Thomas 3-4). Up until John
Humphery's conversion, he was known as a rebel who had little interest in
theology or in his studies (Holloway 180). 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."(Whitworth 89). He vigorously embraced the faith and the expectation of
the beginning of the Millennial Kingdom (Whitworth 89). 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 (Muncy 161). When Noyes asserted this doctrine of
complete release from sin at conversion while studying at Yale Divinity School,
he was denied ordination (Hudson 187). 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 (Holloway 180-181). For whatever reason he adopted this doctrine,
it was the underlying foundation of his future endeavors.
HISTORY OF MOVEMENT:
In 1834, Humphrey Noyes started developing the theories that would later
become the foundation of truth in the Oneida Community. Over the next three
years, John canvassed New York state and New England trying to make new
converts with no avail. Finally, after a tough three-week period in New York
City, he reached the verge of a complete mental and emotional breakdown. To
top things off, his first and most faithful follower, Abigail Merwin, left him
to marry another man (Foster 72-73). Shortly after these events, Noyes started
writing articles which were published in a new periodical called the "Battle-
Axe". His first article was on the denunciation of the institution of
marriage. Also, in September of this year (1837), part of a letter written by
Noyes to a friend was anonymously published by the editor in the Battle-Axe.
This letter stated that Noyes felt from his interpretation of a biblical
prophecy, that he was clearly convinced he was God's agent on earth. This
article did not bring as much outrage by the people as did a later article that
outlined his beliefs on sexual relationships in the spiritual world and that
would prevail in the millennial kingdom (Whitworth 95).
Through the writing of these articles, a woman by the name of Harriet
Holton, the granddaughter of the Lieutenant-Governor of the state, became
interested in Noyes and his work. She started to financially support him, and
later, after Noyes realized that he would never get Abigail Merwin back, slowly
came to the point where he realized that Harriet was filling the void that
Abigail had left (Holloway 182). In June of 1838, Noyes wrote Harriet a letter
in which he proposed in a very careful way. He explained to her that their
marriage would be a spiritual one, even though for that time period it would be
a carnal or earthly marriage. But, he felt that the marriage would benefit
both of them and that they, according to his teachings, would not selfishly
possess one another (Thomas 92-93).
One of his main reasons for getting married was that he felt the marriage
would advance the work of God in which he was engaged. Also, it showed others
who were criticizing him of his celibate state that he was not for celibacy, as
were the Shakers. Noyes also said that, "By this marriage, besides herself,
and a good social position, which she held as belonging to the first families
of Vermont, I obtained money enough to buy a house and printing-office, and to
buy a press and type." (Foster 84). The press was then used to propagate
Noyes' teachings through a publication called "The Witness," which he had to
discontinue due to a lack of funds. So this marriage seems to have been based
mainly on convenience (Foster 84).
After his marriage, Noyes then helped to arrange the marriages of his
sisters to two of his closest followers, John L. Skinner and John R. Miller,
who were students from his Bible institute which he had started in 1836 in
Putney. He also gained the loyalty of his younger brother George and later,
due to much pressure, his own mother who had been previously very upset by the
way in which he had been using up the family estate to finance his religious
endeavors. So at this point, John and George Noyes, Skinner, Miller, and a
later addition of George Cragin became the center of an informal governing
group of the movement (Foster 84).
Finally, in 1840, "the Putney Association came into being - as a purely
religious body." (Robertson 3). Then, in 1844, the group formally adopted
communism by which to live. This communism "included all property of family
living and associations" (Robertson 3). At this time there were approximately
thirty-seven members that were involved. They lived in three houses,
maintained a store, and worshiped together in a small chapel (Muncy 163). They
also ran two farms at this time, and because of the death of Noyes' father who
left $20,000 each to four members who were in the community, they were able to
support themselves (Thomas 97).
Two years later, in 1846, the community adopted Noyes' teachings of
"Mutual Criticism," "Complex Marriage" and "Male Continence" (Muncy 167). At
this time in the groups history, these practices were only practiced on a small
scale among leadership, and not until 1848 in Oneida, New York, would these be
practiced by the whole community (Foster 88). Because of these practices, the
community came under much persecution, even to the point where Noyes was
indicted for adultery. Noyes, not wanting to become a useless martyr, and who
by this time was viewed by the group as the Moses of the new dispensation who
was going to lead them to the promised land, quickly purchased twenty-three
acres of land that contained some buildings in Oneida, New York.
Their "Promised Land" was near the Canadian border which would be very
convenient in case of future persecution. Then in 1847, the Putney group
agreed "that the Kingdom of God had come." (Holloway 181,183). The community
could believe this because of two of Noyes' teachings: one being that Christ's
second coming took place in A.D. 70, and the other being that they could bring
in the millennial kingdom themselves (Holloway 181,183). Forty-five of his
followers from Putney followed Noyes to Oneida and by the end of 1848, their
membership grew to eighty-seven (Muncy 167).
The economic base of the Oneida Community was agricultural and industrial.
They had approximately forty acres of partially cleared land on which to farm
and an Indian sawmill in which to produce lumber. Over the next year, the
community purchased and cultivated additional land, established a variety of
minor craft industries, built a communal dwelling house, appointed
administrative committees and set up a pattern of daily living which the
community followed for the next thirty years (Whitworth 120).
As stated earlier, Noyes' teachings were practiced here by the community.
The main teaching which received the most criticism was that of "Complex
Marriage." In Complex Marriage, every man was married to every woman and vice
versa. This practice was to stay only within the community and had to stay
within two main guidelines. The first was that before the man and woman could
cohabit, they had to obtain each other's consent through a third person or
persons. Secondly, no two people could have exclusive attachment with each
other because it would be selfish and idolatrous. Any two people found in any
such situation would be separated and not allowed to see each other for a
certain length of time (Holloway 185-186).
Another teaching practiced at the Oneida Community was that of "Male
Continence," which was a type of birth control. In the practice of Male
Continence, "a couple would engage in sexual congress without the man ever
ejaculating, either during intercourse or after withdrawal." (Foster 93-94).
Noyes justified this practice because his wife Harriet in the first six years
of their marriage had five difficult childbirths, four of which were premature
and resulted in the deaths of the children. Noyes came to the conclusion that
where an unwanted pregnancy occurred, there was a waste of the mans seed and
that it was no different in practice to masturbation (Foster 93-94).
With the implementation of Male Continence, which lasted from 1848 to
1868, some forty children were born in the community of about two hundred and
fifty people (Whitworth 126).
Another teaching practiced along these same lines was that of "Ascending
Fellowship." Ascending Fellowship was set up to properly introduce the virgins
into Complex Marriage. This practice also worked to prevent the young members
from falling in love with each other and from limiting their range of affection
to just the younger members. The main people picked to care for the virgins
were people who were considered to be closer to God. These people were of
course older and had a special title which was that of Central Member. These
Central Members were allowed their pick of a partner over which they would have
the responsibility of spiritual guidance. It usually worked that the male
Central Member would pick any female virgin of his choice. Due to her lower
order, she was compelled to accept. In the case of the female Central Member,
they were usually past the age of menopause, and when they chose their male
virgin, they were obligated to honor the request. The reason women past
menopause were chosen was so that as they taught the younger men Male
Continence, they would not have to worry about unwanted pregnancies (Muncy 176-
The forth major teaching practiced was that of "Mutual Criticism." Mutual
Criticism was established to assure the integrity of the community by
conformity to Noyes' morality. The way in which Mutual Criticism worked was
that a member, under communal control, was subjected to criticisms of either a
committee or the whole community. The criticisms were usually directed toward
the "member's bad traits (those thoughts or acts that detracted from family
unity), and an individual could be put through a shameful, humiliating
experience." (Thomas 163). Only Noyes himself would not go through this unless
he decided to, because he felt that a group should not criticize their leader
In the area of government of the Oneida Community there were "twenty-one
standing committees and forty-eight administrative departments. This
organization covered every conceivable activity and interest from hair-cutting
and dentistry to education and silk-
manufacture." (Holloway 190-191). The Oneida Community had no definite rules
restricting a member's time of rising in the morning for work, but they had
very few problems with people taking advantage of it. Also at Oneida, the
women had equality with the men and served on these committees and shared in
all activities (Holloway 190-191).
In 1849, a small branch community started at Brooklyn, and others followed
"at Wallingford, Newark, Putney, Cambridge, and Manlius'. But in 1855, some of
these communities were abandoned so that a concentration of members would take
place at Oneida and Wallingford." (Holloway 187-188).
By this time, "relative tranquility had been achieved and almost all the
theories and practices that would make Oneida one of the most distinctive of
all American ventures in religious and social reorganization had been at least
provisionally established." (Foster 74). The Oneida Community never did become
very large. In January of 1849 the community had 87 members; 172 members by
February of 1850, and by February of 1851 the number rose to approximately 205
members (Foster 103). The records show that in 1875 there were 298 members,
and by 1878, the beginning year of the breakup, there were 306 members
(Holloway 187). From the original 87 members at Oneida in 1849, the totals
from that year on were group totals from all of the communities combined
Over the years from 1849 to 1879, "the community remained true to its
original ideals" (Hudson 188). Problems started to occur in 1876 when Noyes
tried to hand over leadership to his son, Dr. Theodore Noyes, who was an
agnostic. Not only was the fact that he was an agnostic bad enough, but he ran
the community with a tight fist which was resented by the people. It got so
bad that John Humphrey Noyes himself had to come back from Wallingford where he
was living to put things back in order. By then it was too late, factions
within the community had already formed, some even with the opposition on the
outside (Holloway 194). And then in 1879, due to the opposition and hostility
from the surrounding communities, Noyes, who had already withdrawn from active
leadership, felt compelled to abandon the system of Complex Marriage
(Askew/Spellman 111). Even though Noyes wanted to keep the community together
after this, some living married and others celibate (not preferred), problems
Many of the members quickly got married, but since Complex Marriage was
such an integrated part of their lives, the community could not settle down to
their normal style of living. In 1880, a committee was appointed "to consider
the advisability of re-organizing upon a joint-stock basis." In January of
1881 the joint-stock company, called the "Oneida Community, Limited," was set
up (Holloway 194-195) and the Oneida Community was abandoned.
Noyes did not see the necessity of observing the Sabbath (Whitworth 104).
They did have a Sunday chapel meeting in which outsiders were allowed in.
After work in the evening they would sing and pray and be taught such languages
as Hebrew, Greek and Latin (Holloway 183). Not much else is written on the
(1) COMPLEX MARRIAGE - This is where every man and every woman is married to
each other. They could engage in sexual intercourse, but could not be attached
to each other as stated earlier.
(2) MALE CONTINENCE - This was a form of birth control where during and after
sexual intercourse the man could not ejaculate.
(3) ASCENDING FELLOWSHIP - This is where the young virgins in the community
were brought into the practice of Complex Marriage. The older godly members
who were in a special group and were called Central Members would pick a virgin
to be spiritually responsible for. This took place when the young people were
about fourteen years old.
(4) MUTUAL CRITICISM - In Mutual Criticism, each member of the community that
was being reprimanded was taken in front of either a committee or sometimes the
whole community to be criticized for their action.
(5) CONFESSION - The members of the community, according to Noyes, were sinless
after conversion, so no confession would be needed.
(6) REGENERATION - That Christ's death was not for the sins of man, but was the
first blow to Satan. But that by believing in the death of Christ, one was
released from sin, because Christ destroyed the central cause of sin. By
believing then, one is regenerated (Whitworth 101-102).
(7) SEPARATION - The members did separate into a community, but their main
separation was to be a sexual one.
(8) REVELATION - Noyes never said that he received special revelation, though
he did have some twisted interpretations. Noyes once wrote an article in "The
Berean" and emphasized the credibility of scripture and denounced those who
denied the validity and relevance of scripture (Whitworth 98).
(8) EQUALITY OF THE SEXES - The Oneida Community believed in equality of the
sexes as stated earlier.
(9) MILLENNIAL KINGDOM - That the Millennial Kingdom had been introduced in
A.D. 70 at which time Noyes thought Christ had made His Second Coming (Hudson
(NOTE: Doctrines listed above without references are common knowledge)
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