Part THREE - the Oneida Community Series - The Founder: John Humphrey Hoyes.

This is part 3 of the Oneida Community Series
Here are excerpts from two sources available in whole and online, sourced below.

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.


The Oneida Community fits the classic model of a group of like-minded individuals following a charismatic individual. John Humphrey Noyes was unmistakably a charismatic and enigmatic figure who led a group of religious converts through a thirty-two year experiment designed to create a 'heaven on earth' where men, women, and children would live in harmony; separate, but not severed from the world. Ultimately, their goal was to serve as a successful model to the rest of the world. The importance of their religious convictions as believers in the "Primitive Church", is evident in all that they professed to be about, both in theory and in practice.

Their "experiment" as a formally organized society spanned a period of thirty-two years where three hundred individuals lived communally in unselfish devotion to the group and loyalty to their leader. Even after the dissolve of all community institutions in 1880, their economic successes carried them well into the 20th Century as the Oneida name continues to draw recognition as a world player in the production of fine silver and stainless tableware.

The beginning of the story for the Oneida Communitarians was not exceptional. In light of the classic model of the charismatic leader with a vision who attracts and organizes like-minded individuals, John Humphrey Noyes was not particularly unusual for his time.

Noyes was born in 1811 at Brattleboro, Vermont. He was graduated from Dartmouth College in 1830, studied law for a year in the law offices of his brother-in-law, Larkin G. Meade, in Chesterfield, New Hampshire, and returned to Vermont in 1831. At that time, minor revivalists who had been inspired by the famous evangelist, Charles Finney of New York, were setting up meetings in areas around New England as well. John Humphrey attended such a meeting, experienced a profound conversion and determined to devote the rest of his life to the service and ministry of God.

In 1831, at age 20, he entered Andover Theological Seminary. He spent a brief time at Andover, but transferred to Yale Theological School where he received his license to preach in 1833.

He there made a great discovery that the religious teachings were all wrong. He became convinced that Christ did not sanction a life of alternate sinning and repentance, but instead provided for the possibility of personal perfection here on earth.

For the next 15 years, Noyes traveled the country preaching "Perfectionism" and editing "militant" religious magazines and newspapers devoted to this new doctrine. In 1839, John Humphrey organized a 'Bible class" of friends and family. The group evolved to become the "Putney Community" in 1846. It was among this group of 30 trusted and loyal friends and family that Noyes formulated his plan for communal living. However, objections to the radical religious group grew in Putney within the next two years and by 1847, the Putney Perfectionists were forced to seek another location.

The doctrine of Perfectionism had become quite well known by 1845 and had won over a substantial number of worthy and influential church members in New England, New York, and New Jersey. Small groups of believers were scattered throughout these areas. One such band was gathering at Oneida Creek, New York and they invited the Putney exiles to join them.

By 1849, several families from NY, northern Vermont, Massachusetts, and Connecticut had joined the new "Oneida Community" for a total of 87 members. Unlike the millenarians and certain communal groups such as the Shakers and Mormons, the Oneida Perfectionists did not consider it their business "�to proselyte mankind by superficial efforts, but to present a working model of Communism, and leave its effect on others to the silent action of truth and the Providence of God."

John Humphrey Noyes' views about Perfectionism and his ideas concerning the integration of religious theory and practice were becoming well known through his prolific writings on the subject. The Perfectionists' most fundamental belief related to the Second Coming of Christ and it was on this point that they differed most from the conventional orthodox views. They believed, simply, that this event was predicted to take place and did then take place during the time of the generation of Christ's disciples. By extension, selflessness, sinlessness, and perfection of society was a possible, attainable goal for life on earth. To all those who accepted these premises, the promise of salvation was a group endeavor, best attained through communal organization.