Encyclopedia of Religion
and Society

William H. Swatos, Jr. Editor

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(1811-1886) Founder of the Oneida Community; born in Vermont to upper-class parents, educated at Dartmouth and apprenticed as a lawyer. He underwent religious conversion in the 1830s, and attended Andover and Yale theological seminaries, but his license to preach was revoked due to his unorthodox views, especially the idea that mankind was without sin.

He and his wife, Harriet Holton, formed a Perfectionist community in Putney, Vermont, but were forced to leave under threat of prosecution for adultery. After five of their six children were stillborn, Noyes developed the method of coitus reservatus , later employed successfully at Oneida, allowing sexual intercourse without pregnancy. Driven out for their unusual (and then illegal) practices, the small group formed a flourishing community in Oneida, New York.

Their practices included democratic discussion, but decisions by Noyes (as God's representative) and a small, educated, male leadership; economic communism, combined ultimately with enterprises such as trap manufacturing and, later, silver making; free love (or "complex marriage") and a form of eugenics through Noyes's determination of marriage partners ("stirpiculture"); communal child rearing; mutual criticism of moral flaws, especially excessive egoism. Internal controversy and threats of legal prosecution forced Noyes and a few friends to leave the community for Canada 1879, where he died in 1886. The community disbanded in 1881 but continued as a joint-stock company (Oneida, Ltd.) around their successful businesses. Noyes's community was one of the most forward-looking religious experiments of its time, and their beliefs and practices remain of interest today.

Donald A. Nielsen


M. L. Carden, Oneida (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1969)

W. M. Kephart, Extraordinary Groups (New York: St. Martin's, 1987).

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