A Yankee Saint: John Humphrey Noyes and the Oneida Community

By Robert Allerton Parker | Go to book overview

Chapter III: SACRAMENT OF SEX

Shall I not then
Delight in these most Sacred Treasures
Which my Great Father gave,
For more than other Men
Delight in Gold?

--TRAHERNE.


1

NOYES'S "Bible Communism," an argument "defining the Relations of the Sexes in the Kingdom of Heaven," was written and published in 1848. This document became the Magna Charta of the regime of sexual communism inaugurated in the Community; we must now pause in our narrative to summarize its basic ideas and the manner in which they were adapted to the life at Oneida.

Despite his attempt to marshal the wisdom of the New Testament in support of his philosophy of sex, and to find its vindication in the Bible, it is possible that Noyes was influenced by the current of neo-Malthusian thought which was then rising throughout the Anglo-Saxon world. As early as 1833 Charles Knowlton , a Boston physician, had published a booklet entitled "Fruits of Philosophy" advocating certain elementary methods of birth control. In 1836, Robert Dale Owen, the Americanized son of the founder of New Harmony, published his "Moral Physiology," in which he advocated, as the surest check upon overpopulation, the method of withdrawal. Despite the shrieks of orthodox moralists, a large section of the American people were discussing Owen's proposal with unvarnished plainness and sobriety of speech. Ladies of the Female Moral Reform Societies were shocked by Mr. Owen's offensive frankness in discussing the technique of sexual intercourse. Their denunciations naturally whipped up interest in the Owen book, which attained, so it is said, its greatest popularity among the clergy. Moralists denounced it because it suggested a safe and certain method by which the "consequences of sin" might be habitually evaded.

Years later William Hepworth Dixon, an English journalist, stated that Owen had given the first hint of his system to Noyes. Noyes denied this, and called attention to a review he published in an early number of The Witness, printed in Ithaca ( 1837): "The last part of the book I cannot commend, because it shamefully advocates the most atrocious robbery of which man can be guilty; a robbery for which God slew Onan, and for which I

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A Yankee Saint: John Humphrey Noyes and the Oneida Community
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page vii
  • Contents ix
  • List of Illustrations xi
  • Part One - Putney 1
  • Chapter 1: Polly Hayes 3
  • Chapter 11: Abigail Merwin 21
  • Chapter III: Harriet Holton 45
  • Chapter IV: Mary Cragin 69
  • Chapter V: Heavenly Association 89
  • Chapter VI: the Berean 105
  • Chapter VII: Attack 119
  • Part Two - Oneida 143
  • Chapter 1: Colonies and Communities 145
  • Chapter II: Resurrection 160
  • Chapter III: Sacrament of Sex 177
  • Chapter IV: Willow Place 190
  • Chapter V: Traps 205
  • Chapter VI: Mutual Criticism 215
  • Chapter VII: Home Talks 227
  • Chapter VIII: Music 241
  • Chapter IX: Stirpiculture 253
  • Part Three - Retreat 265
  • Chapter I: Hue and Cry 267
  • Chapter II: Break-Up 284
  • Chapter III: Stone Cottage 292
  • Epilogue 305
  • Acknowledgments 310
  • Bibliography 311
  • Index 317
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