Harris, Thomas Lake

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Harris, Thomas Lake

Thomas Lake Harris, 1823–1906, American Christian mystic. Born in England, he was brought to the United States as a child. In 1845 he was called to the pulpit of the Fourth Universalist Society, in New York City, but three years later, deeply impressed by spiritualism, Harris organized the First Independent Christian Society. During that period he dictated long poems for which he said he had received inspiration while in trances. He wove the ideas of Swedenborgianism into his religious teachings. Under his leadership the Brotherhood of the New Life, to which adherents had been drawn in Great Britain as well as the United States, established (1861) a community in Wassaic, N.Y., later moving it (1863) to nearby Amenia and (1867) to Brocton, near Buffalo, where it was known as Salem-on-Erie. In that year Laurence Oliphant joined this communal religious settlement. Harris and part of the community moved to Santa Rosa, Calif., in 1875; Oliphant remained behind and in 1881 broke completely with Harris. Ten years later Harris left the Santa Rosa community.

See H. W. Schneider and G. Lawton, A Prophet and a Pilgrim (1942).

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