This Place in History: John Humphrey Noyes



At ‘This Place in History’, we’re in Putney with Executive Director of the Vermont Historical Society Steve Perkins.

“We’re standing in front of the childhood home of John Humphrey Noyes, who was a very well-known leader of a, let’s call it a communistic society. They called themselves Biblical Perfectionists. It was a group of people who lived together in the early 19th Century. They ended up getting kicked out of Vermont and moved to New York,” began Perkins.

“Perfectionism was a religious movement of the early 19th Century. There were a lot of religious movements at this time. And they believed that they could create the kingdom of heaven here on earth by living up to their true potential and being perfect in every way. And a lot of this related to what we would think of now as communism, in that folks all lived together and they worked together in an egalitarian way towards a common goal.  Another somewhat perfectionist community you may have heard of are the Shakers, as well,” continued Perkins.

“The leader John Humphrey Noyes wrote a series of letters and one of them put forward the idea that he later called complex marriage. In that, marriage of the 19th Century was an unequal proposition in that men would own women; there were women’s roles and men’s roles and that wasn’t fair and that didn’t lead to a perfect life.”

“He felt that everyone should be equal and being equal, they should abolish traditional marriage and everybody in the community should be married to everyone else. But of course the community said, no we can’t do this and pretty much ran them out of town,” continued Perkins.

“There are a number of perfectionist communities around and one of them was the Oneida Reserve, which was a part of central New York state. It got the name the Oneida Community and he grew it from a handful of folks to over 200 followers that all lived together in this large mansion house. It lasted for almost 30 years.”

“The community itself as a religious organization broke down, but what grew out of that was one of your first employee owned corporations in the United States. And we think of it now, we know Oneida Silverware. That’s what they made. And so I went into our break room and I went digging through the silverware drawer and sure enough, I found two Oneida pieces. The silverware we eat off today is based in this fervent religious community of the 19th Century,” concluded Perkins.

At ‘This Place in History’!

For more from our “This Place in History’ series, click here.

To view a map of Vermont’s roadside historic markers, click here.

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