THE BERLIN HEIGHTS COMMUNITY

The Alphadelphian experiment having failed in 1848, and James Allen NOYES’ father, James NOYES, having remarried to Susan WATERS, James Allen NOYES is given as having traveled to Berlin Heights, Ohio where another experiment in socialistic living was being undertaken. This experiment, initially launched by Dr. NICHOLS, was about 1856, and failed very shortly.

I’m aware of at least another family, aside from the Noyes, who had been at Berlin Heights and later went to Liberal, and there were probably more.

The following is from the book “John Humphrey Noyes, The Putnam Community” compiled and edited by George Wallingford Noyes.

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THE BERLIN HEIGHTS COMMUNITY

Chapter 19

FREE LOVE

SWEDENBORG was not alone in his hostility to marriage. The socialistic innovators, whose experiments we have reviewed, attacked not merely the economic hilt also the sexual foundations of modern society.

The religious colonies that came early from Europe felt instinctively that marriage was antagonistic to communism. Partly for this reason and partly in the interest of a supposedly higher religious life the Shakers adopted celibacy as a cardinal principle. The Rappites too were originally celibate. Even after marriage was allowed in order that they might “raise their own members,” sexual commerce beyond the requirements of reproduction was prohibited, and virginity was held to be more commendable than marriage. The Ephratists, the Zoarites and the Amana Society tolerated marriage, but looked upon it with disfavor.

Robert Owen did not attempt the immediate displacement of marriage. But he included marriage with irrational religion and private property as one of the “awful trinity” of man’s oppressors, and contemplated its ultimate destruction. His son, Robert Dale Owen, was outspoken in his enmity to marriage, and became a leading advocate of free divorce. Both father and son were enthusiastic disciples of Modern Spiritualism, a religious cult of which Free Love was believed by many the social complement.

Certain groups of “antinomian Perfectionists” renounced marriage and mated by spiritual affinity. [1] Noyes and the Putney Perfectionists, as we have seen, held aloof from these groups, believing that marriage was ordained by God as the law of the apostasy and was not to be set aside until salvation from sin and the resurrection of the body had been attained.

The Mormons in 1843 adopted polygamy, which Noyes called a dilution of marriage.

Like Robert Owen, American Fourierists were cautious of im-

1 Religious Experience of John Humphrey Noyes Chap. XIX.

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mediate changes in the law of marriage. But Henry J. Raymond showed in his public debate with Horace Greeley that as a system Fourierism permitted “higher degrees of amorous freedom” after the human race had become regenerated by socialistic institutions.

The socialistic reformer whose teachings were the most highly subversive of marriage was Josiah Warren, inventor of the term “Individual Sovereignty.” At Modern Times, Long Island, his final socialistic experiment, each member was supposed to know his or her best interests in the sexual relation as in everything else, and no questions were asked. It was here that Warren in 1851 enlisted Stephen Pearl Andrews to popularize the doctrine of Individual Sovereignty by a series of lectures and by a pamphlet distributed gratuitously. Among the converts were Dr. and Mrs. Thomas L. Nichols, water-cure specialists of New York City. They were publicity adepts and prepared themselves at Modern Times to broadcast the principle of Free Love based on Individual Sovereignty and Modern Spiritualism.

The essential connection between Free Love and Spiritualism is thus stated by C. M. Overton, editor of The Social Revolutionist, a Free Love journal: “Free Love is a doctrine of Spiritualism. I say of Spiritualism, not of Spiritualists. Many recognize the facts of Spiritualism who know little of its philosophy. But will any intelligent Spiritualist deny that the concurrent testimony of the spheres proves that their inhabitants are controlled in their love relations not by arbitrary outside authority but by the law of attraction, affinity or Free Love? Is it not a conceded fact that the angels do not have to be hauled up before a magistrate to legalize their marriages? How supremely ridiculous the idea that the men and women of Paradise live together on the cat and dog principle because it wouldn’t be respectable to separate! They are not so generous there as to sacrifice their individual happiness for the good of the community. They are not so senseless there as to stay together and scratch and pull hair from a sense of duty to their children or other members of the community, when these other members are doing the same thing from the same laudable motive! The fact that they break up false relations there and form new ones is as well established and is just as much a part of the Spiritual or Harmonic Philosophy as the doctrine of Endless Progression.”

In 1852 the Nicholses joined with Andrews in establishing at Port Chester, New York, a Free Love School under the guise of a water-cure and vegetarian Medical College. It was suppressed by the authorities. Dr. Nichols then put forth a flowery prospectus

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of “The Institute of Desarrollo.” This was to be based frankly on Individual Sovereignty, and was expected to garner all the results that had been vainly looked for in the Fourieristic Associations. A site was selected near Modern Times, the cellar dug, the foundation wall partly laid, when the plan was abandoned. Dr. Nichols explained that a campaign of education should precede practical attempts. To this be now addressed himself.

His first move was the establishment of a magazine called Nichols’ Journal, in which Spiritualism, health and social relations were discussed.

Next he published a book of five htindred pages entitled Esoteric Anthropology. This, he prefaced, was “no book for the center-table, the library shelf, or the counter of a bookstore.” It was a private treatise on physiology and health, written “not to get consultations but to prevent their necessity, not to attract patients but to keep them away.” Free Love, though hinted, was not directly advocated. During 1853 and 1854 twenty-six thousand copies were sold.

To this great audience Dr. Nichols in 1854 introduced his second book entitled Marriage, in which he openly presented his threefold creed, Individual Sovereignty, Spiritualism, and Free Love. Marriage ran through three large editions during its first year. By the fall of 1854 Dr. Nichols’ writings were circulating actively in every State of the Union, especially in the west.

So widespread was the popularity of these new doctrines that Dr. Nichols ventured upon overt acts in the full glare of publicity. With his former partner, Stephen Pearl Andrews, he instituted a series of “Sociables” in New York City, which were broken up by the police.

Dr. Nichols now found himself accepted as the prophet of a new age by scattered thousands eager to share in its benefits. How could he make his followers known to each other and commence the realization of their dream? The “spirits,” by whose illumination he says he had written his books, came again to his aid. They directed the formation of a “Protective Union.” A Central Bureau was established in New York City with Dr. Nichols as Secretary. All who wished to associate were enrolled as members and received a printed list of names and addresses. Thus a tempting opportunity was offered to affinity-hunters.

Early in 1856 Dr. Nichols began to see signs of a hurricane arising from the zephyr be had sown. Sensational charges were made in the newspapers and he found it necessary to issue a statement in his own defense. Hitherto no oath of secrecy had been exacted

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from members, but now a circular was sent out prescribing a Declaration of Principles and secrecy of the most guarded kind. The Central Bureau was removed to Cincinnati away from the hostile press of the east and nearer the main body of its constituents. Dr. Nichols began to hint in the Journal that sexual commerce should be limited to propagation. In May 1856 he launched a “Harmonic Home” called Memnonia at Yellow Springs, Ohio. But he gave notice in the Social Revolutionist, that Memnonia would be “provisionally and necessarily a despotism,” as wise and benevolent as circumstances would permit.

But the western disciples of Dr. Nichols, trained by him in Individual Sovereignty, could brook no control. They turned their backs on Memnonia, and found a gathering-point at Berlin Heights, a small town near Cleveland, Ohio, where Individual Sovereignty, Spiritualism and Free Love were smoldering and could easily be fanned into flame.

Memnonia was Dr. Nichols’ last attempt at social reconstruction. After its failure, which was complete, Dr. and Mrs. Nichols recanted their errors to Archbishop Purcelle of Cincinnati and were received into the Catholic Church.

With the exit of Dr. Nichols the “Nicolaitan doctrine,” as it was called by Noyes in allusion to the doctrine which according to Revelation 2: 15 Christ “hated,” entered upon its fin~ phase. The Rising Star Association of Darke County, Ohio, believing that a large organization necessarily infringed the rights of the individual, had striven since August 1853 to realize Individual Sovereignty in a small group with the hope that later a federation of small groups could safely be effected. In the spring of 1857 this Association removed from Darke County to Berlin Heights, and its press, The Social Revolutionist, having taken over the subscription list of Nichols’ Monthly, became the organ of fierce Spiritualistic Free Lovers eager for advance on a large scale. A convention was held at Berlin Heights in the fall of 1856, another in the fall of 1857. The next year thirty householders pledged themselves to dispose of their property and remove to Berlin Heights as soon as practicable. But the public had become aroused. The Social Revolutionist for November 1857 was seized and burnt by a mob, and the number for January 1858 was the last. After this, though many Spiritualistic Free Lovers continued to live at Berlin Heights, the Free Love movement which had centered there fell into complete disorganization.

Reviewing the fruits of Berlin Heights Free Love a prominent convert asserted that among less than one hundred persons there

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were several suicides; that one man was in prison charged with murdering his wife’s sister, with whom he had been intimate; that three-quarters of the married couples had been separated and their families broken up; that many children born in Free Love had been forsaken; and that venereal disease had become alarmingly prevalent.

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