Free-thinkers Town of Liberal, Missouri
The plat for the freethought town of Liberal was made by George Walser, October 26, 1880. In October 7, 1881, land at Liberal was deeded to my Noyes family–James Allen Noyes and Caroline Atwell Noyes–who moved there due to their life philosophy. James Allen Noyes’ family had been members of the socialist Alphadelphia community. Upon its dissolution, before his marriage, he had traveled to different socialist and freethought communities. A Noyes family constitution, written at Liberal in 1883, shows the Year of Man dating system, which had been recommended by the National Liberal League, the year 0 based on the martyrdom of Giordano Bruno for his pantheistic and scientific beliefs. Though the Noyes name isn’t on the Spiritual Science Association’s 1889 petition for incorporation, I know that the Noyes were spiritualists.
The majority of historical material on the internet on Liberal is posted by those with Christian associations who have a vested interest in painting Liberal as having been a desperately sinful town, an experiment in godlessness that was doomed to fail. In fact, anarchists and proponents of free love felt that Walser’s experiment was flawed as it was too conservative, and complained of curtailment of their freedoms in Liberal due this. Liberal was thus controversial on both sides of the freethought fence, and really very little of its early history has reached us by which we may have a fair portrait of the town. Yes, we’ve O. E. Harmon’s early book on Liberal, but he was more a speaker and a poet, and his history, with the exception of a few stories, predominately reads like an outline. J. P. Moore’s 1963 book on Liberal is more substantial, but it too provides a meager overview, attempting to cover decades in 167 pages. Moore approaches his subject from a combination of assumption and personal knowledge that most involved were decent human beings, who he describes as independent, their ideologies far-ranging. As to the attacks on Liberal, he notes in his chapter, “The Crusaders and the Columnists”, that feature writers “almost invariably concentrated on the ‘Infidel Town’…their dissertations have all been very similar. They seem to have felt they must follow a pattern to please their reading clientele. There may be others (to) come; and when and if they do, no doubt their stories will be read with interest, as have been all the others”.