“Suicide of a Free-Love at Berlin Heights”, July 16, 1858

The below news article concerns the suicide of Charles Latch at the Berlin Heights free love community. He was only nineteen, and as is apparent from his declaration, he had suffered from a seeming life time of depression and despair. A search for the name finds nothing in the 1850 census, but does show his suicide made national news due his letter blaspheming God, and cursing religion and the institution of marriage. None were sympathetic with the pain he describes.

I include it in the blog due the association of James Allen Noyes and Caroline with Berlin Heights, and due individuals having come to Liberal from Berlin Heights.


Suicide of a Free-Love at Berlin Heights

The New York Times, July 16, 1858

The At of Freedom, the organ of the Free Love Community at Berlin Heights, Ohio, devotes its issue of the 8th inst. to an account of the suicide of one CHARLES LATCHA, a member of that community, whose demise was made the occasion of a general expression of blasphemy and ribaldry. LATCHA appears to have been a young man, born of pious parents, and bred in the ways of orthodox propriety. He was a printer, became a convert to the Free Love doctrines a short time ago, went to Berlin, became disgusted because he could find no “affinity” to cherish him, and on the 22nd of June, last, committed suicide. He left the following letter, explaining the reasons for his act:

TO THE BERLIN SOCIALISTS–VAINDICTORY

Justice demands that I should give you my experience before taking my final leave of you. And I will give it as briefly as possible, as well as I can:

I was the only child of an ill-mated pair. They were Orthodox, though not very strict; they were what were called “good, respectable folks.” Neither of them were uncommonly developed in any direction. They “loved each other from first to last,” mother tells me. It must have been a very blind love! Three years after their marriage I was born–a puny little thing with an angular brain. But in the eyes of my parents I was, of course, a little angel, a young God. One year after my birth my father died. I was left in the care of my mother and grandmother, who kept house together. My grandmother was a Presbyterian Church member, and lived up to God’s laws as revealed through the Bible, as well as she could. Looking back to the time when I was but four or five years old, I remember a deep, melancholy feeling which has cursed me to this day. This feeling was my natural condition. I experienced a little interval of happiness now and then. I was not like other children. I did not play. I was unhappy. My mother taught school and I went to her school when I was five years old. She petted me, humored me, let me have my own way almost always. Sometimes grandmother interfered, and remonstrated with mother, and talked seriously to me. Mother and grandmother were very kind to each other. Well, in short, I was spoiled.

Grandmother died when I was thirteen years old; then the housekeeping broke up, and I was apprenticed to a printer to learn the art of printing.

After working at printing nearly a year an uncle came and took mother and I with him to Michigan. We staid there a while, and then moved to another place, and then another, and finally to Iowa where we lived three years. At nearly every place we lived I got employment in a printing office.

I became a Free Lover while in Iowa, through the medium of Nichol’s Monthly. Then through The Social Revolutionist I heard of Berlin. I came to Berlin and found it was my home; I had expected the same.

Well, I have been happier since I have come to Berlin than I ever was anywhere else. But my soul has not found another with which to rest–my heart; no home.

In my younger days I was self conceited, owing to false training; but since coming to Berlin, I have come to a truer knowledge of myself, and discovered that I am a poor, miserable specimen of humanity–and that has added another great weight to crush my aspiring soul. I possess awful aspiration–I want to be a good, wise angel; but, with my miserable organization I can never be even GOOD–never!

When I was miserably existing in the world, and looking to Berlin, I thought, “In Berlin I will be happy; there I will find brave, and loving, and free men and women, and I will be happy.” and I have found the Berlin Socialists as brave and free as I expected, but I have discovered that no earthly outside conditions can make me happy. I exiled myself from the world, to save myself; BUT I CANNOT BE SAVED!–and now, at last, I LEAP INTO OBLIVION!

And none of you will say I did wrong. You will say, “It is well.” Yes, on the contrary, it would be wrong for me to stay here, a burden to myself and those around me. I am of no account. Let me die, die, die!

You have all been good to me, and I have meant to be good to all. If I have not been good to any one, I ask forgiveness. And my persecutors I forgive, and those who have slandered me, I forgive; I forgive all. I believe in Necessity.

There are but few of you but you will be surprised at my final act; you thought I was happy. I tried to appear happy. I did not want to cause others unhappiness. I kept my misery inside; at times, how I burned! Once one of you said to me, “You look as though you was in pain.” I turned it off as though nothing was the matter with me. But there was something the matter with me. I was in pain. There ALWAYS WAS “something the matter with me!”

And here I unite my protest against and utter my curse upon Marriage! And I curse Religion! And I curse “God,” the Father Monster!

And I say to you, seriously, from the depths of mmy sympathizing heart: DO NOT BRING CHILDREN INTO EXISTENCE, TO SUFFER! If you cannot parent a healthy, happy child–if you do not know you can do this–refrain, O refrain!

YOU WILL BE HAPPIER WITHOUT ME. And the chair upon which I sat, and the rooms I lingered in, and the things I touched, will be free from my blighting magnetism; and thus you will be happier! And the spears of grass which I tread upon and sicken will gain new strength and a happier life when I am gone!

Most of you will only think of me as having “passed on” to a happier sphere; but I see no existence beyond, and I think I know what Death will be to me; and I WELCOME the “great fate of SILENCE” which the Universe has in store for its abnormal child! I die—as I lave lived–ALONE! Farewell!

“There was silence deep as death,
And the boldest held his breath.
–For a time!”

CHARLIE

The Age adds that LATCHA “lived several hours, and was perfectly tranquil to the last, conversing freely as he was able in regard to his last act, and in justification of it.” The means he adopted to kill himself are not indicated. After the breath left him, the members of the community got together in “Free Discussion Hall,” and made speeches. FRANCIS BARRY, the present head of the Berlin fanatics, CORA BARRY, one of their High Priestesses, T. E. TABOR and others, indulged in the Rutland style of oratory, MRS. CORA BARRY apostrophized the “brave, noble, beautiful CHARLIE,” as one who had “calmly cut out the web of life from its earthly fastening, and carried the tinted fabric to be woven out in the great loom of the eternities.” This woman, however, did not agree with LATCHA’s idea that he had “leaped into oblivion;” in her opinion, he had gone to the “Spirit spheres.”

John B. Ellis on the Free Love Community at Berlin Heights

I include the below as James Allen Noyes and Caroline Atwell were connected with the free love community at Berlin Heights, and it’s known that some early residents of the free-thought community of Liberal came to there from Berlin Heights. It is shortly obvious that the writer had little sympathy for the group, but then he was even derisive about “emancipated females”.

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From Free Love and its Votaries by John B. Ellis, 1870

CHAPTER XXII.

BERLIN HEIGHTS.

Position of the Village.—Lake Erie.—Magnificent Prospect.—Reputation of the Village.—Story of an Old Citizen.—Arrival of Reformers —The First FreeLove Colony.—A New Experiment Organizing.—First Efforts at Berlin Heights.—Early Disadvantages.—Alarm of the Villagers.—Abominable Doctrines Advocated.—Marriage Dispensed with.—Evil Rumors.—Imprudent Course of the Free Lovers.—Suspicious Indications.—Action of the villagers. —The Newspaper War.—Tactics of the Free Lovers.—Their Success.—The First Indignation Meeting.—Its Failure.—Exultation of the Free Lovers.—The Social Revolutionist.—An Outrageous Publication.—Indignation of the Villagers.—The Second Indignation Meeting.—Division of Sentiment.—The Free Lovers are Requested to Leave the Place.—They Refuse.—Demand for Mob Law.—Arrest of the Leaders of the Free-Lore Tarty.—Their Trial.—Defeat of the Villagers.—Mob Violence Inaugurated. —Attack on Frank Barry.—Destruction of his Documents.—Effects of this Outrage.—The Political Canvass.—The Election of the Free-Love Ticket.— The “Eden Group.”—Strange Rumors.—Adventure of a Man in Search of a Lost Cow.—A Picture of Eden Innocence.—The Secret Out.—General Indignation.—Action of the Villagers.—The Free Lovers Refuse to withdraw.—Dr. Overton’s Reply.—Settlement of the Matter.—Failure of Berlin Heights as a Free-Love Colony.—Departure of the Leaders.—The Sequel.

Taking the Cleveland and Sandusky Railway (which is a branch of the Lake Shore Line) from the former terminus, the traveller, in about two hours, reaches an unimportant way-station called Berlin, forty-five miles west of Cleveland, and fifteen miles east of Sandusky, Ohio. The place, in spite of its, proud name, boasts but one edifice, a large frame building, which serves as the residence of the stationmaster, a country store, and, if I mistake not, a mill. From this point a conveyance may be had to the village of Berlin Heights, which lies three miles back from the railway, and to the south of it. Here, passable accommodations can be procured at an indifferent hotel.

The village has a population of from fifteen hundred to two thousand souls, and differs from the average Western town in nothing that I could discover. The houses are of wood, and are not very tasteful, and the entire place is dull and stupid.

The location is magnificent. The village covers a considerable area, the houses having ample grounds, and is built on the highest point of the range of highlands that extends from the eastern halfway to the western boundary of the State, and at a distance of from one to three miles south of Lake Erie. The country is attractive, and the view from the highest point, which is called the Pinnacle, is very fine. To the southward, eastward, and westward, the land is rolling and thickly wooded. Here and there a capital farm appears, with its cleanly-cultivated land and its neat buildings. To the northward the blue expanse of the lake stretches away for miles until it seems to meet the sky. The eye ranges over the group of islands known as Gibraltar, Ballast,

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.