Oneida Colony

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ONEIDA COLONY, established in 1848 between Syracuse and Utica, in New York State, was America's most radical experiment in social and religious thinking. From literal concepts of perfectionism and Bible communism, the colony advanced into new forms of social relationships: economic communism, the rejection of monogamy for complex marriage, the practice of an elementary form of birth control (coitus reservatus), and the eugenic breeding of stirpicultural children. John Humphrey Noyes, leader of the group, was a capable and shrewd Yankee whose sincere primitive Christianity expressed itself in radically modern terms. His fellow workers, having experienced profound religious conversions, followed him

into a communal life that rejected the evils of competitive economics while it preserved the methods of modern industry, believing that socialism is ahead of and not behind society.

From the inception of the colony the property grew to about 600 acres of well-cultivated land, with shoe, tailoring, and machine shops, the latter producing commercially successful traps and flatware among other items; canning and silk factories; and great central buildings and houses for employees. The group also formed a branch colony in Wallingford, Connecticut. Assets had reached more than $550,000 when communism was dropped. Health was above the average, women held a high place, children were excellently trained, work was fair and changeable, and entertainment was constant.

In 1879, forced by social pressure from without and the dissatisfaction of the young within, monogamy was adopted, and within a year communism was replaced by joint-stock ownership. In its new form, Oneida continued its commercial success, but as a conventional company. During the twentieth century, the Oneida Company was noted for its production of fine silver and stainless steel flatware.


DeMaria, Richard. Communal Love at Oneida: A Perfectionist Vision of Authority, Property, and Sexual Order. New York: E. Mellen Press, 1978.

Klaw, Spencer. Without Sin: The Life and Death of the Oneida Community. New York: Allen Lane, 1993.

Thomas, Robert D. The Man Who Would be Perfect: John Humphrey Noyes and the Utopian Impulse. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1977.

AllanMacdonald/a. r.

See alsoBirth Control Movement ; Family ; Polygamy ; Radicals and Radicalism ; Sexuality ; Socialist Movement ; Utopian Communities .