From Sinless Sex to Silverware


Perhaps you are aware that Oneida, makers of fine flatware, started out as a sex cult. I knew myself, but I hadn’t thought of it in a while. What brought it back to my memory was that Sarah Vowell wrote a bit about it in Assassination Vacation. Why? Because Charles Guiteau, the guy who shot President Garfield, was a member for five years, and a rather unsuccessful member at that. The Oneida Community was founded in New York near the Canadian border, in what was known as the Burnt-Over District due to the number of revivals and religious movements that had taken place there. Oneida, started in 1848 by John Humphrey Noyes, was one such movement, and probably wouldn’t be remembered today if not for their successful changeover into a manufacturing concern.

Noyes taught that Jesus had already established the millennial kingdom, and as such people were returning to a state of grace. Hence, believers were sinless on Earth just as they would be in Heaven, so they could have all the sex they wanted. Well, sort of. There were a few catches. What Noyes actually introduced was called Complex Marriage, in which every man in the community is married to every woman in the community. Traditional marriage was forbidden, as he wanted people to be attached to the community rather than to each other. Never mind that Noyes himself was married. Also, as Noyes wanted to severely reduce the number of children born, he promoted the practice of Male Continence. This basically meant that, while sex was free, ejaculation was out of the question. Masturbation wasn’t acceptable either, as it took away from the community. It comes across as rather cruel, but perhaps not as bad as Mutual Criticism, in which everyone basically ganged up on a specific member of the cult and enumerated his or her flaws. They certainly had a lot of rules for a community that was supposed to be without sin, didn’t they? Anyway, the cult broke up after Noyes was forced to abandon Complex Marriage in 1879, and was reorganized as a joint-stock company in the following year. While their ventures originally included animal trapping, silk production, and canning, it was only the cutlery trade that lasted. And as far as I know, there’s no connection with Ore-Ida, the company that makes Tater Tots.

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One Response to From Sinless Sex to Silverware

  1. Pingback: you cannot believe everything you read (medical advice, babe walker, and sex cults) | The Fussy Britches

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