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Kneeland, Abner (06 April 1774–27 August 1844), freethinker and Universalist clergyman, was born in Gardner, Massachusetts, the son of Timothy Kneeland, a soldier in the revolutionary war, and Moriah Stone. After attending common schools, Kneeland studied for a short time at the Chesterfield Academy in New Hampshire and worked as a carpenter. In 1797 he married Waitstill Ormsbee; three of their four children reached adulthood. Although Kneeland joined the Baptist church, which licensed him to preach in 1801, he became a Universalist two years later and in 1804 was licensed to preach by that denomination. In addition to preaching, Kneeland taught school and published several popular spelling books....

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Potter, William James (01 February 1829–21 December 1893), Unitarian minister and freethinker, was born at North Dartmouth, Massachusetts, the son of William Potter and Anna Aiken, farmers and devout Quakers. The records of the Friends at Dartmouth record his birth date as 1 February 1829, but Potter occasionally referred to his birth date as 1 February 1830; the 1829 date appears to be the more reliable. Potter grew up as an extremely serious and very shy individual. During his teenage years he alternated between teaching in various area schools and attending the district schools of Dartmouth, the Friends Board School at Providence, Rhode Island, and the state normal school in Bridgewater, Massachusetts. By the time he was seventeen years old he had extended his reading beyond materials traditionally available in Quaker circles. Potter also expanded his intellectual exposure by walking the five miles to New Bedford to participate in series sponsored by the Lecture Association. Through reading and lectures he became familiar with the Transcendentalist movement as well as the thinking of leading Unitarians. By 1849 Potter had moved beyond the Quaker tradition and began strongly to support freedom of thought and the use of reason, especially in religion, and to reject reliance on creeds....