Noyes, John Humphrey
- Mary Farrell Bednarowski
Noyes, John Humphrey (03 September 1811–13 April 1886), religious and social reformer, was born in Brattleboro, Vermont, the son of John Noyes, an agnostic teacher, businessman, and member of the U.S. House of Representatives, and Polly Hayes, described by historians as “strong-willed” and “deeply religious.” Noyes entered Dartmouth College at fifteen and graduated with high honors in 1830. After a year’s study in the law office of his brother-in-law, Noyes experienced a religious conversion the day following a four-day revival in Putney, Vermont. As a consequence he decided to abandon law as a career and entered Andover Theological Seminary in 1831. Finding the conservative atmosphere unconducive to his particular kind of piety, he transferred to Yale Divinity School in 1832. There he felt free at first to explore his growing perfectionist convictions that humankind is not depraved and individual and social perfection can be achieved in this life. In 1833 Noyes received a license to preach and joined a free church that combined liberal theology with revivalist practices. In 1834 Noyes declared that he himself had reached a state of sinlessness, which he defined not as “perfection in externals” but as “purity of heart and the answer of a good conscience toward God.” For this Noyes lost his preaching license and was dismissed from Yale and the free church. Noyes was convinced by this time that none of the established churches could support institutionally his radical version of perfectionism. He spent the next two years attempting to articulate his theology more clearly, formulating a social structure to undergird it, and seeking followers....