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Communal Societies

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The Oneida Community Library

Description of the Communal Societies Collection

The Special Collections of Hamilton College include a substantial gathering of primary and secondary source materials relating to American Communal Societies: groups of people who have intentionally separated themselves from society in general and live according to a shared set of principles, whether religious or secular, in common ownership of property. This collection consists of manuscripts, printed works, visual materials, audio/video materials, ephemera, and a limited number of artifacts from the eighteenth through the late twentieth centuries.

The aim of the collection is to be comprehensive for imprints relating to all aspects of American Communal Societies, and strong in materials relating to the Kentucky Revival, the Reformed Methodists, the Burned-Over District, the early Adventist movement, Spiritualism, and nineteenth-century reform movements. We also have a number of imprints from the Rogerenes, the Ephrata Cloister, the Unitas Fratrum or Moravians, and periodical literature related to Robert Owen.

Selected photographs and ephemera are viewable through the Digital Collections portal. Manuscript materials are being cataloged, and finding aids are currently available for some parts of the collection.

Printed materials in the Communal Societies Collection are findable in the library's online catalog ALEX.

Research on site at Hamilton College

To schedule a research visit, please contact us in advance.

Christian Goodwillie, Director and Curator of Special Collections and Archives
E-mail: cgoodwil (at) hamilton (dot) edu
Telephone: (315) 859-4447

Special Collections
Burke Library
198 College Hill Road
Clinton, NY 13323
Regular hours: 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday.

Amana Society Collection
These are materials related to the Community of True Inspiration held by the Special Collections Department of Hamilton College. Non-digital printed materials can be found in the Special Collections Department of the Hamilton College Library. The Community of True Inspiration, today's Amana Society, is a Pietist sect that began in south central Germany in 1714. The Inspirationists, like the Shakers, were influenced by the "French Prophets," protestant refugees who fled southern France around 1700. The Inspirationists immigrated to the United States from Germany beginning in 1843. They were resident first at Ebenezer, New York (just south of Buffalo), and ultimately settled at Amana, Iowa, beginning in 1855. Although they abandoned communal living in 1932, the religious practice of the Inspirationists remains vital today.
Bishop Hill Colony Collection
A collection of manuscript correspondence and ephemera relating to the Bishop Hill Colony, Bishop Hill, Illinois. The Bishop Hill Colony was founded in western Illinois in 1846 by dissenters from the Swedish Lutheran Church. Known as lasare (or readers), they read the Bible for themselves and followed the preaching of their leader Erik Janson. Many of the settlers perished during a difficult first winter at their new home in the United States. Additionally, Janson was murdered in 1850. Despite these set backs the colony existed as a communal settlement until 1861. *** More information about the Bishop Hill Colony materials on this website and at Hamilton College. ***
Church of the Messiah Collection
The Church of the Messiah was a communal colony founded in Washington County, Maine, by George J. (George Jones) Adams (ca. 1811 – May 11, 1880). *** More information about the Church of the Messiah materials on this website and at Hamilton College. ***
Father Divine Collection
Father Divine's International Peace Mission Movement is based at Woodmont outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Its leader Reverend Major Jealous Divine, usually called Father Divine, began attracting followers in the American South during the 1910s. By 1919 the movement was based at Sayville, New York; and in 1933 Father Divine established a headquarters in Harlem. Followers recognize Father Divine as God, and revere his wife Mother Divine, who still resides at Woodmont. Members are celibate and reject racial categorizations. Many of them lived in large hotel buildings called "heavens." The movement is celebrated for its sumptuous banquets. In 1962 Father Divine moved to Woodmont, a National Historic Landmark, which is open to the public and also the location of museum and library.
Harmony Society Collection
This is a collection of manuscripts from The Harmony Society of Butler County, Pennsylvania. The Society was a Christian theosophy and pietist group founded in Iptingen, Germany, in 1785. Due to religious persecution by the Lutheran Church and the government in Württemberg, the group moved to the United States, where representatives initially purchased land in Butler County, Pennsylvania.
House of David Collection
These are materials related to the Israelite House of David community founded by Benjamin and Mary Purnell in Benton Harbor, Michigan. The Israelite House of David, and The Israelite House of David as Reorganized by Mary Purnell (commonly called Mary's City of David), communities are active at present. Popularly known for their athletic teams (baseball and basketball), amusement parks and jazz bands, the Israelites are a fascinating and understudied part of American history. The faith that underpins the public face of the Israelites is rooted in the Bible, and mystical Christianity from Jane Leade through the six messengers of the Christian Israelite tradition beginning with Joanna Southcott in the late eighteenth century. This collection consists of thousands of manuscripts, imprints, ephemera, visual materials, audio/video materials, and artifacts documenting the entire history of the Israelites. Printed materials can be researched through ALEX, the college catalog. *** More information about the House of David materials on this website and at Hamilton College. ***
Kerista Commune Collection
The Kerista commune existed in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood of San Francisco, California, from 1971 to 1991. The Kerista religion was founded in 1956 in New York City by World War II veteran John Peltz Presmont, who became known as Bro Jud Presmont. The Keristans practiced polyfidelity, in which up to twenty-four or thirty-six partners (an even mix of men and women) were faithful to each other, forming a BFIC ("best friend identity cluster") that slept together on a fixed rotating schedule. Keristans also employed an intense face-to-face form of group criticism which they called "gestalt-o-rama." Hamilton College holds the major archive for the commune, comprised of hundreds of manuscripts, publications, ephemera, visual materials, video recordings, artifacts, and over 350 cassette recordings of the "gestalt-o-rama" sessions. *** More information about the Kerista Commune materials on this website and at Hamilton College. ***
Koreshan Unity Collection
The Special Collections of Hamilton College have nearly complete runs of four periodicals published by the Koreshan Unity: The Guiding Star (Chicago, 1887-1889); The Plowshare and Pruning Hook (San Francisco, 1891-1895); The Flaming Sword (Chicago and Estero, 1890-1948); and The Salvator and Scientist (Allegheny, Pa., 1895-1896).
Oneida Community Collection
Rooted in the theology of Perfectionism, the Oneida Community is also known for its practice of bible communism, complex marriage, and stirpiculture (eugenics). The founder John Humphrey Noyes encouraged members to attain perfection by reading, writing, and participating in other intellectually-stimulating activities. *** More information about the Oneida Community materials on this website and at Hamilton College. ***
Shakers Collection
The Shakers are one of the most successful communal societies in America. Established in New York in 1774 when Ann Lee and a small group of followers emigrated from Manchester, England, the Shakers developed a system of communal living with rules governing all aspects of life. These are materials related to the United Society of Believer's in Christ's Second Appearing, more commonly called Shakers. Non-digital printed materials can be found in the Special Collections Department of the Hamilton College Library.

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