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Supporting Civil Rights for Atheists and the Separation of Church and State
In searching out Atheist material a curious pattern develops within the discipline of Atheism. One finds that certain Atheist leaders are held in very low esteem. Often they are ignored in compilation histories or brushed aside with a contemptuous off-hand remark. Pages of accolades, for example, are given to Thomas Huxley, \peer of the realm,\ who did more to harm Atheism than anyone in his century (the 19th) while D.M. Bennett, who did more good, is almost completely ignored.
Women have had hard shrift. If they are not verbally abused, their accomplishments are denigrated. Often they are unmentioned.
The law of evolution works, reflecting (even in Atheism) the cultural values of the milieu in which developing Atheism found itself. Dogged always by the idea that it must be \respectable\, Atheists dealt unkindly with their most honest, most brave; those who practiced intellectual integrity. Chapman Cohen, about whom we know almost nothing (except that he was contemptuously called a Jew by one \prestigious\ freethought chronicler) is one case in point. When the writings and contributions to society of these men and women are sought out, they are found to be brilliant expositors of the Atheist genre of free thought.
Joseph McCabe, who could not overcome his Catholicism completely, was internationally respected. Joseph Lewis, who completely shed his Judaism, never was accepted into the ranks of the Atheist hero class.
Yet, as one reads the lucid, logical and totally radical (i.e. going to the root of the issue) ideas of these men and women, it is apparent that these were our (Atheism's) great founding fathers, the Masters.
And so it is with Abner Kneeland, who was a lifelong friend and cohort of Dr. Charles Knowlton, lately reported in \Roots of Atheism\ (American Atheist, Oct., Nov., Dec., 1980; Jan., 1981) Apparently each and every one of our great men and women were not only 1,000 years in advance of the theists but, literally, hundreds of years in advance of the Atheists of their day. The fearful, the timid, trailed along in the wake of their words and deeds, as they cut a wide swath of shock in their cultural place and time.
Always their \followers\ preferred the safety of association with some branch of the church (Unitarianism, after it became respectable) or the churches' intellectual whores, the philosophers of all ages. To be honest, to be open, to couch one's Atheism in clear terms brought upon these leaders the onus of nonacceptance. Atheists of all ages, before ours, opted for the esoteric, the language which would obfuscate, pseudo-intellectualism.
It is, therefore, with considerable pleasure that we set the record straight. We eschew the company of the famous Huxleys and instead embrace the real, but relatively unknown, fighters who were the ones who got us, in the final analysis, from there to here.
Abner Kneeland is one of these. He was born April 7, 1774 in Gardner, Massachusetts, the fourth child of a veteran of the Revolutionary Army, Timothy Kneeland (an Irishman) and Martha (Stone), his wife. His youth was spent on his father's farm and his formal education was obtained in the common schools of the community. He went one term to the Chesterfield (New Hampshire) Academy. He then joined his brother doing carpenter work in Vermont. There he also taught school. In April, 1797, just age 23, he married the first of what was to be four wives. This first, by whom he had four children (including one set of twins) was Waitstill Armsbee.
Curiously, he did not join the Baptist Church until 1801, being twenty-seven years old when he was \dipped.\ He then began to preach in July of 1802 although he continued with carpentry until 1803. In the interim his relationship with the Baptists was brief. He separated from the denomination over the doctrine of \restitution of things.\ Plans had been made by the New England Baptists to try him for heresy, but this was reduced to an admonition to him.
Following a summer's illness (1802) he visited a sister whose husband was a Universalist. There he was requested to preach several discourses, which he did in an outspoken manner, fully showing his rupture with the fundamentalism of the Baptist churches of his era.
The news of his manner of preaching reached an adjacent town, Alstead. The committee of the Universalist Society then requested him to speak and after two Sunday sermons he was invited to attend on the church. At that time, money for preaching was raised by a town tax and divided between the Universalists and the Congregationalists. The Universalists had put forth their profession of faith to avoid compulsory taxation to support orthodox Congregationalism. However, in this case, the preacher was so good that when the Universalist's portion had been expended, the Congregationalists engaged Kneeland to preach their portion. Before the money ran out, a town meeting was called and by vote he was invited to settle as minister of the town. He accepted but his ordination was postponed since no meeting-house existed. However he was licensed as a minister at a Universalist convention held in New Hampshire in 1803. His actual ordination was given on October 30th, 1805 and the famous Rev. Hosea Ballou preached the sermon and gave \the right hand of fellowship\ to him.
His first wife died in 1806 in February and he married again in June the same year, this time to Lucinda Moriah Mason. This marriage produced four more children.
Kneeland was elected to the legislature while preaching at Langdon during 1810 and 1811. He served in Langdon as a preacher nearly seven years. It was during this time that he became interested in spelling reform, especially the elimination of silent letters. In 1807 he published A Brief Sketch of a New System of Orthography. He later prepared a number of reformed spelling text books. He was one of our nation's first orthographic reformers. At this time he even proposed a new alphabet with a distinct letter for each element of the human voice. One of his publications in this period was A Child's First Book. He also published a \defining\ spelling book of 200 pages. His second wife died in childbirth in 1812. The following year he married a wealthy widow, Mrs. Eliza Osborn. Later he was asked to serve in Charlestown, Mass. and a Universalist Church was erected specifically for his use. He remained there for three years (1812-1815). During his tenure there he opened a dry goods store in Salem, near Boston. His church biographer notes that. \About this period his mind was seriously exercised in regard to the divine authenticity of the scriptures.\ He made these doubts known to the Rev. Hosea Ballou, which resulted in a friendly correspondence, which was later printed (1816) in book form. Each man wrote ten letters and the publication was issued under the title, A Series of Letters in Defence of Divine Revelation. (The American Atheist Library and Archives has not been able to locate a copy of this book.)
This exchange allayed for a time the doubts Kneeland had entertained and he returned (in 1816) to a Universalist ministry in Whitestown, New York. One year later he transferred to Philadelphia where the Callowhill St. Universalist Church was built under his direction. He remained at this church for seven years, devoting most of his time to publications. He edited the Christian Messenger from 1819 to 1821, the Philadelphia Universalist Magazine and Christian Messenger from 1821 to 1823 and the Gazetteer in 1824. (Again, although actively attempting to locate these magazines, the Americn Atheist Center has been unsuccessful). The experience would prove to be invaluable later. He also published in 1824 a volume of Universalist sermons, Lectures of the Doctrine of Universal Salvation, which was popular enough to go to a second edition. During this period he also debated with a Presbyterian clergyman on \universal salvation\ and published the argument in book form (a duodecimo of nearly 400 pages) about the beginnings of Christianity.
His curiosity was insatiable and at age about 45 he taught himself Latin, Greek and Hebrew. In 1822 he published his own translation of the New Testament in double columns, in Greek and English, A Greek and English Testament with Notes.
In 1825 Kneeland moved to New York where he became pastor of the Prince Street Universalist Society of New York but later moved to a dissenting group, the Second Universalist Society. There, he continued his magazine work, editing The Olive Branch and in 1828 the Olive Branch and Christian Inquirer. which he described as devoted to \free inquiry, pure morality and rational Christianity.\
It was while he was in New York that Kneeland became acquainted with Robert Dale Owen and Frances Wright D'Arusmont. His sermons reached such a point that \The Universalist refused longer to recognize him as an accredited preacher and after some crimination, in May, 1829, he suspended himself from the church. Apparently his friend and possible counsellor, Hosea Ballou, convinced him that this was the least troublesome way in which to proceed.
The announcement of voluntary withdrawal reflected a troubled but conscientious attitude:
\WHEREAS, the circumstances which have attended my ministry in New York, and which has resulted from my labors in that place, are such as to produce a dissatisfaction in the minds of many, and to induce a belief that I am not what I profess to be, a real believer and defender of the Christian religion; and
\WHEREAS, this dissatisfaction and belief concerning me have become considerably extensive in other religions among Universalists, it is my desire that all associations and individual brethern of the order would allow me to suspend myself as to the fellowship of the order until I shall be able to give entire satisfaction that the cause of the world's Redeemer — of God, of truth, and righteousness —is the cause in which I am laboring and to which my talents are devoted. Wishing you success, brethern, in all that is good, I subscribe myself, yours, affectionately in the land of peace.
(signed) Abner Kneeland
He was then 55 years old.
Before leaving New York, in the fall of 1829, he gave a series of lectures in Broadway Hall on Christian evidences. These discourses were also published in a book, A Review of the Evidences of Christianity. 1829.
Later, he was to write that it was while at North Hartford, N.Y. that he had read, for the first time, the works of Dr. Joseph Preistley. He averred that in reading Disquisition on Matter and Spirit, he became a Materialist in every and in the strictest sense of the word. In writing of the experience he said, \Here the scepticism of the editor began, and so far as we know, to this cause, and this cause only, which gradually continued in spite of all his efforts to prevent it, the whole fabric of Christian evidence was completely demolished in his mind, without leaving even a wreck behind.\
The American Atheist Library and Archives contains a photocopy of a holograph letter written by Kneeland on March 31, 1830 to the Rev. W. I. Reese of Portland, Maine which, while repudiating the title \Atheist,\ defines accurately the stance of Atheism. It reads:
March 31st 1830
Yours enclosing seven dollars, is just received, and as you expected cost me 56 cts postage, but stilt I was glad to receive it, though if I had not, I should have imputed it to inability, and not to so base a principle as a supposition that it could be right to wrong a heretic.
You mistake me, or else the meaning of the term, if you think me an Atheist. I a m no more an Atheist than I am a Theist. But as I affirm and deny nothing in relation to the subject and think it all vanity and folly either to affirm or deny without evidence (and here I conceive we have none, no not even the shadow of evidence). I do not see any more propriety in calling me an Atheist than there would be in calling me a theist. I understand an Atheist to be one who denies the existence of god; and a theist, or deist, one who affirms, or at least believes in the existence of god. I am neither one nor the other; but acknowledge my total ignorance in relation to the subject. I have tried, and tried very hard, to gain some knowledge about it; but have gained none. I know as much about the bible, and of what it contains, as I ever expect to know; but the bible gives me no knowledge of god. At this, perhaps, you will \smile\ again. Be it so, I will allow you to smile at my ignorance, so that it is not the smile of contempt. I can assure you, notwithstanding the term god is found occasionally in my hymns; I could very well dispense with the term; for truly, I can attach no other idea to it than that of a creation of the imagination — a sort of poetic license, as Jewish god, Christian god, Pagan god, Calvinistic [?] god, Arminian god, etc. etc. No one, I think, can rationally support that we attach the idea of Being to the abstract virtues, wisdom, love, truth, etc. although we may celebrate them in poetry as so many gods. They have no meaning for us, whatever, only as they relate to man. In this sense, they mean something; but as gods they mean nothing. But were the ignorance of ancient times to return, then, perhaps, ancient customs may return with them; or we may others as bad. But, after all, I have not been able to discover anything like \confusion in langauge, or embarrasment of belief,\ however my language may have appeared to others; and unless they can make that confusion, etc. appear, it wilt, perhaps be harmless.
You seem to wish to see \a fair and candid statement of what\ I \do believe. \ T o which I have no kind of objection, as my creed is very short. I believe, then, from the best evidence I have been able to obtain that all that exists now, as to the identity of matter, ever did exist, and ever will; that is, in some state , form or condition, is constantly and mutually changing; some very slow, others more rapidly. The change of all, is not always perceivable by us; yet, there is reason to believe, that one law, if law it may be called, pervades the whole. When and how man and other animals first came into being, I do not pretend to know, neither do I form any opinion; at least, any further than this, as he grows now, something like a vegetable, in the womb of his mother at first, so, for ought I know, he might have grown originally in the womb of the earth, or elements in the same way. If it be asked. Why does not the earth produce animals now; it may be answered, for the same reason that women do not have children after a certain age — she is too old to have children now! All this is conjecture — we know nothing about it; neither as I conceive, is it a matter of the least concern, of the least consequence to us. So may the earth be ultimately destroyed, from some cause or other, but that is no concern of mine whatever. I know of no relation, obligation, duty or responsibility to any being or beings in this universe except to myself and others of my own species. I do not think it right to be cruel, even to other animals; but I do not stand in the same relation to them as I do to man. They would confer on me no benefit, voluntarily, unless they were first domesticated by men for that purpose. My own interest, which is happiness, consists in endeavoring to make others as happy as I can, as well as myself. On my own account, it is of no consequences whatever whether I live long or die shortly; all I want, is to be happy while I live; but on the account of others, I wish to live as long as I can be useful to them, in any manner or form, for I anticipate their happiness even after I am dead; and this idea adds to my happiness now. I form no idea of a hereafter any more than I do of a herebefore. This world existed before my birth; but what was that to me? So it will exist after I am dead; and what is that to me?
It will be nothing to me then; but I now wish that they (the inhabitants) should then be happy. Thus I have informed you, as explicitly as I can; and in perfect candor, my present impressions from all that I know or have reason to believe.
I extend my views no farther. Of superhuman beings, or invisible worlds, I know nothing; except it may be these worlds, similar perhaps to our own, which are too distant to be seen by us; but if they are inhabited, our world must be as invisible to them as theirs is to us. Continue to preach as long as you can believe; but when you can no longer believe, perhaps you will find it expedient to do as I have done. Continue to lecture for the good of your species in this world without any regard to another. At all events, I am your well wisher,
Meanwhile, Francis Wright had founded \The First Society of Free Enquirers\ in Boston Massachusetts in 1829. In 1830 Kneeland went there to be the resident lecturer, replacing a previous lecturer by the name of Jennings. It was in that same year that he became associated with Dr. Charles Knowlton, a neighbor. When Dr. Knowlton wrote the first medical birth control handbook distributed in the United States, he was arrested and imprisoned for it. Kneeland immediately attempted to come to his rescue reporting the trial extensively in a publication he had started in 1831, the Boston Investigator. When William Lloyd Garrison came to the city and sought in vain for a church or hall in which to speak upon slavery, and was about to resort to the Commons, Abner Kneeland (and his friends) offered Garrison the use of the Julien Hall in which they held their lectures, then under their control. Garrison's antislavery lectures were delivered there. An irate proprietor turned them all out so that they were forced to move to the Federal Street Theatre.
Although commentors relate that the \next few years were filled with turmoil,\ the allusion is lost since no facts are known. However, the December 20th, 1833, issue of the Boston Investigator contained three articles and severe consequences for Kneeland. Two of the articles were reprinted from the Free Inquirer of New York City. The first of these dealt with the subject of the virgin birth, \and contained a quotation from Voltaire so indelicate that four successive judges protected four different juries from the embarrassment of listening to it.\ The second was an irreverent ridicule of prayer. The third was a statement of the editor, as follows:
1. Universalists believe in a god which I do not: [so Kneeland had written] but believe that their god, with all his moral attributes is nothing more than a chimera of their own imagination. 2. Universalists believe in Christ, which I do not: but believe that the whole story concerning him is as much a fable and fiction, as that of the god Prometheus . . . . 3. Universalists believe in miracles, which I do not; but believe that every pretension to them can either be accounted for on natural principles or else is to be attributed to mere trick and imposture. 4. Universalists believe in the resurrection of the dead, immortality and eternal life, which I do not; but believe that all life is material, that death is an eternal extinction of life to the individual who possesses it, and that no individual life was ever or ever will be eternal.
Abner Kneeland may not have known it when he made his opinion known that day but he was transgressing not alone the laws of god, but of man. On July 3, 1782, 51 years prior, the legislature of the State of Massachusetts had passed \An Act against Blasphemy.\ The substance of the law was explicit: \If any person shall wilfully blaspheme the holy name of God, by denying, cursing, or contumeliously reproaching God, his creation, government or final judging of the world, or by cursing or reproaching Jesus Christ or the Holy Ghost, or by cursing or contumeliously reproaching the Holy Word of God, that is, the canonical scriptures as contained in the books of the Old and New Testaments, or by exposing them or any part of them to contempt or ridicule, which books are as follows: [lists of all books of the bible]; every person so offending shall be punished by imprisonment not exceeding twelve months, by sitting in the pillory, by whipping, or by sitting on the gallows, with a rope about the neck, or binding to the good behavior, at the discretion of the Supreme Judicial Court before whom the conviction may be according to the aggravation of the offence.\
Kneeland was indicted, arrested and brought to trial to the Municipal Court of Boston within weeks. Immediately the prosecuting attorney linked him to \Fanny Wright, Robert Dale Owen and Dr. Charles Knowlton.\ The argument to the jury was aimed at all.
Kneeland, who was legally responsible for the contents of the journal, did the best he could to escape the ancient law and its inhuman punishment. His attorney first challenged the constitutionatity of the law under which Kneeland had been indicted; second, denied Kneeland's responsibility for the two articles printed from the New York Inquirer and third, attempted to construe the meaning of Kneeland's own words so that blasphemy could not be inferred.
The judge, in his charge to the jury, reminded them that he was a deacon in the (Universalist) Brattle Street Church, declared the law to be constitutional, brushed aside any but the most obvious meaning of blasphemous words and admonished of the grave social consequences of unpunished blasphemy. He philosophized, quoting Erskine,
\Of all human beings, he says, the poor stand most in need of the consolation of religion, and the country has the deepest stake in their enjoying it, not only from the protection which it owes them, but because no man can be expected to be faithful to the authority of man, who revolts against the government of god.\ The Jury brought to a verdict of guilty, the judge pronounced sentence of three months in jail and Kneeland promptly appealed to the Supreme Court.
In the meantime, in 1834, Kneeland married again, this time Dolly L. Rice with whom he fathered four more children. All twelve children of these four marriages were delivered by Kneeland himself by the \Thomsonian system\.
On May 28th, 1834, the second trial ended with the jury not being able to come to a verdict, by an eleven to one vote.
The state tried again, and the third trial was had in November, 1835, when he was again convicted. Kneeland then moved for a new trial which was had in March, 1836. This was also appealed but in the Massachusetts Supreme Court, in 1838, he was sentenced to serve sixty days in jail. Kneeland was then 64 years old.
Along the way, he had dispensed with an attorney and delivered speeches in his own defense in 1834 and again in 1836 before the Supreme Court. The final 39-page decision issued in April, 1838 (four and one-half years after the offense) is a justification for the continued use of the blasphemy law. The court had difficulty since it had full knowledge that this was a curtailment of freedom of the press, freedom of speech and freedom of conscience. Therefore one of the conclusions reached was to \intent\ and \manner\ of Kneeland. The intent was \bad,\ the manner was \calculated to give just offence\ and, in all, his remarks were malicious falsehoods, and obscene or profane publications. Yet, the court also held that the statute under which he had been indicted was \. . . not intended to prohibit the fullest inquiry and freest discussion for all honest and fair purposes . . . \ included among which was not \. . - to prevent the simple and sincere avowal of disbelief in the existence and attributes of a supreme, intelligent being, upon suitable and proper occasions.\
When measured against the 16th article of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights, which declared that the liberty of the press ought not to be restrained, the statute under which Kneeland was prosecuted was found not to be repugnant to freedom of the press.
Kneeland had argued as best as he could. He did not want to go to jail. His plea had been, \I had not occasion to deny that there was a god; I believe that the whole universe is nature, and that god and nature are synonymous terms. I believe in a god that embraces all power, wisdom, justice and goodness. Everything is god. I am not an atheist, but a pantheist.\
It did not work because he really did not believe what he was forced to say to stay out of jail. His prosecutors knew him well. For the court noted it was the \said\ and not the \unsaid\ which it could seize upon: \. . . the enjoyment of concealed opinions cannot be restrained by human institutions.\ But Francis Wright had already spoken to the issue with her query, \Who can speak for human freedom when the mind is in chains?\ A closet Atheist unable, or so cowed as to be unwilling, to speak openly had — really — no right to an opinion at all. Actually, when the court arrived at the central issue of the case, all was apparent. \The discussion, in decent language, of all the other subjects mentioned in the statute, is left open; but the denial of god, whether in decent language or otherwise, is prohibited.\ The judges went on to define blasphemy as \consisting in speaking evil of the Deity with an impious purpose to derogate from the divine majesty, and to alienate the minds of others from the love and reverence of God.\
The court called upon legal opinions and cited the constitutions of New Hampshire, Vermont, Maine and New York as prohibiting blasphemy. Kneeland must go to jail.
The imposition of the sentence aroused protest throughout the state. Editorial writers fell back upon the warehouse of Puritan intolerance to vilify the judges and the law. It was to no avail. A petition for pardon was drawn up by no less a person than William Ellery Channing pleading that the honor of the state required the pardon. It was signed by Williamm Lloyd Garrison, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and about 170 other prominent persons and ministers. Kneeland was in the common jail from which he could see the Bunker Hill Monument.
With all the letter-writing, petitioning, visitors, the sixty days were accomplished on 12th August, 1838, and Abner Kneeland was released from jail. His crime: expressing frankly his religious beliefs.
Kneeland was disheartened and disappointed. He still believed in the Philosophical Creed he had composed four years prior to this time. He had used it during the trial and reaffirmed it after his release.
Code 0f Morals
Code 0f Morals
THEORUM 1. Human happiness is the grand and ultimate object of man; hence whatever tends to increase the amount of human happiness, on the whole, taking into consideration all its bearings, and all its consequences, is good in a moral sense, and ought to be performed, independent of law, fashion or custom, and there should be no law to prohibit it. But whatever tends to diminish the quantum of human happiness, on the whole, in the same sense as above, is evil in a moral sense, and ought to be avoided, even were there no law, fashion or custom against it.
THEORUM II. Whatever is congenial to nature, in all living beings, tends to health and happiness; but the excess of every thing, whether in eating, drinking, or any other gratification, is injurious and should be avoided; and the neglect of what nature requires may be equally injurious, and should not be neglected.
But the better to understand these abstract Moral Principles, the following Rules are proposed. They are fundamental, and should, never be lost sight of in principle, or departed from in practice. They constitute, with the Philosophical Creed, the Religion of Free Enquirers.
1. Truth is most sacred of any thing in the Universe: and children should be ever taught, both by precept and example, to speak the truth, and nothing but the truth, on all occasions; and from which they should never swerve in future life.
2. Justice and equity should be observed in all the transactions of man; and never be designedly departed from in any instance.
3. Benevolence and Charity are beautiful ornaments, and adorn the human character; hence, these moral virtues should be constantly kept on view.
4. No one should promise without the means and the intention of fulfilling what is promised; and if the promise is to be fulfilled at a future time, there should be at least a reasonable expectation at the time the promise is made, of having the means to fulfil it.
5. All contracts are of a civil nature; mankind are incapable of making any other; and they should be considered sacred and binding on the parties as long as the contract lasts.
6. The parties making a contract, should be authorised to dissolve it by mutual consent; but if the parties cannot agree, a third party may be called in, the judiciary, if necessary, not to perpetuate the contract, but to say on what conditions it shall be dissolved.
7. The marriage contract should not be an exception to the foregoing rules; 'for how can two walk together, except they are agreed?' But no marriage contract should be disannulled without reasons to the satisfaction of disinterested persons who may be the referees, subject to an appeal if necessary; and all provisions be made for the children, in case there be any, that the laws provide for, and of which the property of the parties admit.
8. All debts should be considered as debts of HONOR, and promptly paid as such; which if any fail to do, they should not be trusted; and those who do trust them should suffer or abide the consequences without troubling others therewith. But let it be understood, if a man does not pay his honest debts when he has the means, it is a crime, and should be punished as such. See article 11.
9. Societies should all be based upon these principles, and every member, during his or her membership, should conform strictly to the rules of the society; and in case of failure should be liable to be expelled from the society; and, if necessary for the public good, should be publicly advertised, as a warning to others.
10. All parents should maintain and properly educate their children, and should not extend their number beyond a fair prospect and probability of their being able to do so; but should they neglect to do it, having the means, they should be liable to be fined to that amount, and to have their children taken from them; for no children should be neglected, much less suffered to grow up either in wretchedness or in ignorance.
Were these rules to be perfectly observed and all that is implied in them strictly regarded, there would be no occasion for any criminal laws: but owing to the frailty of man, they may be violated, and therefore it is necessary,
11. To have laws to prevent tresspasses and frauds of every kind; to protect the weak against the strong; to protect the upright dealer against the swindler; to protect virtue of every grade and name, against the inroads and ravages of every species of vice. In these laws, therefore, there should be included (and no matter how severe the penalty,) laws against seduction, and all violations of the marriage contract, which, of all contracts or moral rules, should be held the most sacred.
These are the moral rules and principles which should never be lost sight of in practice, or in the making of civil laws. And how far soever similar rules and regulations may be extended, all should partake of the same spirit, and be built upon these fundamental principles.
Kneeland's next intellectual adventure was the embracing of the idea of an Atheist colony. Kneeland was well acquainted with Frances Wright's Tennessee Neshoba and Robert Dale Owen's Indiana New Harmony colonies and decided to, himself, establish one. The free-soil Territory of Iowa had just been established by Act of Congress. Based on the old Frances Wright group, \First Society of Free Enquirers,\ he established a hope and reached out to physically acquire an extensive tract of land in Van Buren County, two miles south of Farmington, on the bank of the Des Moines River. The community was named Salubria, while still only in existence on paper and dedicated to both rationalism and the worship of nature.
The entire enterprise was carried on through the pages of the Investigator. A levy of $10 was made upon each member of the Society. The founders of the new Salubria group declared, \No minister shall ever come to this community to air his superstitions.\
In May, 1839, Kneeland and his wife and three children arrived in Ft. Madison, Iowa. He and his stepson built a comfortable two story house in Salubria. In December, 1841, he finally obtained a government patent for the land. His friends assembled at this home, his books were shipped there.
Salubria did not prosper. Kneeland ran for the territorial legislature on his own Free Thought ticket in 1840, but failed in his bid. He first took to the lecture platform and then to school teaching in Helena, Arkansas. His financial difficulties caused him to offer some personal property for sale, including his private library of 200 books.
For some time, perhaps more than a year, he sent letters back to the Investigator for publication. Meantime, with his fourth wife still bearing children. Kneeland was engaged in much physical labor. He helped to build his house, hoed the garden, worked in the hay field.
He died at his home in Salubria on August 27, 1844, at the age of 70.
Salubria never took root. The few who came had their descendants absorbed by religious groups in adjacent communities. In fact, Kneeland's own daughter Susan became a devout member of the Congregational Church and a granddaughter presided over a Sabbath School in a chapel built on half an acre of ground donated by a descendant of a free thinker.
Meanwhile, Kneeland had turned the Investigator over to Josiah P. Mendum, as publisher, with Horace Seaver as editor. It survived for over forty more years. Established in 1830, it was a central focus for the publication of Freethought literature until July 30, 1904, when it finally \suspended publication\ forever.
There never was, again, a trial for blasphemy in Masschusetts although the legislature of that state reaffirmed the validity of the law in 1979. Abner Kneeland paid a high price for the frankness he used in expressing his opinions. His story adds to the rich heritage of American Atheism.