1823–1906

Introduction

Born: May 15, 1823, Fen­ny Strat­ford, Buck­ing­ham­shire, Eng­land.

Died: March 23, 1906.

portrait

Biography

Harris’ par­ents were strict Cal­vin­is­tic Bap­tists and ve­ry poor. When Har­ris was five years old, his par­ents em­i­grat­ed to Am­er­i­ca, set­tling in Uti­ca, New York. His mo­ther died when he was still a young boy, and Har­ris was forced by cir­cum­stanc­es to help sup­port the fa­mi­ly from the age of nine.

At age 21, Har­ris be­came a Un­i­ver­sal­ist min­is­ter, preach­ing to the con­gre­ga­tion of the Fourth Un­i­ver­sal­ist Church in New York City. In 1848, he be­came min­is­ter of an in­de­pen­dent Chris­tian con­gre­ga­tion in New York Cit­y.

In that church he came in­to con­tact with young news­pa­per pub­lish­er Hor­ace Gree­ley, who was so moved by one of Har­ris’ ser­mons that he was in­spired to or­gan­ize Har­ris’s con­gr­ega­tion to help found the New York Ju­ve­nile Asy­lum.

Harris soon turned to­wards spir­it­u­al­ism, be­coming a de­vo­tee of the Swed­ish mys­tic Eman­u­el Swe­den­borg. By 1851 he had left New York for Vir­gin­ia where, to­ge­ther with J. L. Scott, he launched the first of his com­mun­al en­ter­pris­es, the Moun­tain Cove Com­mun­i­ty of Spi­ri­tu­alists, on pris­tine land claimed by one of the group’s lead­ers to be the ac­tual site of the Gar­den of Ed­en.

It was in­tend­ed to there cre­ate a ci­ty of re­fuge from which an­gels were to des­cend and as­cend. The ex­per­i­ment proved to be short-lived, how­ev­er, racked by squab­bling ov­er pro­per­ty and per­son­al­i­ties, and af­ter two years the Virg­in­ia re­li­gious com­mune col­lapsed.

Following the de­mise of the Moun­tain Cove Com­mun­i­ty, Har­ris re­turned to Eng­land, where he preached mo­di­fied Swe­den­bor­gi­an ideas to a Lon­don con­gre­ga­tion for sev­er­al years.

There he be­gan his ca­reer as a writ­er and po­et, pub­lish­ing sev­er­al books. Har­ris’s po­et­ry was well re­gard­ed, and he was made the sub­ject of a chap­ter by Al­fred Aus­tin in his book The Po­et­ry of the Per­i­od.

Harris sub­se­quent­ly re­turned to Am­er­i­ca, set­tling in Am­en­ia, New York. He stayed at Am­en­ia five or six years, es­tab­lish­ing a bank, a flour mill, and a vine­yard and ga­ther­ing around him a small group of de­vot­ed re­li­gious dis­ci­ples.

Included among the ap­prox­i­mate­ly 60 con­verts were five or­tho­dox cler­gy­men and about 20 Ja­pa­nese from Sat­su­ma Pro­vince, among oth­ers. The com­mun­i­ty—the Bro­ther­hood of the New Life—de­cid­ed to set­tle at Broc­ton, New York, on the shores of Lake Er­ie.

Its na­ture was co-op­er­a­tive ra­ther than com­mun­is­tic, and farm­ing and in­dus­tri­al oc­cu­pa­tions were en­gaged in by his fol­low­ers, num­ber­ing at one time about 2,000 in the Unit­ed States and Bri­tain.

Harris took part of the com­mun­i­ty to San­ta Ro­sa, Ca­li­for­nia, where he cre­at­ed the Foun­tain Grove com­mun­i­ty around 1875. In 1891, he an­nounced his bo­dy had been re­newed, and that he had di­scov­ered the sec­ret of the re­sus­ci­ta­tion of hu­man­i­ty.

Eventually a fire de­stroyed large stocks of his wine, and he re­mained in New York till 1903, when he vis­it­ed Glas­gow, Scot­land.

His fol­low­ers be­lieved he had at­tained the sec­ret of im­mor­tal life on earth, and af­ter his death in 1906, de­clared he was on­ly sleep­ing. It was three months be­fore it was ac­know­ledged pub­lic­ly that he was real­ly dead.

Not all were as enam­ored of Har­ris as his fol­low­ers: An ar­ti­cle in the De­cem­ber 18, 1891, is­sue of the Li­ter­a­ry World, page 527, ex­am­ined their be­lief in him, con­clud­ing, Ver­i­ly the cre­dul­i­ty of man is un­fa­thom­a­ble.

Publications

Sources

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