By Manvir Singh
At 17, John Humphrey Noyes thought a lot about women. An awkward teenager with a gangly neck and slouching shoulders, he fretted over how good looks were the key to success, especially when pursuing women. And he was shy. ‘So unreasonable and excessive is my bashfulness,’ he wrote in his journal, ‘that I fully believe that I could face a battery of cannon with less trepidation than I could a room full of ladies with whom I was unacquainted.’ Little did he know that he would go on to have sex with dozens of women, fathering children with at least nine in a ten-year period.
Noyes was born in 1811. His father was a Congressman for Vermont. His mother worked to instil in her son a religious reverence, hoping that he would become a ‘minister of the Everlasting Gospel’. In 1831, her wish seemed likely to come true. Noyes, then 20, announced that he would devote himself to the service of God’s truth, and entered a seminary in Andover, Massachusetts. Rather than accepting his teachers’ doctrine, however, he became consumed with the revivalist furore sweeping the northeast like a prairie fire. He left Andover for Yale University and started an uproar when he began preaching Perfectionism, the heretical notion that a religious life must be free of sin. Argumentative and charismatic, Noyes became a local celebrity and attracted small crowds of supporters, opponents and gawkers.