The Third Generation at Forty Acres: Religion and Reform

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Elizabeth Whiting Phelps Huntington married Reverend Dan Huntington and later moved to Forty Acres where she and her husband raised their eleven children.

Dan Huntington met Elizabeth Whiting Phelps at one of the family teas at Forty Acres.

When Charles Phelps died in 1814, his daughter inherited the house. Elizabeth Phelps Huntington brought her family to live in Hadley. Her husband, the Reverend Dan Huntington, gave up his church in Middletown, Connecticut, to eke out a living as farmer, shopkeeper, and occasional preacher. They sold pieces of the family farmstead to finance education for their eleven children, including the women. Dan Huntington never again had a regular parish, but religion remained a powerful force in the family’s life.

The world of work was changing. Most of the Huntington children scattered to find professions away from the land. The house that once hosted many productive workers was increasingly empty. In her letters, Elizabeth Huntington revealed her difficulties finding household help. The new economy was against her: domestic service was once the only job most women could get, but the rise of cottage industry gave women options. Women who had cooked and cleaned now braided hats and sewed shoes in nearby farms and in a growing number of small factories.

The 1820s also witnessed great religious turmoil. Revivals spread like wildfires across the northeast. A generation earlier, the Congregational Church held a religious monopoly. Now, Methodists, Baptists, and Unitarians flourished. Elizabeth Huntington joined the Congregational Church at nineteen. In 1828 she was excommunicated after admitting that she no longer believed that God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit were united in the Trinity. Her separation from the church signaled more than a spiritual crisis. Elizabeth and her family were excluded from this primary institution in their community.

Even though Elizabeth’s unorthodox religious views alienated her from the local community, it connected her to a wider spiritual community. Unitarianism, like other perfectionist religions, was associated with a host of national reform movements including temperance, anti-slavery, and women’s suffrage. Elizabeth read and wrote about slavery; her children worked for the temperance movement and in missions, while her grandchildren were involved in a wide front of economic and social reform.

"The abominations of slavery are at the bottom of all our national troubles, and till this is abolished, until we can place at the head of our government those who are in principle opposed to the system of slavery, we cannot expect relief."

– Elizabeth Huntington (June 10, 1840)

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