Local History and Genealogy

Saturday, April 3, 2010

A New Kind of Town: Early Angola's View on Religion

A new kind of town, Angola Indiana, founded in 1838 by settlers from western New York on an overtly anti-church basis, was for many years a kind of Spiritualist establishment.

A twentieth century social scientist with no bias in favor of organized religion later described it:
"The founders of [Aton]Angola fully intended to exclude churches for all time.  Under their influences spiritualism and free-love became dominant; and the village acquired a reputation far and near for irreligion and immorality.  It was spoken of as "a hot-bed of infidelity and vice.  As late as 1865, it is probable that nine-tenths of the population were spiritualists and given to free-love.  During this decade the most noted mediums of the land made Aton [Angola} their headquarters, among them Abbey Kelley Foster, Mrs Griffin and Mrs Seymour.  The town newspaper of that time says: "They held many public services, conducted funerals, and did great miracles before the public."  In 1855 the publication of an "infidel" paper known as "The Truth Seeker" was begun.  It was financed by the founder and leading man of Aton [Angola].  (This would have been Thomas Gale)  Its motto was "For Free Thought and Free Discussion and Democracy Against False Theology, Superstition, Bigotry, Ignorance, Aristocracies, Privilege Classes, Tyrannies, Oppression, and Everything that Degrades or Burdens Mankind Mentally or Physically."  This paper is described as a "most vile andvicious sheet."  It wielded strong influence for some years and then removed from town".

Presbyterian missionary Almon Martin said in 1852 that Angola should really be called "Satan's Seat" since it was notable for Sabbath breaking and intemperance and its most influential men were either skeptics or infidels.  After Abigail Kelley Foster and her husband Stephen Symonds Foster (not to be confused with the songwriter) visited and further stiffened the people's resistance to church organizations, Martin concluded that "only a change of inhabitants in Angola" could open it to ministry.  He moved on to Ontario in neighboring Lagrange county in 1854.  Missionaries Jacob Patch, Henry Warren and Henry Little gave the same appraisal of the situation in Steuben county.  Influential men of Angola were circulating the "infidel writings" of Andrew Jackson Davis; at their own expense they were systematically importing such eastern lecturers as Abigail Kelley Foster and Stephen Symonds Foster to attack the bible, the churches and the ministers.  Following a tour of Steuben county in 1855 Jacob Patch and Henry Little reported that unless help was sent the county's four churches at Angola, Brockville (Fremont), Salem and York would fall victim to infidelity foe which Steuben county was becoming a stronghold.

Taken from; Hoosier Faiths: A History of Indiana's Churches and Religious Groups,  by L.C. Rudolph
Pages 320, 339