Ballou, Adin

Adin Ballou
Adin Ballou

Adin Ballou (April 23, 1803-August 5, 1890), founder of the utopian community at Hopedale, Massachusetts and a leading 19th century exponent of pacifism, was during his long career a Universalist, a Restorationist, a Practical Christian, and a Unitarian minister. A tireless reformer, he sought to bring his Christian and socialist vision of society into practice. He earned the love of his allies and the respect of his adversaries. He disconcerted them all, however, with his frequent conversions. Taking up a succession of social reforms, he put himself and those who followed him more and more at odds with established society.

Adin was born to Ariel and Edilda Ballou on a farm in Cumberland, Rhode Island. Raised a Six-Principle Baptist until 1813, he and his whole family were that year converted in a Christian Connexion revival. Adin wanted to go to college, but his father wished him to run the family farm. Inspired by a vision of his deceased brother, Cyrus, whose specter pressed him to “preach the Gospel of Christ to your fellow-men” or “the blood of their souls will be required at your hands,” Adin felt called to the ministry. His father said that he should remain on the farm and pastor the local meetinghouse part-time.

In early 1822 Adin Ballou married Abigail Sayles. Abigail’s mother, a Universalist, lent him a copy of Elhanan Winchester’s Dialogues on the Universal Restoration. This reading and debates with some Universalist neighbors challenged his assumptions about salvation. At a Universalist meeting in nearby Wrentham, Massachusetts that year, Adin, attending as a spectator, was introduced to his distant cousin Hosea Ballou 2d, the Universalist minister from Roxbury, Massachusetts, who encouraged him to seek fellowship with the Universalists. After a period of study and prayer, Adin sent a letter to Ballou 2d announcing his conversion to Universalism. The Christian Connexion excommunicated him and his father disinherited him.

Adin visited the Boston area that fall and stayed in the homes of both Hosea Ballou 2d and Hosea Ballou. At this time the Restorationist controversy—a theological, political, and personal dispute between Hosea Ballou and Edward Turner, Paul Dean, and four other Universalist ministers—was about to reach a climax. Theologically, the controversy concerned the existence or non-existence of a limited period of punishment for sin in the afterlife. Hosea Ballou disbelieved in “future punishment”; his opponents, the Restorationists, held such discipline an essential part of God’s plan. Adin, who believed in “future punishment,” was assured by Hosea Ballou 2d that Universalists tolerated diversity in the matter. In his autobiography Adin recalled that his cousins described the controversy as a personal and political vendetta against Hosea Ballou on the part of Restorationists, “represented as mere ambitious factionists and mischief-makers in the order, with no honest, solemn convictions of doctrinal faith or of Christian duty.”

As a Universalist Adin Ballou at first preached in Bellingham, Massachusetts and other communities near the family farm. During the latter half of 1823 he filled the pulpit of the First Universalist Society in Boston. Though Ballou was seriously considered for this prestigious position, the call went to an experienced Universalist preacher, Sebastian Streeter. Within months Ballou accepted a call to the Universalist society in Milford, Massachusetts. He was ordained when the Southern Association met at Milford in December, 1824.

Ballou’s Milford pastorate, 1824-31, was interrupted by stint of service, from 1827-28, to the Universalist society on Prince Street in New York City. In New York Ballou founded and edited a short-lived periodical devoted to Universalist apologetics, The Dialogical Instructer. Ballou’s ministry, however, did not thrive in New York City. His efforts to spread Universalism were hampered by the fragmentation of the Prince Street society. A portion of the congregation had withdrawn to form another society led by his predecessor, Abner Kneeland. Ballou was repelled by Kneeland’s brand of Universalism which seemed to him beyond the bounds of Christianity.

As Adin prepared to leave New York, the desperate Prince Street congregation prevailed on him to help them lure Hosea Ballou away from Boston. Adin thought his cousin’s tough and devious manner in the salary negotiations inappropriate for a minister. Nor did he appreciate Hosea’s wit when, in answer to a question about future punishment, Hosea replied, “So then, Brother Adin, you think they’ll have to be smoked a little, do you?” Adin’s disillusionment with Hosea was compounded a year later when, at the New England Universalist General Convention, Hosea Ballou used his influence to prevent David Pickering, an out-of-fellowship Restorationist minister, from offering a prayer. Afterward, Adin recorded in his diary his resolution “not to attend another convention of that sort.”

Abigail Ballou died in early 1829, soon after the birth of a daughter, Abbie. Of Adin Ballou’s four children only Abbie Ballou lived to adulthood. Later that year Adin suffered a life-threatening illness. He was nursed back to health by Lucy Hunt (1810-1891), daughter of a prominent family in the Milford congregation. He and Lucy were married a few months later, Hosea Ballou 2d performing the ceremony.

Adin’s break with Universalism was part of a resurgence of the Restorationist controversy. In 1830, preaching in Medway, Massachusetts, he gave a pro-future punishment sermon, “The Inestimable Value of Souls.” His hearers so liked the sermon that they sent it to Boston to be printed on the press of the Universalist periodical, the Trumpet and Universalist Magazine. When the Trumpet‘s editor, Thomas Whittemore, a disciple of Hosea Ballou, read the sermon, he instituted a campaign to have Adin Ballou removed from the Milford pulpit. Under fire in the denominational press and in his church, Ballou joined the Providence Association, recently founded by Pickering as a haven for Restorationists. Members of the Providence Association soon received an ultimatum: Leave the renegade association or renounce fellowship with the New England Universalist General Convention.

In 1831 Adin Ballou, David Pickering, Paul Dean, and a small group of other ministers formed a new denomination, the Massachusetts Association of Universal Restorationists (MAUR). This group also founded a newspaper, the Independent Messenger, with Ballou as editor. For four and a half years, until he handed the editorial reins to Dean, Ballou engaged in a journalistic war with Thomas Whittemore.

Shortly after the appearance of the first number of the Independent Messenger, Ballou was dismissed from the Milford church. He immediately accepted a call to the Congregational (Unitarian) society in neighboring Mendon, Massachusetts. Although he served a Unitarian church, 1831-42, Ballou continued to identify himself as a Restorationist and treated with Unitarian ministers in a spirit more ecumenical than fraternal. In this period Ballou formed what was perhaps the most intense friendship of his life with Bernard Whitman, the Unitarian minister in Waltham, Massachusetts. Together they tried to break down the barriers—social, educational, and theological—between Unitarians and Restorationist Universalists. Their efforts were terminated by Whitman’s untimely death in 1835. After Whitman’s death, although Ballou remained a Restorationist, he took little part in apologetic and ecclesiastical affairs. Instead, he devoted his energies to social reform.

Ballou had already been won to the temperance cause. In 1837 he came out publicly as an abolitionist. Although his stand caused turmoil in the Mendon church, Ballou’s supporters prevailed. He was less successful in introducing a reform platform at the 1837 meeting of the MAUR. His proposal caused a rift in the fellowship between social reformers who followed him and conservatives who sided with Paul Dean.

In 1838 Ballou converted to a form of pacifism called Christian Non-resistance. Acting with a few ministerial colleagues and some laymen, Ballou composed the “Standard of Practical Christianity” in 1839. The signatories announced their withdrawal from “the governments of the world,” which they judged contaminated by dependence on the use of force to maintain order. While they could not participate in government, neither would they rebel nor “resist any of their ordinances by physical force.” “We cannot employ carnal weapons nor any physical violence whatsoever,” they proclaimed, “not even for the preservation of our lives. We cannot render evil for evil . . . nor do otherwise than ‘love our enemies.'”

Ballou came to believe that Practical Christians were called to make their convictions a reality; they should begin to fashion a new civilization. Accordingly, after studying other current utopian community plans, such as Brook Farm, Ballou and his fellow Practical Christians began to design their own community. Beginning in 1840 they published a newspaper, the Practical Christian, for the “promulgation of Primitive Christianity.” In 1841 they purchased a farm in the western part of Milford and christened it Hopedale. The conservative Restorationists abandoned both the Practical Christians and the MAUR and fell back upon their Unitarian connections established over the years. The pro-reform fragment of the MAUR became the nucleus of the Hopedale Community.

Ballou was chosen president of the organization, called “Fraternal Communion No. 1.” He held the office until 1852. Two couples were the core leadership of the community, Adin and Lucy Ballou and their friends, Anna and Ebenezer Draper, who made the largest economic contribution to the joint-stock company. Other important members during the community’s early period were drawn from the Restorationist ministry: George W. Stacy, Daniel S. Whitney, William H. Fish, and David R. Lamson. Because of the hard economic times, many pressed for admission to a share of the experiment’s benefits.

Disagreement about Hopedale’s form of socialism led to a crisis in the first year. David Lamson and a group of the poorer members demanded that all property be held in common. But Ballou felt that what was needed to defuse tensions within the overcrowded community was not, as he later wrote, the “absorption of the individual in the community,” but rather “more opportunity for personal seclusion, activity, and development.” Thus the constitution was amended to allow more privacy and increased economic reward for effort and contribution. The most intransigent communists, including Lamson, left Hopedale. In 1847 further constitutional modification favored individualism still more.

During the Hopedale years Ballou traveled around New England lecturing on and debating Practical Christianity, Christian Non-resistance, abolition, temperance, and other social issues. He made anti-slavery lecture tours in Pennsylvania in 1846 and in New York State in 1848. Starting in 1843 he served as president of the New England Non-resistance Society. In this cause he worked with his friend William Lloyd Garrison until they broke over Garrison’s support for violence in fighting slavery. In 1846 Ballou published his principal work on pacifism, Christian Non-Resistance. In 1854 he wrote his main justification of the Hopedale Community, Practical Christian Socialism.

The first section of Practical Christian Socialism was Ballou’s only completed work of systematic theology. He believed that God permeated an “infinitarium,” that is, an infinity of universes, and that space and time are without center or limit. Every separate universe, he thought, has an unending sequence of “grand cycles,” each appropriately described as an “eternity.” His christology was neither unitarian nor trinitarian, but similar to the ancient heresy of Sabellianism. He believed Christ to have been a manifestation of God, proportioned to the comprehension of finite minds. Nevertheless, Ballou recognized that Christianity was not the only religion containing divine truth. Like Hosea Ballou, Adin Ballou portrayed atonement as a form of demonstration by God, an appeal to human beings for a spiritual and moral response. He differed from Hosea in believing divine punishment in the afterlife necessary both for the sake of justice and as the means of individual correction and progress. Gradually regenerated human spirits would finally become one with God.

In his work at Hopedale and elsewhere, Adin Ballou depended upon a great deal of support from his family, especially the women. In 1842 the community appointed Lucy Ballou “director of housekeeping.” She ran the Ballou household as a free hotel for Hopedale visitors and prospective residents. She also helped to compose and edit her husband’s works. The burdens she bore during the Hopedale period affected her health. She was a semi-invalid in her later years. The Ballou’s son, Adin Augustus, worked in the printing office. Among his other tasks, he produced a newsletter for the community’s children, the Mammoth. Daughter Abbie taught the school in Hopedale. In 1851 she married the Practical Christian minister, later a Unitarian, William S. Heywood.

Ballou and other residents at Hopedale were sympathetic to spiritualism. They readily listened to the Universalist Spiritualist minister John Murray Spear and published some of his work on the Hopedale Community Press. Around 1850 there was a flurry of spirit activity in Hopedale. Having investigated and tested these phenomena, Ballou concluded that he was a Spiritualist. After Adin Augustus Ballou died of typhoid in 1852, Adin and Lucy Ballou took comfort from the spirit messages they received from him.

In 1856 the Hopedale Community came to an effective end. Ebenezer Draper’s brother George, who had recently joined the community, persuaded his brother to join him in withdrawing their assets from the community, claiming that the community was not using sound business practices.
As the brothers owned the majority of the shares, the community collapsed without their support. The Drapers converted Hopedale’s industrial operations into a private company. Ballou later wrote that “this overthrow of my most cherished hopes and plans for the regeneration and progress of individual and social humanity” was “almost unendurable.” He felt “like one prematurely consigned to a tomb.”

For the rest of his life Ballou wondered how the failure of his utopian dream could have been avoided. He was convinced that what he had attempted was right, though premature. He worked on The History of the Hopedale Community and his Autobiography in order to preserve a legacy for the future. “Times and generations are coming that will justly estimate me and my work,” he wrote. “For them, it has proved, I have lived and labored, rather than for my contemporaries. To them I appeal for vindication and approval; to them I bequeath whatever is valuable and worth preserving of my possessions.”

The Hopedale Community feebly survived in the form of a religious organization until 1867 when it was converted into the Hopedale Parish. Three months later the society was accepted into the local Unitarian association. Ballou continued as pastor of the Hopedale church until 1880. He commented that “as a religious body, the Unitarians in some respects were quite below my ideal of Practical Christianity.” He thought them lukewarm on the subject of moral regeneration and did not like their theologically radical wing. Nevertheless, he allowed “they were an intelligent, tolerant, and courteous people, having among them truly elect souls, with whom I could heartily sympathize and co-operate for good and noble ends.”

Ballou spent his later years doing historical writing. From 1875-82 he compiled the History of Milford. From 1882-88, with the help of his wife, Lucy, he worked on the massive genealogical volume, The History of the Ballou Family in America. His Autobiography and The History of Hopedale, unfinished at his death, were completed by his son-in-law, William Heywood.

Adin Ballou
Adin Ballou

In his last year of life Ballou corresponded with the novelist, Leo Tolstoy. Some of Ballou’s works were sent to Tolstoy, who had them translated into Russian. Though Ballou disapproved the passivity of Tolstoy’s pacifism and thought his theology “untrue, visionary, chaotic, and pitiably puerile,” Tolstoy was much impressed with Ballou. In The Kingdom of God Is Within You, 1894, Tolstoy wrote “one would have thought Ballou’s work would have been well known, and the ideas expressed by him would have been either accepted or refuted; but such has not been the case.” He thought there was “a kind of tacit but steadfast conspiracy of silence about all such efforts.” Through Tolstoy the pacifist ideas of Americans, such as Garrison and Ballou, were transmitted to the 20th century non-resistants, Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr.


Adin Ballou died in Hopedale in 1890 and Lucy Ballou in 1891.


The Bancroft Public Library in Hopedale, Massachusetts has a collection of materials pertaining to Adin Ballou and Hopedale, including the Practical Christian. The Dialogical Instructer, the Independent Messenger, and the Trumpet and Universalist Magazine are available at the Andover-Harvard Theological Library in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The Anti-Universalist, which published some pro-Universalist articles by Ballou, is in the Rhode Island Historical Society Library in Providence, Rhode Island. In addition to the works mentioned in the article above, Ballou wrote The Touchstone (1837), Non-Resistance and Human Governments (1839), Spirit Manifestations (1852), and Primitive Christianity and Its Corruptions (1870), as well as many published tracts, speeches, and sermons. He also wrote a number of hymn texts and compiled the Hopedale Collection of Hymns and Songs (1850).

Ballou’s Autobiography was published in 1896 and the History of Hopedale in 1897. The “Epistle General to Restorationists,” from the Independent Messenger (January 1, 1831) is an important early autobiographical statement written close to the time of the events described. The controversy that followed between Ballou and Whittemore in the Messenger and the Trumpet also contains significant biographical material. Although there are no modern published biographies, Edward K. Spann’s Hopedale: From Commune to Company Town, 1840-1920 (1992) treats Ballou’s career in substantial detail.

Article by Peter Hughes
Posted December 12, 2000