1 May 20, 1834

Before Henry Ranney began keeping the letters of relatives living far away, the family had to decide to move away from Ashfield. This happened as a result of opportunities on the frontier, especially in the new peppermint-growing region around Phelps New York. But an incident in 1834 when Henry was 17 sparked a transfer of the peppermint oil business, which Henry’s uncle Samuel Ranney had introduced to Ashfield, and completely changed the Ashfield economy.

The story of Ashfield’s religious disputes over Dr. Charles Knowlton and the first birth control book published are told elsewhere. Knowlton’s story is what attracted me to Ashfield in the first place, and I wrote a book about him which will soon be available as a free ebook online. The point, for this archive, is that Samuel Ranney was apparently a friend and supporter of Knowlton’s. When the church admonished Ranney for “absenting” himself from services and failing to pay his “tax”, Ranney responded with the following letter.

Ranney seems to have deliberately misspelled the minister’s last name (which was Grosvenor) and makes several points about his materialist beliefs that seem to be inspired by Knowlton’s philosophy. Samuel Ranney had apparently been converted to a secular world view by the “infidel” physician.

My transcription follows the images:


The original images are from the archives of the Ashfield Historical Society and are used with permission.

To Rev Mason Grovsenor, Chairman of the Committee of Christ’s Church in Ashfield, Sir I received your letter of the 22d ult containing charges against me as a member of the church of which you are pastor, which charges I am requested to take into serious consideration, and I have done so.

The first charge amounts to this: “A transgression of the laws of Christ’s Kingdom” by not paying away my money to support preaching.

Now as Christ’s Kingdom is not of this world, and as I have no knowledge of any other world, nor consequently of the laws of any other world, you should not be surprised that I should transgress the laws you speak of inasmuch as I know nothing about them.  I once thought that I did, but that was when I took names for things, and supposed that immaterialities were realities.  And as to pecuniary support, it cannot be expected I should give away my hard earning for what I consider of little or nothing worth.

The second charge is, “A violation of my Covenant Vows.”  To this I have only to say, that the same consistency—the same honesty which required me to make these vowes when I did make them, now require me to disregard them.  As a man’s opinions and feelings are not voluntary not under the control of his will, but are governed by circumstances, it is the height of absurdity for me to promise what my opinions and feelings shall be at a future time.  The most I can consistently do or be required to do is avow what they are at the time being.

I therefore this day excommunicate the Church of Christ in Ashfield for my further support and membership.  And I do hearby request the chairman of the committee of said church to read this at the meeting appointed for acting upon my case.

Your fellow townsman,

Ashfield, May 20 1834

Samuel Ranney


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