Thursday, March 25, 2010

Silas Lamson (1778-1855) Lunatic or Fanatic?

Silas Lamson and Susan Goodnow had 11 children. Ward Lamson, the patriarch of Fairfield Iowa was the 8th child. After Silas lost 4 children to diptheria he became passionate to communicate his "firmness of purpose to unveil and ridicule all that he deemed ridiculous in law, custom and religion", preaching his beliefs wherever he could.  Had he lived fifty years earlier his orthodox forefathers would have hung or burned him at the stake. Silas did not approve of government oversight and as such he was routinely placed in jail for failing to pay his tithes, and finally, due to his constant preaching, was condemned to the Worchester and Brattleboro asylums "to be treated for insanity and uncustomary methods of dispensing his sentiments" for a period of six years.

The asylum superintendants, who beieved that Silas was a fanatic liberal, frequently would let Silas out, and when questioned Silas would reply "The angels let him out".

Finally, when the supporters of church and state orthodoxy made their last effort to return him to the asylum, liberal thinking men headed by Ralph Waldo Emerson, made up a purse for his defense.  The resulting lawsuit ended in a court decision that proclaimed his incarceration as a lunatic was illegal.

What do you think?  Lunatic or fanatic liberal? 

It does explain why his son, Ward Lamson's favorite author was Ralph Waldo Emerson.


  1. Hi Cathy,

    Just read your note. I've been trying to find a copy of Ward Lamson's book about his family. I'm a descendent of Nathaniel Lamson,another son of Silas Lamson. I live in Massachusetts, not too far from where Silas spent his years. I've done a far amount of sleuthing about him as I find him fascinating. You might like to know that his portrait hangs at Fruitlands, the place where Bronson Alcott had his experimental commune and lived for a couple of summers. They evidently knew each other. There is a woman who lives in Shelburne Falls who has been researching Silas for quite some time, with the original intent of writing a book about him, altho she may have downsized her project.

    Just thought you'd like to know.

    Catherine (Snyder) Loeb

    My grandmother's father was a Lamson from Shelburne Falls.

    1. Good day,

      Just wanted to let you both know I continue my research, talks and hopefully an outline of a book on the life of Silas Lamson. Curious Cathy where you got copy of image of Silas Lamson? I was fortunate to obtain a copy of Ward's book but hard to find.
      Let me know if you have any questions. Thanks, Elaine Gompers Parmett
      Independent Scholar, 19th Century American History

  2. Elaine,

    I've lost your address and would like to reconnect. PBS's American Exerience is doing a show on the Abolitionists and is looking for stories. Would Silas make a good candidate do you think?

    Catherine (Snyder) Loeb

    1. Dear Catherine,
      I'm back on the track of writing about Father Silas Lamson. Yeah. I even have an editor working with me to start the process of getting a book published. I would love to have more family members involved in whatever way they can help me tell the story through letters, diaries, photos, etc. Anyone can reach me at Elaine Gompers Parmett at I recently spoke with Elizabeth Lamson of California. I am so lucky to have so many family members interested in furthering the wonderful story of Silas Lamson. He deserves to have his story told. Fond regards, Elaine

  3. Hi Elaine,

    Just saw this, one year after I posted. I'll keep your email address and would love to see your book. Wish I had more information for you! But, I'm very interested.


  4. Dear Cousins: I have numerous hand-written letters from Ward Lamson ... I am descended through Florence Lamson Slagle.