Yet the tradition of Schaeffer and other charlatans still remained: in 1816, the "delusion" of Cochranism grew up around the charismatic Cochrane in the west of the state, ending with charges of gross lewdness being leveled at its founder. In the 1860s, the Reverend Mr. George L. Adams persuaded his followers to sell their homes, stores, even their fishing gear, and to pass the money on to him to help establish a colony in Palestine. Sixteen people died in the first weeks of the Jaffa colony's foundation in 1866. In 1867, amid charges of excessive drinking and misappropriation of funds, Adams and his wife fled the short-lived Jaffa colony, Adams later reemerging in California where he tried to persuade people to invest money in a five-cent savings bank until his secretary exposed his past.
Finally, at the turn of this century, the evangelist Frank Weston Sandford founded the Shiloh community in Durham. Sandford is worthy of particular attention because the Shiloh community clearly provided a model for what the Reverend Faulkner attempted to achieve more than half a century later.
Sandford's cultlike sect raised huge sums of money for building projects and overseas missions, sending sailing vessels filled with missionaries to remote areas of the planet. His followers were persuaded to sell their homes and move to the Shiloh settlement at Durham, only thirty miles from Portland. Scores of them later died there from malnutrition and disease. It is a testament to the magnetism of Sandford, a native of Bowdoinham, Maine, and a graduate of the divinity school at Bates College, Lewiston, that they were willing to follow him and to die for him.
Sandford was only thirty-four when the Shiloh settlement was officially dedicated, on October 2, 1896, a date apparently dictated to Sandford by God himself. Within the space of a few years, and funded largely by donations and the sale of his followers' property, there were over $200,000 worth of buildings on the land. The main building, Shiloh itself, had 520 rooms and was a quarter of a mile in circumference.
But Sandford's increasing megalomania -- he claimed that God had proclaimed him the second Elijah -- and his insistence on absolute obedience began to cause friction. A harsh winter in 19023 caused food supplies to shrink, and the community was swept by smallpox. People began to die. In 1904, Sandford was arrested and charged on five counts of cruelty to children and one charge of manslaughter as a result of that winter's depredations. A guilty verdict was later overturned on appeal.
In 1906, Sandford sailed for the Holy Land, taking with him a hundred of the faithful in two vessels, the Kingdom and the Coronet. They spent the next five years at sea, sailing to Africa and South America, although their conversion technique was somewhat unorthodox: the two ships cruised the coast while Sandford's followers prayed continuously for God to bring the natives to him. Actual contact with potential converts was virtually nil.
The Kingdom was eventually wrecked off the west coast of Africa, and when Sandford tried to force the crew of the Coronet to sail on to Greenland, they mutinied, forcing him to return to Maine. In 1911, Sandford was sentenced to jail for ten years on charges of manslaughter arising from the deaths of six crewmen. Released in 1918, he set up home in Boston and allowed subordinates to take care of the day-to-day running of Shiloh.
In 1920, after hearing testimony of the terrible conditions being endured by the children of the community, a judge ordered their removal. Shiloh disintegrated, its membership falling from four hundred to one hundred in an incident that became known as the Scattering. Sandford announced his retirement in May 1920 and retreated to a farm in upstate New York, from which he attempted, unsuccessfully, to rebuild the community. He died, aged eighty-five, in 1948. The Shiloh community still exists today, although in a very different form from its original inception, and Sandford is still honored as its founder.
Copyright © 2001 by John Connolly
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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