Colony of Salubria
The emergence of cults and colonies such as the recently widely publicized Jonestown, Guiana incident, is not a new phenomenon in American history.

Van Buren County's early days included a colony which in modern terminology would have been labeled a cult, although its demise did not entail the tragic results of the Jonestown People's Temple colony.

The Van Buren County site is believed to be Iowa's only so-called "infidel colony." It was located in now cultivated fields about two miles south of Farmington, Iowa. No evidence exists today of the settlement, but historical records document its existence from 1839 to 1844.

The colony was called Salubria, and was founded by Abner Kneeland (born April 7, 1774), a controversial figure from New England and one of the most widely known intellectuals of his day.

Kneeland apparently established a settlement in this area with the hope that he could find "freedom of inquiry." Of Scotch descent, Kneeland followed his father's trade of carpenter for a time, taught school, and then took up preaching, first as a Baptist and later a Universalist. A free thinker, he had spent time in prison for the frank expression of his religious beliefs, considered by some authorities to be blasphemous. He regarded himself as a pantheist, not an atheist.

After his release from prison at the age of 65, Kneeland formed "The First Society of Free Enquirers" and came to Iowa Territory to establish the community of Salubria. The cluster of rough cabins and houses making up the colony was in the heart of timberland amid deep ravines along the Des Moines River.

Salubria, intended to become the capital of free thinkers, never really took root. Iowa pioneers attracted at first to Kneeland's beliefs apparently found pantheism too abstract, too impersonal, and too cold.

Kneeland lived out the remainder of his life in his "Mansion of Salubria" home, writing, lecturing and engaging in politics. He was married four times, with his wives bearing him 12 children.

After Kneeland's death in 1774 [sic] at the age of 70, the little settlement of Salubria gradually disappeared and his followers went elsewhere. Kneeland was first buried on his farm, but the body later was moved to the northwest corner of the old section of Farmington cemetery. His last wife, Dolly, died in 1871 at the age of 71 and is buried beside her husband. Their graves are marked by simple marble slabs.

[August 27,1844 is correct date of death.]
Source: clippings from scrapbook located in the Van Buren Co. Genealogical Society Library, Keosauqua, IA

Contributed by Volunteer Transcriber Paul French


Van Buren Co. GenWeb Project