The Battle-Axes of Free Love Valley

A controversial 19th-century religious sect in Pennsylvania, known for its radical views on free love, nudity, and communal living.

The Battle-Axes of Free Love Valley was a religious sect that operated in the mid-19th century in Chester County, Pennsylvania. Founded by Theophilus Ransom Gates, the sect was notorious for its unorthodox practices and beliefs, particularly regarding sexuality and marriage.

Background and Beliefs

Theophilus Gates, born in 1787 in Connecticut, was a religious visionary who settled in Philadelphia around 1810. Influenced by the likes of Lorenzo Dow and John Humphrey Noyes, Gates developed his unique religious philosophy. In 1837, he began publicizing his views through the publication “Battle-Axe and Weapons of War.” Gates’ teachings were radical for the time; he advocated for what he termed “free intercourse between sexes” as opposed to monogamy and was highly critical of organized religion, particularly the clergy and marriage institutions.

Free Love Valley

Gates, along with Hannah Williamson, a self-declared prophet, established a small community in East Coventry Township, Pennsylvania, which became known as Free Love Valley. This community was distinguished by its adherence to Gates’ doctrines, which included nudism and polyamory. The sect was often referred to as ‘Battle Axes’ and its members lived communally, sharing property and engaging in ritualistic practices that involved nudity.

Controversies and Decline

The Battle-Axes of Free Love Valley were considered highly controversial due to their moral code that favored nudity and cohabitation. In 1855, the murder of one of the group’s members, Hannah Shingle, marked the beginning of the end for the sect. The murder, committed with Shingle’s own axe, remained unsolved. Following this event, and the death of Gates in 1846, the group disintegrated, and Hannah Williamson, who succeeded Gates, left the township in 1857.