Harmonial Brotherhood

A 19th-century free-love venture that sought to establish a Utopian society in Central America but ended in disaster.


In the late 1850s, the Harmonial Brotherhood emerged as a sect led by Henderson Luelling, an Oregon orchard pioneer, with aspirations to create a Utopian society based on principles of vegetarianism, cold-water hydropathy, abstinence from stimulants, communal living, and free love. This last aspect, particularly, set them apart and made their communal life challenging in the societal context of San Francisco, prompting their departure to Honduras with the hope of founding a new Utopia on Tiger Island.

The journey to Central America aboard the schooner Santiago was fraught with hardships, including scarcity of food, internal conflicts, and disease. The Brotherhood’s strict dietary regimen, heavily reliant on coarse-ground whole wheat flour and devoid of meat or any stimulating substances, proved insufficient for their nutritional needs. This insufficiency led to a significant event known as the Egg War, a conflict over food that symbolized deeper leadership and ideological rifts within the group, eventually earning them the moniker “Discordant Devils” among the Santiago‚Äôs crew.

Upon reaching their destination, the group faced immediate setbacks, including tropical diseases like malaria or yellow fever, which their diet and hydropathic treatments could not combat effectively. The Brotherhood’s ideals quickly unraveled as their health declined and their community disintegrated, leading to their eventual return to San Francisco, defeated and disillusioned.

Henderson Luelling, the visionary behind this endeavor, later returned to the United States and continued to live under possibly an assumed name until his death in 1878.

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