D.M. Bennett

On this date in 1818, freethought publisher DeRobigne Mortimer Bennett was born two months prematurely in Springfield, New York. He had a lifelong limp. Bennett worked in a printing office and joined the New London Shaker community at 15. By the age of 27 he was working as the community’s physician. He shook off the celibate Shakerism in 1846 when he and Mary Wicks, also a Shaker, fell in love and eloped.

In 1873 Bennett started The Truth Seeker in Paris, Illinois. The paper began as a way to reply to a clergyman whose letters were published by local papers which had suppressed Bennett’s responses. He took his paper to New York City the next year, where it was published at 335 Broadway.

He deliberately published and mailed “An Open Letter to Jesus Christ” (a 36-page pamphlet) and a scientific work on marsupial propagation to challenge the Comstock Act, which allowed postal authorities to intercept “blasphemous” or indecent mail. He was arrested in November 1877, was defended by Robert Ingersoll and charges were dismissed. In August 1878 he was arrested for selling a copy of E.H. Heywood’s anti-marriage pamphlet “Cupid’s Yokes: The Binding Forces of Conjugal Life,” for which he served a year in prison, the case becoming an international cause celebre. Some 200,000 people signed a petition for his release.

His productivity can be gauged by his schedule between 1873 and 1882. During those years he spent a year in prison, went for a year-long world voyage, spent a season in Europe and wrote The World’s Sages, Thinkers and Reformers (1,100 pages). He followed that book up with The Champions of the Church (even longer), The Gods and Religions of Ancient and Modern Times (two volumes of 1,000 pages each), An Infidel Abroad (800 pages), A Truth Seeker Around the World (four volumes of 750 pages each) and “unnumbered columns of editorial matter and articles for The Truth Seeker,” according to his profile in Four Hundred Years of Freethought (ed. S.P. Putnam, 1894).

Bennett built The Truth Seeker into a major publishing house of freethought and scientific titles. He died at 64. Freethinkers of America erected a monument over his grave. D. 1882.

Freedom From Religion Foundation