A free-thinking newspaper

Former Shaker couple’s views too radical to print

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The city of Paris has had many papers come and go. There was the Beacon, The Blade, The Paris Daily News as well as many others. 

For the most part, each paper posted its own views on subjects especially the religious viewpoints. Local druggist DeRobigne Mortimer Bennett thought that should change and papers should publish different views, even unpopular ones.

Bennett was born Dec. 23, 1818, at Springfield, N.Y. He lived a pretty normal childhood until he was 15 and stumbled upon the United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing. The group – better known as Shakers – took Bennett into their church where he became a devout and prominent member. 

For the next 13 years, Bennett was part of the celibate communitarian society and practiced as a physician and herbalist. His biggest role in the church was as a ministry appointed scribe recording divinely inspired messages. Bennett did this during the Shakers’ 10-year spiritualistic revival known as the Era of Manifestations. At the end of this era many members lost their fire for their church, including Bennett and schoolteacher Mary Wicks.

She caught Bennett’s eye, and despite the Shakers’ canon for celibacy, the couple eloped in 1846. It shocked everyone in the community but that did not stop them from being friends with many of the members for the rest of their lives. 

Over the next 27 years the Bennetts moved town-to-town investing in many businesses, including drug stores and successfully marketed his own Dr. Bennett’s Family Medicines. Bennett also took up reading Darwin, Voltaire and Paine. Thomas Paine’s “The Age of Reason” changed Bennett forever.

Bennett became a staunch freethinker and  just as fervently as he embraced the Shaker religious teachings, he now considered Christianity the greatest sham on the world.

Around 1870, Bennett was offered the operation of a drugstore in the booming Midwest town of Paris. For the next 15 months, Bennett and his wife ran Bennett’s Drugstore before leaving that enterprise and entering the seed business. Bennett planted 50 acres the first year and 75 acres the second. Unfortunately, it was a very dry couple of years. He eventually met his goal but sustained a $2,000 dollar loss.

1872 was another hard year for Bennett. The 53-year-old farmer was returning from checking his seed fields when he dismounted his horse to close a gate. As he attempted to remount, the horse bolted and dragged Bennett for quite a distance. He lay unconscious for several hours before some local hunters found him and took him home to Paris. 

The drought continued in 1873 and Bennett lost another 75 acres of seed. Writings by two Paris clergymen in the paper about the drought and the efficacy of prayer prompted a rejoinder by Bennett. The Paris Beacon and Valley Blade refused to print Bennett’s views and told him it was too radical for publication. 

His response was to start his own newspaper. Being a freethinker, Bennett wanted everyone to have the

the ability to express their own viewpoints both out loud and in print. He came up with a list of 50 names and his wife choose The Truth Seeker.

Bennett published the first Truth Seeker in September 1873. It was a period when the alternative press thrived in America.

His first issue mentioned several of his competitors. Although Bennett was concerned about his education, he was bold in his new business venture. He wrote Francis Abbott, editor of the famed Index, and said The Truth Seeker was to be considerably more radical and infidel than The Index, but it was not a competitor. In the end, Bennett asked for the Index’s mailing list. Abbott requested $3,000 for the list.

Although the subscriptions were slow to come in The Truth Seeker got great reviews across the country. With the publication gaining notice and no reason to stay in Paris, the Bennetts decided it was time to move on and went to New York. 

The December 1873 issue of The Truth Seeker was the last one published in Paris, but the paper continued from New York until Bennett’s death in 1882. 

The Truth Seeker went from a simple idea in Paris to a household name across the country – a legacy that will forever be remembered.