The forgotten history of Maine’s Frank Sandford; Amherst made national news in 1938; local historical ties to the infamous, sadistic religious sect in Maine

In 1891, after Frank Sandford, a native of Bowdoinham, Maine, returned home from a Christian missionary overseas, he conducted an exorcism on his friend and later went out for a walk in the forest where he heard the voice of “God” whisper to him: “Armageddon.”

Shortly after his encounter in the woods, Sandford became disenfranchised with his mainstream protestant church and announced to his congregation that “God” told him He has bigger plans for him.

In 1896, 32-year-old Frank Sandford opened his infamous religious compound, the Shiloh, in Durham, Maine. Around that time, Sandford declared himself to be the re-incarnate of the Old Testament Prophet Elijah and King David. Sandford demanded strict obedience from his followers; members were required to give all their possessions to “Shiloh,” and they were not allowed to leave. Members were forced to fast for long periods of time on a regular basis, and members were required to pray for hours on end. Children were not allowed to have friends, and relationships at the compound were strictly prohibited. And after a few years of evangelizing, his cult gathered nearly 1,000 members and later spread out across the country. The group went by several names: “The Kingdom,” “The Holy Ghost and Us,” and “The Legion of God.”

The New York Times reported in November 2nd, 1938: “For several years the colonists lived and worshipped communally in their hilltop “Shiloh,” and then Sandford set forth to evangelize the world. At one time the society had six sailing ships spreading its word. One of them, the one-time America’s cup defending schooner Coronet, put into Portland in 1911 after an evangelization voyage during which six Shilohites had died of exposure, scurvy or starvation. Sandford was convicted of manslaughter and served six years in Federal prison.”

This excerpt from the New York Times only touches the tip of an iceberg regarding the conditions of Shiloh’s residents: “Illness was a sign that the soul was sick, and if children were ill it was due not to malnutrition but to their sinful state. Sick children were told “to get right with God” by fasting and praying on their knees for extended periods of time. In some way their sins were causing Shiloh to suffer. Since the children were wayward and disobedient, fasting and being whipped were the ways in which they were punished. The beatings continued day and night. One father beat his young son all evening until someone stopped him at 1:00 A.M. There were rumors of older boys being taken out to the woods and beaten with horsewhips. One mother heard Sandford say that whipping a child was “the schoolmaster to bring them to Christ. The leaders encouraged people, even children, to reveal each other’s faults.

In a world with few material possessions, the most minor flaws became the source of guilt and self-loathing. A young girl confessed to the sin of vanity because she looked in a mirror. Then she was told to fast for three days to atone for her sin. It became a community obsession to root out the most minute bit of evil in their lives with a ruthlessness usually reserved for members of restrictive monastic orders. “It mattered how you acted, how you talked, even how you thought and looked.

Frank Sandford even made an example of his own son, John. When John was seven years old, he disobeyed his father. John learned the penalty for disobedience, as did the entire community through his example. Sandford declared that John should be isolated in a room, denied food and water, and then he would be whipped. There was a twist to the whipping- John had to earnestly desire to be beaten. For three days John was in a room, a glass of water torturously placed out of reach on the nightstand, learning to be happy about suffering. Each day he would climb the staircase to his father’s prayer room and ask for his whipping, but Frank did not find him happy enough until the third day.” Churches That Abuse by Ronald M. Enroth, Professor of Sociology, Westmont College in Santa Barbara, California (ret).

On the Coronet, Sandford purposely packed no supplies because he believed God would provide or so he says. So, after Sandford was released from prison in 1918 for the murder of six people and cruelty to children for his crimes on the Coronet, he went up to Shiloh, Durham, Maine, where he ate a good meal while his followers were starving to death.

“In February 1920 a civil suit was brought against William Hastings, a member of Shiloh, for the custody of six of his eight children who were still living in Shiloh. Their mother had died and her family, along with the two eldest children, sued Hastings for nonsupport. Although Sandford was not a defendant in the trial, this was the case that would finally bring his church down.

“On the stand, the Hastings children recounted the poverty they had experienced. Ten-year-old David said he couldn’t ever remember having had breakfast before school, although he did have lard on his bread as a Christmas present. His older sister Mary recounted how, because she was too malnourished, she was hidden in the woods when Child Welfare inspectors came. Neighbors testified to feeding starving children. In his testimony William admitted that they did not have enough to eat, but he refused to work for wages as it was against God’s law. He was living on faith even if his children starved, indeed, as they had most of their lives. Hastings lost the battle and his children were taken from him.” Churches That Abuse by Ronald M. Enroth, Professor of Sociology, Westmont College in Santa Barbara, California (ret).

The Children’s Protection Society in Maine investigated the living conditions of Shiloh and ordered the removal of all minors in Shiloh in 1920, following the civil suit brought against Hastings. Shortly after that, Sandford gave the order for all 300 remaining members of the sect to leave, so the Shiloh community came to an end. Frank Sandford fled Maine, and retired in the Catskill Mountains of New York where he could be “closer to God.”

After Frank Sandford’s sect faded and spread out, many of his children moved to Amherst, NH and settled on Chestnut Hill, John Sandford, and Esther Sandford, to start life over again in Amherst. The Sandford’s made a religious colony at a farmhouse on Chestnut Hill Road in Amherst, NH. The farmhouse colony, the Salem Turkey Farm, made national headlines in 1938:

DARTMOUTH STAR QUITS

TO JOIN CULT IN NEW

HAMPSHIRE COLONY

New York Times

Nov. 1, 1938

“Harrington Gates, senior quarterback who led the Dartmouth eleven to victory over Yale Saturday, has resigned from college to enter a New Hampshire religious cult called the Legion of God, also known as The Holy Ghost and Us.

The announcement, made by Dartmouth authorities tonight, came as a thunderbolt to his college mates, still amazed over the surprising showing of the Saugus, Mass., youth who entered the Yale contest after only four days of practice this season.

A statement signed by Dean Lloyd K. Neidlinger of Dartmouth was given out by three representatives of the college at a conference here. The statement read:

“Harrington Kenneth Gates has resigned by letter from Dartmouth College. For the next few days, however, this resignation will not be accepted by me.

“Gate’s complete allegiance to a cult with headquarters near Manchester, N.H., has been known to us for some time. I understand that he has given up football because the aggressive character of the game has been interpreted as contrary to the tenets of his faith.

Sought His Return

“To determine whether Gates had left voluntarily or by compulsion and to convince him to return and finish his senior year, I went to Manchester, taking with me two of Gates’s close friends Robert (Whitey) Fuller and Joe Pyrtek.

Due to the cooperation of Chief of Police O’Neil of Manchester, we located the colony of the Legion of God at Amherst and talked with Gates. He insisted that he had left college voluntarily and he refused to leave the colony and return with us to Hanover. He seemed convinced that he should leave the colony and return with us to Hanover. He seemed convinced that he should complete his college course but was uncertain that he could remain in college and resist the temptation of football.

I feel that we have fulfilled our official obligations and since we cannot keep him, we have no alternative other than the acceptance of his resignation if he does not return shortly.

Always deeply religious. Gates came in contact with the religious cult in his sophomore year, Dean Neilinger said after describing his visit yesterday to the turkey farm at Amherst, NH., where headquarters of the sect is located.

Since that time Gates had spent summers with the group, Dr. Neidlinger said, and it was the pressure of the evangelical beliefs he absorbed there that kept Gates from appearing for football until last week, and led to his decision twenty-four hours after starring in the Yale Bowl before 70,000 spectators.

Mr. Fuller, publicity director of the Dartmouth Athletic Association, described Gates, who is 22 years old and weighs 200 pounds, as clad in overalls, pale and wan after a night and morning with the disciples of the cult when the college representatives visited him.

Mr. Fuller described “The Holy Ghost and Us” Society as centering around a ramshackle farmhouse on the outskirts of Amherst. The reticence of cult members prevented further investigation, but “eight or nine” other adherents were working on the extensive grounds, Mr. Fuller said. All were clad in overalls similar to those worn by Gates.”

•••

Frank Sandford, the infamous leader of “The Kingdom,” died on March 4th, 1948, his body was buried secretly by his followers, all of his belongings and writings were destroyed, and his death was kept a secret from the public until October 2nd, 1948.

In the early 1950s, most of the Shiloh compound was demolished, leaving only the Shiloh Chapel which is still used today by Sandford’s followers. Since much of Sandford’s records and writings were destroyed after his death not much is known in detail besides what was told by survivors of the Shiloh Compound in Durham, Maine.

The sect of Shiloh is still alive today as the Kingdom Christian Ministries. Though the number of Shiloh churches today is next to none compared to the sect’s peak in the early 20th century, there are six known official Shiloh churches left, and one in New Hampshire, the Fairwood Bible Chapel in Dublin, New Hampshire.

COMMENTS