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Rappists, The Harmony Society

Die Gesellschaft Harmony - Rapp und die Rappisten

"The settlement made more rapid advances in wealth and prosperity, than any equal body of men in the world at any period of time, more, in one year, than other parts of the United States ... have done in ten."

 Matthew Carey

"But whether reverend Rapp learned this while in Germany
Or no, 'it is said his sect is rich and godly,
Pious and pure, beyond what I can term any
Of ours, although they propagate more broadly."

 Lord Byron

"Niemals habe ich eine so wahrhaft patriarchalische Verfassung gesehen als hier, und das, was die Menschen gewirkt haben, spricht am Besten fü:r ihre Einrichtungen und für die unter ihnen herrschende Eintracht."

 Duke Bernhard of Weimar

New Harmony, Indiana

New Harmony is the site of two of America's great utopian communities. The first, Harmonie on the Wabash (1814-1824), was founded by the Harmony Society, a group of Separatists from the German Lutheran Church. In 1814, led by their charismatic leader Johann Georg Rapp, they left their first American home, Harmonie, PA. Indiana's lower Wabash Valley on the western frontier gave them the opportunity to acquire a much larger tract of land. In 1825, the Ha rmonists moved back to Pennsylvania and built the town of Economy near Pittsburgh. Robert Owen, Welsh-born industrialist and social philosopher, bought their Indiana town and the surrounding lands for his communitarian exper iment. The Harmonists combined the Swabian work ethic ("Work, work, work! Save, save, save!") with the Benedictine rule ("Pray and work!"). This resulted in an unheard of economic achievement that was recognized as "the wonder of the west."

The Indiana years proved to be the golden decade of the Harmony society. Their industries prospered. Agricultural and manufactured products were marketed to major cities in the United States and abroad. New Harmony, with it manicured gardens and neat tree-lined street, was renowned for its beauty. The town was largely self-sufficient. There were 2000 acres of highly cultivated land, including a 15-acre vineyard and a 35-acre orchard of choice apple and pear tress. Four large brick dwellings, a steam engine, two large granaries, wool and cotton factories, a threshing machine, a 5-acre vegetable garden, and more than 126 family dwelling houses were carefully cataloged by the Harmonists in a final inventory of the town that was prepared prior to its sale to Robert Owen.

Robert Owen's ambition was to create a more perfect society through free education and the abolition of social classes and personal wealth. World-renowned scientists and educators settled in New Harmony. With the help of William Maclure, the Scottish geologist and businessman, they introduced vocation education, kindergarten and other educational reforms.

Harmonist Society History

Johann Georg[e] Rapp was born on November 1, 1757 in the village of Iptingen [now one of four communities administered from Wiernsheim, 25 km from Stuttgart] in the then province of Württemberg. His father, Hans Adam Rapp, was a peasant wine grower. Georg had one brother, Adam, who died on his way to America, and three sisters, Marie Dorothea, Elise Dorothea, and Maria Barbara, who all went to America.

After finishing school, George Rapp became a journeyman weaver. In 1783 he married Christina Benzinger; they had two children, Johannes (1783) and Rosina (1786). Rapp, inspired by the writings of 17th-century German mystic Jakob Boehme and by Pietist and Anabaptist thought, became convinced that the individual can communicate directly with God, and the Layman can interpret the Word of God himself. Others who felt similarly soon joined Rapp. His followers began to form a distinct sectarian movement around 1785, at which time Rapp officially broke with the Church. From this point the Separatists grew rapidly in numbers and influence. Because civil and religious affairs were still closely intertwined at that time, Rapp's nonconformity was viewed as dangerous to the government and civil order. In 1787 the first of many o fficial investigations of the Separatists took place and their meetings were banned.

For holding services in his Iptingen home and attracting followers with his unacceptable Anabaptist concepts, Rapp was briefly imprisoned and fined in 1791. Several of his followers were fined. Some were even threatened with the insane asylum. All feared being driven from their homes at any moment.

By 1798, and particularly through formulating Articles of Faith in the "Lomersheimer Declaration," Rapp's movement had to be reckoned with by state and church as a new denomination. This declaration, named after the town of Lomersheim, specifies that the movement's adherents object to what they perceived as being empty church ceremonies, i.e. practices such as baptism and confirmation. They objected to sending their children to school where Church (Lutheran) doctrine was taught, and they refused to serve in the military. They objected to communion being given by impure minis ters to impure members of the congregation. They liked to express themselves as the spirit of God moved them, and they could not do this in Church. The Articles made no mention of communal living, millenarianism, or chastity/celibacy. However, these future tenets of the Harmonist Society were being practiced in their formative stages in the late 1790s.

The harassment by local Church authorities caused Rapp to contemplate emigrating to American. It is reported that his followers numbered as many as 20,000 at this point. In July 1803, Rapp and his son Johannes, Dr. Christoph Müller, and Dr. Frederick Haller [who soon broke with Rapp to establish his own colony at Blooming Grove, PA] sailed for America to find a location where his followers might enjoy the blessings of religious freedom. Friedrich/Frederick Reichert was left in charge of the congregat ion. While Rapp was gone, new and stricter government regulations led to more investigations, persecution, and imprisonment.

On October 7, 1803, Rapp and his companions arrived in Philadelphia. They were interested in government land in Ohio, and petitioned President Jefferson for special consideration in a land purchase, not realizing that such a petition would have to pass through Congress. On May 1, 1804 the first 300 of Rapp's followers left Germany on the "Aurora". They arrived in Baltimore on July 4, with Dr. David Gloss as their leader. Around September 14, 1804, a party of 257 arrived in Philadelphia aboard the "Atlant ic"; they were led by Frederick Reichert. Another group arrived on September 19. The last contingent reached America on September 19, 1804 on the "Margaret".

In the beginning the followers were scattered, for a location for the community had not yet been found. Some settled in Ohio, expecting Rapp to settle there. When Pennsylvania was chosen many of these followers remained in Ohio under the leadership of Dr. Gloss. Others were scattered, camping with Rapp or living with German families.

The Harmony Society took care of its adherents' every conceivable need. Early commercial ventures included tailor, hat, shoe, and print shops. The tailor and shoemaker watched fellow members arrive for weekly worship services. If they clothes seemed shabby or their shoes worn, replacements would be provided. An 1827 alphabetical listing of all merchandise sold (with original prices) by the Harmony Store still exists. The store shelves; also reveal the breadth of items sold here.

In examining George Rapp's papers, Shepherd discovered a revealing passage. Rapp wrote that he would "go to Pittsburgh with the girls and see what kind of taste the world now has to choose the best and the most useful out of this to obtain what is most necessary." At the store villagers purchased "worldly goods" for daily use, such a chine and glass, as well as objects for enrichment and enjoyment, including works of art, musical instruments, and books.

The furnishings reflect their simple life style, verified by an inventory taken for a 1847 court case. Eventually added to many dwelling were family sheds, which served as wood, tool, and drying shed, root cellar, cow shed, and outhouse. (The Harmonists even trained their cows to come to these sheds to be milked, rather than have workers walk to the field). Each household had a garden plot with vegetables, herbs, and flowers. The Bakers' garden today is planted according to a list of plants and herbs compiled by a young schoolgirl, Clara Knodel, in 1825.

Even though the group practiced celibacy much of the time, there were some young residents. A visitor wrote that one child was born each year. The charismatic Rapp was much beloved by young and old, and in an account of his visit in 1826 the Duke of Saxe-Weimar wrote: "Mr. Rapp conducted us into the factory again, and said that the girls had especially requested that visit that I might hear them sing…The girls sang four pieces, at first sacred, but afterward, by Mr. Rapp's desire, of a gay character." The duke, who published his remarks two years later in two volumes entitled Travels Through North America, went on to remark, "All the workmen, and especially the females, have very healthy complexions and moved me deeply by the warm-hearted friendliness with which they saluted the elder Rapp. I was also much gratified to see vessels containing fresh sweet-scented flowers standing on all the machines. The neatness which universally reigns here is in every respect worth of praise."

Hungarian poet Nicholas Lenau spent six months in 1832 in Harmony. Lenau wrote Don Juan, a poem that Richard Strauss set to music. Perhaps not so coincidentally a poem written by Lord Byron in 1824, also entitled Don Juan, mentions both George Rapp and the Harmony Society.


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