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They named their settlement "Zoar" after the town to which Lot fled seeking refuge from Sodom. The Society eventually disbanded in 1898, although the town of Zoar remains, about 12 miles south of Canton, Ohio.

Zoar, Ohio on the Tuscarawas River, was founded 1817 by a group of about 200 Separatists from S Germany who fled religious persecution and, under the leadership of Joseph Michael Bimeler, emigrated to America. The Quakers received them in Philadelphia and assisted them in obtaining land in Ohio. The village of Zoar was laid out, a communistic system was adopted, and a strict moral and religious life was maintained. Flour and textile mills and other small industries were established, and the commune flourished.

The Zoarites aided in the building of the Ohio and Erie Canal. After Bimeler's death (1853), the society declined; in 1898 the communistic mode of life was abandoned.

Today, Zoar is a community of approximately 75 families living in homes built from 1817 to the present. Many of the original homes have been preserved or restored, as have the many buildings and museums maintained by the Ohio Historical Society.


Having been persecuted because of their belief in separation of Church and State, a group of German "Separatists" fled Wurtemberg to have freedom to worship God as they chose. Guided by a vision from their mystic spiritual leader, they set sail for America in April 1817, arriving at Philadelphia in August. Aided by the Quakers, arrangements were made for purchasing 5500 acres in the Tuscarawas River valley with a credit of fifteen years. A small band of men arrived at their new land on October 16, 1817. By spring, they had built enough shelter to house their families who had been left in Philadelphia for the winter.

They named their settlement Zoar after the town to which Lot fled seeking refuge from Sodom. A seven pointed star of Bethlehem was chosen as their emblem and the acorn from which the mighty oak grows was their symbol of strength. Life in the new land was harsh and failure appeared imminent. A plan was devised to create a community of goods and efforts whereby all individual's property and future earnings became common stock. On April 19, 1819, the articles of association were signed by 53 men and 104 women establishing "The Society of Separatists of Zoar".

Joseph Bimeler became their Agent-General as well as their spiritual and temporal leader. Business was overseen, duties assigned, and discipline given out by "Agent General" Bimeler, 3 elected trustees, and a standing committee of 5. All were considered equal, and men and women were eligible to vote and hold office at Zoar. Later known as "Zoarites," they thrived; the "community of goods" helped keep them together and survive what were some hard times elsewhere.

In 1827, the Society was contracted to dig seven miles of the Ohio-Erie Canal, which passed through their land. Their work was completed in 1828 for $22,867.35 and allowed the Society to pay off its land debt, which was due in 1830. The canal essentially opened the area for commerce and at one time, the Society operated as many as four canal boats. By the mid 1800's, Zoar was well known over a wide area, and many people came to see the little German town tucked away in the Ohio hills, and its block-square religiously significant flower garden.

However, this increased contact with the outside world eventually created discontent among the younger members. Also, after Bimeler's death in 1853, many of Zoar's thriving businesses failed to keep up with the times and remain competitive, and gradually lost markets they should have been able to maintain. The Zoar Society was almost totally self-sufficient with excesses being sold to outsiders. By the mid 1800's, the Society had accumulated assets of over one million dollars.

Finally, in 1898, the members voted to dissolve the Society. Three commissioners were hired to divide the land and homes as fairly as possible, as well as the proceeds of a nearly week-long auction which sold off excess livestock, farm equipment, etc. The residents had to adjust to working for themselves, and Zoar became just another small country town.


One of the events leading up to the Separatist emigration to America was the publication of "The Separatist Principles." These "principles" were circulated to clarify the group's beliefs. However, it did little to better their situation. And so, being led by Joseph Bimeler they left their friends, relatives, and homeland and arrived at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in August 1817.

  • We believe and confess the Trinity of God, in the Father, Son, and the Holy Ghost;
  • the fall of Adam and of all mankind, and with the loss thereby of the likeness of God in them;
  • the return through Christ to God, our proper and lawful Father;
  • the Holy Scriptures as the rule of our lives, and the touchstone of truth and falsehood. All our other principles derive from these, and govern our conduct in the religious, spiritual, and natural life.
  • All ceremonies are banished from among us, and are declared to be useless and injurious, and this is the chief cause of our separation.
  • We render to no mortal honors due only to God, such as to uncover the head or bend the knee and the like. We address everyone as thee and thou.
  • We separate ourselves from all ecclesiastical constitutions and ties, because the life of a Christian never requires sectarianism, while set forms create sectarian division.
  • Our marriages are contracted by mutual consent before witnesses. They are then notified to the civil authorities; therefore, entirely without priestly union or ceremony.
  • All intercourses of the sexes, except what is necessary to continue the species, we hold to be sinful and contrary to the command of God; entire abstinence or complete chastity is still better.
  • We cannot send our children into the schools of Babylon because they oppose our principles. Lacking in morality and religion, the village schools breed crowds of idlers who, given good opportunity in their meetings, teach their fellow students wickedness and debauchery.
  • We cannot serve the state as soldiers because a Christian cannot murder his enemy, much less his friend.
  • We recognize the temporal authority as necessary to maintain order, to protect the good and honest and punish the wrongdoers; no one can prove us to be unfaithful to the state (Germany) but rather the contrary.

"These therefore are the principles which for 10 years have brought upon us many and varied persecutions. We have indeed called out loudly for justice but our situation has been little bettered, because our powerful enemies still possess those decrees which were issued against us, and by means of which they have deprived many families of their property and liberty because of the hatred and envy they bear toward us. No one can imagine the nature of the situation in which the Separatist is placed. How can a man who has for his goal merely the salvation of his soul ... be so cruelly misunderstood, so barbarously handled, and this his only crime - that he has followed the dictates of his conscience; We can testify before God and conscience that our purposes were never other than these; to forsake the godless life of the world, to fulfill faithfully our duties toward God and man, to live in an inner circle of love and friendship, and in doing so, find compensation for the tribulations of the pilgrim life..."

The above was printed and circulated prior to 1816 in an effort to clarify their beliefs, but it did little to better their situation, to the end that many of the Separatists came to America.

Joseph Michael Bimeler 1778-1853

German religious leader, originally called Bäumler. A teacher of the separatists in Württemberg, in 1817 he led a group of them to America. In Ohio they founded the community of Zoar.

Writings: [SOCIETY OF SEPARATISTS OF ZOAR.] [BIMELER (Joseph Michael).] [also BÄUMLER] DIE WAHRE SEPARATION, oder die Wiedergeburt, dargestellet in geistreichen und erbaulichen Versammlungs - Reden und Betrachtungen... Gehalten in der Gemeinde in Zoar im Jahr 1832 [1834]... Gedruckt in Zoar, O[hio], 1858-60. [The True Separation, or the Rebirth, Exhibited in the Spiritually Rich & Edifying Meeting Discourses & Meditations... Held in the Community in Zoar in 1830 [1834]. Printed in Zoar, Ohio. 1858-60.] Large 4to. Vols III & IV in one vol. xvi, 474, [2], [1], 463, 16 pp [in vol IV the even numbered pages are on the rectos of the leaves.]


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