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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 t hrough 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.

*Source: "Pennsylvania German Pioneers, a Publication of the Original Lists of Arrivals in the Port of Philadelphia From 1727 to 1808," by Ralph Beaver Strassburger, LL.D., President of the Pennsylvania German Society; Edited by William John Hinke, PH.D., DD; Second Printing in Two Volumes, Volume II 1785-1808 Indexes, Baltimore, Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc., 1980.
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Created: 21 September 1998, JAF
Supported by an Indiana Heritage Research Grant, A Joint Effort of the Indiana Humanities Council and the Indiana Historical Society
Updated: 17 November 2007, BAS
Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis, University Library
URL: http://www.ulib.iupui.edu/kade/newharmony/history.html
Comments: Ruth Reichmann, reichman@indiana.edu

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