The Communistic Societies of the United States, by Charles Nordhoff, , at sacred-texts.com
George Rapp, founder and until his death in 1847 head of the "Harmony Society," was born in October, 1757, at Iptingen in Würtemberg. He was the son of a small farmer and vine-dresser, and received such a moderate common-school education as the child of parents in such circumstances would naturally receive at that time in South Germany. When he had been taught reading, writing, arithmetic, and geography, he left school and assisted his father on the farm, working as a weaver during the winter months. At the age of twenty-six he married a farmer's daughter, who bore him a son, John, and a daughter, Rosina, both of whom later became with him members of the society.
Rapp appears to have been from his early youth fond of reading, and of a reflective turn of mind. Books were probably not plentiful in his father's house, and he became a student of the Bible, and began presently to compare the condition of the people among whom he lived with the social order laid down and described in the New Testament. He became dissatisfied especially with the lifeless condition of the churches; and in the year 1787, when he was thirty, he had evidently found others who held with him, for he began to preach to a small congregation of friends in his own house on Sundays.
The clergy resented this interference with their office, and persecuted Rapp and his adherents; they were fined and imprisoned; and this proved to be, as usual, the best way to increase their numbers and to confirm their dislike of the prevailing order of things. They were denounced as "Separatists," and had the courage to accept the name.
Rapp taught his followers, I am told, that they were in all things to obey the laws, to be peaceable and quiet subjects, and to pay all their taxes, those to the Church as well as to the
[paragraph continues] State. But he insisted on their right to believe what they pleased and to go to church where they thought it best. This was a tolerably impregnable platform.
In the course of six years, with the help of the persecutions of the clergy, Rapp had gathered around him not less than three hundred families; and had hearers and believers at a distance of twenty miles from his own house. He appears to have labored so industriously on the farm as to accumulate a little property, and in 1803 his adherents determined upon emigrating in a body to America, where they were sure of freedom to worship God after their own desires.
Rapp sailed in that year for Baltimore, accompanied by his son John and two other persons. After looking about in Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Ohio, they concluded to buy five thousand acres of wild land about twenty-five miles north of Pittsburgh, in the valley of the Connoquenessing. Frederick (Reichert) Rapp, an adopted son of George Rapp, evidently a man of uncommon ability and administrative talent, had been left in charge in Germany; and had so far perfected the necessary arrangements for emigration that no time was lost in moving, as soon as Rapp gave notice that he had found a proper locality for settlement. On the 4th of July, 1804, the ship Aurora from Amsterdam landed three hundred of Rapp's people in Baltimore; and six weeks later three hundred more were landed in Philadelphia. The remainder, coming in another ship, were drawn off by Haller, one of Rapp's traveling companions, to settle in Lycoming County, Pennsylvania.
The six hundred souls who thus remained to Rapp appear to have been mainly, and indeed with few exceptions, of the peasant and mechanic class. There were among them, I have been told, a few of moderately good education, and presumably of somewhat higher social standing than the great body; there were a few who had considerable property, for emigrants in those days. All were thrifty, and few were destitute. It
is probable that they had determined in Germany to establish a community of goods, in accordance with their understanding of the social theory of Jesus; but for the present each family retained its property.
Rapp met them on their arrival, and settled them in different parts of Maryland and Pennsylvania; withdrawing a certain number of the ablest mechanics and laborers to proceed with him to the newly purchased land, where he and they spent a toilsome fall and winter in preparing habitations for the remainder; and on the 15th of February, 1805, these, and such as they could so early in the season gather with them, formally and solemnly organized themselves into the "Harmony Society," agreeing to throw all their possessions into a common fund, to adopt a uniform and simple dress and style of house; to keep thenceforth all things in common; and to labor for the common good of the whole body. Later in the spring they were joined by fifty additional families; and thus they finally began with about one hundred and twenty-five families, or, as I am told, less than seven hundred and fifty men, women, and children.
Rapp was then forty-eight years of age. He was, according to the best accounts I have been able to gather, a man of robust frame and sound health, with great perseverance, enterprise, and executive ability, and remarkable common-sense. It was fortunate for the community that its members were all laboring men. In the first year they erected between forty and fifty log-houses, a church and school-house, grist-mill, barn, and some workshops, and cleared one hundred and fifty acres of land. In the following year they cleared four hundred acres more, and built a saw-mill, tannery, and storehouse, and planted a small vineyard. A distillery was also a part of this year's building; and it is odd to read that the Harmonists, who have aimed to do all things well, were famous among Western men for many years for the excellence
of the whisky they made; of which, however, they always used very sparingly themselves. Among their crops in succeeding years were corn, wheat, rye, hemp, and flax; wool from merino sheep, which they were the first in that part of Pennsylvania to own; and poppies, from which they made sweet-oil. They did not rest until they had established also a woolen-mill. It was a principle with Rapp that the society should, as far as possible, produce and make every thing it used; and in the early days, I am told, they bought very little indeed of provisions or clothing, having then but small means.
Rapp was, with the help of his adopted son, the organizer of the community's labor, appointing foremen in each department; he planned their enterprises—but he was also their preacher and teacher; and he taught them that their main duty was to live a sincerely and rigidly religious life; that they were not to labor for wealth, or look forward anxiously for prosperity; that the coming of the Lord was near, and for this they were waiting, as his chosen ones separated from the world.
At this time they still lived in families, and encouraged, or at any rate did not discourage, marriage. Among the members who married between 1805 and 1807 was John Rapp, the founder's son, and the father of Miss Gertrude Rapp, who still lives at Economy; and there is no doubt that the elder Rapp performed the marriage ceremony. During the year 1807, however, a deep religious fervor pervaded the society; and a remarkable result of this "revival of religion" was the determination of most of the members to conform themselves more closely in several ways to what they believed to be the spirit and commands of Jesus. Among other matters, they were persuaded in their own minds that it was best to cease to live in the married state. I have been assured by older members of the society, who have, as they say, often heard the whole of this period described by those who were actors in it, that this
determination to refrain from marriage and from married life originated among the younger members; and that, though "Father Rapp" was not averse to this growth of asceticism, he did not eagerly encourage it, but warned his people not to act rashly in so serious and difficult a matter, but to proceed with great caution, and determine nothing without careful counsel together. At the same time he, I am told, gave it as his own conviction that the unmarried is the higher and holier estate. In short, there is reason to believe that he managed in this matter, as he appears to have done in others, with great prudence and judgment. He himself, and his son, John Rapp, set an example which the remainder of the society quickly followed; thenceforth no more marriages were contracted in Harmony, and no more children were born.
A certain number of the younger people, feeling no vocation for a celibate life, at this time withdrew from the society. The remainder faithfully ceased from conjugal intercourse. Husbands and wives were not required to live in different houses, but occupied, as before, the same dwelling, with their children, only treating each other as brother and sister in Christ, and remembering the precept of the apostle: "This I say, brethren, the time is short; it remaineth that both they that have wives be as though they had none," etc. These are the words of one of the older members to the Reverend Dr. Aaron Williams, from whose interesting account of the Harmony Society I have taken a number of facts, being referred to it by Mr. Henrici, the present head of Economy. The same person added: "The burden was easier to bear, because it became general throughout the whole community, and all bore their share alike." Another member wrote in 1862: "Convinced of the truth and holiness of our purpose, we voluntarily and unanimously adopted celibacy, altogether from religious motives, in order to withdraw our love entirely from the lusts of the flesh, which, with the help of God and much
prayer and spiritual warfare, we have succeeded well in doing now for fifty years."
Surely so extraordinary a resolve was never before carried out with so simple and determined a spirit. Among most people it would have been thought necessary, or at least prudent, to separate families, and to adopt other safeguards against temptation; but the good Harmonists did and do nothing of the kind. "What kind of watch or safeguard did or do you keep over the intercourse of the sexes," I asked in Economy, and received for reply, "None at all; it would be of no use. If you have to watch people, you had better give them up. We have always depended upon the strength of our religious convictions, and upon prayer and a Christian spirit."
"Do you believe the celibate life to be healthful?" I asked; and the reply was, "Decidedly so; almost all our people have lived to a hale old age. Father Rapp himself died at ninety; and no doubt many of our members would have lived longer than they did, had it not been for the hardships they suffered in Indiana, where we lived in a malarious region." I must add my own testimony that the Harmonists now living are almost without exception stout, well-built, hearty people, the women as well as the men.
At the same time that the celibate life was adopted, the community agreed to cease using tobacco in every form—a deprivation which these Germans must have felt almost as severely as the abandonment of conjugal joys.
The site of the Pennsylvania settlement proved to have been badly chosen in two respects. It had no water communication with the outer world; and it was unfavorable to the growth of the vine. In 1814, after proper discussion, the society determined to seek a more desirable spot; and purchased thirty thousand acres of land in Posey County, Indiana, in the Wabash valley. Thither one hundred persons proceeded in June 1814, to prepare a place for the remainder; and by the summer
of 1815 the whole colony was in its new home, having sold six thousand acres of land, with all their valuable improvements, in their old home, for one hundred thousand dollars.
The price they received is said to have been, and no doubt was, very much below the real value of the property. It is impossible to sell off a large and expensively improved estate like theirs all at once. It is probably true that the machinery and buildings were worth all they received for the whole property; and it would not be an overestimate to give the real value of what they sold at one hundred and fifty thousand dollars. They had begun, ten years before, with one hundred and twenty-five families; as after the second year they had bred no children, and as they then lost some members who left on account of their aversion to a celibate life, it is probable that they had not increased in numbers. If they had property worth one hundred and fifty thousand dollars, they would then have been able to divide, at the end of ten years, at the rate of twelve hundred dollars to each head of a family—a considerable sum, if we remember that they began with probably less than five hundred dollars for each family; and had not only lived comfortably for the greater part of ten years, but enjoyed society, had a good school for their children, a church, and all the moral and civil safeguards created by and incident to a well-settled community or town. Setting aside these safeguards and enjoyments of a thoroughly organized society, it seems to me doubtful if the same number of families, settling with narrow means at random in the wilderness, each independently of the others, could at that period, before railroads were built, have made as good a showing in mere pecuniary return in the same time. So far, then, the Harmony Society would seem to have made a pecuniary success—a fact of which they may have made but little account, but which is important to a general and independent consideration of communistic experiments.
On the Wabash they rapidly built up a town; but, possessing now both experience and some capital, they erected larger factories, and rapidly extended their business in every department. "Harmony," as they called the new town, became an important business centre for a considerable region. They sold their products and manufactured goods in branch stores as well as at Harmony; they increased in wealth; and, what was of greater importance to them, they received some large accessions of members from Germany—friends and relatives of the founders of the colony. In 1817 one hundred and thirty persons came over at one time from Würtemberg. I was told that before they left Indiana they had increased to between seven and eight hundred members.
"Father Rapp" appears to have guided his people wisely. He continued to exhort them not to care overmuch for riches, but to use their wealth as having it not; and in 1818, "for the purpose of promoting greater harmony and equality between the original members and those who had come in recently," a notable thing was done at Rapp's suggestion. Originally a book had been kept, in which was written down what each member of the society had contributed to the common stock. This book was now brought out and by unanimous consent burned, so that no record should thenceforward show what any one had contributed.
In 1824 they removed once more. They sold the town of Harmony and twenty thousand acres of land to Robert Owen, who settled upon it his New Lanark colony when he took possession. Owen paid one hundred and fifty thousand dollars—not nearly the value of the property, it is said; but the Harmonists had suffered from fever and ague and unpleasant neighbors, and were determined to remove. They then bought the property they still hold at Economy, and in 1825 removed to this their new and final home. One of the older members told me that the first detachment which came up from Indiana
consisted of ninety men, mechanics and farmers; and these "made the work fly." They laid out the town, cleared the timber from the streets and house places; and during some time completed a log-house every day. Many of these log-cabins are still standing, but are no longer used as residences. The first church, now used as a storehouse, was a log-house of uncommonly large dimensions.
I think it probable, from what I have heard from the older members, that when they were comfortably settled at Economy, the Harmony Society was for some years in its most flourishing condition. All had come on together from Indiana; and all were satisfied with the beauty of the new home. Those who had suffered from malarious fevers here rapidly recovered. The vicinity to Pittsburgh, and cheap water communication, encouraged them in manufacturing. Economy lay upon the main stage-road, and was thus an important and presently a favorite stopping-place; the colonists found kindly neighbors; there was sufficient young blood in the community to give enterprise and strength; and "we sang songs every day, and had music every evening," said old Mr. Keppler to me, recounting the glories of those days. They erected woolen and cotton mills, a grist-mill and saw-mill; they planted orchards and vineyards; they began the culture of silk, and with such success that soon the Sunday dress of men as well as women was of silk, grown, reeled, spun, and woven by themselves.
In building the new town of Economy they displayed—thanks, I believe, to the knowledge and skill of Frederick Rapp—a good deal of taste, though adhering to their ancient plainness; and their two removals had taught them valuable lessons in the convenient arrangement of machinery; so that Economy is even now a model of a well-built, well-arranged country village. As soon as they began to substitute brick for log houses, they insisted upon erecting for "Father Rapp" a
house somewhat larger and more spacious than the common dwelling-houses, though not in any other way different. This was advisable, because he was obliged to entertain many visitors and strangers of distinction. The house stands opposite the church; and has behind it a spacious garden, arranged in a somewhat formal style, with box-edgings to the walks, and summer-houses and other ornaments in the old geometrical style of gardening. This was open to the people, of course; and here the band played on summer evenings, or more frequently on Sunday afternoons; and here, too, flowers were cultivated, I am told, with great success.
How rapidly they made themselves at home in Economy appears from the following account of the Duke of Saxe-Weimar, who visited the place in 1826, only a year after it was founded:
"At the inn, a fine, large, frame house, we were received by Mr. Rapp, the principal, at the head of the community. He is a gray-headed and venerable old man; most of the members immigrated twenty-one years ago from Würtemberg along with him.
"The warehouse was shown to us, where the articles made here for sale or use are preserved, and I admired the excellence of all. The articles for the use of the society are kept by themselves; as the members have no private possessions, and every thing is in common, so must they, in relation to all their wants, be supplied from the common stock. The clothing and food they make use of is of the best quality. Of the latter, flour, salt meat, and all long-keeping articles, are served out monthly; fresh meat, on the contrary, is distributed as soon as it is killed, according to the size of the family, etc. As every house has a garden, each family raises its own vegetables and some poultry, and each family has its own bake-oven. For such things as are not raised in Economy, there is a store provided, from which the members, with the knowledge of the directors, may purchase what is necessary, and the people of the vicinity may do the same.
"Mr. Rapp finally conducted us into the factory again, and said that the girls had especially requested this visit that I might hear them sing. When their work is done, they collect in one of the factory rooms, to the
number of sixty or seventy, to sing spiritual and other songs. They have a peculiar hymn-book, containing hymns from the old Würtemberg collection, and others written by the elder Rapp. A chair was placed for the old patriarch, who sat amid the girls, and they commenced a hymn in a very delightful manner. It was naturally symphonious, and exceedingly well arranged. The girls sang four pieces, at first sacred, but afterward, by Mr. Rapp's desire, of a gay character. With real emotion did I witness this interesting scene.
"Their factories and workshops are warmed during the winter by means of pipes connected with the steam-engine. All the workmen, and especially the females, had 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 is in every respect worthy of praise." *
This account shows the remarkable rapidity with which they had built up the new town.
But perfect happiness is not for this world. In 1831 came to Economy a German adventurer, Bernhard Müller by right name, who had assumed the title Graf or Count Maximilian de Leon, and had gathered a following of visionary Germans, whom he imposed, with himself, upon the Harmonists, on the pretense that he was a believer with them in religious matters. He proved to be a wretched intriguer, who brought ruin on all who connected themselves with him; and who began at once to make trouble in Economy. Having secured a lodgment, he began to announce strange doctrines, marriage, a livelier life, and other temptations to worldliness; and he finally succeeded in effecting a serious division, which, if it had not been prudently managed, might have destroyed the community. After bitter disputes, in which at last affairs came to such a pass that a vote had to be taken, in order to decide who were faithful to the old order and to Rapp, and who were for Count Leon,
an agreement was come to. "We knew not even who was for and who against us," said Mr. Henrici to me; "and I was in the utmost anxiety as I made out the two lists; at last they were complete; all the names had been called; we counted, and found that five hundred were for Father Rapp, and two hundred and fifty for Count Leon. Father Rapp, when I told him the numbers, with his usual ready wit, quoted from the book of Revelation, 'And the tail of the serpent drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and did cast them to the earth.'"
The end of the dispute was an agreement, under which the society bound itself to pay to those who adhered to Count Leon one hundred and five thousand dollars, in three installments, all payable within twelve months; the other side agreeing, on their part, to leave Economy within three months, taking with them only their clothing and household furniture, and relinquishing all claims upon the property of the society. This agreement was made in March, 1832; and Leon and his followers withdrew to Phillipsburg, a village ten miles below Economy, on the other side of the river, which they bought, with eight hundred acres of land.
Here they set up a society on communistic principles, but permitting marriage; and here they very quickly wasted the large sum of money they received from the Harmonists; and after a desperate and lawless attempt to extort more money from the Economy people, which was happily defeated, Count Leon absconded with a few of his people in a boat to Alexandria on the Red River, where this singular adventurer perished of cholera in 1833. Those he had deluded meantime divided the Phillipsburg property among themselves, and set up each for himself, and a number afterward joined Keil in forming the Bethel Community in Missouri, of which an account will be found in another place.
In 1832, seven years only after the removal to Economy, the society was able, it thus appears, to pay out in a single year
one hundred and five thousand dollars in cash—a very great sum of money in those days. This shows that they had largely increased their capital by their thrift and industry at New Harmony in Indiana, and at Economy. They had then existed as a community twenty-seven years; had built three towns; and had during the whole time lived a life of comfort and social order, such as few individual settlers in our Western States at that time could command.
79:* "Travels through North America, during the years 1825-26, by His Highness, Bernhard, Duke of Saxe-Weimar Eisenach." Philadelphia, 1828.