Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Coming to America for Religious & Social Freedom - New Harmony, Indiana

Karl Bodmer (1809-1893) New Harmony, Indiana 1832-33

New Harmony, Indiana, is a small historic town located on the Wabash River in southwestern Indiana. From 1826 to the Civil War, New Harmony was a scientific & cultural Mecca attracting scores of distinguished American & European visitors with its lectures, laboratories, & schools.  During the early part of the 19C, New Harmony was the site of 2 attempts to establish Utopian communities. The 1st, "New" Harmonie (1814-1825), was founded by the Harmonie Society, a group of Separatists from the German Lutheran Church. Led by their charismatic leader Johann Georg Rapp (1757-1847), they left their initial American home in Harmonie, Pennsylvania, to establish a 2nd community on the western frontier of Indiana, where they acquired a much larger tract of land.

Johann Georg Rapp (1757-1847)

Rapp, weaver from Iptingen, Oberamt Maulbronn, emigrated to North America in 1803.  Because of Rapp, in the late 1700s, a new separatist movement appeared in the town of Wurttemberg in southern Germany.  There Rapp stopped attending Lutheran services & began to preach to his neighbors. Called before the Church Council in April 1785, Rapp explained that he had found a better light - the fount & body of Christ - & had since found himself "weakened rather than strengthened" in the local church.

Karl Bodmer (1809-1893)  New Harmony, Indiana on the Wabash River 1832-33

Rapp was a religious separatist, strongly influenced by Pietism, who wanted to establish a community based on what they knew of the first Christian communities.   Rapp & his followers baptized their children within their own fellowship & refused to send them to the local schools, refused to swear oaths, worked on the customary Sabbath, & insisted that God had forbidden them to attend Lutheran church services. Rapp declared that he no longer considered the local pastor a servant of God & that Lutheran ministers could no longer forgive sins.

Karl Bodmer (1809-1893)  New Harmony, Indiana 1832-33

Fines, imprisonment, & threats of exile had no effect on the renegade evangelist or his growing body of congregants. Ordered to be silent at a formal hearing in 1791, Rapp replied "I am a prophet & am called to be one!" Eight years later Rapp drew up articles of faith that included a refusal to train for military service because "those who possess the inner peace of God do not like to hurt creatures, & accordingly they may bear no weapons of war."

New Harmony, Indiana

Rapp sailed to Pennsylvania to find a new home for his flock, where they could prepare in peace for the Second Coming of Christ & "end of days" that Rapp believed were imminent. After an initial scouting trip, Rapp wrote back to Germany, that he was sure "God has prepared a little place for us" in a land where "they want you to think & believe what you wish."  About 500 to 700 supporters from Württemberg followed him to Pennsylvania in 1804. They founded the Pennsylvania community "Harmony," which was based on common property & began to flourish soon. In 1815, Rapp sold this community & together with his supporters moved to Indiana where he founded his second community called "New Harmony."

During the 10 years in which they cultivated the new town of Harmonie, the Harmonists, with their strong German work ethic & devout religious rule, achieved unheard of economic success & the community became recognized as "the wonder of the west."  There they established a new village of Harmony, larger, more productive, & more prosperous than the first. The group quickly built cabins & then more substantial houses for sect members. All followed the same floor plan which enabled them to prefab the houses with wood from their own mill & bricks from their own kiln.  Rappite houses had two rooms & an entry downstairs, two rooms up, a steep roof pitch. 

Harmonist Labyrinth in the Snow.  The labyrinth & the maze symbolized the difficult path to perfection for the Rappites.

The Rappites built 150 structures in the town including community houses (or dormitories) where young males moved at age fourteen. Rappites lived in family groups, but there was voluntary celibacy. A huge church was constructed as the center of the community. By 1824 they were marketing twenty products to stores from Pittsburgh to New Orleans.

Maze in New Harmony, Indiana

Harmony quickly became an important business center, but the Rappites were dissatisfied with its swampy waters along the river, & the stinging insects brought illness & death. They had initially selected the land near the Wabash River for its isolation & opportunity for expansion, but the Harmonites found themselves a great distance from the eastern markets & trade in this location wasn't to their liking. They also had to deal with unfriendly neighbors. As abolitionists, the Harmonites faced disagreeable interactions with slavery supporters in Kentucky, only 15 miles away, who annoyed them.  

Karl Bodmer (1809-1893)  New Harmony, Indiana Settlers' Cabin 1832-33

Slightly more than a decade later, they sold the town & surrounding lands to another social reformer for his communitarian experiment. After a brief stop along the Ohio River, the Harmonists returned to Pennsylvania to build a new town, Economy, near Pittsburgh.

Old Economy, Ambridge, PA

In 1824, Robert Owen (1771-1858), the Welch-born Scottish socialist, bought New Harmony to realize his social utopia. With $135,000 of his own money, Owen purchased the existing colony in Indiana already capable of housing 800 people. New Harmony would become the model for a New Moral World.  

Maze Design at Harmony Society in Indiana.

Here, Owen adopted the ideas of Josiah Warren, an American anarchist who lived for a while at New Harmony & other Owenite communities. Labor was to be the new currency, & New Harmony would produce its own banknotes representing hours of labor.  Owen’s vision was of a society made up of a commonwealth of self-governing & self-sufficient "villages of co-operation," each of around 1,000 people, where sectarian religious views would not be allowed to take hold, & industry & enterprise for the common good would provide prosperity for all. Owen's ambition was to create a perfect society through free education & the abolition of social classes & personal wealth. He encouraged world-renowned scientists & educators to settle in "New" Harmony. 

Robert Owen, by William Henry Brooke (d 1860)

Owen was determined that New Harmony should exert a center for learning force not just for its own inhabitants but for society at large. The key was to attract scientists of the highest calibre, & in this Owen was remarkably successful. In 1826, William Maclure (1763-1840), a wealthy Scottish geologist & educator, sent out his private library, philosophical instruments, & collections of natural history. These were accompanied by a party of scientific associates, including geologist Gerhard Troost (1776-1850) & naturalists Charles Andrew Lesueur (1778-1846) & Thomas Say (1787-1834). They traveled together to New Harmony by keel-boat from Pittsburgh – a "Boat-load of Knowledge."

New Harmony May 1826 sketch by Charles Alexandre Lesueur

The Frenchman Lesueur lived in New Harmony between 1825–1837 where he filled sketchbooks full of the finds discovered during the utopian adventure funded by his friend William Maclure. He drew the boat "Philanthropist," which arrived full of intellectuals who came to live in the small town of New Harmony, on the Wabash River. He took research trips & sketched the people & the small towns in the area. He was in New Harmony when Prince Maximilian, Prince of Wied-Neuweid, Germany (1782-1867), & artist Karl Bodmer (1809-1893) came to spend 5 months there in 1832–1833. 

Prince Maximilian said of Lesueur "He had explored the country in many directions, was acquainted with everything remarkable, collected and prepared all interesting objects and had already sent considerable collections to France" Lesueur sent specimens of unique fish, animals & fossils, as well as artifacts he had dug from the Indian Mounds in New Harmony back to France, where they remain.

New Harmony, Indiana 1831. Sketch by Charles Alexandre Lesueur.

In 1827, naturalist Thomas Say married Lucy Way Sistare (1801-1886), whom he had met as one of the passengers to New Harmony. She was an artist & illustrator of specimens, as in his book American Conchology, & was elected as the first woman member of the Academy of Natural Sciences. At New Harmony, Thomas Say carried on the monumental work describing insects & mollusks, leading to two classic works: American Entomology, or Descriptions of the Insects of North America, 3 volumes, Philadelphia, 1824–1828, and American Conchology, or Descriptions of the Shells of North America Illustrated From Coloured Figures From Original Drawings Executed from Nature, Parts 1–6, New Harmony, 1830–1834; Part 7, Philadelphia, 1836.

Lucy Way Sistare Say was born in New London, Connecticut, one of 10 children of Joseph & Nancy Way Sistare. While Say's early education remains unknown, it is known that she became a teaching apprentice around the year 1823 at the Pestalozzian school in Philadelphia. As the first of its kind in the U.S., this experimental school for girls was opened by Marie Duclos Fretageot (d. 1833). French naturalist/illustrator Charles Alexandre Lesueur taught drawing there 3 times per week, & Say received instruction from him. Say was also a temporary pupil (ca. 1824) of John James Audubon (1785-1851).  Lucy became acquainted with many naturalists & artists through that taught at Fretageot's school & soon became a participant in the plans laid by Robert Owen, William Maclure, and other Academy members, including naturalist Thomas Say & Lesueur to establish a utopian socialistic community on the banks of the Wabash River. On the way to New Harmony, Say became acquainted with Thomas.  On 4 January 1827, she & Thomas were married. The couple remained in New Harmony, while Thomas carried out scientific research & publication under wilderness conditions. While she & Thomas had no children of their own, Say taught drawing to the Owenist children at various times. Due to the frontier nature of the town, & especially the liberal views supporting equality of the sexes advocated by community leaders Owen & Maclure, women faced fewer social restrictions in New Harmony than in eastern cities. Returning to New York City following her husband's death, Say described her new life in the east as "too circumscribed, I long for the freedom I used to enjoy when I lived on the Banks of the Wabash." 

After the arrival of Maclure, Say, & other Philadelphia scientists & educators in January 1826 on the famous “Boatload of Knowledge,” the educational program at New Harmony was organized under the aegis of the School Society over which Maclure soon gained financial control. Maclure’s plan was to make the New Harmony school an institute for scientific instruction, & he wanted Say to administer it. As a result, Say, who was completely dependent upon his patron Maclure for his livelihood, spent the remainder of his life in New Harmony, except for a trip to Mexico with Maclure in 1827-28 & a brief visit to Philadelphia. As the utopian community gradually dissolved through internal strife, Maclure transformed the school into a center for scientific research, complete with a school press and a journal entitled the Disseminator of Useful Knowledge.

German settlers and German settlements in Indiana 
by Dr. William A. Fritsch. Evansville, Indiana 1915 


In a fertile valley on the lower Wabash river about 
sixty miles from its confluence with the Ohio, lies 
the town of New Harmony. It is one of the oldest 
towns in Indiana and some of the quaint old build- 
ings of the first settlement are still standing. The 
history of this beautiful little town is certainly inter- 
esting. Let us see who its first inhabitants were and 
whence they came. 

Under the government of Duke Charles Eugene 
of Wuertemberg, Germany (by the grace of Napoleon 
I, the rulers of this German province are now kings), 
who had established the Karlsschule, the alma mater 
of the great German poet Friedrich Schiller, there 
lived in the rural village of Iptingen, near the city of 
Maulbronn an active and intelligent weaver by the 
name of Johann George Rapp. Besides weaving for 
other people, he cultivated a few acres of land and 
conducted a wine-press. During his leisure hours he 
read the Bible. Becoming intensely imbued with 
communistic ideas he began to preach in his twenty- 
fourth year, urging the return of the customs and 
ceremonies of the early Christians. Annoyed by his 
teachings, the pastors of the Wuertemberg state 
church and other religious denominations petitioned 
the government to forbid Rapp's preaching to the 
people. The duke of Wuertem^berg, however, regard- 
ed Rapp and his doctrines as harmless and refused to 
interfere. Rapp's propaganda bore good fruit and he 
soon had a large following. Desiring to live together 
free from persecution they decided to emigrate to 
America. Rapp, his son Johannes, and two elders 
were sent to investigate, and purchased a tract of 
five thousand acres of land twenty-five miles west of 
Pittsburg at three dollars an acre. In the spring of 
1804, Rapp went to Baltimore where three hundred 
of his people landed with the ship Aurora on July 4th. 
Another party of two hundred and sixty, headed by 
Frederick Reichert arrived the next month at Phila- 
delphia, where Rapp received them. Arriving at 
their settlement a constitution was adopted, all the 
m.embers giving up their money and agreeing to live 
and work together under chosen leaders. The com- 
munity was named Harmony, Johann George Rapp 
being elected the spiritual leader and teacher, and his 
adopted son, Frederick (Reichert) Rapp, the business 
manager of the new town, three elders being associa- 
ted with them in the management of affairs. The 
Rappites, as they were generally called, built over 
one hundred houses in their village and soon had over 
three thousand acres of land under cultivation. As 
far back as 1807 a great number of the society adopt- 
ed the celibate life; still marriages occurred in the 
society, Rapp's only son among them, Rapp himself 
solemnizing the marriage. If young couples married 
and left the community, the Rappites helped them and 
took a kindly interest in them. In the year 1814 the 
Rappites sold Harmony to a Pennsylvania German for 
$100,000, and with their goods, agricultural imple- 
ments and machinery valued at $45,000, moved down 
the Ohio River to Indiana, where they had bought 
30,000 acres of land, and founded Harmony, later re- 
named New Harmony. Here they established a dis- 
tillery, brewery, mills and factories and manufactured 
cotton and woolen goods, the daily output of their 
factories in 1822 amounting to $262.00, according to 
the "Niles Register." 

In order to guard against river pirates and warring 
redskins who were prowling about, the Harmonites 
built a fort which is still in a fair state of preserva- 
tion. The falls of the Wabash near the town were uti- 
lized to furnish water power for a mill and hammer 
factory. The town grew steadily. The work was done 
in groups or companies, each group selecting its own 
foreman whose duty it was to deliver the products 
to the general storehouse. Soon the lofts of the store 
house were filled with all kinds of manufactured pro- 
ducts and from near and far came farmers to pur- 
chase necessities and to have their grain ground. The 
producing power of these enterprising Germans be- 
coming too great for their immediate neighborhood, 
branch stores and agencies were established in Vin- 
cennes, Ind., Shawneetown, 111., Louisville, Ky., Pitts- 
burg, Pa., and other places, their products and man- 
ufactured articles finding a ready sale throughout 
the Ohio and Mississippi valleys, from Pittsburg to 
New Orleans. From a report of the English colony 
at Albion, Edwards County, Illinois, we glean that the 
manufactures of the Rappites were given the prefer- 
ence over all others, and that in the years 1818-1824, 
the English settlers had purchased $150,000 worth of 
goods from the Rappites. River transportation was 
mostly on flat boats. In 1823 Jonathan Lenz (then a 
lad of sixteen, but later one of the trustees of the so- 
ciety) had charge of such a cargo valued at $1,369 
and containing thirty-nine kegs of lard, one hundred 
kegs of butter, six hundred and eighty bushels of 
oats, eighty-eight barrels of flour, one hundred and 
three barrels of pork, thirty-two oxen, sixteen hogs 
and forty barrels of whiskey. Today its entire cargo 
would be worth many times more. Among the Rap- 
pites there were good farmers as well as good me- 
chanics; travelers coming from far and near to ob- 
serve the commercial life and the well conducted 
farms and vineyards. The typical dwelling house of 
the Rappites had no door facing the street, the doors 
being on the sides of the houses towards the beau- 
tiful flower gardens which were to be found every- 
where. Some of the houses are standing today, bear- 
ing evidence of the substantial manner in which they 
were erected. Ferdinand Ernst passed through New 
Harmony on his way to Illinois in 1819. Coming from 
Princeton on horseback, he arrived just as the vesper 
bells were ringing, the familiar sounds of which, 
though strange in America, carried his thoughts back 
to his fatherland. In a book published in Germany, 
he gives a good description of the town and his visit. 
Of special interest to us is his description of a thresh- 
ing machine, which the Harmonists used at this early 

Schoolcraft visited the town in 1821 and writes: 
"They have no spendthrifts, idlers or drunkards in 
Harmony — everybody is working." Another writer, 
George Flower, says, "With surprise all who went to 
Harmony observed with what facility the necessaries 
and the comforts of life were acquired and enjoyed 
by every member of Rapp's community. When com- 
pared with the privations and discomforts to which 
individual settlers were exposed in their backwoods 
experiences, the contrast was very striking. The poor 
hunter who brought a bushel of corn to be ground, 
coming from a distance of perhaps ten miles, saw 
with wonder people as poor as himself living in good 
houses surrounded by beautiful gardens, clothed in 
garments of the best quality and regularly supplied 
with meal, meat and other food without any apparent 
individual exertion. He could not fail to contrast 
the comforts and conveniences surrounding the dwel- 
lings of the Harmonites with the dirt, desolation and 
discomforts of his own log hut. It opened to his 
mind a new train of thought. One of them said to 
me, *I studies and studies on it,' an expression that 
depicts the feelings of every person that obtained a 
sight of Rapp's German community at Harmony." 
Father Rapp was at this time still the head of the 
communtiy and their spiritual advisor. His adopted 
son, Frederick Rapp carried on the business with the 
outer world, while Romelius L. Baker was the mana- 
ger of the general merchandise store. 

When Indiana adopted a state Constitution at 
Corydon in 1816, Fred Rapp was a delegate to the 
assembly from Gibson County, and as a man of af- 
fairs had great influence in that body. In 1820 he 
was appointed a member of a committee of ten to 
select a more central place for the capitol of the state 
of Indiana, which committee subsequently selected 

In the year 1824 the Rappites or Harmonites, 
through the agency of Richard Flower, sold all their 
possessions on the Wabash, including the town of 
Harmony, to Robert Owen of Scotland for the sum of 
$150,000, and nearly all moved back to Pennsylvania, 
where they built a third town on the Ohio River be- 
low Pittsburg, which they named Economy. A few 
remained in the state and these were the agitators 
for a large German immigration in the southern part 
of Indiana. Owen took possession of New Harmony 
and promulgated his humanitarian ideas in the wil- 
derness of America. Financially his experiment did 
not meet with the success that favored the thrifty 
Germans, who to the number of eight hundred had 
labored and built up a community which could be 
considered a model in its day. Yet Owen, McClure 
and the naturalists who frequently made New Har- 
mony their abode, among them two German princes 
from the fatherland, contributed their share in the 
uplifting of humanity and the progress of the state. 
Since the Civil War, New Harmony has had a healthy 
growth and with its fine working men's library do- 
nated by one of its public spirited citizens. Dr. Mur- 
phy, together with other endowments, is now one of 
the most beautiful and progressive little towns of its 
size in the country. 

At Economy, the Rappites displayed the same ac- 
tivity and industry. Father Rapp died here in the 
year 1847 at the age of ninety. The German historian 
Franz Loeher, visited him shortly before his death 
and gives a good account of Rapp and his co-workers 
in his book: "Land und Leute in der alten und neuen 
Welt" (Land and people of the old and new World.) 
During the civil war the Rappites displayed their pa- 
triotism by taking into their community orphan chil- 
dren of Union soldiers, who had been killed in the 
civil war, and raising them until they could support 
themselves. Among these was J. S. Duss, whose 
father had been mortally wounded at Gettysburg and 
died in a hospital. Young Duss was raised in Econ- 
omy, attended college, became a teacher and musi- 
cian, and after his marriage joined the Harmonist so- 
ciety and as one of the trustees directed the affairs 
of the community until it was dissolved in 1906. Sev- 
eral German books were published at Economy, the 
best known being the hymn book of the society with 
the title: "Harmonisches Gesangbuch, theils von 
anderen Autoren theils neu verfasst" (Harmonic 
hymn book partly by other authors, partly original 

The first edition appearing in 1827 contained the 
militant songs of the old protestant church from the 
time of Martin Luther to Ernst Moritz Arndt and 
some newer songs by members of the society. 

It was in 1869 that the writer first saw New Har- 
mony, many of the buildings reminding him of struc- 
tures in the old country. Observing the neglected 
condition of the massive old Rappist church which 
was being used as a packing house, he wrote to the 
trustees of the society at Economy and suggested that 
they buy the building and donate it to the town for 
some good purpose. After some correspondence on 
the subject, Mr. Jonathan Lenz, one of the trustees 
of the society came to Evansville to visit the writer 
and then went to New Harmony, where he purchased 
the church and turned part of it into a public school. 
He also bought the burial ground of the Rappites, 
which had been unintentionally sold with the other 
land and used the remaining bricks from the church 
to build a brick wall around this cemetery where sev- 
eral hundred of the Harmonist pioneers lie buried, no 

monuments or mounds marking their resting places.