Book: The Communistic Societies of the United States
Author: Charles Nordhoff

The Communistic Societies of the United States By Charles Nordhoff

Format: Global Grey free PDF, epub, Kindle ebook
Pages (PDF): 367
Publication Date: 1875

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A fascinating look at communal societies within the United States during the 19th Century. The author gives accounts of several such societies, like the Shakers, the Harmony Society, and the Perfectionists, commenting on how they live and their beliefs, etc.

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The "Work of Inspiration" is said to have begun far back in the eighteenth century. I have a volume, printed in 1785, which is called the "Thirty-sixth Collection of the Inspirational Records," and gives an account of "Brother John Frederick Rock's journeys and visits in the year 1719, wherein are recorded numerous utterances of the Spirit by his word of mouth to the faithful in Constance, Schaffhausen, Zurich, and other places."

They admit, I believe, that the "Inspiration" died out from time to time, but was revived as the congregations became more godly. In 1749, in 1772, and in 1776 there were especial demonstrations. Finally, in the year 1816, Michael Krausert, a tailor of Strasburg, became what they call an "instrument" (werkzeug), and to him were added several others: Philip Mörschel, a stocking-weaver, and a German; Christian Metz, a carpenter; and finally, in 1818, Barbara Heynemann, a "poor and illiterate servant-maid," an Alsatian ("eine arme ganz ungdehrte Dienstmagd").

Metz, who was for many years, and until his death in 1867, the spiritual head of the society, wrote an account of the society from the time he became an "instrument" until the removal to Iowa. From this, and from a volume of Barbara Heynemann's inspired utterances, I gather that the congregations did not hesitate to criticize, and very sharply, the conduct of their spiritual leaders; and to depose them, and even expel them for cause. Moreover, they recount in their books, without disguise, all their misunderstandings. Thus it is recorded of Barbara Heynemann that in 1820 she was condemned to expulsion from the society, and her earnest entreaties only sufficed to obtain consent that she should serve as a maid in the family of one of the congregation; but even then it was forbidden her to come to the meetings. Her exclusion seems, however, to have lasted but a few months. Metz, in his "Historical Description," relates that this trouble fell upon Barbara because she had too friendly an eye upon the young men; and there are several notices of her desire to marry, as, for instance, under date of August, 1822, where it is related that "the Enemy" tempted her again with a desire to marry George Landmann; but "the Lord showed through Brother Rath, and also to her own conscience, that this step was against his holy will, and accordingly they did not marry, but did repent concerning it, and the Lord's grace was once more given her." But, like Jacob, she seems to have wrestled with the Lord, for later she did marry George Landmann, and, though they were for a while under censure, she regained her old standing as an "inspired instrument," came over to the United States with her husband, was for many years the assistant of Metz, and since his death has been the inspired oracle of Amana.

In the year 1822 the congregations appear to have attracted the attention of the English Quakers, for I find a notice that in December of that year they were visited by William Allen, a Quaker minister from London, who seems to have been a man of wealth. He inquired concerning their religious faith, and told them that he and his brethren at home were also subject to inspiration. He persuaded them to hold a meeting, at which by his desire they read the 14th chapter of John; and he told them that it was probable he would be moved of the Lord to speak to them. But when they had read the chapter, and while they waited for the Quaker's inspiration, Barbara Heynemann was moved to speak. At this Allen became impatient and left the meeting; and in the evening he told the brethren that the Quaker inspiration was as real as their own, but that they did not write down what was spoken by their preachers; whereto he received for reply that it was not necessary, for it was evident that the Quakers had not the real inspiration, nor the proper and consecrated "instruments" to declare the will of the Lord; and so the Quaker went away on his journey home, apparently not much edified.

The congregations were much scattered in Germany, and it appears to have been the habit of the "inspired instruments" to travel from one to the other, deliver messages from on high, and inquire into the spiritual condition of the faithful. Under the leadership of Christian Metz and several others, between 1825 and 1839 a considerable number of their followers were brought together at a place called Armenburg, where manufactures gave them employment, and here they prospered, but fell into trouble with the government because they refused to take oaths and to send their children to the public schools, which were under the rule of the clergy. In 1842 it was revealed to Christian Metz that all the congregations should be gathered together, and be led far away out of their own country. Later, America was pointed out as their future home. To a meeting of the elders it was revealed who should go to seek out a place for settlement; and Metz relates in his brief history that one Peter Mook wanted to be among these pioneers, and was dissatisfied because he was not among those named; and as Mook insisted on going, a message came the next day from God, in which he told them they might go or stay as they pleased, but if they remained in Germany it would be "at their own risk;" and as Mook was not even named in this message, he concluded to remain at home.

Metz and four others sailed in September, 1842, for New York. They found their way to Buffalo; and there, on the advice of the late Mr. Dorsheimer, from whom they received much kindness, bought five thousand acres of the old Seneca Indian reservation at ten dollars per acre.