History of Utopian Founder George Rapp Part 1

About utopian founder George Rapp, history and biography of the creator of Harmony.


GEORGE RAPP (1757-1847)

George Rapp had eccentric ideas--a belief in a male-female God and a Christ without sex organs, and a conviction that the millennium (the Second Coming of Christ) would take place in 1829. It is hard to believe that he was able to convert hundreds of practical, hardheaded German farmers to these ideas and to persuade them to leave Germany with him to start a community in the New World. It is even harder to believe that the community they started, which later turned celibate, was so successful that it lasted nearly 70 years.

Born in Wurttemberg, Rapp received only a basic education, then became a farmer and weaver. From the Bible (the only book available to him) and from what he saw around him, he developed a complete religious and social philosophy. He could not help but compare life and religion in Wurttemberg with life as described in the Bible; as a result he found Wurttemberg and its churches wanting. Disillusioned, he began an unauthorized church of his own, in which he exhorted his followers to live perfect lives. Together with his followers, who became known as Separatists, he was fined and thrown in jail.

In 1804 the group made the decision to go to the U.S., where they began Harmony, a utopian community, in Butler County, Pa. Rapp was its patriarchal leader, though practical details were taken care of by his adopted son Frederick, a tall stonecutter-architect-musician with a good business head.

Rapp looked as though he could have stepped from the pages of the Bible. He was almost 6 ft. tall, with a beard, blue eyes, and a stately walk. A young person once said of him, "If I met him in the street, if I had a bad thought in my head, it flew away."

He had a flamboyant side that must have seemed odd at times to his sober followers. For example, he ordered to be built at Harmony a mystical maze of tunnels, trapdoors, sliding walls, and secret passages. One of the passages led to a secret entrance to the church, and Rapp was fond of bursting through it, shaggy hair flying, to amaze the congregation.

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