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Karl J. R. Arndt
"Harmonists and the Mormons"

American-German Review X:5 June 1944
(Philadelphia: C. Schurz Mem. Foundation)
  • Harmonist model for Mormonism
  • 1829 Harmonist millinarianism
  • need for a Harmonist gathering
  • Rigdon parallels Harmonist activities
  • George Rapp aids the Mormons?
  • a need for further research

  • Transcriber's Comments

  • Historic New Harmony web-site   |   Western Esotericism and The Harmony Society

    Note: Entire contents copyright 1944, Carl Schurz Memorial Foundation


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    The Harmonists and the Mormons


    At first glance it may seem surprising to see these two groups associated so closely, for George Rapp's Harmony movement, as we see from Byron's Don Juan and other works of that time, connoted celibacy, while the Mormon movement connoted polygamy. Closer investigation shows, however, that under actual conditions within the two groups these apparent extremes did not exist without modification. On the other hand, both held the view that they were Israelites in the spiritual sense, a view still marked in the case of the Mormons by one of the Webster definitions of gentile, "a person not a Mormon." The beginnings of the two religious movements and their various well-managed migrations also offer many similarities. And when we consider that Sidney Rigdon, a man who had a great deal to do with the founding of the Mormon Church, was a Baptist preacher in Pittsburgh until after the time that the Harmonists returned to that vicinity after a ten-year flight into the wilderness, there is good reason to advance the theory that the living model of the Mormon Church was the Harmony Society of George Rapp. It must be kept in mind that the Harmony Society, at that time was greatly admired and envied throughout America and Europe for its amazing economic success. Many Americans of English descent wanted to join the Society but were prevented from doing so by the exclusive character of the Society which, while most loyal in its support of American interests, adhered with determination and love to its German cultural roots. Unable to join the Harmony Society, many Americans of English descent founded their own societies or churches, and the Harmony Society archives provide ample unpublished evidence to prove that these communicated with the Harmonists before their own groups were formed.

    Documentary proof of the spiritual and ideological influence of the Harmonists on the founders of the Mormon Church is not yet within my reach but circumstantial evidence for this view is very strong. In support of my theory I will present evidence of the Harmonist-Mormon relationship dating shortly after the founding of the Mormon Church and during its exodus to the West. I take this evidence from the letters and papers of the Harmonist Jacob Zundel, who took part in the great march west after leaving the Harmony Society. The original letters are in the Harmony Society archives and some of his personal papers are in the possession of his descendant, George Zundel of State College, Pennsylvania. Before presenting this material it is necessary to outline the Zundel pre-Mormon history.  

    The Zundels were a large and influential family in the Harmony Society. John Eberhard Zundel had already been associated with George Rapp in Wurttemberg and had brought his entire family into the Society. For the purpose of this discussion we are interested primarily in (Johann) Jacob Zundel (1796-188o), the second son of John Eberhard Zundel. As a member of the Harmony Society from its very beginning Jacob Zundel helped build the first Harmonist community on the Conoguenessing Creek near Pittsburgh, joined in the move to the Wabash and helped build New Harmony in Indiana, where his father died, then moved back to Pennsylvania with the body of the Harmonists and helped build their third town, Economy. Through all this hardship and through all these years Zundel and his father's entire family were faithful and loyal Harmonists. They loved the life of the Christian community and contributed all their strength to it. With the establishment of the third Harmonist town, Economy, near Pittsburgh, George Rapp insisted with more severity than before upon celibacy in the Society. Among various theological authorities there was a rather close agreement that Christ's second coming was very near. In the Harmony Society that event was expected in the year 1829, so marriage and giving in marriage seemed entirely too worldly to George Rapp, then 72 years old, but somewhat too spiritual to Jacob Zundel, then 33. At the very time that the faith, particularly of the younger Harmonists, was near breaking George Rapp's preaching was given potent support from a source which so far had been unknown to the Harmonists. One Count Leon, whose calculations of Christ's return agreed with Rapp's, announced his existence as the Lion of Judah and promised that the glory of the Lord would soon be revealed at Economy as at one time it had been revealed in Bethlehem.

    Count Leon's dramatic announcement was effective enough to suppress the urge to marry. Rapp himself firmly believed in the divine messenger and like John the Baptist pointed to Leon


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    as the one who was to lead them to greater perfection. As the Lion of Judah, Count Leon believed that he was sent to open the book of seven seals. The song of the four and twenty elders in Revelation applied to him: "Thou art worthy to take the Book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood." Through Rapp's preaching the Harmonists were prepared to witness the greatest event that had taken place in this world since the time of Christ's birth. But Count Leon's arrival in Economy brought results quite different from those expected. With all his spirituality Count Leon was not averse to marriage. He knew theology and the fine manners of the world. He traced his lineage straight back to the House of David. He was the Lion of Judah, but before he opened the seven seals and ushered in the Millennium it was imperative that the elect be gathered into a safe place to assure them the protection they deserved according to the prophecy in Revelation. Count Leon had expected Economy to be the ordained place, but a period of residence there changed his mind.

    When their manifest destiny became clear to them, the Jews departed from Egypt under divine guidance; when Rapp and his people discovered their truth they departed from Wurttemberg under divine guidance. The truth proclaimed by the Lion of Judah within the very city built by the Harmonists resulted in another divinely guided exodus in which the Zundel family took a leading part. Together with several hundred Harmonists they left George Rapp and under Count Leon's leadership began to build a fourth town, Philipsburg, Pennsylvania. In less than a year, however, many believers left the likeable, kind and generous Lion of Judah, who found his own faith severely tested at the very time he was about to proclaim the Millennium officially opened. On July 25, 1833, less than three years after the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon Church) had been organized, Count Leon proclaimed the laws of the Millennium, including himself as "God's anointed of the tribe of Judah of the root of David." Only fifty-four signed this proclamation and accepted him for what he proclaimed himself to be. Among these were five Zundels, including Jacob, who was loyal to his new prophet until certain lawsuits growing out of "religious persecution" by those unbelievers who drove him from Germany also drove him from Pennsylvania. When the Lion of Judah called for the next declaration of faith in his mission at Natchez, Mississippi, the Zundels were not

    [graphic -- under construction]

    Jacob Zundel
    Harmonist and Mormon

    among those signing. Deeply shaken in his quest for final truth Jacob Zundel had remained at Philipsburg while his brother went to Ohio. 

    We recall that until the time that the Harmonists returned to Pennsylvania to build Economy near Pittsburgh, Sidney Rigdon, John Smith's indispensable aid in founding the Mormon Church, had been a Baptist preacher in Pittsburgh, where he had ample opportunity to observe the activity of the Harmony Society as it underwent the severe test of a third migration. While an advance group of Harmonists was at work at Economy under the prophet George Rapp, and while Rigdon was still in Pittsburgh, there was considerable discussion as to whether the Society would survive the third move. When the Harmonists finally moved from Wabash to Economy, Rigdon announced his withdrawal from his church and then preached in Ohio as an undenominational exhorter advising his hearers to reject their creeds and rest their belief solely on the Bible. Rapp had preached this same message in these regions himself and was still preaching it to his Society. As in Rapp's case, this preaching also led Rigdon to put conderable emphasis on the practice of communism. The probable connection between Rapp, Rigdon and Smith, the founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints is further


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    supported when we note that in the same year that Smith announced a revival of the "gift of tongues" the Lion of Judah announced the legal code of the Millennium. Whiie the Lion of Judah was on his way South, the Mormon Church was making many converts in Ohio. A number of Harmonists who had differed with Rapp on the question of celibacy had earlier settled in Ohio and it was here also that Jacob Zundel's older brother heard the new preaching. Although the disappointments resulting from experiences with Rapp and Count Leon had made the Zundels decide they would never join any other religion, John Zundel became a Mormon.

    John Zundel next tried to persuade Jacob Zundel of the truth of his new-found gospel but Jacob Zundel told him "he had been duped so much with the rest that he did not want to join any religion" and he almost persuaded his brother to let Mormonism alone. Unfettered by any religious leaders Jacob Zundel lived on at Philipsburg, where he was a butcher and "prospered in business exceedingly until the year 1836 when a Mormon elder named Evert came there. As soon as he heard him preach he said he knew it was the truth, and he went forth and was baptized in the Ohio river in the presence of a large concourse of people which turned out to see their butcher baptized." Jacob Zundel then visited the Mormon Church

    [graphic -- under construction]

    Church Tower at Economy
    which Jacob Zundel helped build

    at Kirtland, returned to Philipsburg, closed his business, sold his home, and moved to Missouri to join the Saints in that section of the country. From then on he shared all the sufferings and the full fate of the Mormons, but all his trials only served to confirm him in his new faith. So convinced was he of the truth of the new gospel that he became a zealous missionary for the cause, and made various missionary journeys at considerable hardship. He even renewed his relation to the Harmonists at Economy and tried to convert all of them to Mormonism. Although Rapp had strictly forbidden all association and communication with those who had left Economy with Count Leon, he seems to have made an exception in the case of Zundel. He was probably moved to do this because of the importance of the Mormon movement and because this connection brought him first-hand news of their progress. It even seems probable that Rapp sent financial aid to the Mormons in the early days through his former followers, the Zundels. This probability rises from the letters of Jacob Zundel to R. L. Baker, a senior trustee of the Harmony Society.

    The first of Jacob Zundel's letters still preserved is dated April 3, 1846, from Nauvoo. In it he refers to Baker's request of 1844 for information about their fate and then presents a strong defense of Mormonism. Jacob Zundel, who with George Rapp's followers had left Wurttemberg to escape "religious persecution." then paints a vivid picture of the merciless persecution which his fellow Mormons have been suffering, a bloody persecution more fanatic than they had ever experienced in Wurttemberg. I translate the following from the German original:

    "Believe me, my friends, Mormonism is no child's play, as many seem to believe. just consider what this congregation has already endured. Joseph Smith from his first appearance to his death was persecuted and hunted and driven about until they murdered him and his brother shamefully. This is not enough; the coiagregation also is to be annihilated and rooted out without mercy toward the aged or suckling, widows or orphans, rich or poor. Oh, my friends. my friends, if it were possible to give a picture of all the suffering which we have endured and suffered this spring only to this point, it would seem unendurable to you, and many of you would exclaim perhaps as Daniel did: 'How long is it to last and when are these things to cease!' Oh, my friends, if you could overlook the camp of Israel and see how many, yes, many,


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    there are barefoot, sick, under God's open sky, or who have only a bad tent, and your government as it were even laughs at this. We are going away to the West, not out of pleasure or fanaticism, for we are being driven out and we must go; and so we go with joy and no one would be able to hold us back, neither with gold or silver; not that we would not accept your gold or silver; however only what we need for the moment according to our need, for depend on it that the time is at hand when gold and silver will be of no use but only a burden."

    As an old friend Jacob Zundel urges the Harmonists to join the Mormons. He is one of the temple guards at Nauvoo at the time and expects to stay there until the temple has been sold. It cost them about $1,100,000 and they were offering it for sale at $200,000. A lot of his which was worth $1000 the previous year he had to sell for $75. He complains about the "hole Sale Rauberei" committed against the Mormons.

    On September 28, 1847, Zundel again wrote Baker from Council Bluffs, Iowa, telling of his arrival in that exile in October of the previous year. A city had been laid out and he had helped build it in order to provide some shelter from the approaching winter. There was much suffering and sickness during that winter, perhaps because of the want of vegetable foods. In this letter he tells of the pioneers who had been sent West to find a new place for them and reports as he is about to close the letter that word has come back that a very fine location has been found "between two lakes about 25 miles from each, one a salt lake with such strong salt water that they so far had discovered nothing living in it."

    Zundel here again pleads with the Harmonists to accept the new gospel. "If only I could impress the Truth on you I would count myself happy. I am now happy already, of course, but without you this happiness is not so complete. I am your best friend, the best you have ever had, whether you can now believe it or not, for I am concerned about the welfare of your soul, for I know exactly where you are still lacking, if only I could tell you."

    Jacob Zundel's deep attachment to the Harmonists, among whom he had grown up and with whom he had shared many good and hard days, remained throughout his life, likewise his faith in Mormonism. Again and again he pointed out similarities between the preaching of Father Rapp and that in the Mormon Church. As late as 1865, when he was well settled in Willard City, Boxelder County, Utah, he urged the Harmonists to send men out West to see what they have accomplished and to convince themselves that Zion was there. In 1870 Jacob Zundel even made a trip to Pennsvlvania and attempted to convince the Harmonists of the truth of Mormonism, but was not successful in arranging satisfactory meetings. The Harmonists by that time had ceased to function as a Society and any change of preaching or organization would have been dangerous. 

    In 1872 Zundel wrote to the Harmonists again, giving an interesting account of the locust plague which they had to fight and of the unhappy arrival of foreign "civilization," "with their drinking and gambling and other houses which they are now filling with hundreds of their fine women from New York and other places. We are not accustomed to such civilization and are now fighting it." With this news he reports the discovery of rich mines in the neighboring mountains, but his chief concern is still that he may have the opportunity of imparting the truth to his former associates, the truth as revealed to him and his fellow Israelites through the medium of God's special messengers and by direct communication with God as in the days of old. Jacob Zundel died in this firm faith in 1880 and was buried in the territory he had helped win and settle. In his active life he had pioneered in Pennsylvania, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, and Utah.

    There is, then, very tangible evidence of Harmonist-Mormon relationship in the earliest days. Further study of the entire question very likely will bring valuable results. It is very probable that other Harmonists than the Zundels became Mormons, for the Harmonists liked to move and settle in groups even after leaving the Society. Christian Palmer in his Die Gemeinschaften und Sekten Wurttembergs, 1877, tells of a Mormon missionary named Raiser, who visited his birthplace Kornwestheim, Wurttemberg, in 1851, preaching the Mormon gospel. Palmer says that Raiser had been a member of the Harmony Society but had become a Mormon. It is natural that any Mormon missionary work carried on in Wurttemberg at that time would be carried on by former Harmonists, but so far I have not been able to verify Palmer's statement, nor have I found any other than the Zundel material in the Harmonist archives which would shed light on the Harmonist-Mormon relationship. In themselves the Zundel letters are a valuable contribution to our German pioneer literature of Utah.


    George Rapp (1757-1847)

    Transcriber's Comments

    Karl J. R. Arndt's 1944 Article

    (Under construction)

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