Rappites, or Harmonists, an American Christian communistic society founded in 1804 by Johann George Rapp (1757-1847), a peasant linen weaver of Württemberg, Germany, who separated from the Lutheran Church of that region and gradually built up, under persecution, a following of some 300 families. He emphasized a simple Biblicism, including particular emphasis on the imminent Second Coming of Christ, and criticized vigorously the social order of the time which he held to be in strong contrast to the New Testament way of life.
In 1803 Rapp immigrated to America to find a home for his group where they might be free of persecution. He bought 5,000 acres of land in the Conoquenessing Valley north of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and in 1804 settled there with 600 of his followers who had emigrated from Germany. In a colony called Harmony, located within the limits of the town of Ambridge, they soon adopted communism as their economic order. In 1807 they decided to adopt celibacy. They also rejected infant baptism.
In 1814 the group sold Harmony and relocated on a large tract south of Evansville, Indiana, on the Wabash River, founding the New Harmony Colony. This they sold in 1824 to Robert Owen. The group then relocated a second time near the first Harmony location, naming their new colony Economy. Economy was highly successful. Rapp died in 1847. After this the colony declined but did not dissolve until 1892, at the death of the leader Jacob Heinrici, who had emigrated from Grosskarlbach in the Palatinate and had become a leader in 1868.
It is of considerable interest to note that in 1884-85 the Rappists negotiated an agreement with the Hutterites in South Dakota whereby the entire group was to leave South Dakota and take over a large tract of land owned by the Economy colony, located near Tidioute, Pennsylvania. At that time there were about 380 souls in the Hutterite group. The Hutterites accepted the offer but were unable to carry it through because of difficulty in selling their Dakota land. The Tripp Bruderhof, however, sold its land and arrived at Tidioute on 1 May 1884, with 19 families, 3 families having moved in 1883. The land, located 4 miles south of the city of Tidioute in Warren County, was too difficult to farm. Hence in two years the entire group returned to South Dakota, arriving there on 2 July 1886.
The Rappists had been very generous in lending money to the Hutterites in South Dakota at different times, and there were long-continued warm and friendly relations between the two groups. The first loan was granted for the building of a mill, requested, on 31 May 1875, by the Bon Homme Colony. The first visit of a Rappist to Bon Homme was in September 1875, when Jonathan Lenz came. A considerable correspondence between the two groups has been preserved, and was to be published in the late 1950s by Professor Karl J. Arndt (according to Zieglschmid).
Arndt, Karl J. "The Harmonists and the Hutterians." American German Review X (1944): 24-27.
Bole, J. A. The Harmony Society: A Chapter in German-American Culture. Philadelphia, 1904. (Reprint from German-American Annals XXI).
Holloway, Mark. Heavens on Earth, Utopian Communities in America 1680-1888. New York, 1951.
Zieglschmid, A. J. F. Das Klein-Geschichtsbuch der Hutterischen Brüder. Philadelphia, PA: Carl Schurz Memorial Foundation, 1947: 461.
Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, and Waterloo, Ontario, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 4, p. 253. All rights reserved. For information on ordering the encyclopedia visit the Herald Press website.
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