History of New Harmony, Posey County, Indiana
From: History of Posey County, Indiana
John C. Leffel, Editor
Standard Publishing Company
Chicago, 1913


By far the most interesting of the early settlements in Posey county is that of New Harmony, on account of its early settlers, the Rappites and the Owens.

The Rappites, under the leadership of George Rapp, came from Wurtenberg, Germany, to Butler county, Pennsylvania. This was in the days of religious intolerance in Germany and George Rapp became a dissenter from the doctrines and practices as taught by the Lutherans of Wurtenberg. George Rapp was a vine dresser and farmer and a man of great strength of character. He was born in 1757. He began to speak, in his own house, when he was about thirty years of age, and it was not long till his congregation was quite large, coming from miles around. He was a great Bible student and taught certain doctrines that were peculiarly his own. He taught that Adam was of a dual nature, containing within his own person both the sexual elements, and quoted in support of this Genesis i:26-27: "And God said, let us make man in our own image, after our own likeness, and let them have dominion. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him: male and female created he them." Rapp taught that this meant that both the creator and the created had this dual nature, and if Adam had been allowed to remain in his original state he would have begotten offspring without the aid of a female. But Adam became discontented and God separated from his body the female part. This was Rapp's interpretation of the fall of man. From this he evolved the doctrine of celibacy, declaring that the celibate state is more pleasing to God, and that in the "renewed" world man would be restored to the Adamic condition.

Rapp taught that the coming of Christ and the "renovation" of the world were near at hand. He believed that he would live to see the reappearance of Christ and that he would be permitted to present his followers to the Savior. He taught that Christ was, like Adam, a dual being and that he enjoined upon his followers a community of goods. In support of this, Rapp referred to Acts iv: 32: "And the multitude of them that believed were of one mind and one soul, neither said any of them that aught of the things which he possessed was his own, but they had all things common."

Before leaving Germany he and a number of his adherents had been brought before the king for the teaching of his doctrines, and their refusal to attend the services of the established church.

The king, however, was lenient with them upon learning that they had been accustomed to obey the laws of the country, and allowed them to go unpunished. But persecution did not cease with this display of royal clemency, and, finally, after securing quite a large number of followers and not being willing to submit to the persecution necessary in carrying out his ideas of economy, George Rapp conceived the idea of seeking a home in the New World for himself and followers, where they could promulgate the tenets of their peculiar belief without restriction. Accordingly, in the year 1803, he with his adopted son, Frederick, and several associates set out for the United States for the purpose of locating a colony in the New World.

They selected and bought an estate of 5,000 acres of unimproved land in Butler county, Pennsylvania. They set to work under the direction of George Rapp with great zeal and earnestness, and soon made comfortable homes for the entire population. But they did not all come at this time. In 1804 the "Aurora" sailed from Amsterdam to Philadelphia with 300 immigrants; six weeks later the "Atlantic" sailed with 300 more, and in the fall of the same year the "Marquette" brought the remainder. In 1805 the "community of equality" was established among them and they began life according to the manner they had planned while in Germany. They threw their entire possessions into a community stock, as they had resolved to have all things in common. They adopted a uniform style of dress and built all their houses nearly alike. With their characteristic zeal, energy and earnestness, they began clearing their lands. The wilderness was soon made to blossom as the rose. One hundred and fifty acres of land were cleared the first year. At the end of the next year four hundred acres had been cleared, a saw mill, tannery, store house and distillery erected, and a vineyard of several acres had been planted. Music, painting, sculpture and other liberal arts flourished among them. Their museums and gardens were the wonder and delight of those who saw them.

They adopted celibacy in 1807. Those who had been married, of whom there was a large number, were separated and placed in different establishments. Their strict observance of this rule indicates the supreme power and authority of George Rapp, whom they revered as a prophet and a saint.

The remarkable prosperity of the community is readily seen, when it is stated on good authority that in 1807 these people were worth on an average of $25 per head, and in 1825 they had $2,500 for every man, woman and child in the community. In the year 1809 they raised 6,000 bushels of Indian corn, 4,000 bushels of wheat, the same of rye, 5,000 bushels of oats, 10,000 bushels of potatoes, and 4,000 pounds of flax and hemp, besides other less important products.

This same year they made their first woolen cloth, spun by hand from yarn, and the next year a woolen factory was erected. They had 2,000 acres of land under cultivation and large tracts of surplus land for sale.

But the Rappites soon realized the disadvantages of their location, being twelve miles from navigation, the inadaptability of their lands for fruit culture in which they desired to engage, and the severity of the climate.

Frederick Rapp was commissioned to go in search of a new home farther west. He set out in 1812 and visited six of the western States and territories, and finally decided upon moving the colony to a beautiful tract of land on the Wabash river, a few miles above its mouth.

Frederick Reichert, who is known as Frederick Rapp, was really no kin to George Rapp. He was a stone cutter by trade, and when on a visit to the neighborhood of George Rapp became acquainted with him and was soon a zealous and earnest follower. George Rapp soon saw in Reichert the mechanical skill and business qualifications necessary for carrying out the scheme he then had under consideration, and made him his business manager and confidential agent, and adopted him as his son, and Reichert was always called Frederick Rapp, and so signed his name to legal documents.

They accordingly sold their possessions in Pennsylvania, consisting of about 6,000 acres of land, with great flocks of sheep and herds of cattle, and their factories, mills, etc., at a great sacrifice for $100,000, and in 1814 a part of them arrived at New Harmony and began the requisite clearing and founded the town of "Harmonie." Early in 1815 the remainder came, the whole colony consisting of about boo persons.

Here they bought vast tracts of land, most of which was in Harmony township, but some in Bethel and some in Point. They also had lands in Knox county, and some in Illinois. All these lands were entered in the name of George Rapp and associates, or Frederick Rapp individually.

Their home in Pennsylvania had been called "Harmonie" and for this reason they called their new home Harmonie, or New Harmony.

They began the work of erecting homes and clearing the land with the same zeal and earnestness that had characterized their efforts in Pennsylvania.

Taking advantage of the fall in the river at the cut off, about two miles below the town, they erected a water mill at that point. This mill not only did the work for the community but made meal and flour for the entire surrounding country for several years.

A large vineyard of eighteen acres was planted on the hills south of town, which furnished an abundance of the finest grapes. The vineyard was in charge of one Strock, the vine dresser, who carefully economized the fruits of his labors. He is said to have remained after the Rappites took their departure and is remembered by many of the old settlers.

The wine press, which was situated near the vineyard, consisted of a circular tank in which the grapes were placed, and a large circular stone, which was rolled upon them to bruise them in order to extract the juice. The remains of the old press are still to be seen.

There was also a distillery and a brewery. Inconsistent as it may seem in view of the fact that Father Rapp rigidly prohibited intemperance, yet he encouraged the manufacture of wine, beer and whiskey as articles of commerce.

They had little or no communication with the outside world except through the miller, the store keeper, the tavern keeper and Frederick Rapp. Old Straheli, the herdsman, tended the large flocks and herds. He rode to the pastures in a wagon which resembled a small house on wheels, drawn by cattle. Individual settlers near the community christened it "Noah's Ark." He drove the herds and flocks to the fields, to the hills south of town, and to the island for pasturage in the daytime, and at night drove them into the barns and sheds for protection.

They had men of all trades, professions and occupations. They raised all kinds of produce, from the garden and orchard to the extensive fields of grain. They cleared and ditched the land, built houses and barns, and fenced their fields. They raised everything they used except groceries, and they got those by exchange. Frederick Rapp was the general business manager and had agents in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.

They discouraged the learning of the English language and were adverse to explain their tenets. They were severely criticised by their neighbors for living such exclusive lives and not encouraging popular education more, but it is doubtful if the community could have succeeded in any other way. At times there was bitter feeling toward the Rappites by their neighbors. But, on the whole, the colony was useful to the community. They set a good example in neatness, industry and orderly conduct. Their reputation for honesty was one of the secrets of their commercial prosperity. Flour, woolen goods or distillery products bearing the New Harmony brand were known to be of the best quality. They were a kind hearted, temperate and industrious people, sincere, upright and honest in their dealings.

They built a steam grist mill about the year 1820 and later added to it a cotton and woolen factory for spinning, weaving, dyeing and coloring cloth. For a time a cocoonery and silk factory was in operation, and some very fine articles of silk were manufactured. An oil mill for the manufacture of castor oil was located on a small creek about two and one half miles from town. There was a brickyard in the south part of town.

They built a granary of stone, the walls being two feet thick and the roof of tile, making the building fireproof. In the walls were loopholes, making the building serviceable also as a fortress. In fact, in later years, it came to be known as the "old fort." This building was connected with Rapp's residence by a subterranean passage which has long since been closed up, but the old fort is still standing. About the only changes that have been made in it are the portholes, which have been enlarged to windows and some slight changes have been made to accommodate the mill machinery that was placed in it, the building having been used as a grist mill.

After a residence of ten years at New Harmony the Rapps opened negotiations for the sale of their vast estate with Richard Flower, who had established an English settlement in Edwards county, Illinois, in 1818. Mr. Flower and his associates had made frequent visits to the Harmony colony and had established intimate business relations with them. Father Rapp commissioned him to sell the Harmonist property for $125,000, agreeing to pay him a commission of $5,000. He found a purchaser in the person of Robert Owen, of New Lanark, Scotland. Mr. Owen was a philanthropist by nature and a man of talent and wealth.

Mr. Flower visited New Lanark and laid before Mr. Owen the advantages of Harmony as a site for a communistic establishment in the New World, where he might work into practice theories which he had promulgated long before. He was manager of a large establishment that he had run successfully on the community plan and was anxious to try out the experiment on a larger scale.

Frederick Rapp was made their "true and lawful attorney in fact" for the sale of their property. The article was signed by George Rapp, Christina Rapp, Rosina Rapp, Johana Rapp and 497 others, all of whom, except thirty nine, were able to make their own signatures.

On the consummation of the sale, December 25, 1825, Mr. Owen came into possession of 19,997.87 acres of land, 800 acres of which were in White county, Illinois. The consideration was $125,000. Double this amount would have been a very modest estimate of the value of the large estate and well built town. The Rapps must have had good reasons for desiring to sell the property, for the sale was made at a great sacrifice, not only in the intrinsic value of the estate alone, but in their extensive trade in adjacent States and down the Mississippi to New Orleans.

With the proceeds of the sale the Rappites purchased an estate in Beaver county, Pennsylvania, below Pittsburgh, on the Ohio river, not far from the site of their first settlement. Here they built a village and called it Economy.

In 1874 the Rappites sent Jonathan Lentz to New Harmony and he purchased the immense church of the Rappites and the lot on which it stood, and tore down all but the east wing, using the brick to construct the wall which protects the Rappite cemetery. This wall is one foot thick, five feet high, covered with a heavy limestone coping, and guarded by iron gates. The Harmonists gave the church lot, together with the remaining material and the wing standing, to the town of New Harmony.

Mr. Owen, like Mr. Rapp, believed in the community system of property, but differed very materially in policy of management. Instead of assuming the entire control and management himself, he allowed every one to have a part in it.

Early in the year 1825 Mr. Owen delivered two addresses in the Hall of Representatives at Washington, having for his audiences distinguished men from all over the United States. In these addresses he explained his plans for the redemption of the human race from the evils of the existing state of society, going into details very minutely, and declaring his intention to carry his purposes into immediate execution to the full extent of his means. These addresses were published in 1825 and a manifesto was issued announcing that "a new society is about to be formed at Harmony in Indiana," and inviting to its membership all who were in sympathy with the founder in his desire for a new state of society.

On April 27, 1825, Robert Owen addressed the community membership and a number of visitors from the surrounding country in the old Rappite church. He said: "I am come to this country to introduce an entirley new state of society; to change it from the ignorant and selfish system to an enlightened social system which shall remove all causes of complaint and reconcile all differences between individuals." He laid before his followers the proposed constitution for the Preliminary Society, carefully explaining the document in all of its details.

Mr. Owen made addresses in other cities and soon the attention of the whole country had been drawn to the project, and many of the most distinguished men of the time gave at least partial approval to his plans. The previous success of the Rappites on the same site furnished an object lesson in communism and there seemed to be no apparent reason why even greater success should not come to the new community, which eliminated all the disagreeable features of the Rappite community and contemplated the practice of theories in local government and education. Under the Rappites ignorance and superstition had been the prominent characteristics of their membership, while the members of the new community were to be persons of liberal and progressive ideas and a high ideal of social life.

Mr. Owen enlisted the interest of William Maclure, of Philadelphia, a wealthy scientist and a man of broad views, varied experience and a truly philanthropic spirit. He was born in Scotland in 1763 and came to America at the age of thirty three to make a geological survey of the United States. In prosecuting this work he crossed and recrossed the Alleghanies several times and traveled on foot through every State and Territory within the limits of the United States at that time. The results of his labors were published in 1809.

Mr. Maclure was deeply interested in education. It was his avowed intention to make New Harmony the center of American education through the introduction of the Pestalozzian system of instruction and he brought to New Harmony a most distinguished coterie of scientists and educators, among them being Thomas Say, Thomas Pearce, J. K. Colidge, Richardson Whitby, Feldman Witwell and others. Mrs. Mary D. Fretageot, a lady of great learning, came to New Harmony at the request of William Maclure in 1825. She was the mother of A. E. Fretageot, a former county commissioner and prominent merchant of New Harmony.

In 1826 Mr. Maclure bought 490 acres of land, or about one third of the town, from Mr. Owen for $40,000. There was a tendency on the part of the community toward the acquisition of individual property. Although the constitution seemed liberal and good, it soon became necessary to modify it to meet the demands and suit the clamors of the community. In April, 1826, it was allowed that twenty five persons might move out and form a separate community, and in May following three separate divisions were made. The first, or New Harmony proper, was Community No. I; the second was Macluria, or Community No. 2; the third was Community No. 3, called Feiba Peveli. A fourth community was soon established. In a short time an individual store was established in opposition to the general store, and the courts established its right to sell goods within the community. Soon the continuance of the community, as a community, was found to be impossible and in a short time it was abandoned by common consent.

On Sunday, May 26, 1827, Robert Owen made his "farewell address to the citizens of New Harmony and the members of the neighboring communities." Mr. Owen left New Harmony for England on June 1, 1827, stopping en route to New York in the principal cities to deliver lectures on the social system.

He returned to New Harmony April 1, 1828, and delivered an address at New Harmony Hall a few days later. He said in closing: "I can only feel regret instead of anger. My intention now is to form such arrangements on the estate as will enable those who desire to promote the practice of the social system to live in separate families on the individual system and yet to unite their general labor; or to exchange labor for labor on the most beneficial terms for all; all to do both or neither, as their feelings or apparent interest may influence them; while the children shall be educated with a view to the establishment of the social system in the future. I will not be discouraged by any obstable, but will persevere to the end.

In 1827 he leased lands to small communistic societies, some of which were sincere and industrious workers, while others cared nothing for Mr. Owen or his scheme and regarded the matter as a chance for speculation and through these speculations he lost a large amount of personal property. To those who acted in good faith he finally sold at a low figure the lands they occupied. In later years he conveyed the balance of his estate at New Harmony to his four sons on condition that they execute a deed of trust for $30,000 worth of land, yielding an annual income of $1,500, which was his sole support for many years.

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