Rapp, George Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

After emigrating from Germany to the United States in 1803, George Rapp established a religious commune near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, with six hundred followers, believing that God had told him to form a radical pietist Christian community. The community was successful in its commercial activities, including farming, silk production, banking, and the manufacture of various crafts.

While he was living in Germany, George Rapp advocated a social order derived from the New Testament that led to him. After suffering local persecution, Rapp led his followers to the United States to avoid both religious persecution and military conscription, as his movement held pacifist beliefs. Rapp initially planned to move to Louisiana;religious communesLouisiana because of the influence that Law, JohnJohn Law previously had in populating that area with Germans. On French maps, the area between New Orleans and Baton Rouge was called the German Coast. However, upon applying to Napoleon Ithe French emperor Napoleon I for permission to settle in the French territory, Rapp was told that the area had been sold to the United States government as part of the Louisiana Territory.Rapp, GeorgeGerman immigrants;George Rapp[Rapp]RappitesRapp, GeorgeGerman immigrants;GeorgeRapp[Rapp]Rappites[cat]EUROPEAN IMMIGRANTS;Rapp, George[cat]RELIGION;Rapp, George[cat]BIOGRAPHIES;Rapp, George

Upon relocating in Baltimore, Rapp and his followers were given generous assistance by German residents of that city. In 1804, Rapp purchased five thousand acres in Pennsylvania;Rappite communityPennsylvania, where he transformed his following into the Harmony SocietyHarmony Society. Because the society had members who were too old to work, a communal life was adopted. On February 15, 1805, all possessions were conveyed to Rapp and placed in a common fund. Because members believed in the imminence of the end of the world, they were willing to give up possessions. Throughout the group’s history, February 15 was to be celebrated as a holiday called Harmoniefest.

The Rappites’ move to Indiana;Rappite communityIndiana in 1814 was prompted by a shortage of good soil for vine growing in Pennsylvania. After buying 30,000 acres in southwestern Indiana. the group prospered, and its prosperity attracted new immigrants from Germany. When the Rappites had first come to America, their wealth had averaged only twenty-five dollars each; by 1824, that figure had increased to two thousand dollars–an amount thirteen times greater than that of the average Indianan. This disparity aroused local envy. Increasing persecution by neighbors moved the Rappites to sell their land to Owen, RobertRobert Owen in 1824 and buy new land near Pittsburgh, close to their original location.

The progress of the Rappites was closely monitored in the United States and Europe, because they had become famous for their achievements. Meanwhile, a religious schism arose within the group because Rapp’s prophecy about Christ’s return to Earth never materialized. In 1831, Rapp thought his prophecy had come true because of the appearance of a man named Count Leon. However, Leon proved to be merely a competitor who worked to draw Rapp’s followers to his own utopian community. When Leon eventually left, he took with him about 250 of Rapp’s followers. Afterward, dissension remained within Rapp’s community. After Rapp died in 1847, the Rappite community gradually broke up and disappeared.Rapp, GeorgeGerman immigrants;George Rapp[Rapp]Rappites

Further Reading
  • Arndt, Karl J. R. George Rapp’s Harmony Society, 1785-1847. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1965.
  • _______. Harmony on the Connoquenessing, 1803-1815: George Rapp’s First American Harmony. Worcester, Mass.: Harmony Society Press, 1980.
  • _______. Harmony on the Wabash in Transition, 1824-1826. Worcester, Mass.: Harmony Society Press, 1982.
  • Wilson, William E. The Angel and the Serpent: The Story of New Harmony. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1964.

Economic consequences of immigration

Economic opportunities

European immigrants

German immigrants

Indiana

New Harmony

Pennsylvania

Religion as a push-pull factor

Religions of immigrants

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