Title Reviewed:
A Documentary History of the Indiana Decade of the Harmony Society, 1814–1824. Volume II, 1820–1824

Author Reviewed:
Karl J. R. Arndt

Elfrieda Lang


Indiana Magazine of History, Volume 74, Issue 4, pp 364-365

Article Type:
Book Review

Download Source:

Book Reviews

A Documentary History of the Indiana, Decade of the Harmony Society, 1814–1824. Volume II, 1820–1824. Compiled and edited by Karl J. R. Arndt. (Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Society, 1978. Pp. xiii, 978. Notes, illustrations, index. Clothbound, $17.50; paperbound, $8.00.)

The letters and documents in the second volume portray the problems as well as the more pleasant aspects relating to the Harmony Society during its last five years in Indiana. The Harmonist system of communal living and adherence to religious beliefs had been established. They were hard-working Germans, and each member made his contribution for the good of the Society by the manner in which he executed the specific task assigned to him. As a result, prosperity and wealth followed which encouraged them to develop manufacturing. Their frugality, hardheadedness, and resourcefulness led from a common farm economy to an early industrial society. They engaged in farming, flour milling, processing farm products, cotton spinning, weaving cloth, making wine, brickmaking, and numerous other industries.

Jonathan Jennings, governor of Indiana, supported home manufacture and wore Society-made cloth. Likewise, William Henry Harrison ordered cloth and wool from the Harmonists. Frederick Rapp pleaded for a high tariff to protect domestic manufactures and the American farmer. He also requested a remedy for the poor mail service to which the postmaster general responded.

Frederick Rapp took an active part in politics and was well-known by politicians. There are numerous letters from office seekers soliciting Harmonists' votes. Ratliff Boon was quite concerned when he learned they were supporting one of his opponents and requested them not to cast their votes.

The Society had markets for their wares and produce in Pittsburgh, Boston, Louisville, New Orleans, and St. Louis. In addition they operated stores in Illinois, Indiana, and Kentucky. Several times they took Arabian horses, leather, calf hides, and barrels of timothy and clover seed in partial payment of a debt.

Apparently the Society always had funds as Jonathan Jennings wrote for a thousand-dollar loan with interest at 10 percent, which was not granted. A year later Samuel Merrill, state treasurer, was able to negotiate a loan of five thousand dollars with interest at 6 percent.

There are a number of letters inquiring about membership in the Society and seeking information on the religious foundation and organization of the Harmonists. They enjoyed friendly relationships with the Shakers. In 1820 Robert Owen wrote to George Rapp also desiring data on the Society. Unfortunately, Rapp's reply has not been located.

In February, 1824, three Harmonists left Indiana in search of a new location which was found in western Pennsylvania. A town was started, and crops were planted. A journal of the tour was kept. When Richard Flower left for Philadelphia the following month, he spread the word that Harmony was to be sold. A letter from Frederick Rapp gave the terms of the sale and his intentions to advertise in England and the eastern states. The advertisement gives a glowing account of the twenty-thousand-acre estate.

Isaac and Willis Stewart of Louisville engaged the Plough Boy for eleven hundred dollars to transport the Society from Indiana to Economy, Pennsylvania. On May 24, 1824, the Plough Boy began its voyage down the Wabash. Among the documents is the log of the Plough Boy, May 24 to June 6, 1824.

This is a fascinating volume one can read for pleasure. One need not be a Hoosier to enjoy the letters and documents of the Harmony Society. Professor Karl Arndt is to be congratulated for having undertaken such a monumental task. Much of the fine editing, good index, annotations, and cross references is due to the patience and untiring efforts of Lana Ruegmar. A bibliography would have been helpful.

Elfrieda Lang, Indiana University, Bloomington

Published by the Indiana University Department of History.