Bernhard Müller

A religious leader that led a 19th-century utopia, which split from the Harmony Society

Bernhard Müller, also known as Count de Leon, was a German Christian mystic and alchemist who was born on March 21, 1788, in Kostheim, Germany and died on August 29, 1834, in Natchitoches Parish, Louisiana, United States. Müller is recognized for his controversial and mystical persona, which garnered both intrigue and skepticism during his lifetime. His life and activities intersected with various religious communities in the United States, most notably the Harmony Society.

In 1829, Müller reached out to the Harmony Society and other communes in the United States, as well as leaders in Europe, proclaiming himself to be the “Lion of Judah” and a prophet in possession of the Philosopher’s stone. The Harmonites, led by George Rapp, were a religious group that had settled in Pennsylvania, practicing communal living and awaiting the Second Coming of Christ. They were known for their celibacy, simple living, and strict religious doctrine​​​​. Adopting numerous fictitious names and titles such as Count de Leon, Archduke Maximilian von Este, and Proli, Müller claimed that he and his followers were the true Philadelphians, seeking to make a home with the Harmonites in Old Economy, Pennsylvania.

Upon Müller’s arrival with his entourage in 1831, conflicts soon arose between him and George Rapp, leading to a split within the Harmony Society. Müller managed to attract about a third of the Harmonites to his side by capitalizing on some members’ dissatisfaction with celibacy. Ultimately, the majority of the Society sided with Rapp, and a financial settlement was arranged for those who chose to leave with Müller. In 1832, Müller and approximately 250 former members of the Harmony Society established a new community in Phillipsburg (now Monaca, Pennsylvania), calling it the New Philadelphian Congregation of the New Philadelphia Society. They constructed a church, a hotel, and other buildings in a community they named Löwenburg (Lion City). However, facing legal and financial challenges, they sold their Pennsylvania land in 1833 and moved to Grand Ecore, Louisiana, where Müller died in 1834.

Following Müller’s death, his widow led the remaining group to a new location, now known as Germantown, near Minden, Louisiana. Here, they continued practicing communal living and religious observance. The Germantown Colony, although never large, managed to prosper until it disbanded in 1871, due in part to the Civil War’s impact on their pacifistic community and the economic hardships of that era​​.

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