Harmony Society

A 19th-century Christian communal society known for its successful economic enterprises and commitment to celibacy.

Religion: Christianity
Denomination: Lutheran Pietism (separatist)
Founder: Johann George Rapp (“Father Rapp”)
Founded: 1805
Ended: 1905
Location: United States: Ambridge and Harmony, Pennsylvania; New Harmony, Indiana
Size: 700 (1814)
Other Names: Rappites; Harmonists; Harmonites

The Harmony Society, also known as the Rappites, was a Christian theosophical and pietist group that emerged in the late 18th century. Founded by Johann Georg Rapp (1757–1847) and his adopted son Frederick in Iptingen, Germany, the society sought religious freedom and communal living under the guidance of its leaders. Facing persecution for their Anabaptist beliefs in Germany, the group emigrated to the United States in the early 1800s, establishing several successful communities based on shared property, celibacy, and a strict adherence to their interpretation of Christian doctrine.

In 1804, prior to the arrival of Rapp, his followers began their American journey, settling initially in Butler County, Pennsylvania, where they founded their first commune, Harmony. This settlement quickly grew, both in population and economic success, underpinned by the group’s industrious approach to agriculture and manufacturing. In 1805, the Harmony Society was formally established in the United States through the signing of articles of association, which outlined the communal living principles and the communal ownership of property, aiming to live in anticipation of the Second Coming of Christ. The society’s belief system included living a simple life under strict religious doctrine, renouncing tobacco, and practicing celibacy to maintain spiritual purity.

The Harmonists relocated twice; after selling Harmony, Pennsylvania, they moved to Indiana, founding a new Harmony, and later returned to Pennsylvania to establish Economy, their final settlement. Each move was motivated by a combination of seeking more favorable conditions for their agricultural endeavors and maintaining the isolation needed to live according to their beliefs, away from external influences.

The Harmony Society’s economic ventures flourished, particularly in Pennsylvania, where they engaged in diversified manufacturing alongside agriculture. Their products, including textiles, woolens, wine, and whiskey, were renowned for their quality. However, the society’s practice of celibacy eventually led to its decline. After the death of George Rapp in 1847, the community gradually dwindled, with the final dissolution of the society occurring in 1905.

The legacy of the Harmony Society is preserved in the remaining buildings and settlements, such as the Harmony Historic District and Old Economy Village, which serve as testament to one of the most successful religious communal living experiments in American history​​​​​​.

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