The Communistic Societies of the United States, by Charles Nordhoff, , at sacred-texts.com
p. 96 p. 97
p. 98 p. 99
THE village of Zoar lies in Tuscarawas County, Ohio, about half-way between Cleveland and Pittsburgh, on a branch of the railroad which connects these two points. It is situated on the bank of the Tuscarawas Creek, which affords at this point valuable water-power. The place is irregularly built, and contains fewer houses than a village of the same number of inhabitants usually has; but the dwellings are mostly quite large, and each accommodates several families. There is a commodious brick church, a large and well-fitted brick schoolhouse, an extensive country tavern or hotel, and a multitude of sheds and barns. There are, besides, several mills and factories; and in the middle of the village a somewhat elaborate, large, square house, which was the residence of the founder and head of the society until his death, and is now used in part as a storehouse.
Zoar is the home of a communistic society who call themselves "Separatists," and who founded the village in 1817, and have here become quite wealthy. They originated in Würtemberg, and, like the Harmony Society, the Inspirationists, and others, were dissenters from the Established Church. The Separatists of southern Germany were equivalent to what in New England are called "Come Outers"—protestants against the prevailing religious faith, or, as they would say, lack of faith.
[paragraph continues] These German "Come Outers" were for the most part mystics, who had read the writings of Jacob Boehm, Gerhard Terstegen, and Jung Stilling; they cherished different religious or doctrinal beliefs, were stigmatized as fanatics, but were usually, I judge, simple-hearted, pious people, desirous to lead a more spiritual life than they found in the churches.
Their refusal to send their children to the schools—which were controlled by the clergy—and to allow their young men to serve as soldiers, brought upon them persecution from both the secular and the ecclesiastical authorities, resulting in flogging, imprisonment, and fines. The people who finally emigrated to Zoar, after enduring these persecutions for ten or twelve years gathered together in an obscure part of Würtemberg, where, by the favor of a friend at court, they were permitted to settle. But even from this refuge they were hunted out after some years; and, finding no other resource left, they at last determined to remove in a body to America, those few among them who had property paying the passage of those who were without means.
Their persecutions had, it seems, attracted the attention of some English Quakers, who aided them to emigrate, and with kindly forethought sent in advance of them to certain Quakers in Philadelphia a sum of money, amounting, I have been told, to eighteen dollars for each person of the company, with which their Philadelphia friends provided for them on their landing. This kind care is still acknowledged at Zoar as an "inestimable blessing."
They arrived at Philadelphia in August, 1817, and almost immediately bargained with one Hagar for a tract of five thousand six hundred acres of land, which they were, with the help of their Quaker friends, enabled to buy on favorable terms. It was a military grant in the wilderness of Ohio, and they agreed to give for it three dollars per acre, with a credit of fifteen years, the first three years without interest.
Joseph Bäumeler, whom they had chosen to be their leader, went out to take possession with a few able-bodied men, and these built the first log-hut on the 1st of December, 1817. During the following spring the remainder of the society followed; but many were so poor that they had to take service with the neighboring farmers to earn a support for their families, and all lived in the poorest possible way.
At this time they had no intention of forming a communistic society. They held their interests separately; and it was expected that each member should pay for his own share of the land, which had been purchased in order to be thus subdivided. Their purpose was to worship God according to their faith, in freedom, and to live, for that end, in a neighborhood.
But, having among them a certain number of old and feeble people, and many poor who found it difficult to save money to pay for their land, the leading men presently saw that the enterprise would fail unless it was established upon a different foundation; and that necessity would compel the people to scatter. Early in 1819 the leaders after consultation determined that, to succeed, they must establish a community of goods and efforts, and draw in to themselves all whom poverty had compelled to take service at a distance. This resolution was laid before the whole society, and, after some weeks of discussion, was agreed to; and on the 15th of April articles of agreement for a community of goods were signed. There were then about two hundred and twenty-five persons—men, women, and children. The men were farm-laborers, weavers, carpenters, bakers, but at first they had not a blacksmith among them.
From this time they began to prosper. "We could never have paid for our land, if we had not formed a community," the older people told me; and, from all I could learn, I believe this to be true.
At first they prohibited marriage, and it was not until 1828 or 1830 that they broke down this rule.
On forming a community, Joseph Bäumeler, who had been a leading man among them, was chosen to be their spiritual as well as temporal head. His name probably proved a stumbling-block to his American neighbors, for he presently began to spell it Bimeler—a phonetic rendering. Thus it appears in deeds and other public documents; and the people came to be commonly spoken of as "Bimmelers." Bäumeler was originally a weaver, and later a teacher. He was doubtless a man of considerable ability, but not comparable, I imagine, with Rapp. He appears to have been a fluent speaker; and on Sundays he delivered to the society a long series of discourses, which were after his death gathered together and printed in German in three ponderous octavo volumes. They concern themselves not only with religious and communistic thoughts, but largely with the minor morals, manners, good order in housekeeping, cleanliness, health observances, and often with physiological details.
In March, 1824, an amended constitution was adopted. Between 1828 and 1830 they began to permit marriage, Bäumeler himself taking a wife. In 1832 the Legislature formally incorporated the "Separatist Society of Zoar," and a new constitution, still in force, was signed in the same year.
"As soon as we adopted community of goods we began to prosper," said one of the older members to me. Having abundance of hands, they set up shops; and, being poor and in debt, they determined to live rigidly within their means and from their own products. They crowded at first into a few small log-cabins; some of which are still standing, and are occupied to this day. They kept cattle; were careful and laborious farmers; and setting up blacksmith's, carpenter's, and joiner's shops, they began to earn a little money from work done for the neighboring farmers. Nevertheless their progress was slow, and they
accounted it a great piece of good fortune when in 1827 a canal was built through their neighborhood. What with putting their own young men upon this work, and selling supplies to the contractors, they made enough money from this enterprise to pay for their land; and thenceforth, with free hands, they began to accumulate wealth.
They now own in one body over seven thousand acres of very fertile land, including extensive and valuable water-power, and have besides some land in Iowa. They have established a woolen factory, where they make cloth and yarn for their own use and for sale. Also two large flour-mills, a saw-mill, planing-mill, machine shop, tannery, and dye-house. They have also a country store for the accommodation of the neighborhood, a large hotel which receives summer visitors; and for their own use they maintain a wagon shop, blacksmith's and carpenter's shops, tailors, dressmakers, shoemakers, a cider-mill, a small brewery, and a few looms for weaving linen. They employ constantly about fifty persons not members of the community, besides "renters;" who manage some of their farms on shares.
They have now (in the spring of 1874) about three hundred members, and their property is worth more than a million dollars.