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Return to Milestones Vol. 3, No. 3

Count DeLeon and New Philadelphia (now Monaca)

from the Harmony Society in Pennsylvania, 1937

Reprinted Milestones Vol. 3 . No. 3--Summer 1977



Economy undoubtedly would have continued to develop, despite the embargo on child-births, had it not been for the unfortunate circumstance known popularly as the "Count De Leon Insurrection." It is true that for a long period no Harmonite children had been brought into the world, and that marriage itself was taboo. Those who had entered the matrimonial state prior to the non-marriage edict were permitted to live together under the same roof, but, enjoined- to celibacy, regarded each other as brother and sister rather than as man and wife.

It is also a fact that the society was not a proselytizing group, but applicants were taken into the organization if they were of German origin, sympathetic with the aims and purposes of the group, and skilled in some trade or profession. It was necessary for them, however, to undergo a probationary period, and to embrace celibacy. The society also adopted children and hired non-member workmen.

As mentioned previously, the trend toward celibacy began about 1807, and became eventually an ironbound commandment which might be paraphrased: "Thou shall covet neither thy neighbor's wife, nor thine own." Monastic abnegation of worldly pleasures seems not to have inflicted too great a hardship upon the spiritually inclined, in whom burned the cold flame of religious fervor. But there were others who saw small comfort in sacrificing a normal existence and an abundant life for a problematical millennium.

Somewhere around the latter 1820's, therefore, the younger element exhibited a growing restiveness under the sex ban which the previous generation had imposed. It had been argued that a celibate life was more healthful than the married state, and more conducive to longevity. Just as Father Rapp may have, though unwittingly, appropriated Stephen Girard's rnotto: "To rest is to rust," so perhaps did his young followers begin to tell themselves that "living to love" was infinitely better than "loving to live."

In July, 1829, George Rapp received from Germany a long letter written by John George Goentgen, telling of the intolerable conditions in Europe and asking that the followers of Count Maximillian de Leon be permitted to join the Harmony Society. Although it was promised that the group would not be a burden to the Harmonites, Leon (the name by which he came to be known) requested "brotherly reception and philanthtropic support." After an interchange of letters Rapp decided to accept the request for admittance, and two years later the party arrived from Frankfort-on-Main.

A great deal of porrip, foreign to the nature of the Harmony Society surrounded the appearance of Leon. When he reached Pittsburgh, he sent in advance two of his party to announce him. Then, attired in full uniform and wearing a sword and epaulets, he approached the village in a coach drawn by four horses and attended by couriers in livery. He was first welcomed by the band, which played on the church-tower balcony. Father Rapp greeted him at the church and made a brief speech. The newcomers then took up their life in the village, quarters in the hotel and five houses having been assigned to Leon and his 40 followers.

For a month or so, meetings of the two groups were held several times weekly, with explanation of their, philosophies by both sides. The Leon followers who disliked the frugal, unexciting life of the Economites and advocated matrimony, found quite a number of converts among their hosts. An open split in Economite ranks resulted, frequently with relatives disagreeing among themselves.

Leon finally drew up a paper setting himself forth as head of the society, had it signed by 250 adherents, and published it in the newspaper. Father Rapp's counter petition brought to the Harmony Society 500 members. The consequent confusion imperiled existence of the society, and Frederick recommended a compromise which, not being accepted, threatened to create a breach between himself and his foster-father.

At length, March 6, 1832, an agreement was reached. Its terms stated that Leon and his original followers were to leave Economy within six weeks, that his newer converts were to withdraw by the end of three months, and that with the relinquishing of all future claims of money or property, the seceders should be paid $150,000 ($105,000 according to Duss) in three installments within the year.

Selecting a spot on the Ohio River ten miles north of Economy-the present site of Monaca-Leon's disciples bought the land from two men who had established a boatyard, and started another commune. They followed in some measure the old plan, laying out their streets, building their houses and conducting their lives much as they had in Economy. Their hotel and church could not compare in architectural quality with those in Economy. These remodeled twice, are still standing, as are a few of the brick houses.

The seceders had no restrictions against marriage; neither did they have effective leadership. This latter defect quickly brought about dissolution of the Leonite group. Their money was spent unwisely,and Leon failed in his attempts to obtain further funds from the Harmony Society by process of law. The share-the-wealth plan rapidly degenenerated into the policy of getas-much-for yourself-as-you-can.

Desperately in need of cash, Leon persuaded his adherents to send a delegation to Economy for the purpose of forcing the Rappites to pay over additional funds. The "delegation" consisted of 80 grim visaged individuals plainly bent on mischief. When they descended (April 2. 1833) upon the village, however, there was not a Harmony man in sight. Father Rapp, fearing bloodsheld, had ordered all his male followers to hide. He also had barricaded the doors of the Great House and stationed the women on the second floor.

When the Leonites arrived at this stronghold, they attempted to batter down the doors-efforts which soon became considerably dampened. From above came an avalanche of hot water, coal and brickbats thrown by the determined women. And, not content with this style of fighting, some of them advanced upon the enemy, dragged them to the cows' watering troughs and ducked their heads.

Although the sturdy Harmonite women required no assistance in routing the invaders, they received aid from a backwoods military company. The soldiers pursued the attackers to the hotel, pitched the leader out of the door, soundly tongue-lashed the remainder and marched them to the river while the fife and drum corps played the Rogue's March.

Failing thus to establish his claims, Leon, whose title of count turned out to be fraudulent, suddenly left the village and took a few persons to Alexandria, La., on the Red River. The Harmony Society always believed the wow of him, calling him charlatan and thief. The probability is that he was merely a weak and unwise leader. Some of the seceders whom he left behind, after dividing the property, helped establish Kiel's Bethel Community in Missouri, and the others remained in the village, which became Monaca.

De Leon House in Monaca

From the Harmony Society in Pennsylvania (Federal Writers' Project, 1937).