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Bible Encyclopedias

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature

Separatists at Zoar

The village of Zoar, which is the home of this communistic society, is in Tuscarawas County, O. From Nordhoff's Communistic Societies of the United States we gather the following information respecting them:

1. History. This society, like the Harmony Society, originated in Wü rtemberg, and like them, the Inspirationists, and others, were dissenters from the Established Church. Their refusal to send their children to the schools under the control of the clergy, and to allow their young men to serve as soldiers, brought upon them persecution from both civil and eccclesiastical authorities. They suffered for ten or twelve years, when they were assisted by some English Quakers to emigrate to the United States. They arrived at Philadelphia in August 1817, and bought a tract of 5600 acres of land in Ohio. They chose Joseph Bä umeler to be their leader, who, with a few able-bodied men, took possession about Dec. 1, 1817. At first it was not intended to form a communistic society, but having many very poor among them, it was thought that the only way they could keep the enterprise from failing was to establish a community of goods and efforts. An agreement to that effect was signed, April 15, 1819. Bä umeler was chosen spiritual and temporal head, and changing his name to Bimeler, the people came to be commonly spoken of as "Bimmelers." In March 1824, an amended constitution was adopted. Between 1828 and 1830 they began to permit marriage, Bä umeler himself taking a wife. In 1832 they were incorporated by the Legislature as the "Separatist Society of Zoar," and a new constitution, still in force, was signed the same year. They have prospered materially, and now own, in one tract, over 7000 acres of very fertile land, besides some in Iowa. They have a woolen factory, two large flour mills, saw and planing mill, shops, tannery, etc. They had in 1874 about 300 members and property worth more than $1,000,000.

2. Religion. Their "Principles," printed in the first volumes of Bä umeler discourses, were evidently framed in Germany, and consist of twelve articles:

"1. We believe and confess the Trinity of God: Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

"2. The fall of Adam and of all mankind, with the loss thereby of the likeness of God in them.

"3. The return through Christ to God, our proper Father.

"4. The Holy Scriptures as the measure and guide of our lives, and the touchstone of truth and falsehood.

"All our other principles arise out of these, and rule our conduct in the religious, spiritual, and natural life.

"5. All ceremonies are banished from among us, and we declare them useless and injurious; and this is the chief cause of our separation.

"6. We render to no mortal honors due only to God, as to uncover the head or to bend the knee. Also we address every one as thou' du.

"7. We separate ourselves from all ecclesiastical connections and constitutions, because true Christian life requires no sectarianism, while set forms and ceremonies cause sectarian divisions.

"8. Our marriages are contracted by mutual consent, and before witnesses. They are then notified to the political authority; and we reject all intervention of priests or preachers. "

9. All intercourse of the sexes, except what is necessary to the perpetuation of the species, we hold to be sinful and contrary to the order and command of God. Complete virginity or entire cessation of sexual commerce is more commendable than marriage.

"10. We cannot send our children into the schools of Babylon [meaning the clerical schools of Germany], where other principles contrary to these are taught.

"11. We cannot serve the state as soldiers, because a Christian cannot murder his enemy, much less his friend.

"12. We regard the political government as absolutely necessary to maintain order, and to protect the good and honest and punish the wrong doers; and no one can prove us to be untrue to the constituted authorities."

3. Practical Life. The members of the society are divided into two classes, the novitiates and the full associates. The former are obliged to serve at least one year before admission into the latter class, and this is exacted even of their own children, if on attaining majority they wish to enter the society. According to the constitution, all officers are elected by the whole society, the women having the right to vote as well as the men. They manage, with the consent of the society, all its affairs, cases of disagreement being referred to the "Standing Committee of Five," as a court of appeals. Before 1845, children remained with their parents until three years of age, when they ceased to be under their exclusive control. Since then the custom of the society taking care of the child ceased, being found inconvenient. The Zoar people read little except the Bible and the few pious books brought from Germany, or imported since. They belong to the peasant class of South Germany, are unintellectual, and have risen but little in culture.

In their religious observances they studiously avoid forms. On Sunday they have three meetings; in the morning, after singing, one of Bä umeler's discourses is read; in the afternoon the children meet to study the Bible; and in the evening they meet to sing and listen to the reading of some work that interests them. During the week there are no religious meetings. Audible or public prayer is not practiced among them, neither do they have any "preacher." They use neither baptism nor the Lord's supper. They address each other by the first name, and use no titles of any kind. They wear their hats in a public room, and seat the sexes separately in Church.

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Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Separatists at Zoar'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tce/s/separatists-at-zoar.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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