In order to understand the ramifications of Matthias’s formation of his kingdom, the social, financial, ethnic, and sexual conditions of the times must be realized as the catalysts that cause the cults to form. A whole series of evangelic congregations appeared in the early decades of the nineteenth century in order to serve the poor, the emotionally needy, those barred from the new prosperousness, hopefulness, forbearance, personal freedom and sensible thought of the business classes. Combining good narrative skills, excellent characterization, and historic detail, Johnson and Wilentz recreate the engaging tale of a hypocritical prophet and his erroneous followers in New York during the eighteen twenties and thirties. The main motif that dominated Matthias’s and Elijah Pierson’s actions involves the beliefs that were instilled in them when they were young, about the natural order of men and women. The patriarchy that ruled Matthias’s kingdom originated in both men’s thoughts from the Calvinism that was their first doctrine as youths around eighteen hundred. Elijah’s Morristown First Presbyterian Church and Mathews Coila Anti-Burhgers church enforced the dominance of men through incorporating their domestic authority into church rituals. With Elijah, men sat at the head of the pew and his father and uncles were church trustees. Even though Robert Matthew’s church had an egalitarian dissolution of power and wealth, patriarchal roles were reinforced by men leading their families into church and all the authority figures being male.
They were taught that God governed the world through fixed relationships of dominance and subordination. It is because of Matthew’s refusal to give up his position as a male leader and provider for his family, even when they were destitute, that led to his descent into lunacy leaving his family in eighteen thirty-one. This is why women and economic despair play such an important role in the history of the kingdom. Margaret’s rejection of Matthews after his continual attempts to exert his manly dominance through beating her and punishing the children started his resentment and hatred of women. This led to his condemning of all preachy Christian women who did act subservient to their husbands. “Woman is the capsheaf of the abomination of desolation-full of all deviltry”. Women also contributed a great deal to Elijah Pierson’s eventual devotion to Matthias. As Elijah turned to work with female missionaries in eighteen nineteen, the new evangelism of the times became the basis for a new life; and his marriage to Sarah, a strong missionary, who gently took total control over Elijah’s household and religious affairs. It was Sarah’s connection as a perfectionist reformer to Frances
Folger that led to the meeting with Ann Folger and becoming extreme perfectionists. As Elijah began experiencing his conversations with the Holy Spirit, they helped form the Retrenchment society and Elijah’s mental weakening that made him susceptible to Matthias. But most importantly it was Sarah’s death and failed resurrection that led Elijah’s own descent into lunacy and his eventual death. However, as large as the role of women is in this book because of all the changes that were made socially in that time; overall the market revolution with its dispersion of skilled artisans and the increase in out workers and factory workers played a huge role in the history of the kingdom. As Matthias was a carpenter he saved his money, and after he was accused of assaulting a girl he returned to Coila in eighteen twelve was Robert Thompson helped him open a business that was successful. However, as Matthew’s began to bring in small parts of big-city luxury to Coila and as the small town experienced them and began to be apart of the market revolution, Matthews overextended his resources, losing his shirt to the bank. Even as the market expanded and Pearl street became a booming commerce area, Matthews had to go back to being a carpenter and financial insecurity. As he worked to support his family, the panic of eighteen nineteen hit and his last chance at skilled profitable independent labour slipped away with unfinished suspend building projects. The increase in specialization labour and factory workers left open the route of wage labour for Matthew’s to support his family. The loss of economic independence however would start on a journey of strange religious visions, the beating of his wife, and finally the transition into Matthias.The two underlying sub-themes of this portion of history are the racial values of the kingdom and the gradual negation of fire and brimstone Calvinism into the gentle loving trend of Evangelism during the Second Great Awakening.
The case in point of the strange racial values of the kingdom is Isabella Van Wagenen, later Sojourner Truth. She was originally Methodist and after becoming free, she was introduced to James Latourette. Joining his household as a servant and attending perfectionist meetings there even while she worked for others. It was through his respect for her that she met Elijah Pierson while she was interacting with the girls at the Magdalene asylum on Bowery hill. Isabella befriended Pierson’s servant Katy, and Elijah engaged her to keep his house while Katy was in Virginia. After she opened the door for Matthias on that fateful day, she said she felt like God had sent him to set up the kingdom. When Pierson and Matthias met, she was allowed to be a present and common belief that they all shared negated any color boundaries. This intimacy, the result of holding the same faith, and adopting of only one table for everyone, and the communal style of living, let her color become a moot point. She was both a valuable source of information for Matthias and the domestic help while being on the same moral plane as everyone else in the house.
Just as the changing times allowed a black to join a religious cult, the harsh Calvinistic principles of the late seventeen hundreds were slipping away being replaced by the accepting Evangelic principles of repentance and redemption. As the market economy grew, the small towns of subsistence farmers began to falter taking with them the grassroots fear of god philosophy. In the large city, evangelism’s doctrine of helping the sinner instead of chastising them was growing like wildfire. Matthews had tried to condemn people in Manhattan for drinking and whoring, but the expanding Evangelism had already created a standard of leniency. His preaching was unheard and annoying often causing him to lose the job. This dissolution of his childhood faith strained him until his vision at the African church finally caused him to accept the new movement in some form.
The historical writings that this book is based on seem to complement each other well. Stone’s cover-up of the Folger’s actions and the wife switching at the kingdom was clearly refuted by vales volumes even if no one really read them. Margaret Matthew’s pamphlet also opposes Stone’s writing, yet because it comes from such a biased source, the findings cannot really be taken seriously. Johnson and Wilentz were correct in assuming that she was not the best of sources. The effort on Vale’s part to corroborate all of Isabella’s facts with white evidence is now a blessing because her facts are more substantiated for us, even if he checked her facts for the wrong reasons. One of the sources states that the Pierson house was twice as expensive as the typical middle class of the times which goes with Matthias’s description of understated money that was his initial impression walking in. A source that was actually interesting on its own was The Narrative of Sojourner Truth, which has many informative descriptions of the everyday life of the kingdom as well as a more detailed account of Pierson’s and Matthias’s first meeting. In the book, it is not mentioned that Isabella was present at that meeting or that she was avidly curious and sat inattentively.
Johnson and Wilentz’s narrative was fairly fast-paced and well-sequenced, but I got the impression from reading part of the Sojourner truth’s writings that there were many facts omitted. However, my own personal analysis of the book leaves me impressed with how the happenings of the kingdom were so tied in with many important people and events that have lasting legacies today. From Joseph Smith to Sojourner Truth, Matthias did not leave this world without making a profound effect on some important persons. Seeing how the Second Great Awakening was tied in with economic despair was very eye opening. The vulnerability of the impoverished, their susceptibility to strong vision and charisma is the real reason that cults will continue to pop up throughout the next millennium.
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