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Kelpius Research — A new essay by Kirby Richards

Greetings! We are in process of updating our blog and website, and are very pleased to offer this inaugural post, featuring a link to a recent essay by Kirby Richards. Kirby has conducted painstaking original research in primary source materials to offer new perspectives on the life and historical experience of Johannes Kelpius. The essay, titled “From Transylvania to Pennsylvania: Johannes Kelpius”, was published in the Yearbook of German-American Studies, Volume 55 (2020), at the University of Kansas, for The Society for German-American Studies. I expect that Kirby’s essay will stimulate renewed discussion of Kelpius and his impact on the historical and cultural development of Philadelphia, and American society more generally.

Kirby’s essay can be accessed via the following link: Enjoy! And please write us with your comments.

Tom Carroll


The Kelpius Society

A Magical Golden Book & A Magic Seer Stone

This is such a crazy coincidence. John Dee the sorcerer (father of rosecrutianism) from England was known to have a magical golden book. He sent Johannas Kelpius and the woman in the wilderness to Penn. Joseph Smith a treasure hunter moves to Penn. and meets these people in the wilderness through an employer William Hale and marries his daughter,( Emma Hale Smith then Joe claims to be in possession of the magical golden book of John Dee and Kelpius magic seer stone.
What the Hell!!!!!!!!!!

Somebody make sense of this.

Your Kelpius Stories

Let Ric Ben-Safed add that George Lippard in his writings in “The Quaker City” and in the “Brotherhood of the Union” felt that he was identifying with the spirit of the Hermits of the Wissahickon.

Flowers of Paradise: Manuscripts and Illustrations from the Ephrata Cloister

At 6 p.m. on Thursday, November 7, The Historical Society of Pennsylvania will host Jeff Bach, director of the Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies at Elizabethtown College, who will talk about the illustrations and religious symbolism in the Cloister’s music books. Hymnals and other Cloister documents from HSP’s collection will be on display. The lecture will be accompanied by a live performance by the Ephrata Cloister Chorus, which will sing from the library’s balcony, and followed by a reception.
Jeff Bach holds a PhD in religion from Duke University and has researched and written on topics related to Radical Pietist groups in Europe and America. He is the author of Voice of the Turtledoves: The Sacred World of Ephrata and co-author with Michael Birkel for Genius of the Transcedent: Mystical Writings of Jakob Boehme. 
The Ephrata Cloister, a religious community in Lancaster County, was known for its printing press. calligraphy called Frankturschriften and music composed by its founder Conrad Beissel. 
To register for this free program, go to

Kelpius Society Hosts Summer Solstice Program at Philadelphia Museum of Art

Please join members of the Kelpius Society at 11:30 a.m., Saturday, June 22, 2013 atop the great steps outside the Philadelphia Museum of Art, for a free, special program that commemorates a 300-year-old summer solstice ceremony.

The event, which takes place at the east side forecourt at the top of the stairs overlooking the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, reenacts the historic arrival of a small group of German Pietists, led by Johann Kelpius, who settled in the Wissahickon in the late 1600s. The public is welcome to observe the summer solstice program and also learn about this fascinating Philadelphian, known in his time as the Wizard of the Wissahickon.

Kelpius Society Founder

Kelpius Society Founder

After a brief introduction from a Kelpius Society founder, architect Alvin Holm, the and other members will set up a long banner pole, creating a temporary sundial on the paved surface above the Museum steps, which will trace the morning shadow to determine the precise moment when the sun reaches its zenith on one of the longest days of the year.

On June 23, 1694, Johann Kelpius and his small band of German Pietists arrived in Philadelphia intending to establish a millennialist community in Philadelphia. When they sailed into port on the Delaware River it was the Eve of the Feast of Saint John, which coincides with the traditions of the June solstice. The group came straight away over to the Schuylkill where they took part in a Solstice bonfire ceremony on top of the most prominent hill, an area now known as Fairmount. Shortly afterward the religious group moved on to the Wissahickon Valley where they built their utopian settlement.

Today, very little is known about this small religious sect, and over the years its history has been clouded by pervasive legends, many of them popularized by 19th century Philadelphia authors such as Edgar Allan Poe and George Lippard. The modern day Kelpius Society is a 501c3 organization actively engaged in academic research, exploring Kelpius history, and in restoring and preserving the original Wissahickon site.


The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, Vol. 109. No.3 (Jul 1985)—Ricardo Ben-Safed finding

While searching I found an interesting article titled “Prophesies and Revelelations”: German Cabbalists in Early Pennsylvania. Very interesting stuff! And gave me some significant clues about the Christian Cabbala touchpoint with the Zohar of the Jewish Kabbalah. The article was published in The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, Vol. 109. No.3 (Jul 1985). Then I spied this footnote that will interest all members of the Kelpius Society. “The manuscript copy of Kelpius’s diary and letterbook is in the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. I have checked Sachse’s translation against the manuscript and have found several errors, especially transcription errors. I have used Sachse’s translation for quotations in English, but where his errors have confused or altered the meaning of a passage, I have inserted my own corrections in brackets. The article is signed by a Elizabeth W. Fisher, Harvard University. Wow! Now here is a manuscript that needs to be ‘translated’ and republished as the written work of John Kelpius. No one up to now, except for Julius Sachse , has even seen any written work of John Kelpius.

Heinrich Bernhard Koster and Irenia

Heinrich Bernhard Koster was a member of Kelpius’ original Wissahickon Society.  When the New Millennium failed to materialize in 1694, Koster started to drift away.  He became affiliated with the followers of George Keith, who in 1691 had begun disrupting the Philadelphia area Quaker world by trying to lead them back a more orthodox form of Christianity, while Kelpius and the others maintained a strong relationship with the Quakers.

Evidently Koster, Thomas Rutter, William Davis, and Thomas Bowyer teamed up and published a pamphlet of their radical views (in High German and in English) entitled “Advice for All Professors and Writers.”  No copies have been found, but in 1697 Francis Daniel Pastorius, founder of Germantown, published a refutation of this pamphlet entitled “Henry Bernhard Koster, William Davis, Thomas Rutter & Thomas Bowyer, four boasting disputers of this world briefly rebuked, and answered according to their folly, which they themselves have manifested in a late pamphlet, entitled, Advise for all professors and writers.”  This pamphlet does exist and it gives insight into the contents of the former publication and the activities of the four named men.  It hints at a communal experiment called “Irenia” near Germantown.

To quote Pastorius:

“They stile themselves The Brethren in America, The True Church of Philadelphia or Brotherly Love, &c.  This sounds mightily afar off, and some silly Women in Germany, who may happen to see their pamphlet, which probably for that end and purpose was printed in the high Dutch tongue besides the English will be ready to think this Church or Brotherhood something real and considerable. But to undeceive those, who prefer Truth before fictions and falsehood, I herewith must inform them that all these specious Names and Epithets in the pages above quoted, and more others, are mere Kosterian Chimera, an idle fancy. He, the said H. B. Koster, arriving here in Pensilvania, his heart and head filled with Whimsical and boisterous Imaginations, but his hands and Purse emptied of the money, which our Friends beyond Sea imparted unto him, and some in his Company, was so cunning as to entice four or five to a Commonalty of Goods, and so settled a Plantation near German-town, upon a tract of Land given unto them, calling the same IRENIA; that is to say, the house of Peace, which not long after became ERINNIA, the House of raging Contention, and now returned to the donor, the Brethren of America being gone and dispersed, and the Church of Philadelphia (falsely so-called) proving momentary, and of no moment.”  Since Pastorius says “falsely so-called,” I assume he means there was no official connection to Jane Leade’s London group “The Philadelphian Society For The Advancement Of Piety And Divine Philosophy.”

In a manuscript of the Pennepek (Pennypack) Baptist Church, it is written that “Wm. Davis, with one Henry Bernard Koster, a German, and others made up a kinde of Society, did break bread, lay on hands, washed one another’s feet, and went about having a community of goods.  But in little time they disagreed & broke to pieces.”

In 1743, Rev. Ernst Ludwig Rathlef published a German biographical sketch of Koster, based on an interview he had had with the subject in 1730.  Rathlef states that after Koster helped to build the Wissahickon community “[He] together with two others, bought another tract at Plymouth, not far from Germantown, where he remained for a length of time.”

The Pastorius and Rathlef accounts differ as to how the land for Irenia was acquired, but as Pastorius’ was contemporary to the events, I’ll hazard a guess that the land was donated and later reverted to the original owner.  The dates are a bit confused, but the following material from the Philadelphia County Commissioners records indicate that there are land documents referring to “Irenia Land” circa 1695 (I need to track down these records):

“At a Session of the Commissioners at Philadelphia the 23d of the 12th Mo’th, 1701.  Present, Edward Shippen, Griffith Owen, Thomas Story, James Logan, Sec’ry… The Commiss’rs, by Patent dated 26th 9 mo., 1695 [sic], Granted 500 acres to Rob’t Longshore, Purchaser in Bristol Township, in the County of Philad’a, joyning on Germantown, Irenia Land, and Will’m Wilkins, of which by Deed dated 1st 4 mo., 1686, he sold to Samuel Bennet 200 acres, who by Deed dated 2, 4, 1695, sold 150 thereof to David Potts, who sold to Wm. Harman 50 acres now in the Possession of Peter Clever.”

Based on the above, together with the 1687 Holmes Map of Philadelphia area landowners, I’m going to hazard a guess that Irenia was not in Plymouth Township, which did not border Germantown, but rather in Bristol Township, on land donated by the Bowyer family, adjacent to land of Thomas Rutter and Samuel Bennett (which they had purchased from Robert Longshore).  Thomas Bowyer seems to have played a rather minor role, as his three fellow communitarians figure in many later events, but his name disappears from history.

I would be interested to know if anyone has other information about Irenia, its members, and their activities.

by Fred Kelso

Share Your Kelpius’ Stone of Wisdom Stories

The Kelpius stone

Fred Kelso has a August 4th, 1909 newspaper article which states that Kelpius’ Stone of Wisdom (which was half of a stone he had found in a cave in India) had been passed down through his family and was currently in the hands of Miss Yetta Norworthe of Philadelphia, who used it to conjure up visions of Kelpius himself. Fred has read elsewhere that his Stone of Wisdom had been thrown into the Schuylkill River just before his death. Fred would be be interested to know what today’s Kelpius researchers believe happened to the stone. Here is a pdf of this article for all to read.19090814_dc_evening_star_kelpius_stone

Share Your Kelpius Cave Stories


Jacquelin Brough and Del Conner

Recently Del Conner and Jacquelin Brough went to the Wissahickon entering at Rittenhouse Town to search out the site of “the cave of Kelpius” that Del and his childhood friend Bob Moore used to visit in 1960’s. Bob, being from an old Germantown Quaker family learned of and had told Del the story of Kelpius, the Hermit, about Hermits Lane, the Hermitage, the root cellar that was said to have been the cave of Kelpius, and the long gone chamber of perfection.


Del Conner at Collapsed Cave

As young boys the two would take many, many trips to the Wissahickon and their favorite hideaway, the cave above Rittenhouse Town that they thought was the true cave of Kelpius. Not as many people visited the Wissahickon in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s as do today, and few people would be encountered in the woods when Bob, Del and their friends explored the valley.


View From Inside Cave Looking Out

Living eight doors from each other on Erringer Place in lower west Germantown, on a snowy day in 1960 or ‘61, with school closed because of the storm, Bob and Del planned their first visit to the carve during a snow storm. With their backpacks loaded with peanut-butter and jelly sandwiches, a soup pan, milk, chocolate mix, a spoon, with matches and some newspaper to start a fire, they headed off to their Kelpius cave. Walking down Wissahickon Avenue from Manheim Street, they entered the Wissahckon at Rittenhouse Town then walked up the path at the western end of the town. At the top of the hill if you bear right the path takes you to Blue Bell field off of Walnut Lane. Bob and Del would take the path less taken, the one to the left that started downhill to forbidden Drive. Not far down the path from the top of the hill above Rittenhouse Town, and to the right was the cave. About eight feet deep and maybe about ten feet wide, it was tall enough to stand up in the front part and was big enough for a couple of kids to comfortably sit in.


Remnants of Cave

Bob and Del knew of the Root Cellar that was said to have been the cave of Kelpius, where he would go to seclude himself form his brethren for his meditation. Crossing Blue Stone Bridge over the creek and heading back down stream while climbing the hill, they had explored the area around the Henry Avenue Bridge and the Hermitage. Although their cave was close to the busy Rittenhouse Town over the ridge, Bob and Del thought that their cave which faced southeast, looking toward the Kelpius site on the other side of the Creek just above its hair-pin turn, was a more secluded spot, and the one used by the Hermit.

It took ten year olds Bob and Del almost an hour walking through deep snow to get to the cave that day. With the heavy snow still falling, there was a unique quite and peacefulness at the cave that touched them as had no other visit. It was as though they had stepped out of the city into a wilderness lost in time.
Soon after arriving and feeling the cold, the two immediately set to looking under the snow for kindling and wood to burn.  Having brought matches and newspaper but no kindling, their efforts at starting a small fire in the cave was unsuccessful.   With the last match gone and no fire, they eat their sandwiches, drank the cold milk and set off for home.
Sometime in the past twenty years Fairmount Park is said to have deliberately collapsed the cave above Rittenhouse Town, and it is today a pile of broken rock. However, in exploring the site it is possible to see that there remains a very small entrance into what appears to be a possible underground chamber between layers of rock.Image

Share your Kelpius experiences with us.

Story Recorded by Jacquelin Brough, Edited by Del Conner

Photography by Jacquelin Brough


Dance? Kelpius?

I met recently with Bob Skiba to discuss Kelpius Society programs – and explore the potential for developing an original Kelpius dance performance!

Let me explain — first about Bob.  After moving to Philadelphia in 1998, Bob Skiba established the Mixed Pickles Vintage Dance Company, to research and perform social dance from the Colonial period to the 1950s.  You can learn more about that project by going to his website, at  Bob publishes a blog relating to dance history, which you can find at; his blog devoted to Philadelphia’s gay community is located at  Bob has varied professional experience as dancer, actor, designer, director, and musician within the dance, theater, and early music communities.  Before settling in Philadelphia he was a member of the Ex Machina Baroque Opera Company in Minneapolis, which produced innovative new work.  Bob is president of the Association of Philadelphia Tour Guides.

The word “Baroque” is significant here.  The Kelpius community was formed during the Baroque era, and their compositions fit snugly into that musical cosmos — keep in mind that much of the music composed during the Baroque was devotional in nature.  (Think Bach.)  And of course, dance has always played a vital role in ritual expression, as it did during the Baroque.  Did members of the Kelpius community dance to their music?  Probably not.  We do know, however, that we at the Kelpius Society want to push the envelope; break new ground with programming that interprets Kelpius in dramatic and compelling ways.  And so we’re interested in exploring how to choreograph his music, to create a performance modality that would communicate that story more effectively – and more memorably.

Since its founding the Kelpius Society has presented a number of well-received programs, culminating in a live performance at West Philadelphia of texts and music composed by Kelpius and members of his group.  These texts are a matter of record, but the musical settings have had to be painstakingly researched.  Fortunately, Lucy Carroll, one of our founding members, was able to create sensitive realizations of the music and restore it to live performance in our time.  But what if we were to go one step further, and marry that music with dance?  We think it’s quite feasible to erect an edifice of dance on the foundation of the Kelpius texts, in a way that would incarnate the music, and set it in motion.

We’ve only just begun to explore this relationship, and are optimistic that there’s a wealth of potential, moving in that direction.  Please check our website regularly for updates on this and other Kelpius Society initiatives.  We’re looking ahead toward exciting new vistas, and we’ll need your participation and support.

Tom Carroll


The Kelpius Society

Request for Research and Information

I met earlier this week with Daniel Richter, executive director of the McNeil Center for Early American Studies (MCEAS) at the University of Pennsylvania, to provide information about the Kelpius Society and discuss possible research initiatives relating to the 17th century Kelpius community.  Following that meeting, at Dr. Richter’s suggestion I prepared a brief message to be distributed to the MCEAS mailing list.  Here’s a copy of my message.  Please write to us if you have information such as research resources you’d like to share, if you’re currently doing research on a topic relating to Kelpius, or if you know of research already done in this area.

Request for Research Advice and Direction

Johannes Kelpius and a group of followers arrived in Philadelphia in 1694, and settled in what is now Roxborough, within the current boundaries of Fairmount Park.  They were dissenting Lutherans who self-identified as Pietists, and formed one of the earliest millenarian communities in North America; perhaps only the Labadists were earlier.  The Kelpius group established a medicinal herb garden (likely a progenitor of Bartram’s Garden), set up the earliest astronomical observatory, and wrote music that may have been the first composed on this continent by Europeans. 

The Kelpius story is part of the early history of Philadelphia, especially its hidden or esoteric dimension.  Our problem can be stated, what do we reliably know about Kelpius?  We have a grasp of the basic outlines of this history, and we have a generalized knowledge of the settlement area.  We’ve supported preliminary archaeological research at the site, but still lack comprehensive knowledge of what lies beneath the ground.  We’ll seek funding for a full archaeological survey some time soon, which should assist with site development and produce new research questions.

The provisional answer to the question, what do we reliably know about Kelpius, may lie in how we know what we know.  Our information mostly derives from the work of a single individual – Julius Frederick Sacshe –who was active in  Philadelphia around the turn of the 19th century.  Sacshe was an interesting figure who wrote on variety of subjects, but doubts have been raised about his work.

Religious scholar Arthur Versluis points out that the problem with Sachse’s work is that other scholars haven’t been able to examine his sources.  We agree. Sacshe’s book, The German Pietists of Provincial Pennsylvania, remains a standard reference on Kelpius.  But it’s the only comprehensive English language source we have, and so far as we know it hasn’t been critiqued.

We seek to address this lacuna by consulting with scholars of Early America to ask for suggestions and direction.  We want to establish a frame of inquiry that intersects with established scholarly practice and current research issues in Early American studies, in which Kelpius and his group will become visible and investigable.  We welcome all inquiries and suggestions on these matters from the scholarly and academic communities.

Sincere thanks,

Thomas Carroll


The Kelpius Society

Kelpius at the Franklin Inn Club

Last night Al Holm and I made a presentation on the Kelpius community at the Franklin Inn Club in Center City Philadelphia. Al and I are resident members of the Inn; Al is a founding member of the Kelpius Society.  Other Kelpius Society members attending last night’s meeting were Joanne Kellerman, our treasurer, Carol La Belle, corresponding secretary, Nick Bucci (Nick has deep knowledge of the Kelpius site and is available to give tours), and Don Sloan, a member of the Kelpius Society and current president of the Roxborough-Manayunk-Wissahickon Historical Society.

I began with a brief introduction to Kelpius, providing background on the Pietists in Germany and the motivations that lay behind their decision to emigrate from Europe to North America in 1694. I also talked about the activities of the Kelpius Society, which include a publications program (visit our website at to order books), public programs, site development and interpretation, and site archaeology and botany.

Al then showed a series of images which illustrate the history and significance of the Kelpius community, and their legacy. Our presentation, preceded by a buffet dinner, was well-attended and provoked lively discussion and debate.  You can find more information about us at the Kelpius Society website. New programs are being developed; we expect to post an events calendar soon.

The Franklin Inn club was established in 1902 by S. Weir Mitchell, noted author and physician. Edith Wharton was a friend of Weir’s and often dined at the club. Prominent members in past years have included Henry Charles Lea, E. Digby Baltzell, and N.C. Wyeth. Notable current members besides Al Holm include Daniel Hoffman (former poet laureate of the United States), Nathan Sivin, Thom Nickels, and Walton Van Winkle. The Inn was the first private club to admit women to membership, who now play vital roles there. You can learn more about the Franklin Inn Club and its history by going to their website at  The image of the Inn posted below was painted by an unidentified artist.

Thomas Carroll
The Kelpius Society

The Inn

Welcome to the Kelpius Blog