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Request for Research and Information

by on February 6, 2013

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

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One Comment
  1. Fred Kelso permalink

    I have a 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. I have read elsewhere that his Stone of Wisdom had been thrown into the Wissahickon just before his death. I’d be interested to know what today’s Kelpius researchers believe happened to the stone. I’d also be happy to send a pdf of this article to anyone who is interested.

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