"We live on the inside"
The Koreshan Unity was “quite possibly one of the most bizarre” communal utopias developed in the nineteenth century according to Dr. Lynn Rainard. This community, founded in Chicago, moved to Estero, Florida in 1894 to begin building the New Jerusalem. This was to be the city of God that ushered in the millennium of peace on earth. The founder of the community was Cyrus Teed, who took the name Koresh, which is Hebrew for Cyrus. His illumination and scientific discoveries were the basis for the community which were called the Koreshans or the Koreshan Unity.
The chief postulates of the Koreshans
were cellular cosmogony, reincarnation and immortality, celibacy, communism,
and a belief in Teed's inspired leadership. Cellular cosmogony is the idea
that the earth is a concave sphere in which we live. Celibacy was used
as a scientific method to obtain immortality. These ideas and Teed’s charisma
lead to a growing community. The community reached a peak population of
around two hundred, and at one time claimed over four thousand financial
supporters. The community, unlike other communal societies of the times,
had its basis in religion, science and communism, and membership was allowed
for non-believers who were willing to work communally. The community began
to fragment soon after the death of its leader in 1908, and its last member,
Hedwig Michel, died in 1982, but not before turning over the settlement’s
land to the state to become a historic site. The settlement has been partially
restored to its early twentieth century appearance and is open for visitors.
The following information is intended
to provide the reader with information about the Koreshan Unity from the
early years of Cyrus Teed to the death of the ‘Last Koreshan.’ Information
and sources will cover the history, beliefs, central figures, and controversies
surrounding the community.
Library of Congress Subject Heading and Classification Statement
There are also several names that are used for finding information by or about the Cyrus Teed. He is listed both under Teed, with variations of first name or initials, or under Koresh. There is also discrepancy in the spelling of his middle name. Some sources spell it 'Read' and others 'Reed.' In the following citations, I have used the spelling used by that source.
When searching for materials on the
Koreshan Unity in an electronic database, it is important to note that
different items can be located using the author 'Teed, Cyrus' and 'Koresh'.
The later of these often presents a problem, as David Koresh, the leader
of the Waco, TX community, often results. When searching for titles by
Koresh, if the search engine allows Boolean searching, try using the phrase
'not David', i.e. 'Koresh not David'.
The Story of the Koreshan Unity
Landing, James E. "Cyrus Reed Teed and the Koreshan Unity." In America's Communal Utopias, edited by Donald E. Pitzer. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1997.
This chapter of the book covers the Koreshan
Unity in a fairly balanced informative way. It provides a good overview
of the beliefs and history of the community. It includes the diagrams by
Teed of the organization of the community and of the cellular cosmogony.
Also extremely useful is the chronology of the community and a useful bibliography.
This book is probably the most complete and balanced overview of the Unity.
As many of the sources in this bibliography are older and harder to locate,
this is a useful starting place for an in-depth look at the community.
Melton, J. Gordon. Biographical Dictionary of American Cult and Sect Leaders. New York: Garland Publishing, 1986.
The entry for Cyrus Read Teed, the leader
of the Koreshan Unity, includes an overview of his life. This is presented
chronologically and, though it is fairly complete in presenting the major
events in his life, none of the events are covered in any detail. Teed
was born in 1839, spent his youth working on the Eire Canal, studied medicine,
and was a private in the 27th Regiment of the New York Volunteers before
his illumination that led to the development of the cellular cosmogony.
Carmer, Carl. Dark Trees to the Wind. New York: William Sloane Associates, 1949.
Chapter 14 (pp. 260 – 289) "The Great
Alchemist at Utica" is the story of the author's visit to the Estero in
the 1940's to meet the remaining Koreshans. The members related to him
the story of the community, in particular Teed's "Illumination". He was
visited by an angel and was directed "to redeem the human race." This visitation
led to Teed developing the Koreshan Unity. Daily life of members of the
settlement and the evolution of the settlement are also presented.
Fogarty, Robert S. All Things New: American Communes and Utopian Movements 1860 – 1914. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990.
A portion of this text (pp. 72 – 83)
looks at the history of Teed and his illumination. Teed received his degree
in 1868 as an eclectic physician, a branch of medical science that received
less training than regular physicians. In the following year he discovered
that the Copernican theory of the world was wrong; that the world was concave
and limited in space. He saw the universe as all one substance emanating
from a single source, God. This was confirmed by a vision of the "Divine
Motherhood" which confirmed his beliefs and brought science and religion
together. This vision told Teed that he was destined to redeem the human
race and carry on the work of Jesus Christ. His ideas kept patients away
and he was forced to move frequently. He tried to begin communal communities
in Moravia and New York City in the 1880's and failed. His big break came
when he was asked to speak at a convention of the National Association
of Mental Science in 1886. Here he gained a wide following and opened several
communal homes, including Beth-Ophrah, which were the earliest beginnings
of the Koreshan Unity.
Fine, Howard D. "The Koreshan Unity: The Chicago Years Of A Utopian Community." Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society 68 (1975): 213-227.
Founded in New York State in 1880 and
located in Chicago during 1886-1903, the Koreshan Unity moved to Estero,
Florida in 1903. Many of the members were women bound to observe the celibate
rules of the communal group. Cyrus Teed encountered some obstacles in the
early years of the organization. The belief that celibacy was important
was not followed by all. There are accusations that Teed himself did not
follow his own rule, and was sexually active with members of the Koreshan
Unity. This article looks at some of the lawsuits brought against him for
alienation of affections by irate husbands of female members.
Arndt, Karl J. R. "Koreshanity, Topolobampo, Olombia, and the Harmonist Millions." Western Pennsylvania Historical Magazine 56 (January 1973): 71-86.
Teed was in contact with several other
communities and many of them supported his beliefs. Included in these were
the Shakers and the Harmonists. This article documents Teed's contact with
the Harmonists and indicated that some of the Harmonists believed in Teed's
teachings. Teed attempted and failed to merge with these groups, in part
because there was no agreement on who had an authentic connection with
Scientific Colonization: Plan for the Immediate Relief of the Masses: New Jerusalem at Estero, Florida. Chicago: Guiding Star Publishing House, 1985.
This booklet was written in part to convince
people to join the Koreshans in Estero in the forming of the New Jerusalem.
It includes plans to bring ten million people to the area and how to organize
the city and bring commerce there. Free housing is offered to anyone who
is willing to become a member and work for the Unity. Religious belief
was not a requirement. A tri-level system of membership was explained.
The outer level was made up of these non-believers. Called the Society
Arch-Triumphant, this group could marry and participate in the secular
communal aspects of the Unity. The middle group, the Marital Order, allowed
for marriage, but allowed sexual relations only for the purpose of reproduction.
The inner, core group, was the Celibate and Communal group that did not
allow marriage and practiced celibacy. This booklet also explained the
communal system in which money was done away with. The Bureau of Equitable
commerce handled the transactions of 'units' that were earned through work
at the Unity.
Rea, Sara Weber. The Koreshan Story. Estero, FL: Guiding Star Publishing House, 1994.
This book, written to explain the history
of the Koreshan Unity, creates a clear timeline of events for both Teed
and the community. It begins with the illumination of Teed, through the
legal incorporation in New Jersey in 1903, and ends with the death of Hedwig
Michel. This book does not cover in detail any of the ideas or beliefs
of the community, and it does not cover any controversial issues related
to the community. Lawsuits, problems with the local community, and the
failed resurrection of Teed are absent. It contains numerous photographs
of the Estero community, its buildings, activities, peoples and landscape.
Some of the information that is covered here that is lacking in other sources
is the daily life of the Estero community. The business enterprises included
a sawmill, post office, bakery, apiary, machine shop, concrete works, print
shop, general store, boat building, blacksmith, plumbing shop, and power
plant. The power plant provided electricity for the settlement and the
surrounding areas years before it was available elsewhere in Southwest
Florida. The community was also active in agriculture, fishing, building
its own buildings and schools as well as some cultural pursuits including
plays, concerts and lectures.
Mackle, Elliott. "Cyrus Teed and the Lee County Elections of 1906." Florida Historical Quarterly 57 (1978): 1-18.
This article discusses Teed's plan to
unite the whole society under his leadership through political influence.
In 1906, he formed the Progressive Liberty Party. This consisted of Koreshans,
socialists, Republicans, and dissatisfied Democrats who voiced political
sentiment through their newly formed newspaper, the American Eagle. Although
defeated politically, Teed still retained followers after the election.
His political influence did not fair well with the locals in nearby Fort
Rainard, R. Lyn. "Conflict Inside the Earth: The Koreshan Unity in Lee County." Tampa Bay History 3 (1981): 5-16.
This article focuses on lawsuits against
the Koreshan Unity by private citizens. These went unnoticed by officials
in Lee County until the Koreshans tried to enter politics. As the Koreshans
became more involved in local politics and began block voting, problems
arose with the locals. Eventually, Teed was attacked by a citizen and the
town marshal. He never recovered from these injuries and died in 1908.
Webber, Everett. Escape to Utopia: the Communal Movement in America. New York: Hastings House Publishers, 1959.
The brief section on the Koreshan Unity
(pp. 353-359) portrays Teed and the Unity in a negative light. "Nothing
at the place was conducted with any degree of sanity, [and] for months
at a time everyone might go without actually enough to eat" except Teed
and a small number of his favorite members, who happened to be female.
Problems with members leaving the community and attempting to sue to be
reimbursed for their donations and failed are examined. The man,
Gustav Damkohloer, who originally sold the first 300 acres to Teed, sued
and won half of the original land back. This land was then promptly given
to the lawyers in payment of their fees. There is also a description with
the situation of his death and burial. Before Teed's death in 1908, he
had spoken of his coming back from the dead. Members of the Unity refused
to bury him after his death. Four days after his death law enforcement
officers arrived and forced the burial of the "putrid remains." Thirteen
years later the grave washed away and the body disappeared in a hurricane.
Michel, Hedwig. A Gift to the People. Estero, FL: n.p., 1961.
After a brief outline of the Koreshan
Unity's history, this booklet discusses the activities that were part of
the daily life of the community and the transfer of the Unity's land and
property to the state of Florida to become a state park. Some of the activities
at the settlement included agriculture, a sawmill, blacksmith, and machine
and print shop. There were also recreational pursuits that included the
Koreshan Orchestra that was said to be "the finest musical organization
south of Tampa," tennis and a baseball team. In 1952 the Unity decided
to offer its lands to the state for a historical and botanical monument.
It was not until 1961 that the transfer took place. The State took over
230 acres of land and created what is now called the Koreshan State Historic
The End of the Koreshan Unity
After Teed's death, there were many disagreements about the Unity and its leadership. Several groups split from the Unity including the Order of Theocracy that split in 1910 and relocated to Fort Myers, FL. The beliefs were similar the Koreshans, and the community lasted until 1931.
The population declined from its peak
population of around two hundred in 1903 to thirty-five in 1940 when Hedwig
Michel joined the unity. She helped revitalize the community, repair the
structures and was responsible for the land becoming state property. She
is known as the 'Last Koreshan', and the community is said to have ended
with her death in 1982.
The Religious Aspects of Koreshanity
Teed, Cyrus. The Immortal Manhood. Chicago: Guiding Star Publishing House, 1902.
This deals with man and his relation
to his God. This book, along with the Cellular Cosmogony, "served as the
pivotal point of the Koreshans' teachings."
Andrews, A.W.K. The Identification of Israel. Chicago: Guiding Star Publishing House, 1882.
When God cast the Israelites out of his
sight, he dispersed them throughout the races on the earth. They cannot
be identified by outward appearances or nationality but by spiritual life
and power. Andrews discusses the misconception that Jews are the chosen
people. His position is that the Anglo-Saxon Christians are more inwardly
the chosen people than the Jews, and that God will fulfill his biblical
prophecies to these Christians. God will bring His people back together
in their own land where He will cleanse them. This process is the identification
of Israel. The discussion of the chosen people centers on the idea of reincarnation.
The original Israelites are still present today in the bodies of their
ancestors and will be called back together. The premise involves being
able to trace our ancestors because "we are in those ancestors." This book
is the basis for the Koreshan belief in reincarnation and its importance
in building the New Jerusalem.
Kitch, Sally L. Chaste Liberation. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1989.
This book compares and contrasts the
Shaker, Koreshan and Sanctificationist communities. It is helpful in putting
the role of celibacy in perspective as a characteristic of utopian communities.
It is one of the best explanations of the Koreshan reasons for celibacy
and a description of the concept of the biune. "The Koreshans felt that
the being who results from spiritual reproduction, induced by celibacy,
is biune, both androgynous and hermaphroditic."
Melton, J. Gordon, ed. The Encyclopedia of American Religions, Religious Creeds: a compilation of more than 450 creeds, confessions, statements of faith, and summaries of doctrine of religious and spiritual groups in the United States and Canada. Detroit, MI: Gale Research, 1988.
This book contains the "Synoptical Outline
of Koreshan Theology," which is an attempt to state the Koreshan religious
perspective without mentioning the controversial concept of the cellular
cosmogony. Some of the basic beliefs expressed are that God is not omnipresent,
but the focal point of the cosmos, that the Decalogue is the key to immortality,
and that the love of God, as manifest in the love of others is the essential
element in harmony on this earth.
Koreshan Foundation. Koreshanity, the New Age Religion. Miami: Center Printing Company, 1971.
This book reprints the four different
publications of the Koreshan Unity: "The Divine and Biblical Credentials
of Koresh," "Reincarnation or the Resurrection of the Dead," "The Science
of the Decalogue," and "Synoptical Outline of Koreshan Theology." The purpose
of the book is "to acquaint the reader with the principle tenets of Koreshanity
and to interpret the character and true identity of Dr. Cyrus R. Teed (Koresh).
"The Divine and Biblical Credentials of Koresh" by Dr. J. Augustus Weimar
is a collection of eighty biblical quotes with explanations as to how Teed
fulfill these biblical prophesies and is therefore the "Messiah of the
Aquarian or Koreshan Age." "The Science of the Decalogue" by Teed is his
interpretations of the Ten Commandments. Teed's explanation of Honor thy
Father and Mother: "The father and mother in this passage denotes the Father-Mother
God, to be honored by supreme devotion to the inherent law of immortal
being, which transforms the life from the mortal to the immortal state."
This book is somewhat difficult to read as it is written in flowery religious
language, heavily laden with Biblical allusions and enigmatic quotes.
The Scientific Aspects of Koreshanity
Morrow, Ulysses G. Scientific Experiments on Lake Michigan: Surface of Water Demonstrated by Ocular Evidence to be Not Convex; Specific Tests by means of the Telescope. Chicago: Guiding Star Publishing House, 1899.
This was the result of the first attempt
by Morrow to dispel the Copernican 'myth' of the Earth's convexity. The
hypothesis was that over a distance of several miles, that the arc of the
Earth would obscure the base of an object if the Copernican system was
accurate. If the base of the object could be seen, then the Earth could
not be convex. This was tested at Lake Michigan, and the target object,
a lighthouse at a distance of eight miles could be seen clearly. "The action
of the waves against the wall was clearly observed." This evidence leaves
the Copernican system "without a shadow of evidence for support." The conclusion
is that since the Earth is round, then it must be concave. Koreshanity
is given as the system to replace the 'outdated' ideas of the Copernican
system. "Koreshanity is conducting a scientific crusade against fallacy."
Teed, Cyrus R. The Cellular Cosmogony…or…The Earth a Concave Sphere. Philadelphia, PA: Porcupine Press, 1975.
This reprint of the 1905 edition is the most complete explanation of the theory and experiments with the concavity of the earth. The common belief that the earth is convex is explained away as geolinear foreshortening (objects vanish at a distance because of limited optics). This book contains the detailed explanation of the principles and execution of the tests at Naples, FL to prove the concavity of the earth. A rectilineator was constructed that demonstrated that the earth curved upwards at a rate of eight inches to the mile. The Koreshan description of the earth is also given:
Leadership of the Koreshan Unity
Annie Ordway 1903-1909
James H. Bubbett 1909-1924
George W. Hunt 1925-1929
Allen H. Andrews 1929-1949
Lawrence Bubbett 1949-1960
Hedwig Michel 1960-1982
Jo Bigelow 1982-present
Periodical Publications of the Koreshan Unity
These publications were produced by Teed and the Koreshans. They are important historical documents, and this listing is provided to help explain what was published and when.
Salvator Scientist - Published starting in 1886.
Herald of the New Covenant - Published starting in 1876, this was a broadside written by Teed. Five copies were published, but only three are known to exist.
The Guiding Star - Published from December 1886 to November 1889, this was a monthly periodical printed in Chicago that was replaced by the Flaming Sword.
Plowshare and Pruning Hook - This was first published by the San Francisco Koreshan community from1891 to 1892. The community and the publication merged with the Chicago community in 1892, and the Plowshare and Pruning Hook was printed there from 1892 until 1895, when it was incorporated into the Flaming Sword.
Flaming Sword - This was published from November 1889 until January 1949. It has taken the form of a weekly, monthly, and quarterly publication. The editions published after Teed's death are primarily reprints of his writings.
American Eagle - Publication began
in the 1906 as a newspaper for the Estero, Florida community. It has published
continuously since then, except for the period 1949 to 1965. It is now
printed as a house organ for the Koreshan Unity Foundation.
Newspapers covering the Koreshan Story
Fort Myers Press 1894-1912
New York Times 1884-1908
Tampa Morning Tribune 1900-1910
Publishers of Koreshan Materials
Guiding Star Publishing House
A Division of the Koreshan Unity Foundation, Inc.
PO Box 97
Estero, FL 33928
The major publisher of material is the Guiding Star Publishing House. This was part of the Koreshan Unity in Chicago and moved to Florida with the community.
Dissertations and Theses
Berrey, Richard S. The Koreshan Unity: an economic history of a communistic experiment in Florida. (Thesis) University of Florida, 1928.
Fine, Howard David. Koreshan Unity Utopian Community: we live inside the world. (Thesis) Notre Dame University, 1972.
Hutchings, Barbara. Utopian geography of Estero, Florida. (Thesis) Florida Atlantic University, 1999.
Mackle, Elliot James, Jr. The Koreshan Unity in Florida, 1894-1910. (Thesis) University of Miami, 1971.
Rainard, Robert Lynn. In the Name
of Humanity: the Koreshan Unity. (Thesis) University of South Florida,
The Koreshan Unity Settlement. Koreshan State Historic Site. Estero, FL.
This pamphlet is used as a guide to the
settlement grounds, which are part of the state historic site. There is
a map of the grounds and surrounding area that locates the places of importance
to the Unity, when it existed, as well as the remaining buildings. Art
Hall, with its miniature rectilineator and model of the cellular cosmogony,
the Planetary Court, home of the governing body, and Founder's Hall, the
common house and group dining facility, are among the buildings open to
visitors. Photos and descriptions of the community buildings and their
uses are the bulk of this twelve-page pamphlet. This can be obtained by
contacting: Koreshan State Historic Site, FLDEP, Division of Recreation
and Parks, PO Box 7, Estero, FL 33928, (941) 992-0311.
An oral history of the Koreshan Unity was recorded of Hedwig Michel, the "last Koreshan" and president of the Koreshan Unity from 1960 to 1982. This is available only at the Koreshan Unity Foundation, PO Box 97, Estero, FL 33928, (941) 992-2184.
The "unofficial" site of the Koreshan State
Historic Site, located in Estero, FL
This includes history, photographs, and a link to an annotated index to the Koreshan State Historic Site's manuscript collection.
Koreshan State Historic Site
This state park is located at the site of the Koreshan Settlement in Florida. A number of the settlement buildings and portions of the grounds have been restored to their appearance of the 1900's and are open for visitation. The park charges an admission fee.
Part I: American Communal Utopias