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The Pilgrims of 1818


Transcription contributed by Martie Callihan 11 February 2005

The History of Warren County Ohio
Part III. The History of Warren County by Josiah Morrow
Chapter X. Historical Notes and Collections.
(Chicago, IL: W. H. Beers Co, 1882; reprint, Mt. Vernon, IN: Windmill Publications, 1992)
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A strange sect of religious fanatics, organized about 1817, wandered from the Eastern States to Arkansas. They called themselves "Pilgrims," and were in search of the Promised Land. As they stopped at three different places in Warren County, at which some deserted and found permanent homes, an account of them is here inserted. Isaac Buller, a native of one of the New England States, was their leader and Prophet He had suffered for many months from the effects of a fall, which had injured his spine and produced partial paralysis. Confined to his bed for a long time, he suffered great pain. His pious neighbors frequently met at his room and held prayer meetings for his recovery. On one of these occasions, he suddenly announced to his friends that he was restored to health. He had no more pain, and, with the aid of two canes, was able to walk. He announced that the Lord had restored him, and had made him His Prophet. Many believed that his sudden relief from severe suffering was by the immediate interposition of Providence. The new Prophet told his followers that the people should be collected together and he would lead them to the Promised Land. Some persons of wealth and respectable standing in society embraced the new religion. In all, about one hundred persons started, under his leadership, for the Promised Land. The Prophet stood his cane upright and let it fall. Thus was indicated the direction they should go. The cane always fell toward the Southwest.

With wagons, teams, a limited supply of beds, clothes, food and cooking utensils, they made their way from New England first to the city of New York. The next year, they arrived at Lebanon, Ohio. On the journey, the Prophet had frequent revelations from the Lord, directing the Pilgrims to change their habits of dress and mode of life. They were not to wash their persons or clothes. They were to dispense with everything superfluous. Their clothing should only be sufficient to protect them from the cold; their only meat, raw bacon. Filth, rags and wretchedness were necessary for them to enjoy the Promised Land. On their arrival in Warren County, they were truly a squalid band. Some of the more intelligent members of the company had become convinced that Buller was an impostor, and returned to their New England homes or remained at places along their route. At Lebanon, those who remained faithful held public meetings for worship, at which the Prophet and other speakers warned the people to avoid all pride and everything superfluous in dress and food. The speakers at their religious meetings would cry out: "Oh-a, Ho-a, Oh-a, Ho-a, Oh-a, Ho-a, My God, My God, My God!" and all the members of the congregation would repeat the same words after them. From Lebanon they went to Union Village, and remained there for some days. The records of the Shakers speak of this band as being first heard of at Xenia, where two of the brethren went to see them on the 19th of February, 1818. On the 10th of March, the Pilgrims, being then fifty-five in number, reached the Shaker village, where they were kindly received, the Shakers feeding them and their horses free of charge. At a called meeting, held in the church, five of the Pilgrims—three men and two women—preached. At the close of

the speaking, the Pilgrims immediately withdrew from the church, probably to avoid hearing any reply. The Shakers, however, having assigned them a single room for their lodging, sent some of their preachers to address them in the evening, much to the displeasure of the leaders of the Pilgrims. The next day, they took their departure toward the Southwest. It has been said that some of the Pilgrims joined the Shakers, but there is no mention of this in the records of the society. Mason was the next stopping-place of the band. While in that vicinity, the small-pox broke out among them, of which disease many members of the band died. "With diminished numbers, still following in the direction the cane fell, they arrived at New Madrid, Mo., where the Prophet sickened and died. Before his death, he promised his followers to return to them in two years, and directed them to continue on their journey. The feeble band continued on to the Southwest, and at last arrived at the Promised Land, on the west bank of the Mississippi, not far from the mouth of the Arkansas.

Many of the foregoing facts are derived from a letter written by Hon. John Hunt to Col. James Sweny, dated at Red Lion, August 20, 1874. In 1824. Mr. Hunt made a journey to New Orleans with a flat-boat, in company with two other flat-boats. Mr. Hunt, J. D. Blackburn, Esq., and some others, stopped at the mouth of the Arkansas and made a visit to see the last of the Pilgrims. They found the Promised Land a most forbidden place, situated on a narrow ridge of dry land, almost surrounded by a swamp. In a wretched tent, made with forks and poles, reed cane and bark, were two interesting ladies, the only persons left of the band of Pilgrims. Neat and clean in their persons and dress and intelligent in their conversation, they still adhered to their belief in Buller's religion. Mr. Hunt offered to see that their way was paid to Cincinnati by steamboat if they desired to return to their native New England. They thanked him very kindly for his offer, but said they had started out for the Promised Land, they had found it, and nothing on earth would induce them to leave it. On a subsequent trip down the Mississippi. Mr. Hunt learned that one of these ladies had died, and the fate of the other was unknown.

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