The Kingdom of Matthias

Paul E. Johnson, Sean Wilentz

Research output: Book/ReportBook

19 Scopus citations


In the autumn of 1834, New York City was awash with rumors of a strange religious cult operating nearby, centered around a mysterious, self-styled prophet named Matthias. It was said that Matthias the Prophet was stealing money from one of his followers; then came reports of lascivious sexual relations, based on odd teachings of matched spirits, apostolic priesthoods, and the inferiority of women. At its climax, the rumors transformed into legal charges, as the Prophet was arrested for the murder of a once highly regarded Christian gentleman who had fallen under his sway. This book recaptures the strange tale, providing a window into the turbulent movements of the religious revival known as the Second Great Awakening-movements which swept up great numbers of evangelical Americans and gave rise to new sects like the Mormons. Into this teeming environment walked a down-and-out carpenter named Robert Matthews, who announced himself as Matthias, prophet of the God of the Jews. His hypnotic spell drew in a cast of unforgettable characters: the meekly devout businessman Elijah Pierson, who once tried to raise his late wife from the dead; the young attractive Christian couple, Benjamin Folger and his wife Ann, who seduced the woman-hating Prophet; and the shrewd ex-slave Isabella Van Wagenen, regarded by some as "the most wicked of the wicked." None was more colorful than the Prophet himself, a bearded, thundering tyrant who gathered his followers into an absolutist household, using their money to buy an elaborate, eccentric wardrobe, and reordering their marital relations. By the time the tensions within the kingdom exploded into a clash with the law, Matthias had become a national scandal.

Original languageEnglish (US)
PublisherOxford University Press
Number of pages236
ISBN (Electronic)9780199854134
ISBN (Print)0195098358, 9780195098358
StatePublished - Oct 3 2011

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Arts and Humanities


  • 1834
  • Evangelical
  • Matthias
  • New York
  • Religious cult
  • Rumors
  • Second Great Awakening


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