The Kingdom of Matthias story relates to the emergence of a religious cult in New York in the early 1820’s. Led by Robert Mathews, the religious cult influenced the local people through market revolution and second great awakening. The market revolution and the great awakening was a prophecy created by Matthias and his followers that stipulated that there would be no market, no buying, no selling, and no wage systems in the region. Matthias gained a lot of followers who were driven by the economic situation and necessities. In New York, individuals felt the urge to join the cult because they believed that many of the New York City individuals were ambition driven and greedy (Johnson and Wilentz 23).
Robert Mathews was born and grew up in upstate New York. At the age of twenty, he migrated to Manhattan where he was an apprentice and a carpenter. Mathews was renowned for his acts of women battering and other minor criminal records. The kingdom of Matthias brings out various themes about the New York society in the 1830’s. For instance, the theme of hatred for women has been brought up through Mathew’s actions. According to the story, Mathews presented his hatred for women through several counts of women battering in Manhattan. After committing various criminal activities in Manhattan, he moved back to New York City. On his return to New York City, Mathews got married and kept a very low profile. In 1812, Mathews profited from the economic boom experienced in New York. In this analysis, gender issues and roles are the main subject of discussion besides racism and industrialization (Stone 37).
Matthias’ Religious Life
After the economic boom in New York City, Matthias decided to go back in Manhattan after he drastically lost funds. In Manhattan, Matthias started a carpentry job again in order to find some means of livelihood for his family. It is in Manhattan where Matthias began his religious life after his family was hit with illness and lack of employment. Mathews began to create prophecies regarding the market revolution and the second great awakening. He claimed that only real men could be saved, and all mock men would be damned. By contrast, his prophecies were gender insensitive since he claimed that everything with a smell of a woman should be destroyed. This created a lot of confusion in the society and renamed himself Matthias. Mathias claimed that the loss of his sons was a calling to his prophetic work. In 1830, he formed fanatic followers who joined him in the movement (Stone 58).
Gender Issues and Roles
One of the Matthias followers included Elijah Pierson, who got into the evangelical movement after migration to New York City. Elijah was raised as a strict Calvinist church though changed his religion due to the evangelical movements which took place in New York City. He was married to Sarah. Sarah was a missionary woman who did overwork herself with numerous chores. This brings out the role of women in the society and respective character traits. Together with her husband, Sarah formed the retrenchment society and other groups meant for spreading the word of God. Sarah was a hardworking woman with divine principles to spread the word of God. According the story, there was the presence of prostitutes in the neighboring slum, the five points. The mention of prostitutes describes the behavior of women in the slum areas of New York. As a result, Sarah formed the first free Presbyterian aimed at helping out prostitutes in the region (Johnson and Wilentz 48).
Establishment of the female asylum society presented avenues for leadership opportunities among women. Aimed at getting younger prostitutes from the streets, Mrs. Bolton was named the matron of the society. The society used to receive female prostitutes from the streets and transformed them into Christian virtues. Another female to enter the female asylum society was Isabella Van Wagenen. According to the story, she is believed to have spoken with God from the time she was young. Unfortunately, Sarah fell ill and met her death in 1830. Her husband tried to raise her from dead during her funeral. At this time, Elijah is believed to have heard the God’s voice naming him as the ‘Prophet Elijah of Tishbe’ (Stone 59).
Racism and Industrialization
The story describes Isabella as a woman born to slaves and sold to various people. She had four kids with a slave named Thomas. In 1827, during the emancipation of slaves, she escaped to settle with a farmer, Isaac Van Wagenen. She was devoted to her religion since she had a vision from God. Signs of commitment into the religion were clearly seen due to her movements from one church to the other. She then joined the Pierson’s on Bower Hill in 1831. According to the story, the author brings out the aspect of slavery and how they suffered harsh treatment from their employers. Slavery was a common practice in the ancient times since the whites needed workers in their firms. As a result, they acquired slaves from Africa and ditched them in their farm plantations to perform duties. Slaves were also captured by great empires and trained to fight in wars. Some emperors used to stage fights for the slaves (Stone 90).
Further, the author uses the concept of industrialization in the story to show the significant time span when the aforementioned events occurred. In 1820’s, industrialization was on its rise and people had begun to establish various manufacturing and processing industries. Agriculture was the main drive to industrialization with many industries dealing with food products. Salves used to work on the farms and also in the industries for high productivity and performance (Johnson and Wilentz 102).
Controversies and the Downfall
The downfall of the church commenced with controversies over marriage between Catherine Galloway and Benjamin. According to the story, Catherine saw a vision of unusual wedding between her and Benjamin. The vision was confirmed by Matthias and admitted that the two were destined to wed. Catherine was disturbed the union between Benjamin and Isabella Laisdell and thus created her visions in order to wed Benjamin. According to her visions, she had affairs with Benjamin where they had sex severally. Isabella Laisdell had begun to resent Ann, who abandoned her duties and left them to her. Elijah paid Isabella’s husband some money to abandon her for Benjamin. The church had entered into controversies regarding management and squandering of church offerings for personal gains (Johnson and Wilentz 80).
Mathias took over from Elijah Pierson and preached of an economy with no buying and selling and with no economic depressions. Mathias began to go astray from the religious norms by stealing a follower’s wife. According to the story, Matthias was believed to live extravagantly from church offerings offered by the followers. In 1834, Elijah Pierson mysteriously died. This led to the immediate arrest of Matthias as a suspect to the murder. The death of Pierson spurred a lot of publicity among the New York City residents who were angry at Matthias. Mathew’s wife had shown intentions of divorcing her husband. In support of her husband, she had hired a competent lawyer who could see to it that the divorce proceedings were successful. Charges against Matthias did not provide sufficient evidence leading to their abandonment (Stone 98).
Matthias met Joseph Smith and introduced himself as Joshua since ‘Matthias’ was not famous in New York. They had talked, and both presented their point of views regarding religion. By contrast, Joseph smith did not agree with Matthias point of view. According to the story, Matthias stole most of the religious practices from Joseph Smith. After being found of minor charges, Matthias disappeared (Johnson and Wilentz 120).
The kingdom of Matthias story presents numerous scandals and controversies in the name of religious belief and cults. As the main character, Matthias goes through numerous hurdles in life until he realizes that God had spoken to him through some prophecies. Matthias’ life is presented as a failure while Elijah’s life is full of achievements. According to the story, Matthias and his close counterparts extort and exploit their followers through miserable acts. For instance, Matthias used to sleep with his followers wife while Catherine left her husband to be with Isabella Laisdell. Therefore, the religious cult started by Matthias had a myriad of social, economic, and economic adverse effect on the society at large.
Paul E. Johnson, and Sean Wilentz. The Kingdom of Matthias: A Story of Sex and Salvation in 19th-Century America. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012.
Stone, William. Matthias and His Impostures. New York: Applewood Books, 2000.