Rosicrucian Writings Online

The First Rosicrucians In America

By The Imperator
[H. Spencer Lewis]
[From The Rosicrucian Digest November 1938]
MY attention was attracted recently by an official pamphlet published in Philadelphia describing some of the beauties and sights of Philadelphia. This small book was not published by any fraternal organization, least of all by the Rosicrucians of Philadelphia, but by a department of the official activities of Philadelphia that is wholly unbiased and unprejudiced.
In this booklet which deals with pleasant and surprising things to be found and seen in and around Philadelphia, we find a section devoted to the famous Fairmont Park and the Wissahickon Valley which has been famous and popular in histories of Pennsylvania for many years.
In this section dealing with Fairmont Park and the Wissahickon Valley we find the reader being advised to journey to a section of that district once occupied by the early Rosicrucians who arrived in Philadelphia in 1693-4 from Europe. Quoting from the booklet, we read the following:
"We pass a stream in its dell, then rise and fall to a picnic ground near a little bridge. Left is the Hermit's Glen, and the Hermit's Lane leads up beside the great Henry Avenue bridge to a road. Take this left past the Hermitage Estate buildings (left). Just beyond these, a little path takes us down again, and in a minute we are at the Hermit's Spring (now piped away).
"Far back in April, 1694, a band of 40 men entered the hamlet of Germantown. They were Rosicrucian mystics, led by John Kelpius, who settled on 'the Ridge,' cleared it, and erected a forest tabernacle 40 feet square where the buildings above now stand. On the roof was an observatory (first in Pennsylvania) where unceasing watch was kept. To our right is the natural cave that Kelpius enlarged and occupied for contemplation and prayer the rest of his days. They were 'impelled to live apart--prepared for some immediate and strange revelation--only to be imparted in the silence of the wilderness.'
"In the meantime they tilled an herb garden, healed the sick and made horoscopes all without charge, instructed children, tried to convert the Indians and to unite the churches. An angel apparition appeared to them twice; they waited the rest of their lives for the final drama, which was a tragedy. When Kelpius was attacked by consumption and passed away, the colony drifted apart and disappeared. This is the valley they frequented."
In other parts of the book we find reference to the famous mystic master known as Kelpius, and references to "Hermit Lane" and "Hermit's Glen" and "The Monastery." All of these places and terms are part of the early Rosicrucian history and Rosicrucian activities in the first cycle of Rosicrucian growth and development in America.
The interesting fact about all of this is that one or two pretenders to Rosicrucian knowledge--especially one individual who has written a considerable number of pamphlets on what he believes to be Rosicrucian facts and issued them from the eastern part of Pennsylvania--have claimed that the early mystics who came from Europe and settled in and around Philadelphia in 1694 were not Rosicrucians at all. He claims this despite the fact that one of the most authentic and important histories of early Pennsylvania that was ever written clearly states that they were Rosicrucians and reproduces some of their early manuscripts which are almost identical with the famous book on The Secret Symbols of the Rosicrucians which we recently revised, and the author of that great history refers to the Rosicrucian exhibits and memorials that were placed in many of the museums of Philadelphia. Many newspaper articles and many historical pamphlets issued in Pennsylvania, and particularly in Philadelphia, in the last fifty years have made very definite and pleasant references to the work and success attained and achieved by the early Rosicrucians who left Europe in 1693 under a plan originally outlined by Sir Francis Bacon and came to America purposely and deliberately to introduce the first form of Rosicrucianism in America.
But those few persons who have attempted in pamphlets and books to belittle the work of these early Rosicrucians have a very definite theme in mind. It is their intention and purpose to convey the idea that the first form of Rosicrucianism in America was introduced by their own form of neo-Rosicrucianism, and that therefore all of the glory and all of the fame attached to the achievements of the first early American Rosicrucians should be attached to the mediocre pretensions that they now put forth.
These early Rosicrucians in and around Philadelphia established some of the first fundamental landmarks of America. They introduced and maintained the first free public non-sectarian Sunday School that America ever had, and this was about sixteen years before Europe even introduced such a form of Sunday School in its countries. And these early Rosicrucians established the first botanical gardens for scientific research, and the first astronomical observatory, and the first paper mills, built the first great organ, and issued some of the first printed pamphlets issued in America, and participated in many American institutions because of their ability to disseminate knowledge in various languages and to issue it in printed form.
But one of the interesting features of these early Rosicrucian activities was similar to what the Rosicrucians of today are doing and have always done, namely, the free and liberal support and assistance to churches of various denominations. Inasmuch as the Rosicrucians were not a religious organization and a sectarian body of a distinct nature, they were free, then, as they always have been and are today, to sponsor the good work being done by all of the churches in behalf of humanity.
In the days when the early Rosicrucians first came to America, the Quakers and other early settlers had not established any definite "meeting houses" and there were no really definite churches of any denomination. The Rosicrucians, therefore, helped these various denominations to erect and maintain meetings places and to carry on their work without bias or prejudice.
It is interesting in this regard to note the statements in one large official book issued by the Swedish people of America in connection with their Tercentenary Convention recently held in Philadelphia. In this large and official book are many articles contributed by many eminent Swedish historians, and in one article the author takes opportunity to express his appreciation for the great help given to the Swedish people in the year 1700 by these early Rosicrucians. It seems from all the historical records, both Rosicrucian and non-Rosicrucian, that the Swedish residents of Philadelphia desired to have a large and beautiful church of their own. According to the records, the Rosicrucians living in the same city were particularly able to assist in building this church and establishing it in many distinctive ways.
The Rosicrucians, for instance, are credited with having provided the church with its organ and with having provided the church also with its first choir which the Rosicrucians trained and conducted for them; and it is said in other records that there is, in this old Swedish church which was called Gloria Dei, a buried casket or vault containing some early Rosicrucian records, and records of appreciation for what the early Rosicrucians had done in helping to establish the church. On the first Sunday after Trinity in the year 1700 when this new church Gloria Dei was dedicated, with the Rev. Eric Biorck, Swedish missionary in attendance as the minister, and with William Penn and John Markham present, the Rosicrucians assisted in conducting the dedication by providing special music. In this book issued by the officials of the Swedish celebration reference is made to the fact that on the occasion of this dedication of the beautiful church "Johan Kelpius and his band of Rosicrucians were present."
The Rosicrucian Order of today has always been proud of the fact that it has assisted churches of various denominations in their great work, and that this attitude, this age-old attitude of tolerance and non-sectarian bias, was made manifest by the first Rosicrucians so early in its American history. Probably this attitude on the part of the Rosicrucians toward the Swedish people in their early settlement of parts of the eastern coast of the United States is responsible for the continued growth and development of Rosicrucianism in the Scandinavian countries, and is why those countries always have representation in the international Rosicrucian Conventions held in Europe and in the Conventions held here in America.
It would seem in the face of all of the continued references and historical bits of evidence that are presented from time to time regarding the activities of the early Rosicrucians in and around Philadelphia between 1694 and 1801 that any individual who is biased and prejudiced would hesitate to make the bold and derogatory statements regarding the non-existence of Rosicrucianism in America before late in the Nineteenth Century. Nothing short of deliberate misrepresentation for ulterior motives could possibly actuate any individual in maintaining such an attitude and denying the vast accumulation of historical evidence. We have not featured in our magazine articles, or even in our monographs or books, many facts about these early Rosicrucians except to refer to them in our history. We have nothing particular to gain today by building up a glorified picture and report of what the early Rosicrucians did in the early Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries. But on the other hand, these pretenders to Rosicrucian knowledge find it necessary constantly to reiterate the claim that there were no Rosicrucians here in those early centuries and that the first real Rosicrucians came in the Nineteenth Century and did not come to Philadelphia.
When one finds it necessary to build a whole superstructure on a false foundation, one also finds it necessary constantly to strengthen that false foundation and to represent it continually before the minds of the persons who are to be deceived. But the facts are stubborn things. We may paint them and twist them and mutilate them, but from time to time they bob up again in all of their pure and original form and reveal themselves as what they are. It would be as difficult for any unbiased or true historian to write a history of the early colonies and the early settlements and the early activities of America without picturing the very interesting account of the early Rosicrucian pilgrims who left Europe in their own boat called the Sara-Maria, and recounting the trials and tribulations of such pilgrims in crossing the sea and in establishing monasteries, schools, temples and edifices in early Philadelphia, as it would be for anyone to write a history of the city of Philadelphia and deliberately ignore the many institutions, many important things there, that were created and established by Benjamin Franklin. And so from time to time new histories, new pamphlets, new bits of documentary evidence appear in American print referring to these early Rosicrucians and their activities, and still the one or two ignorant pretenders to Rosicrucian knowledge continue their denials and put forward their own specious claims.

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