Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography/Beissel, Johann Conrad

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BEISSEL, Johann Conrad, German religionist, b. in Eberbach, in the Palatinate, in 1690; d. in Ephrata, Lancaster co., Pa., in 1768. After studying theology at Halle, he became a Dunker, was forced to leave his native country, and settled in Pennsylvania about 1720. While a member of the Dunker society at Mühlbach (Mill Creek), Pa., he published (1725) a tract to prove that the seventh day was the only true sabbath. This caused some division in the society, and Beissel retired to a hermitage on the banks of the Cocalico. His friends soon joined him, and in 1728 they founded the first community of Seventh-day Dunkers, or German Seventh-day Baptists. In 1783 Beissel established, at what is now the village of Ephrata, a monastic society, which at one time numbered nearly 300. The habit of the Capuchins was adopted by both sexes, and celibacy was considered a virtue, though not made obligatory. Each member adopted a new name, and Beissel was called Friedsam, to which the community afterward added the title of Gottrecht. He seems to have been sincerely devout, though whimsical, was an excellent musician, and composed and set to music several volumes of hymns in German and Latin (1766-'73). He also published a mystical dissertation on the fall of man, and a volume of letters. He left several curiously decorated manuscript volumes. Soon after the death of its founder, the society at Ephrata began to decline, and few of the original features are now to be found there. The principal settlement of the sect founded by Beissel is at Snowhill, Franklin co., Pa.