Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography/Kelpius, John

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KELPIUS, John, mystic philosopher, b. in Siebenbürgen, Transylvania, Germany, in 1673; d. in Roxborough, Philadelphia, Pa., in 1708. He was of wealthy family, and was educated at the University of Helmstadt, where his preceptor, Dr. John Fabricius, selected him as his assistant in the authorship of a work in Latin. His native language was the German, but he was also acquainted with the Hebrew, Greek, Latin, and English. He early devoted himself to theological studies and became a follower of Philip Jacob Spener, the founder of the sect called Pietists. While in London he met Jane Leade, the head of the Philadelphians, another mystic sect. Of course his peculiar views met with opposition, and although at this time there was a great spirit of inquiry all over the land, under the name of Quietism in the Roman church, and Pietism, Chiliasm, and Philadelphianism in the Protestant churches, the desire to live where religious liberty could be enjoyed led him and his followers to emigrate to the New World. At the age of twenty-one years, with about forty others of like faith, he began his voyage to this country, 7 Jan., 1694, and after a dangerous and tempestuous journey reached Philadelphia, 23 June, and next day went to Germantown, where the German emigrants and those from Holland had settled under the leadership of Francis Daniel Pastorius, the German jurist. Kelpius and his followers soon attracted much attention by their dress, their peculiar doctrines, and holy way of living. He afterward selected a spot on the banks of the Wissahickon, where in a small valley he built a hut or cave, and walled a spring of water, that is still known as “the hermit's spring.” There they lived as an unbroken brotherhood for about ten years. They held religious services in the groves, and crowds of curious people assembled to hear the preaching of the hermits. It is said that they taught little children that were brought to them. They were called the “Society of the women in the Wilderness,” and their religious views were tinctured with the doctrines of Jacob Boehme, the Teutonic philosopher. Kelpius was a firm believer in the millennium, said it was near at hand, and told Alexander Mack, the Tunker preacher, that he should not die till he saw it. His Latin journal, kept during his voyage across the Atlantic, is still preserved in the Historical society of Pennsylvania. In it are copies of several letters in English and German, which he wrote to learned persons both in Europe and America. When Pastorius ceased to be the agent of the Frankfort company, Kelpius was chosen in his place, but it does not appear that he ever acted as such. Reference is made to Kelpius in “The Chronicon Ephratense,” and it would seem that after his death many of his followers joined the Seventh Day Baptists at Ephrata. Pa. (See Beissel, Conrad.) Whittier, in “The Pennsylvania Pilgrim,” speaks of the hermit as


Painful Kelpius from his hermit den
By Wissahickon, maddest of good men.”