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By 1800, Johann Georg Rapp, the German weaver and vinetender turned prophet, had assembled a large following. Some were willing to follow him to America to seek freedom not available in Europe. "Father" Rapp and his followers had broken away from the Lutheran Church because they were no longer spiritually satisfied with the established church and insisted upon separation of church and state. Conflict with religious and government leaders inevitably arose.

In 1803 Rapp, his son and two of his followers left Wurttemburg to search for a new home. In 1804, with some of his followers already arriving in America, Rapp and his associates purchased close to 4,000 acres of land in western Pennsylvania from a man, named Dettmar Basse, for $10,000. Basse who planned to establish a medieval barony, founded the town of Zelienople, naming it after his daughter Zelie. Rapp and his followers promptly built nine log cabins to house 46 families during that first hard winter in their new town of Harmonie.

On February 15, 1805, the first legally valid articles of the Harmony Society were signed by the group which soon grew to about 800 members. Under the spiritual leadership of Father Rapp, the business and architectural skill of his adopted son, Frederick Reichert Rapp, and hard work by all, Harmonie became a highly profitable venture and an example of communal living, within 10 years.

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