American Messiahs: False Prophets of a Damned Nation

American Messiahs: False Prophets of a Damned Nation

by Adam Morris


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A New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice Selection

A history with sweeping implications, American Messiahs challenges our previous misconceptions about “cult” leaders and their messianic power.

Mania surrounding messianic prophets has defined the national consciousness since the American Revolution. From Civil War veteran and virulent anticapitalist Cyrus Teed, to the dapper and overlooked civil rights pioneer Father Divine, to even the megalomaniacal Jim Jones, these figures have routinely been dismissed as dangerous and hysterical outliers.

After years of studying these emblematic figures, Adam Morris demonstrates that messiahs are not just a classic trope of our national culture; their visions are essential for understanding American history. As Morris demonstrates, these charismatic, if flawed, would-be prophets sought to expose and ameliorate deep social ills—such as income inequality, gender conformity, and racial injustice. Provocative and long overdue, this is the story of those who tried to point the way toward an impossible “American Dream”: men and women who momentarily captured the imagination of a nation always searching for salvation.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781631492136
Publisher: Liveright Publishing Corporation
Publication date: 03/26/2019
Pages: 432
Sales rank: 629,281
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.60(d)

About the Author

Adam Morris is a writer and literary translator whose work has appeared in the Times Literary Supplement, the Believer, the Los Angeles Review of Books, Salon, n+1, the Point, and elsewhere. He lives in San Francisco.

Joel Richards was the kid who did crazy things just to have a good story to tell afterward. On deciding to make his affection his profession, he received a BFA in acting and a BA in English from the University of Utah. He has narrated over 150 audiobooks and continues to tell his original stories to live audiences.

Table of Contents

Foreword xiii

Introduction: The Messianic Impulse in America 1

1 Women in the Wilderness

1 The Person Formerly Known as Jemima Wilkinson 13

2 The Universal Friends 21

3 The All-Friend in the City of Brotherly Love 33

4 New Jerusalem 41

5 Mother Ann 49

6 The United Society of Believers in Christ's Second Appearing 55

7 The Era of Manifestations 65

2 The Chosen Vessel

8 America's Best-Known Mystic 71

9 The Poughkeepsie Seer 76

10 The Fox Sisters 84

11 The Apostolic Circle 90

12 Poet in New York 97

13 The Brotherhood of the New Life 104

14 Salem-on-Erie 108

15 California Idyll 117

16 Paradise Lost 124

3 The Great Cosmic Egg

17 A Messianic Meeting 131

18 Koresh, Shepherd of God 134

19 The New Age 142

20 Dr. Teed's Benefactresses 149

21 Teed Goes Mental 156

22 The Koreshan Unity 160

23 Messiah on the Move 167

24 Another New Jerusalem 176

25 A Test of Immortality 184

4 The Glo-Rays of God

26 Divine Transformations 197

27 The Messenger 205

28 Trouble in Paradise 213

29 The Harlem Kingdom 227

30 Promised Lands 237

31 Heaven Trembles 247

32 Righteous Government 253

33 Philadelphia 260

5 Fall of the Sky God

34 Jim Jones 269

35 Divine Aspirations 280

36 The Minister Wanders 287

37 California Mystics 294

38 New Directions 304

39 Going Communal 311

40 Peoples Temple Hits the Road 318

41 Backlash 327

42 Jonestown 343

Epilogue 352

Acknowledgments 361

Notes 363

Bibliography 383

Additional Sources 391

Index 395

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