Early Swedenborgian History in America
1784 Swedenborg "Arrives"
in 1784, John Glen, sailing from London, brings to Philadelphia Swedenborg's
work, Heaven and Hell. Glen lectures on Swedenborg's descriptions of the
reality of a spiritual world. Many prominent Pennsylvanians attend Glen's
talks and turn to
Swedenborg's volumes. Some of these followers establish churches, whereas
become devoted readers of Swedenborg.
1789 The Word Spreads
Reading groups appear in Philadelphia, Baltimore, New York, Boston, and
Cambridge, and later in Virginia and in what would become Ohio and Indiana.
Readers distribute books all over the thirteen states and the Northwest
Territory. In 1789 Francis Bailey, Pennsylvania's official printer,
published Swedenborg's True Christian Religion; its
subscribers include Benjamin Franklin. By 1817, cloth merchant
William Schlatter sends out more than 3,000 of Swedenborg's books in bales
Minister Addresses Congress
Baltimore is home to the first Swedenborgian church in America in 1792. In
1793 that church presents Swedenborg's True Christian Religion to George
Washington as he begins his second term, a gift to which he graciously
responds. When Thomas Jefferson becomes president in 1801, the
Baltimore congregation again sends True Christian Religion. In 1802,
President Jefferson and 100 members of Congress hear Baltimore minister John
Hargrove speak on Swedenborg, and in 1804 Jefferson invites Hargrove to
preach in the Capitol to both houses of Congress.
1807 - 1845 Food for Body
Johnny "Appleseed" Chapman, whose life of usefulness and
loving-kindness to humanity and the natural world reflects his devotion to
Swedenborg's teachings, acts as a one-man circulating library. While
traversing Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana from 1807 to 1845 to sell
seedlings from his nurseries, Chapman distributes chapters of Swedenborg's
books to his customers. He enters frontier settlements, crying, "News! Fresh
from heaven!" as he gathers up chapters that have been read by the pioneers
and gives out new chapters.
1821 Swedenborg and the
In 1821, Sampson Reed's Harvard University address on genius interests
Ralph Waldo Emerson in Swedenborg. By the 1830's, the transcendentalist
reading group including Emerson, Bronson Alcott, Henry Thoreau, and
Margaret Fuller ir reading Swedenborg. Later, Emerson showcases
Swedenborg, whom he calls "a colossal soul who lies vast upon our times," in
his book Representative Men.
1817 - 1852 Swedenborgian
Church Moves Westward with Pioneers
In 1817, the first convention of Swedenborgian church delegates meets in
Philadelphia. By 1830, there is a Midwestern convention, and Urbana
University, one of America's earliest co-educational colleges, is founded by
the Church in 1850 in Ohio. In 1852 a Swedenborgian congregation is
organized in San Francisco.
Swedenborg, who believed that usefulness is the very heart of religion,
wrote, "Everything in heaven, in the world, in the human body, both great
and small, was created from use, in use and for use." This belief attracts
physicians, engineers, and others in the practical professions.
John Roebling designs America's first suspension bridges, including
Cincinnati's Suspension Bridge and later the Brooklyn Bridge.
Inspired by Swedenborg's vision of the heavenly city, architect and city
planner Daniel Burnham constructs the setting for the 1893 Columbian
Exposition in Chicago as a dream city, all in white, using the new electric
lighting on a vast scale.
1830 -1865 Swedenborgians
Swedenborgians influence the public sentiment that eventually ends slavery.
Boston Swedenborgian Lydia Maria Child published the nation's fist
antislavery story in 1830, and her best-selling 1853 biography of the
anti-slavery hero Isaac Hopper fires up abolitionists.
Harriet Beecher Stowe, who mobilizes public opposition to slavery
with Uncle Tom's Cabin, is a reader of Swedenborg; and antislavery sermons
appear frequently in leading Swedenborgian periodicals. Abraham Lincoln is
introduced to Swedenborg's works in 1842.
1860s A Heavenly Burden
Swedenborg's respect for all faiths that promote brotherly love and service
to others attracts Henry James, Sr. Henry James, Jr., and his brother
William tote their father's thirty volumes of Swedenborg in and out of
hotels and trains throughout the family's years of travel abroad.
1840s - 1890s Swedenborg
and the Arts
Swedenborg's emphasis on the essential connection between the natural and
the spiritual worlds appeals at mid-century to American artists.
Swedenborgian painter George Inness becomes America's leading
landscape artist and early Impressionist. Some major artists of that era
influenced by Swedenborg are Hiram Powers, William Page, and Thomas Cole.
Swedenborgian Church member Howard Pyle reads Swedenborg to his students,
among them popular illustrators Jessie Wilcox Smith and N.C.
1893 Religious Plurality
Swedenborg saw and conversed with persons of many faiths and so urged
acceptance of other religions long before ecumenism came into vogue. Chicago
lawyer Charles Bonney, a Swedenborgian Church member, initiates and
manages the 1893 Parliament of the World's Religions, held in
conjunction with the Columbian Exposition. Bonney's vision brings
representatives from all the world's great religions to the Parliament, an
event that later historians term the dawn of religious plurality in America.