Kingdom Of Matthias Essay

Kingdom Of Matthias By Paul E Johnson And Sean Wilentz

The Kingdom of Matthias by Paul E. Johnson and Sean Wilentz is a story of the rise and fall of a religious cult established by Robert Matthews (Matthias). Within his kingdom, Matthias and his followers, abided by Matthias, believes of the subjugation of women by men. Even though at the time the cult was in existence the United States was experiencing two great movements that urged the forward progression of women, the Market Revolution and the Second Great Awakening. Two women in particular are mentioned in Johnson and Wilentz’ book that were really suppressed by Matthias and his subjects. One was Isabella van Wagenen, the slave that worked in Mount Zion and even Matthias’ own daughter Isabella Matthews Laisdell. The Kingdom of Matthias reveals the 19th century experienced the presence of an oppressive “prophet” known as Matthias who tyrannically degraded women through cruel treatment, sexual advances, and belittling them in a society that was starting to notice the inclination of women’s rights, all of these violent and atrocious acts eventually lead to the downfall of Matthias’ kingdom.
The life style of a woman’s role in society was to take care of the house while the husband went off to work and to make the life of the husband easier whenever the husband was home. Although during the Nineteenth Century we start to see a movement towards women’s rights. During the Second Great Awakening women were given a more important role in activities such as religion. Women could be sent out regularly on mission trips, or even to preach in churches. This being said was one thing in particular Matthias was trying to prevent. Matthias went so far to prevent women preaching in the church that he was kicked out of one of the churches that preached for women to be more involved in churches, moreover this could quiet possibly be a benefactor of Matthias’ reason to show his dominance over women. In early New England textile mills, women and child labor contributed a huge effort to the production of textiles (Foner, The “Mill” Girls 264.). Accepting women in the work place was a huge breakthrough in the progression of women’s rights. In The kingdom Of Matthias, Matthias reacted to how women are getting the rights to work as to give them tasks in the household limiting them still. Matthias believed women should only do what they are permitted to do by their husbands.
In essence, Matthias was an infamous misogynous. Matthias was a religious man as he moved from one denomination to the next, however with this being said it showed no effect on how he treated women. “Degenerated into a nightmare of wife-beating and child abuse.”(Johnson and Wilentz) These “nightmares” changed his attitude in his adult life into the way he ruled his kingdom. In one of his sermons Matthias said that “Women is the cap sheaf of abomination of desolation – full of deviltry”, and “All women are not obedient, had better become so soon as possible, and let the wicked spirit depart, and...

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SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 56-page guide for “Kingdom Of Matthias” by Paul E. Johnson and Sean Wilentz includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering 4 chapters, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 25 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like Misogyny and Personal Tragedy and Insanity.

Plot Summary

In The Kingdom of Matthias, historians Paul Johnson and Sean Wilentz tell the little-known story of Matthias the Prophet in a dramatic and well-documented account that reads almost like a work of fiction. The events recounted occur during the Second Great Awakening, a Protestant religious resurgence in the United States that reached its peak in the mid-19th Century. This movement is singlehandedly responsible for evangelizing millions of Americans as it spreads south from upstate New York and New England and then west, across America’s expanding frontier. The revivalist movement gives rise to a flurry of new Christian sects, including the Mormons, the Seventh Day Adventists, the Church of Christ, the Disciples of Christ and the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Another revivalist sect at the time was the Finneyite Movement, which initially attracts mostly northern entrepreneurs who are actively seeking other avenues of religious expression. These progressive and successful businessmen are tired of strict, patriarchal Calvinist determinism and other traditional Christian sects and like the idea of choosing their own religious and moral direction. They also welcome the notion of greater equality between men and women and are passionate about social reform and spreading the word of God by doing good deeds. Importantly, they also believe that Finneyism is more in line with the freedoms promised by America’s emerging system of market capitalism.

Unlike traditional Christian sects, revivalists encourage visions, dreams and prophecies, as well as ecstatic experiences brought on by communion with the Holy Spirit. A core tenet of the Revivalist Movement is a belief in the equality of all people before God, which is why poor white men, women and slaves were so attracted to its teachings. Emphasis is placed on individual responsibility, with good deeds and holy living demonstrated by social activism and giving up vices like alcohol, tobacco, fornication, and gambling. Many who join these revivalist sects during the Second Great Awakening perceive traditional Christianity as hopelessly corrupt.

The Second Great Awakening’s believers were on a mission to create a perfect society and by so doing, usher in the return of Jesus Christ the end of days. The hallmark of their revivals were open-air meetings: people camped out for days, testifying, converting and listening to the word of God. Charismatic preachers still commonly use this method to spread the Gospel and for followers of the Second Great Awakening, it resulted in the mass conversion of millions of people throughout the United States.

Into this environment steps Robert Matthews, a down-and-out apprentice carpenter from Coila, a village in upstate New York, who eventually declares himself to be Matthias, Prophet of the God of the Jews. His hypnotic personality draws in a cast of figures seeking salvation. Major characters include the meek, gullible and devout businessman Elijah Pierson, who loses his mind when his wife dies and tries unsuccessfully to raise her from the dead, before his own death. There are the Folgers, Benjamin and Ann, a young attractive Christian couple. Ann ends up seducing the woman-hating Matthews/Prophet Matthias. There is also the shrewd ex-slave Isabella Van Wagenen, better known as Sojourner Truth, renowned Abolitionist and early defender of women’s rights. Matthews, as The Prophet Matthias, is a larger than life, bearded, thundering tyrant who controls his followers in an absolutist-style church called The Kingdom. Financially supported by Elijah Pierson and Benjamin Folger, he uses their money to establish his cult, in addition to buying elaborate, eccentric clothing and other fineries. As leader of The Kingdom, Matthews rearranges his followers’ marital relations and institutes what today is called wife-swapping. Tensions in The Kingdom finally explode when Matthias is tried for fraud and then murder. His exploits become a national scandal.

Robert Matthews and Elijah Pierson are both raised in the Calvinist tradition, which teaches that men have God-given power and authority over women. Matthias is an utter misogynist and regularly brutalizes his wife, Margaret. Margaret, however, refuses to be cowed or dominated by him, and Matthews finally leaves her. The Kingdom is a testament to his chauvinistic tendencies and he weaves his misogyny into the very fabric of his cult. Matthews demands that women who join the Kingdom are subservient, and believes they’re only good for menial work, sex and having children. Their role is to stay at home and do household chores. Men, by contrast, perform all the “important” functions. They are responsible for working outside the community and conducting business operations and other income-generating activities to support the Kingdom.

Even though Elijah Pierson is not an extremist before meeting Matthias, he is influenced by his early Calvinist training. Specifically, he believes that men are superior to women and that women need to fully submit to their husbands. Even though he adopts a more egalitarian perspective when he marries Sarah, after she dies, he quickly reverts to his early religious beliefs and wholeheartedly embraces Matthews’ misogynist views. After meeting Matthews, Elijah is transformed and believes, as Matthias does, that he is indeed God’s prophet. He supports Matthews financially and funds the creation of the Kingdom at the residence of his business associate, Silvester Mills.


At this time, Pierson completely submits to Matthias because he believes Matthias is the Prophet of God and has greater spiritual power than Pierson himself does. When Pierson ultimately becomes disillusioned and cuts Matthews off financially, Benjamin Folger and his wife, Ann, already under his spell and believing wholeheartedly that he is a prophet of God, agree to finance the Kingdom and locate it at their estate, Heartt Place, north of New York City and not far from Sing Sing Correctional Facility. Matthews renames the estate Mount Zion.He institutes a strict regimen that followers must obey without question. He eventually bans prayer and the ritual suppers are dominated by Matthews’ long, angry sermons. No one dares challenge him. Matthews falls into a rage when anyone gets ill, believing that sickness is weakness and a sign of disobedience. Rumors of wife-swapping and other unconventional happenings at the Kingdom start to leak out to the wider community and tensions build.

The Kingdom at Mount Zion starts falling apart, in large part due to the wife-swapping, which is creating turmoil. Things come to a head when Elijah Pierson dies. After this, Benjamin and Ann Folger rekindle their marriage. Determined to get Matthews out of the picture once and for all, Benjamin, on the pretext of giving Matthews money to go west and start a new Kingdom, calls the police as soon as Matthews leaves the compound, claiming Matthews has stolen a large sum of money. An arrest warrant is issued for Matthews and he is charged with embezzlement and fraud; additional charges of murder and assault are added later. The sad and sordid story of Matthias the Prophet ends with a jury finding him not guilty of fraud or murder but guilty of assault for beating his daughter, and for contempt of court. Matthews serves four months behind bars. Public sentiment, fanned by lurid daily accounts of the trial published in the penny press, is that Matthews gets off too lightly.

The authors conclude by discussing the sources they use to write the book. They also attribute the emergence of the penny press in helping to shape the outcome of the Kingdom and turn its existence into a national scandal. The penny presses regaled the public with daily, lurid accounts of the trial proceedings and the general debauchery and wife-swapping going on at the Kingdom. The authors also recount the raging debate that ensues about how much of Matthews’ religion is pure deception and how much is genuine insanity. People also questioned whether Matthews’ followers were to blame for being so gullible and debated the inherent dangers of religious fanaticism. Finally, the authors let readers know what happens to the various characters in the book, and place Matthews in the company of more-recent religious cult leaders, including Jim Jones and David Koresh.

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