Early Swedenborgian History in America
1784 Swedenborg "Arrives" in America
In 1784, John Glen, sailing from London,
brings to Philadelphia Swedenborg's most popular work, Heaven and Hell. Glen
lectures on Swedenborg's descriptions of the ever-present 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
others simply 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 of merchandise.
1793 Swedenborgian 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 and Mind
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
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 Transcendentalists
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 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.
Swedenborgian engineer 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 and Antislavery
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.
1860 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. Wyeth.
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.
and the Swedenborgian
Church Dr. Mehmet Oz
Fifteen years after
Swedenborg's death a church denomination named after him was formed in London. The Swedenborgian Church
in North America was organized in 1817.
Swedenborg's writings have inspired some remarkable people, such as Johnny Appleseed, William Blake, Elizabeth
Barret Browning, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Robert Frost, Johann Wolfgang Von
Goethe, Judith Guest, William James, Carl Jung, Helen Keller, Abraham Lincoln,
Van Morrison, Henry David Thoreau,
and many others.