Where Have All the Koreshans Gone?

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The 1800’s were a time of religious revival in the United States with several new religions being started including the Latter Day Saints, Christian Scientists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seventh Day Adventists and, a group you probably have never heard of, the Koreshans.   Last week we camped at Koreshan State Historical Site in Estero, Florida, which is the site of the Koreshan Unity Settlement that was begun in the 1890’s.  Many of the religions started in the 19th century have been very successful—there are now reportedly over 17 million Mormons.  But the last Koreshan died in 1982–what went wrong?

Koreshanity was founded by a doctor from upstate New York, Cyrus Teed, who became known by the Hebrew translation of his name, Koresh.   Teed claimed he had an “illumination”, falling into a trance and being visited by a beautiful woman who revealed universal truths to him, which became the basis of the religion. Some of the Koreshans‘ beliefs were very progressive—women were treated as equals and many of the leaders of the Estero settlement were women.  However, their most unique belief (and Ed’s favorite) is called Celluar Cosmogony, which states that the earth and universe are located within a concave sphere—here’s a model that’s on display in the park.

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As you can see, the continents and oceans are located on the interior of the outer shell so their surface would be concave.  The Koreshan Geodetic Survey performed tests on the beach in Naples, Florida, which supposedly proved that this is the case.

So the Koreshans had some wacky ideas but this still does not explain why the religion failed.  However, they did have one belief that led inevitably to their downfall—they believed in celibacy.

For those of you considering starting your own religion, here’s a tip: don’t make celibacy mandatory.  It makes it very hard for your religion to grow because:

  • Current members cannot create any future members
  • It puts a lot of pressure on recruiters to bring in new members
  • Potential new members may find your religion less attractive due to the celibacy requirement

Although short-lived, the Koreshans were a very interesting group. The State Historic Site includes many of the original settlement buildings and exhibits on the life and history of the Koreshans, which make a visit well worthwhile.  In addition, Lovers Key State Park is nearby on the gulf coast and the Audubon Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary is located southeast of the park.  Here are some photos.

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Patty among the bamboo—the Koreshans imported many exotic plants to the area.

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Flowers on a Bombax ceiba, commonly known as a cotton tree and also imported by the Koreshans

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Kayaking on the Estero River that passes through the Koreshan State Historic Site–early transportation to the settlement was all by boat.

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Patty launching at Lovers Key State Park–besides kayaking, the park has a very nice beach and hiking and biking trails.  Lovers Key is one of the few Southwest Florida coastal islands that were saved from development.

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Patty on the 2.25-mile boardwalk at Corkscew Swamp Sanctuary.  Swamps are great places to visit (avoid the summer) but access is often a problem without boardwalks like this one.

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Epiphytes, also known as air plants, growing on a cypress tree–the sanctuary is known for the rare Ghost Orchid, which is well-named because we never saw one, even with signs indicating its location.

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A young alligator relaxes in the sanctuary.


More scenes from the sanctuary

“That man is rich whose pleasures are the cheapest”.–Henry David Thoreau

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