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The Koreshan Unity started in the 1870s in New York, where Teed started preaching his beliefs. He formed short-lived groups in New York City and Moravia. He later moved to Chicago. Teed's followers formed a commune in Chicago in 1888 called Beth-Ophra. Some followers also formed a short-lived community in San Francisco (1891-2). Small church groups existed in other towns.
There was a tri-level system of membership.
- The outer level was made up of non-believers who were willing to work for the Unity. This group was called the Patrons of Equation, and allowed for marriage and participation in the secular aspects of the unity.
- The middle group, the Department of Equitable Administration, allowed for marriage, but sexual relationships were only to be for the purpose of reproduction.
- The inner, core, group (called The Pre-Eminent Unity) was the Celibate and Communal group, which did not allow marriage and practiced celibacy.
Within each of these three levels were three distinct branches, the Secular System, the Commercial System, and the Educational System, with a total of nine groups.
Eventually, Teed took his followers to Estero, Florida, to form his "New Jerusalem" in 1894. The community was at its peak 1903-1908, when it had over 250 residents. There were apparently another 4,000 believers around the country. Teed had a vision in which he was to establish a utopian city of 10,000,000 with streets up to 400 feet (120 m) wide. Membership declined following his death in 1908.
It built extensively, establishing a bakery, printing house (publishing their newspaper and other publications), the "World College of Life", a general store, concrete works, power plant (supplying power to the surrounding area years before it was available elsewhere in the region) and more. The colony was extensively landscaped. There has been work to document and preserve the grounds in Estero (a Florida State Park.)
In 1906, the community formed the Progressive Liberal Party to run several candidates for county government against the local Democratic Party but were never successful. This Progressive Liberal Party consisted of Koreshans, socialists, Republicans, and dissatisfied Democrats. The Koreshans had already incorporated Estero and were seeking further political power in Lee County. After Teed died in 1908 the group went into decline. Several groups split off from the Unity. One such group was the Order of Theocracy that left in 1910 and moved to nearby Ft. Myers. This group lasted until 1931. The fact the Unity was celibate did not help, although celibacy was not the real problem since there was a married status within the Unity. Celibates were the highest order. Without new members joining, the group slowly dwindled. It continued to publish the Flaming Sword until the printing press burned down in 1949. It also published the American Eagle, which began in 1906 and later became a horticultural newspaper.
The last remaining follower, Hedwig Michel, joined in 1940. She had learned of the Koreshans in Germany, and fled Nazi persecution. She ceded the main portion of the commune grounds to Florida to form a state park in 1961. The Koreshan State Park (now known as the Koreshan State Historic Site) was opened in 1967. Hedwig Michel continued to live in the building known as the "Planetary Court". She died in 1981. She is the only Koreshan buried within the park. Two other Koreshan cemeteries are nearby, one of which lies within a gated community and the other on land owned by the Audubon Society. Partly due to the Koreshan belief in a form of reincarnation, little, if anything, was done to care for these cemeteries. The only permanent grave stones were put in by family members.
The College of Life Foundation, formerly the Koreshan Unity Foundation, is now the owner/caretaker of the remaining Koreshan land and the extensive archives. After Michel's death, control of the Koreshan Unity Foundation passed to her secretary, Jo Bigelow, and most recently another individual, Charles Dauray. None of those controlling the College of Life Foundation are Koreshan believers.
- Katherine J. Adams, Life Inside the Earth: The Koreshan Unity and Its Urban Pioneers, 1880-1908. MA thesis. Florida State University, 2010.
- Christoph Brumann, "The Dominance of One and Its Perils: Charismatic Leadership and Branch Structures in Utopian Communes," Journal of Anthropological Research, vol. 56, no. 4 (Winter 2000), pp. 425–451.
- Howard D. Fine, "The Koreshan Unity: The Chicago Years of a Utopian Community," Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society, vol. 68, no. 3 (June 1975), pp. 213–227.
- James E. Landing, "Cyrus Reed Teed and the Koreshan Unity," in Donald E. Pitzer (ed.), America's Communal Utopias. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2010; pp. 375–395.
- Elliott Mackle, "Cyrus Teed and the Lee County Elections of 1906," Florida Historical Quarterly, vol. 57, no. 1 (July 1978), pp. 1–18.
- Lyn Millner, The Allure of Immortality: An American Cult, a Florida Swamp, and a Renegade Prophet, University Press of Florida, 2015.
- Sara Weber Rea, The Koreshan Story, Koreshan Unity Foundation, Inc, 1994.
- Odeda Rosenthal, Hedwig Michel: The Patron Saint of The Koreshan State Historic Site, Koreshan Unity Foundation, Inc, 1992.
- Sarah A. Tarlow, "Representing Utopia: The Case of Cyrus Teed's Koreshan Unity Settlement," Historical Archaeology, vol. 40, no. 1 (2006), pp. 89–99.
- Irvin D. S. Winsboro, "The Koreshan Communitarians' Papers and Publications in Estero, 1894-1963," Florida Historical Quarterly, vol. 83, no. 2 (Fall 2004), pp. 173–190.
|Wikisource has the text of a 1905 New International Encyclopedia article about Koreshan Unity.|
- Koreshan State Historic Site, official web page.
- Unofficial Koreshan State Historic Site, unofficial web page.
- Koreshan Historical Collection, Digital Collection of photos, letters and documents from the Koreshan settlement in Southwest Florida. Maintained by the Florida Gulf Coast University Library.
- American Communal Utopias and The Koreshan Unity: A Bibliography Brief overview and bibliography of works, slightly dated.
- Turning the Universe Inside-Out: Ulysses Grant Morrow's Naples Experiment, Examination of the Naples Experiment, and why it failed.
- The Startling Testimony of Plumb-Lines
- Ohnemus, Catherine A. Anthony. Dr. Cyrus Teed and the Koreshan Unity Movement