Robert Matthews (religious figure)

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Robert Matthews (1788–c. 1841) was an American carpenter, businessman, and religious figure who gathered a cult-like following in 1830s New York. His aliases included Robert Matthias, Jesus Matthias, Matthias the Prophet, and Joshua the Jewish Minister. Matthews successfully converted three wealthy businessmen who helped fund his founding of a settlement he called the Kingdom. The Kingdom eventually got tied up in adultery, bankruptcy, and murder; consequently landing Matthews in jail. He is also remembered today for his brief encounter with Joseph Smith, the founder of the Latter Day Saint movement.

Matthews was born in the farming village of Cambridge, in Washington County, New York, and was raised an Anti-Burgher Presbyterian. In 1795 both of his parents died, leaving him along with his four brothers and five sisters to the care of kin and neighbors. In 1806, Robert began learning carpentry and by 1808 had ended up in Manhattan. After accusations of assault and battery on a female, possibly his sister-in-law, Robert returned to Cambridge and set up a successful business. During this time Matthews made occasional visits to New York and soon met his wife, Margaret, whom he married in 1813. Robert's business soon went bankrupt and he was forced to move his family back to New York, where he again took up carpentry. In 1830 he had a vision of a flood about to descend on Albany and fled the city, leaving his wife and six children to wander through western New York.[1] He later returned and succeeded in convincing three wealthy merchants named Sylvester Mills, Benjamin Folger, and Elijah Pierson to give him a great deal of money and the deeds to two houses, in exchange for "promised abundance in the kingdom of heaven." Folger went bankrupt and in 1835 had Matthews arrested and briefly incarcerated for obtaining money under false pretenses. Matthews, along with his servant Isabella (later known as Sojourner Truth), was accused of murdering Pierson, but was acquitted.

Upon his release from prison later in 1835, Matthews traveled through Ohio, and on 9 November of that year he paid a visit to Joseph Smith under the pseudonym "Joshua the Jewish Minister." The two discussed resurrection and reincarnation. Matthews claimed to be both God and the reincarnation of the apostle Matthias; he also said he was a literal descendant of Matthias, and that transmigration of the soul typically went from father to son. False rumors circulated that Matthews had joined the Mormons, but in fact his meeting with Smith ended with the two prophets denouncing each other as Satanic.[1]

At one point, Matthews was committed to a hospital for the insane in New York.[2] He is reported to have died in Iowa Territory.


  1. ^ a b Richard L. Bushman (2005), Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling, p. 275
  2. ^ Gilbert Seldes, The Stammering Century (New York: John Day, 1928) p. 125.


  • Paul E. Johnson and Sean Wilentz, The Kingdom of Matthias: A Story of Sex and Salvation in 19th-Century America, New York: Oxford University Press, 1994 (ISBN 0-19-509835-8) Review.
  • William Leete Stone, Matthias and his Impostures- or, The Progress of Fanaticism (New York, 1835) Internet Archive online edition (pdf format, 16.9 MB, entire book on one pdf)
  • Gilbert Vale, Fanaticism - Its Source and Influence Illustrated by the Simple Narrative of Isabella, in the Case of Matthias, Mr. and Mrs. B. Folger, Mr. Pierson, Mr. Mills, Catherine, Isabella, &c. &c. (New York, 1835) Google Books online edition (pdf format, 9.9 MB, entire book on one pdf or one page per page)
  • "Robert Matthews", Joseph Smith Papers