The Way it Was: Christadelphians in the Woods
According to the May 6, 1892 Milwaukee Sentinel, a new fanaticism made its appearance on Beaver Island late in the nineteenth century when the small village of Belden sprang up near Lake Geneserath. It was inhabited by practicioners of Chistadelphianism, a movement that had started in England 46 years earlier and still exists today. The prophet and leader was a woman of some accomplishment named Mary Dalmater, who was known among her followers simply as Esther. She lived with Philip Barton, who went by the name of Mordeci. "They are both about 35 years of age," the Sentinel reported. "The woman especially is comely and above average in intelligence. But both have distorted their countenance and appear much older."
"Esther claims to talk with God directly," the newspaper continued. "She daily retires to her secret chamber to converse for hours with the Supreme Being." Mordeci "preaches to large assemblages, explaining Esther's visions. Esther seldom appears in public." At nightly evangelical meetings in a large tent they called their Tabernacle, Mordeci would read verses of scripture and Esther would present her interpretation.
Another member of the sect took the name Abraham. He envisioned the Lord telling him to slay his 6-year-old son, and dutifully led him to the altar. Luckily Esther emerged from a trance and said the Lord had told her that He had changed his mind just in the nick of time. She claimed to have the gift of tongues as well, and to be able to speak in any language, including some never heard before.
A month before the terrible date of April 21, Mordeci predicted the end of the world: the "globular wad" would be dissolved, but the Christadelpians would ascend into heaven, which is why they were found on that day draped in white robes and sitting on their housetops. The failure of the world to succumb prompted Mordeci to reexamine his computations. With some relief he discovered an error and set the new date, which apparently did not produce the expected event either.
Whispers of a con were rampant because Mordeci urged his followers to sell their possessions to a Chicago speculator, W. R. Hawson, who happened to appear. With Mordeci disdainfully fixing the price of each item he paid 6¢ on the dollar. It wouldn't matter if the world came to an end, but when it didn't, several people were quite upset.
Little is known of their fate, and they do not appear elsewhere in the records. One theory is that since they planted no crops because the end was nigh, when winter came they had no choice but to pick up and leave. The next year, Feodor Protar arrived. A coincidence? A present-day diviner supplied this answer: "I think not!
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